Wednesday, February 26, 2014

5 for Fighting... dry, damaged, and dull hair (aka how I got my hair back to health after extensions)


I'll never forget the day I walked into my new salon, feeling hair defeated after I'd gotten a bad hair cut, bad highlight... and seriously, am I the only one that takes their hair to heart?

She must have sensed my pain, as she told me what I already knew about my sad state of hairdom... then nodded her head and said, I know what to do.

4 hours, and more than that in hundreds of dollars later, I walked out of the salon a new woman.  A new woman with long hair.  Very long and perfectly blonde hair.  And for a girl who had never been able to grow her own hair more than a few inches below her shoulders, I wondered where hair extensions had been all my life.

That is, until a few years later, when I came to a point in my life where my bank account, nor the health of my hair could take it any more.  And after they were finally removed, I was left with even shorter, and even more damaged hair than I'd started with.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brownie Mochatella Milkshake #WRALSmartShopper

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A lot happens at 6:30am on a Sunday morning.

The K-9 alarm goes off, and not in one of those annoying beep, beep, beep ways.  But a big white paw, gently scratching at my side of the bed.   Part of me wanting to roll over and ignore him, on my one day to sleep in.  But the other part, knowing that if I get out and get in quick, we'll each make our way back to our cozy spots for a few more hours of sleep.

As we both stumble down the dimly lit stairs, again, like clockwork, I hear the low rumble of a lone car slowly making its way down our street. Brakes gently squeaking. Window rolling down… as the sound of three Sunday newspapers hit the driveway. Plop. Plop. Plop.

But as I open the sliding glass door, I realize this isn’t a typical Sunday morning. But one of those days that you feel as though you’ve been given your own personal gift, gazing upon what must be the most beautiful morning sky you’ve ever seen. Purples, pinks and oranges so bright, that you rub your eyes wondering if you’re really just in a dream… and reminded of all that comes along with the changing of the seasons.
Day trips with the top down. Evening walks in shorts. Ice cream.
So this week, as I looked down the list of sale items, I couldn’t help but get excited as a few of my favorite things popped out. Nutella, ice cream, milk, even whipped cream was on sale… hmmm…. how about milkshakes? And to make them even more special, if you’re like me, you’ve got a couple of brownie mixes in the pantry from past sales. And when tucked away in the milkshake’s center, the chocolaty chunks add a bit of whimsy. Plus, some of this morning’s leftover coffee balances the sweetness with a deep, bold richness… for a more sophisticated treat.
Creamy, dreamy, and a delicious dessert for an (almost) Spring Sunday afternoon, or any time.

Brownie Mochatella Milkshakes

1-1/2 quarts vanilla ice cream
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup coffee, chilled
½ cup Nutella (or your favorite chocolate hazelnut spread)
4 brownie squares, broken up into pieces
Whipped cream

For the first batch, of two, in a blender add half of the ice cream, milk, coffee, and nutella. Blend until combined and adjust ingredients based on taste and desired thickness. Fill two glasses each half full with milkshake, then a layer of the brownie chunks, and the rest of the milkshake. Top with whipped cream. Repeat for the second two milkshakes.

Serves 4
Cost per serving: 93 cents
*Note: all costs are approximate due to regional sale prices, amounts needed just for this specific recipe, and ingredients on hand. This recipe was created to utilize sale ingredients listed for the current week in Raleigh, NC stores.

For more recipes, and couponing tips and matchups, head on over to WRAL's SmartShopper Blog, where I'll be contributing weekly recipes that are fun, flavorful, and frugal.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lemony Cilantro Turkey Burgers with a Honey Dijon Blueberry Kale Salad #healthyluxemeals


Downton Abbey.  Microplanes.  Kale.

Three things I couldn't imagine living without now.  Yet, each leaving most of you saying "huh?" considering my belated enthusiasm.  Not to mention a few "I told you so's."

So, kale.

I'm not sure why I hadn't taken the plunge before now.  I like spinach, I like Swiss chard... and I've even given collard greens a "you have to try these, now that you live in the South" chance.  But kale looked so thick.  And dense.  And green.  And has even been touted as "The World's Healthiest Food."  Which once again, brings out that stubborn side of me... seriously, could it really be all that healthy?


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Couponing (really) is Chic- Part 1: The Wheres, Whys and Hows of Couponing


Up until about 6 months ago, the only discount shopping I did involved the Last Call section on Neiman Marcus' Website, and the free gifts with purchase from the Estee Lauder counter.

It wasn't because I thought I was too good for couponing.  And it wasn't because I was too lazy to do the work (and yes, I won't lie... couponing does take some effort, time, and planning).  But it was mostly because I just couldn't see how saving 50 cents here, and a dollar there, could really make much of a difference in my overall spending.

Boy, was I wrong.  

But it wasn't my fault.  I didn't know the proper steps to take to get the great deals.  Plus, my thinking was all wrong.  Especially when it came to when and why to buy food and other household products, in order to succeed at saving money.  And succeed I have.  I first started couponing as a way to give back, donating bi-weekly to my local food pantry.  And then, once I got past the myths, especially the one that couponing only applies to junk food, I also started using these principles to help save money for my own family.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tilapia Katsu with Shaved Asparagus and a Poached Egg #WRALSmartShopper


My name is Diana, and I'm a cooking-showaholic.

There, I said it.

And yes, my man is practically a Saint for putting up with my all-hours, all-the-time playlist of the Food Network, Cooking Channel… and have you been following The Taste?

I often wonder what my ultimate “Taste” dish would be.  Perhaps an exotic lamb dish?  Or something that brings memories of home?  Or, maybe something with lobster?  Lobster just might be the perfect food, but then I remind myself that the point of The Taste isn’t just about highlighting one ingredient. But about creating the perfect marriage of salty, sweet, rich, acidic… well, you get my drift.

So this week’s dish was inspired by wanting to not only create what I’d call the perfect dish in one bite. But to also take it one step further, creating a dish that is so luxurious and delicious; you’d never guess it cost less than buying a few items off the drive-thru dollar menu.
First, I saw that tilapia was on sale. Tilapia is a nice firm white fish, especially holding up nicely when fried, which made me think of katsu. I’ve enjoyed chicken katsu for years at my favorite Japanese restaurant, and only realized last year how simple it is to make at home. So, I decided to give fish a try with the same technique… a little flour, a little egg, a little panko… pure magic.
Then I decided on asparagus, because when it’s this inexpensive, one stocks up… especially at this time of year. Add on a poached egg, because a runny yolk (aka nature’s perfect sauce) makes everything taste better. And you’ve got one heck of a bite.
A salty crunch from the panko, a sweetness from the fish and the tonkatsu sauce, a richness from the poached egg, acidity from the lemon juice, and a fresh crispness from the shaved asparagus (when you shave it, you don’t need to cook it). And a bit of rice to act as a nice base for it all.
So, what would be your perfect “Taste” dish?

Tilapia Katsu with Shaved Asparagus and a Poached Egg

1 lb. tilapia filets (I cut 2 filets in half to make 4 servings)
½ c. flour
¾ c. panko break crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying (I use canola)
½ lb. asparagus, shaved
2 tblsp. olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
4 eggs, poached
Salt and pepper
Rice, cooked according to package directions
Tonkatsu Sauce (my favorite is Bull-Dog found at most Asian Markets)
For the fish:
Salt and pepper the tilapia and set aside. In a deep skillet, add about 2 inches of oil, and heat on high until ready for frying (I always test a corner of my breaded fish, and if it bubbles, it’s ready). While the oil is heating up, dredge the fish filets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Then the beaten eggs, and finally in the panko bread crumbs, which have also been seasoned with salt and pepper (I use 3 cereal bowls for dredging).
Once oil is ready, place fish in skillet and fry for about 3 minutes per side, or until fish is cooked through. Using tongs to turn once. Remove to cooling rack placed over a plate to allow any excess oil to drip away. (Note: if you simply place on paper towels, your fish will not be as crispy).
For the asparagus:
Wash and dry asparagus, and break off tough ends. Using a peeler, peel from the base to the tip in long motions to create ribbons. Place in a bowl and add in the oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
For the poached egg:
I use the swirl method. In a large saucepan, add water and bring to a rolling boil. Add in 2 teaspoons white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt. While the water is boiling, get a very cold egg and crack into a small dish or coffee cup.
Once the water is boiling, lower the heat a bit and with the end of a wooden spoon start stirring the water counter-clockwise to create motion in the pan. Gently drop the egg into the center of the pan (the water will be swirling around it). Make sure the white of the egg is coming together to form a nice round shape (if not, you can use your spoon to help it along a bit.) Then cover the pan, and turn off the heat. Cook for 4 minutes. Then remove egg with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
To assemble:
Top the fish with the poached egg, and then the shaved asparagus. Serve with rice and Tonkatsu sauce if desired.
Serves 4
Cost per Serving: $1.77
*Note: all costs are approximate due to regional sale prices, amounts needed just for this specific recipe, and ingredients on hand. This recipe was created to utilize sale ingredients listed for the current week in Raleigh, NC stores.
For more recipes, and tips on how to save money when you shop, head on over to WRAL's SmartShopper Blog, where I'll be contributing weekly recipes that are fun, flavorful, and frugal.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sticky Jelly Jar Chicken with Garlicky Sugar Snap Peas #WRALSmartShopper


There’s nothing like coming across a hidden treasure, especially when it’s more than 20 years later.  And this hidden treasure came in the form of a recipe card.

Last year, we had some flooding in our garage, and were forced to finally go through some old storage bins.  High School Year Books, old Captain’s Training Manuals, books on planting that perfect garden… that never got planted.  And an old recipe album.  You know, those now archaic storage devices from the 80’s that were popular after recipe card boxes and before computers.

And as I flipped though the now yellowed pages and plastic overlay that was peeling off at the corners, I came across a pocket in the back. I dug deep and out came a recipe card, and on it, it said “Chinese Plum Chicken, from Nana."
My heart sank, yet I smiled at the same time. Sadly, remembering how much I missed my Grandmother who passed away many years ago. But at the same time feeling like I’d been given another gift. To this day, I vividly remember that moment in time when we thumbed through her recipe box together and I asked her if I could have that recipe to try out.
And what was once Chinese Plum Chicken has now turned into Sticky Jelly Jar Chicken, mainly because it’s really hard to find plum jelly these days. But also, because it gives you a bit more freedom with the recipe… as you can pretty much use whatever combination of jelly that you have on hand. My favorites include strawberry, peach and apricot.
So, this week I was excited to see so many of these ingredients on sale, including the chicken breasts, onions and the jelly. And I also decided to add a side dish, thanks to the great sale of frozen vegetables, which added a nice healthy crunch to the mix.
Healthy, quick, and at just $1.93 per serving, this recipe will surely become treasured in your home too.

Sticky Jelly Jar Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c. jelly (I used 1/3 c. peach and 2/3 c. apricot jam- get fruit only if you can)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
Zest of 1/2 lemon (use a microplane if you can)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. hot sauce (I use a few shakes of Tabasco... add more if you want more heat!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken in greased 9x9 baking dish. In a bowl combine rest of ingredients. Pour over chicken and bake for around 45 min. or until just cooked through. Set chicken aside on a plate. Then, if you'd like a thicker sauce, put in saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let reduce for about 10 minutes. Then pour over chicken and serve.
Sugar Snap Peas:
1 package frozen sugar snap peas, defrosted
1/3 cup bean sprouts (optional)
2 Tblsp. olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
Place a sauté pan over med-high heat and add oil. When hot cook the garlic for about a minute. Then add the peas (and sprouts if using) and cook until tender for about 4 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over and salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4
$1.93 per serving
*Note: all costs are approximate due to regional sale prices, amounts needed just for this specific recipe, and ingredients on hand. This recipe was created to utilize sale ingredients listed for the current week in Raleigh, NC stores.
For more recipes, and tips on how to save money with couponing, head on over to WRAL's SmartShopper Blog, where I'll be contributing weekly recipes that are fun, flavorful, and frugal.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Brie Stuffed Turkeyballs with a Pomegranate Cranberry Thyme Sauce and What's New for 2014


Goldilocks was smart.

She knew when something just wasn't right, and refused to settle.  

Too hot... too cold.  Too soft... too hard.  Too big?
Not that gal.  And definitely not this girl.

Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that I've been settling this last year.  But I've had some projects that I've put on the back-burner... and I just can't deny that all signs are pointing to go.  And it's time.  And man, that's something I've learned so much about this last year.  Patience.  And taking time with things, not just bulldozing in, hoping for the best.  And hmmm... I'm starting to sound like my Father.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Spinach and Scallion Cream Cheese Baked Omelettes with Grape Tomatoes #WRALSmartShopper

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Eating these omelettes today, I'm taken back in time.  

It's 7am, and I open the back gate to enter what seems a close second to my favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden. I know it won't be long until the coffee is brewing, the smell of popovers baking will permeate throughout the kitchen, and the guests will groggily find their way to the dining room to start another day in paradise.  It's breakfast time at the Inn... and for my guests, and myself, there's not a care in the world.

So, this week I decided to recreate an old B&B favorite, after looking through all the sales items.  Shredded cheese, cream cheese, grape tomatoes, frozen veggies, and scallions, which are always an inexpensive way to add flavor, even when they aren't on sale.  And if you're anything like me, you're up to your ears in eggs from the last few weeks of incredible sales.  And if you're also like me, your a bit over egg salad sandwiches about now.

The cream cheese offers richness, with the tomatoes, spinach and scallions adding a boost of healthy freshness.  And don't forget the nutmeg.  I've used nutmeg in the past with spinach gratins, but an omelette?  Well, I gave it a try, and it changed ordinary to extraordinary, adding a bit of spicy depth.

Perfect for a quick breakfast, or a stress-free brunch.  Or add a side salad for a frugal lunch or dinner... this 90 cent cost per serving can't be beat.

Spinach and Scallion Cream Cheese Baked Omelettes with Grape Tomatoes

1/2 10-ounce frozen spinach, cooked according to the package directions, drained and squeezed dry in paper towels
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. shredded jack cheese
2 scallions, chopped (I used mostly the white part with a bit of the green)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (use freshly grated with a microplane if possible- worth a tiny splurge)
1/2 tsp. salt
A pinch pepper
6 grape tomatoes, sliced
10 eggs, beaten

In a large bowl, beat the eggs.  Then add the spinach, cream cheese, jack cheese, scallions, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Pour into 4 greased ramekins (I got these on markdown at Tuesday Morning), or and 8x8 glass baking dish.  Top with sliced grape tomatoes.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.

Serves 4

To read more, and to learn how to save money on your grocery bill, head on over to WRAL's SmartShopper Blog, where I'll be contributing weekly recipes that are fun, flavorful, and frugal.