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Creative Summer Cooking Ideas That Are Simple And Scrumptious

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Creative Summer Cooking Ideas That Are Simple And Scrumptious

As soon as the weather warms up and the days get brighter, we all want to change our eating habits. There’s just something about an increase in heat that makes you want to go for fresher, lighter, and less indulgent food choices. But, at the same time, you still want to be able to enjoy a delicious dinner that’s full of flavor. To find that perfect balance, you’re going to want to get your creative summer cook on.

So where should you start? When you’re busy, you definitely want your summer cooking ideas to be super easy to make. But at the same time, they have to taste good and look like a small slice of summer, too. To give you the ultimate inspiration for your light evening meals and tasty long lunches, here are a few ideas to get your taste buds tingling:

One-Tray Bakes: When you want something super easy, balanced, but incredibly tasty, always turn to a one-tray bake. During the summer months, you want to be outside with your family and not slaving over a hot oven, so the tray bake is perfect for that reason. By throwing all of your ingredients into one tray and baking it all at once, your meal is done. More often than not, you’ll have veggies in the mix, but you can also serve a salad on the side if you’re feeling saucy!

Summer Pasta: For something super filling but also light, you’re going to want to pull together the perfect summer pasta. Pasta is a great ingredient to play around with. Not only can you choose from a range of different styles, but you can mix up your sauces and ingredients to create completely different dishes. For summer, try using fresh shrimp and crunchy veggies to create healthy but delicious meals.

Low Carb Favorites: Sometimes you want a really light meal that is easy to snack on and won’t make you feel bloated in the heat (Which is the literal worst.). Summer is the perfect time to go for low-carb versions of your favorite dishes. Hello, beach body. Craving pizza? Build your ingredients on a tortilla base, instead. If you want fajitas, why not go for lettuce wraps? And if you want tacos (who doesn’t?), fill them with fresh fish and shredded salad for a lighter alternative.

Rainbow Salads: Then, we get to the salads, because a summer menu wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of them! Don’t think about the kind of diet food you’d usually expect, oh no – these salads should be big, bold, bright, and beautiful. Rainbow salads packed with exciting, crunchy, and flavorful veggies are the best. Create your own dressing and serve with a protein source for a colorful and complete meal.

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YUM

Smoked Meats: When you love meats, you want to make sure that they’re packed full of flavor and are served super succulent in the summer. There’s just something about a lighter version of the tastiest meats that screams summer. And when you want to go tender and melt-in-your-mouth, you smoke. You can read the pros and cons of the Brinkmann electric smoker to see if it’s a cooking method that you can work with. If so, throw in your meats and even a few veggies and prepare for a flavor overload.

Mixed Rice: Rice is a great grain that we don’t give enough credit to. It’s always tasty and it’s a super light carb source, too. As a part of your summer meal frenzy, try making a bunch of rice based meals. Stir in your favorite meats, serve with crunchy veggies, and dress with delicious sauces to create some of the most exciting dishes around.

Ultimate Burgers: Summertime is all about the burgers. When you love a good burger, you’ll take one all year round, but there’s nothing like a hot summer day with a burger in hand to make you feel happy (Any food in my hand makes me feel happy!). But don’t just stick to a standard beef patty – pimp them up! There are so many amazing burger recipes here, just take a look. If the chipotle turkey, chicken Caesar, or even the taco burger doesn’t tempt you, you’re not a true burger fan! And if you’re a vegetarian, like me, the veggie burger is a thing!! 😀

Asian Anything: If there’s one kind of cuisine that works the best with summer meals, it’s got to be Asian. Asian cooking is full of those incredibly fresh favors that just work so well when its warm. Whether you decide to whip up a noodle dish or create a crunchy salad, sticking to Asian ingredients and flavors will always serve you well in the summer months.

Garden parties, picnics, and BBQs are essential summer activities. Create the perfect menu with the above ideas, invite your friends, and have yourself a backyard bash!

Featured Image By: Pexels

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Cooking The Perfect Coq Au Vin

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Cooking The Perfect Coq Au Vin

We should all cook to suit our individual tastes, but there are certain dishes where the cook simply needs to stay true to the dish; its reputation, its history and, for lack of a better word, its soul. If there’s one meal that falls into this category, it’s coq au vin. The chicken, the garlic, and the bottle of wine all need to be prepared in a certain way, even if it is just a chicken stew with a fancy name! Here are some pointers on how to prepare the perfect coq au vin:

The Chicken: The older the chicken, the richer the sauce will turn out. Talk to your butcher ahead of time to ensure that you get the perfect bird for the job. Tell them that you want a chicken that will be good for some long, slow cooking, and they may be able to order an extra-mature bird for you. The best places to look for these are generally farmer’s markets, traditional butchers, and online stores. You should always go free-range, as well. With regular access to fresh air, free-range birds develop stronger, thicker bones than any chickens kept indoors, and will therefore make for a better sauce.

The Wine: Many people think that the wine used in coq au vin is a negligible detail. Don’t believe them! Using a good quality wine in your cooking can make all of the difference to the taste, so go for a full-flavored, fruity wine rather than anything thin and lackluster. You don’t need to really push the boat out, even though some chefs will insist that you can only use a wine from Burgundy in this particular dish. If you can’t make heads or tails of wine in general, then do your homework before you run to the liquor store and buy a bottle! Here’s how you can open wine without a corkscrew in case you’ve forgotten this crucial detail! Yikes!

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YUM!

The Aromatics: The aromatics that go into your coq au vin are another very important detail that will hold a considerable sway over the overall taste. A lot of recipes that you’ll come across online will only call for onions and carrots, but we recommend adding celeriac and celery for their potent, earthy notes. Large French onions are an essential foundation for the actual stew. You can add little, tight-skinned onions near the end, but this ups the risk of you putting in too much or too little. A few bay leaves and some fresh thyme are the only herbs you’ll really need, but don’t be afraid to experiment.

The Bacon: Your coq au vin simply wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t have some strips of thick, juicy bacon to complement the chicken. The thin, common rashers you use in a fry-up will be way too thin. If you don’t manage to burn them when you’re preparing your stew, the meat will disintegrate in too much heat. Ideally, you should source a tough, solid lump that you can easily cut up into thicker strips. Most brands of pancetta will do nicely.

Bon appetit!

Featured Image By: Wikimedia

The Ultimate Dinner Party Guide

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The Ultimate Dinner Party Guide

From tableware to menus and seating arrangements, throwing a dinner party is never easy. Not only do you have to create the perfect ambient setting to enjoy a meal, but you also have to plan, prepare, cook, and serve the food! It can sound like more trouble than it’s worth but don’t be put off. Dinner parties are an amazing way to get family and friends together.

If you struggle to find the time to catch up with loved ones individually it can be a great way to get everyone in the room for a wonderful evening. It’s also a good test of your organizational skills and hosting abilities! Above everything else, it’s a lot of fun. As long as you have a plan in place, the evening will be a huge success. This dinner party guide takes you from the menu planning process to the dinner table decors, all the way to puddings and party favors:

The Guest List: The first thing that you need to decide is who you’re inviting. If you’re co-hosting the dinner party with a friend, partner, or family member, sit down together and work out a list. You need to work out what you want out of the dinner party. A big celebration with friends, intimate family meal, or perhaps an open-to-all buffet style event. Whatever the occasion is, this will indicate who you should invite.

Of course, the amount of space you have around the table will also dictate the number of guests. If you’re inviting more than eight people, a sit-down meal might not be the best idea. First of all, who has a table big enough for over eight? Also, you might want to consider a more fluid set up. For large numbers open up the garden and kitchen to guests, too. That way people can mingle without feeling cramped and confined to one room.

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Partayyy

Creating The Menu: If you’re having a sit-down soiree you’ll need to prepare a menu. If you’re having six people or under round for dinner you can probably cook individual courses. If you’re having more than six people or over, sharer style dishes and one-pot recipes are the way to go. If you’re having a huge gathering, then a buffet station set up in the garden or kitchen for food is best. You’ll have to determine whether any of the guests have allergies or intolerances before you come up with a menu. Also come up with some vegetarian and vegan options, too.

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     YUM

     For Smaller Groups:

Get your prep done before guests arrive, this goes for all group sizes. If you’re hosting for a smaller group of people you can afford to have more attention to detail and more ambitious dishes. Prawns are a good starter because they’re easy to prepare in advance. Buy prawns which have been cooked, cleaned, and peeled already. This will save time. There are so many different ways to serve prawns. A fail-safe option is a simple grilled prawn with a pre-prepared sauce. Get some char on your prawns to increase the smokey flavors in the dish. This goes particularly well with a romesco sauce.

For the main course, food preferences permitted, herb crusted lamb is a real show stopper. To make the crust, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, mint, and oil. Smear some mustard over the fatty side of the lamb and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Be sure to brown your lamb before cooking. www.StoneFryingPans.com/the-best-stainless-steel-cookware has some great stainless steel cookware, perfect for searing and deglazing to make a jus for the lamb. Finally, make sure you leave your lamb to rest for at least 10 minutes. This will ensure that the meat is nice and tender and the juices won’t leak onto the plate. Dessert needs to be something that can be prepared in advance and left to chill. Cheesecake is a good idea, because you can make one large one and portion it before serving. It’s also a great ‘blank canvas’ dessert, so you can add your own preferences, too. Lemon, chocolate, hazelnut, berries, and basically any topping ever work well with a cheesecake.

     For Larger Groups:

Cooking for larger groups needn’t be challenging, you’ll just need to tweak the menu accordingly. Choose some large platters or boards and arrange some cured meats and cheeses on them. Serve olives over ice and sourdough bread, too. Balsamic vinegar and oil make a great dip to go alongside this sharing starter, as does tapenade. For the main dish, consider doing a one-pot wonder. A homemade curry or a big paella served straight from the pan works really well for larger groups. You can stick these on and leave them to cook with minimal effort, apart from stirring. Serve curries with homemade flatbreads, onion salad, and a yogurt dip. For dessert opt for an easy crowd pleaser like ice cream or mousse. This can also be made ahead of time and left to chill.

     For Vegetarians:

Buy some spelt pasta from a health food store and use this as the base of your dish. Blend spinach and basil in a blender with some oil, seasoning, and pine nuts. This will create a pesto to use as a sauce over your pasta. Cook some courgettes and asparagus, too. Toss the pesto through the pasta and top with the cooked courgettes and asparagus.

Which Drinks To Serve: Setting up a drinks tray is the best idea. Nobody wants to have to make drinks all night for their guests. Prepare a table in the living room or kitchen with a variety of soft drinks and alcohol for guest to pick and choose. Another good idea is to make one signature drink. Making jugs of cocktails is an especially good idea if it’s a summer party which spills out into the garden.

To make a mojito simply mix lime juice, mint, and sugar in a large jug or bowl. Mash these gently to let the flavors start to seep out and sugar dissolve. Top with rum, soda, and plenty of ice. Put slices of mint and lime to garnish in little bowls next to the jug.

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My kind of party!

Setting The Scene: Whenever you go to a great dinner party, the atmosphere is one of the things that makes it so special. Creating the perfect atmosphere is partly down to planning. If you are having a sit-down meal you’ll need to dress the table. It can be tempting to go overboard with accessories and cram the table but try to avoid this. Guests want to be able to talk, share food, and relax without having to navigate lots of decorative pieces. A few tea light candles with lantern-style covers are a pared back but sophisticated touch. Fresh flowers are also a great centerpiece, but if you have a small table don’t clutter it. Station a drinks table with an ice bucket nearby so that you don’t have to keep rushing backward and forwards.

A seating plan shouldn’t be necessary and can feel a bit too formal. Adding a little gift for each person is a nice touch, too. They don’t have to be expensive, in fact, the more whimsical the better. Masks or joke shop presents are a great idea for a group of friends. Family members may appreciate birthstones or small bags of truffles. These tokens will help to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere, plus they’ll lift your guest’s mood!

After Party? Some dinner parties can continue long into the night and become a party as well as dinner. Make it clear to guests on the invite whether you’re open to that. There’s nothing worse than wanting to go to bed but still having a few guests. If you’re having people stay over, set up the guest bedroom early on in the day. By the end of the night, you won’t feel like changing bed linen and arranging flowers!

Nobody wants to clean up after a party, either, but facing all the debris in the morning is probably worse. Compromise and go around with a bin liner and chuck in any bottles or plastic cups. Wash up your plates and cutlery and leave them to dry. Leave larger pans to soak overnight, and head to bed. That way there will be a manageable amount to tackle in the morning.

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Cheers!!

Featured Image By: Pixabay

Iced Coffee Obsession

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Iced Coffee Obsession

Hiii everyone and happy Tuesday! I hope everyone is having a fabulous week so far. So, if there’s one thing that a Lil Red loves, it’s her coffee! I’m a caffeine fiend, so a smooth, strong, hot cup of coffee is a must for me when I am working, lounging, doing nothing, and doing everything. I am a hot, black coffee drinker through and through and I will be a monkey’s uncle before I succumb to putting cream or sugar in my cup. But, when the warm weather hits, which has happened this past week in Ohio, my tastes change to absolutely craving a good cup of iced coffee.

One of my favorite things to treat myself with is an iced coffee from Starbucks. A venti iced coffee with cream and vanilla, to be exact! “But wait! I thought you don’t believe in cream in your coffee!” You might say? I DON’T. But, iced coffee is a totally different story. I hate iced, black coffee more than anything and I just need that little splash of cream to turn the beverage into a drinkable delight. So, yeah.

Anyways, it’s a rare occasion that I get Starbucks now that I don’t work at the mall, so I always really enjoy it when I get it. But as you all know, I am constantly balling on a budget and it’s not like I love spending three dollars for a drink that I could totally make at home. So, make it at home I did. I have been making my own iced coffee every day for the past week and it has been an absolutely delicious experience. My coffee concoction has tasted great every time, and not shelling out the dough for basically the exact same thing at Starbucks has been a freaking blessing, lol.

An iced coffee recipe may seem self explanatory, but mine has turned out really freaking good so I’m going to share it on here, anyways:

Sarah’s Iced Coffee Masterpiece

  • Make yourself the amount of coffee that you plan on drinking.
  • Once complete, let the coffee sit for about an hour so that it can cool.
  • Add 4 to 5 ice cubes to a glass and pour the now room temperature coffee over it.
  • Add a splash of flavor. I have been totally obsessed with Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss Vanilla creamer.
  • Drink and enjoy!

If you aren’t hip to the Coffee Mate Natural Bliss creamer collection, then you need to get on it ASAP. It is the purest, richest vanilla creamer that I have ever tasted and it literally will transform your iced coffee. I do not say this lightly, because it makes my coffee creation taste one million times better than what I used to get at Starbucks. AND it costed like two dollars for a bottle, which is awesome!

My iced coffee revelation may seem like a simple thing, because it really is pretty simple. BUT, I am so excited that I’ve made myself something that 1) saves money and 2) doesn’t sacrifice the taste, just in time for the warm summer weather ahead! GO ME!!

So there you have it, my Iced Coffee Obsession! Who else makes their own coffee creations at home? What is your caffeine beverage of choice? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Recipes For A Happier Life

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Recipes For A Happier Life

Okay, so this isn’t a usual recipe post. There isn’t one particular set of instructions for you to create an amazing meal. Instead, it is a post which links to a few different recipes that we love.  Ones that are going to make you happy if you are feeling a bit blue, maybe after your holiday or because you are fed up with the weather. But, no matter how you’re feeling, we can all agree that food is awesome.

There is a lot of focus on our health and physical fitness. Some of us work towards our holidays by going for the ultimate bikini body whilst others pack a few self improvement books and read our way to a better place. However, what we fail to do is focus on regularly consuming a variety of nutrient rich, wholesome foods. You know, improving our diet to improve our life. It isn’t going to give you instant results, but eating good quality foods consistently will improve your mental function, mood, and energy levels. Now, let’s get cooking:

So! What should you be eating and where are the recipes?

First of all, let’s talk about fat.  You may have been told that fat is the enemy, but that isn’t true.  Trans fats are the enemy. You find this fat in processed foods like sausages and ready made meals. Unsaturated fat is really good for you. In fact, our brains are made up from 40% fat and we need plenty of it to ensure that our brain stays healthy. Healthy oils can be found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. So, our first recipe is this fantastic Quinoa and Sprouted Sunflower Seed Salad & Avocado Dressing from the fantastic Food Spa blog. A delicious way of boosting your healthy fats.

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Love, love, love avocado!

In addition to these healthy fats, you also need essential fatty acids, AKA the Omega 3 Oils.  Research has shown that these improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms. The best sources of essential fatty acids are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and trout and you should aim to eat a couple of portions per week. So, here is an amazing recipe for Wild Salmon and Black Rice which will have you topping up on plenty of Omega 3s and a fabulous mood.

Next up is whole grains, fruits, and vegetables:

The best food is whole food – food in its most natural state. Think wholegrain cereals, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They provide us with the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that our bodies need to function their best. So if you want to get fit fast, eat plenty of whole foods. Serotonin, Vitamin B, and Zinc are all really helpful at managing depression.  Eating complex carbohydrates such as oats, grains, brown rice, and vegetables such as squash will release serotonin into the brain. Marmite is a fabulous source of B vitamins or you could also buy fortified wholefoods.

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash with Freekeh is a perfect way of ticking all of the things on this list. Give it a go, because Freekeh is super delicious and the new Quinoa. You know the deal with fruits and veggies: 5 servings a day, okay? If you struggle with that, then buy a juicer or Nutribullet and blitz your 5 a day for breakfast. While it is better to maintain a steady supply rather than take them all in one hit, at least you know you are getting the recommended amount!

Protein, please (for vegetarians and carnivores alike!):

Protein is required for our bodies’ growth, maintenance, and repair. A lack of protein in our diets can lead to irritability, fatigue, and a lack of concentration. Most of us will think of steak or chicken when protein is mentioned. However, you can get plenty of protein in plant based foods like lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. Soy beans, peas, and broccoli are also excellent sources of protein.

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Pexels Image

But, if you want a protein kick, then you can’t get better than Steak Frites. A delicious fillet steak, served on a bed of spinach with some sweet potato straw fries on the side. Perfecto! We also ought to add that eating dark chocolate, with 75% cocoa content, can improve your mood because of the protein in it. You’re welcome!

To wrap this post up, let’s talk about water – which we don’t have a recipe for! Water plays a huge role in our brain function. You need to be drinking around 2 liters of water a day to avoid effects like addled concentration, memory, and learning ability. Now, fill up a glass and drink up!

Delicious Featured Image By: Pexels

Asian Food? Give It A Thai

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Asian Food? Give It A Thai

Did you know that the average household uses a range of five or six main ingredients in their diet. This doesn’t include seasoning and herbs but focuses on the main features such as one or two types of meat, a source of carbohydrate such as potatoes or rice, and three main vegetables. That’s about it.

With busy lives we tend to scale down how adventurous we are in the kitchen and spend less time creating exciting meals than we do sitting down to eat. It’s kind of sad. There are so many great recipes out there that are quick, easy, and above all tasty so if your taste buds need a little treat at home, try including one, out of the safety zone, meal every week (and try to enjoy the cooking as much as the eating!).

Asia is the largest continent in the world and has such a diverse range of cuisine. There are flavors that will suit every palette, from Freekeh which is a gentle, smoked grain from Palestine to the complicated layers of spice and herbs that you would find in India. Asian food, on the whole, is healthy and boosts longevity which makes it a great addition to any household that is trying to get healthy but doesn’t want to spend their weeks eating salad and poached chicken. There are loads of recipes that are based around quick cooking and high flavor, which you can recreate at home.

When was the last time you bought any shellfish?  If it has been a while then you are really missing out. Steamed crabs offer a delicious meat and because of the delicate flavor, they only get better with a little bit of creativity. So check out this brilliant Thai Crab Cake recipe and see if you can add a little spice to your life:

Place about a half pound of crab meat, onion, lime zest (or kaffir lime leaf), chili powder, fish sauce, oyster sauce, 1 egg, and ¾ of a cup of panko (or polenta) into a food processor and blitz to combine all of the ingredients. Add another ¼ cup of panko (or polenta) and stir to combine. The mixture should be moist enough for you to create a cake but not so moist that it sticks to your hands and falls apart. You are better off if you find yourself in a situation where you need to add more panko, than trying to moisten things down.

Create your cakes, which should be about 3 inches in diameter, then place aside.  Add garlic salt into ¾ cup of your panko or polenta and set into a bowl. In another bowl whisk 2 small eggs. Dip your cakes into the egg first, then roll in the panko/polenta mix until completely coated.

In a sizzling hot pan, drop your cakes into the oil and cook for 2 minutes on each side.  Serve with a squeeze of lime, a little coriander salad, and some Thai sweet chili sauce. Simple as that – a delicious meal in under twenty minutes!

Featured Image By: Pexels

Hodge Podge Weekend Dinner

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Hodge Podge Weekend Dinner

Hey everyone and happy weekend! So yesterday I slaved away for the afternoon creating a hodge podge feast for dinner. We had a lot of odds and ends in the fridge and pantries that needed rid of so our meal consisted of a Minestrone soup compliments of our beloved Moosewood cookbook and then, I freestyled an avocado and black bean salad and a mozzarella ciabatta sandwich. Take a look at the finished products and then I will share my secret recipe for the avocado salad:

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In the fridge, I had a leftover avocado and lime from when I made guacamole last week. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these, so I Googled avocado recipes to see if I could get some inspiration. I saw a recipe for an avocado and black bean salad but it looked incredibly lackluster, so I decided to just whip together something from my imagination and came up with the first picture seen above.

I was so pleased with the final result of my salad that, for once in my life, I actually wrote down how I made it so that I could share it with all of you. In my opinion, it looks like something that you could buy from the store and I was incredibly impressed with both its taste and overall appearance. This salad is perfect for eating plain, scooped up with tortilla chips, wrapped in a tortilla, or as a filling for fish tacos. Here is the recipe for my avocado and black bean salad creation:

  • 1/2 of a large avocado (if you go for a huge avocado like what was in my fridge, 1/2 is really all you need)
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup cooked corn kernels (so happy to be rid of a leftover in my fridge!)
  • 1/2 of a tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro
  • A few shakes of Morton Kosher salt
  • A few shakes of cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Now, bear in mind that all of the above amounts are approximations and you can really add as much or as little of an ingredient as you want. Love tomato? Use the whole thing! Want it spicier? Add some chili powder and cumin. It’s totally up to you to personalize the salad and turn it into something that you and your whole family enjoys!

Interested in my recipe for mozzarella ciabatta sandwiches? Let me know in the comment section and I’ll publish that, too!

Overall, I am so happy with how my Hodge Podge Weekend Dinner turned out and the leftovers for days is definitely going to be nice! What dishes have you cooked or baked recently? Who is going to be making my avocado and black bean salad soon? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah