Roasted Tomato Salsa

I love salsa. I’ve been known to polish off a single container of salsa, by myself, in a matter of hours. Numerous dinners have been ruined by me snacking on chips and salsa. I’m the first to reach for it when we’re out at a Mexican restaurant, and I’ll normally end my meal by — you guessed it — eating more chips and salsa.

While I’ll eat salsa pretty much in any form (chunky, restaurant style, verde, black bean…), I’m incredibly picky about the quality. I like my salsa freshly made; that junk in the jars doesn’t do it for me. My favorite store-bought salsa is Garden Fresh Naturals, a Michigan-made product that was recently purchased by Campbell Soup (and I swear, Campbell people, if you mess with my salsa, we’re gonna have an issue).

When it comes to restaurant salsa, though, there’s good, there’s great, and then there’s Red Mesa. Continue reading

Why I Will (Probably) Never be a Food Blogger, and a Brownie Recipe

I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. On the one hand, lots of really great ideas to inspire my cooking, decorating, and shopping habits. Also an easy way to keep all of these great ideas organized and easily accessible.

On the other hand, the expectations that Pinterest sets are normally nearly unattainable. My good friend Stephanie sent me this Buzzfeed article the other day, which perfectly describes the sky-high standards that Pinterest is setting for anyone who wants to cook, clean, look, etc…better.

I especially related to the author’s point about lighting:

“23. I learned that a lot of Pinterest is just good lighting.”

Food photography (and photography in general, I suppose) is so dependant on lighting and photo quality…two details at which I am consistently failing when it comes to taking photos of my food.

I love to cook. But you’d barely realize it reading this blog (house building obsession aside) because I can very rarely get a good photo of the things I cook. The reasons are two-fold: one, because I can’t for the life of me find even one of the two batteries I have for my DSLR, which means I take a lot of iPhone photos; and two, because we are currently living in a tiny apartment with only two windows, which means lighting is ideal basically never.

Continue reading

Nature Box: An Unbiased Review

Note: I was not compensated in any way by Nature Box. I paid for my first box with my own hard-earned cash, and this is my unbiased, honest opinion of what I received. 

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Hello, my name is Maria and I’m a snacker.

I love snack food. On any given day, the bottom drawer of my desk looks something like this:

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I’m always looking for new snacks to try, but the selection at my grocery store wasn’t changing very rapidly. Not only that, there were certain things I was afraid to commit to (sometimes you want to try a handful of Siracha popcorn before committing to the whole bag, know what I’m sayin’?). I kept hearing about this straight-to-your-door snack food company, and thought it sounded right up my alley. Last week, I finally broke down and signed up for Nature Box.

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I happened upon a 50% off coupon for my first box, and, since I was already spending at least $10 every other week in the snack aisles of Target, I decided to try it out. I hoped it would give me an alternative to the Peanut Butter and Jelly trail mix I love so much (but is so not good for me) and it would be delivered right to my office, where I do the most of my snacking.

To get started with Nature Box, you can browse through their offerings, and add as many different snacks as you’d like to your “pantry.” From there you can customize your box, add additional bags, surprise snacks, etc (I chose each snack in my box, so there were no surprises when it arrived). There’s a countdown at the top that tells you how many days you have left to customize your box before your monthly subscription ships — if you’re very impatient, you can choose “ship now” and get it even sooner.

As I mentioned, I paid half of what the box is advertised for ($10 instead of $20), so each pouch was approximately $1.60. Even at $3 a pouch, this is a pretty middle-of-the-road price for snack food, a fairly good price for “healthy” snack food.

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A week after my box shipped, it arrived at my office. I was happily surprised by its weight — these snacks should last me at least a month, if not more. I opened the box and was again happy with the size of the bags of snacks. So far so good.

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Below is a detailed description of the six snacks I recieved in my first box, with links to the Nature Box description and product details. It’s very easy to see which snacks are soy-/wheat-/nut-/etc-free, which I imagine would be great for anyone with allergies, or kids who have allergies.

Here’s how the snacks rated on the official Stieve Says taste test:

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Cherry Ganache Granola – nice, crunchy texture, but not too hard that it damages the roof of your mouth (am I the only one that has this issue with granola?). The oats were not overly sweet, but had a nice baked flavor to them. The cherries were nice and big, tart and tasty. Solid first offering, Nature Box.

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Cheddar and Onion Sunflower Kernels – the flavoring on these tastes exactly like the cheddar and onion Ruffles potato chips, but once that goes away, the aftertaste of the seeds is a little bitter. Still, after one handful, I was already craving a second. The flavor powder is a little messy, so this one is not great for snacking while working/typing.

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Country Ranch Peas – I can’t say that I’ve ever had dried peas before, but the taste is pretty much exactly what you would imagine. Again, a nice initial tangy flavor from the coating, but the taste of the peas isn’t awesome — kind of exactly what you would imagine dried-up peas to taste like. Flavor coating stayed on these guys a lot better, though, and I didn’t have to wipe my hands after consuming. This was a miss for me — I like peas in general, but dried ones are apparently not a favorite flavor profile.

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Bruschetta Pretzel Pops – These guys smelled amazing when I opened the bag, but unfortunately didn’t taste as good as the smell. The rosemary is very overpowering, so much so that it left a burning sensation in my throat. I needed some water to get the taste out of my mouth — the flavoring is way too overpowering on this snack. I wished I had gotten the salted caramel version instead.

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Guacamole Bites – This was my favorite of the savory snacks. Initially they taste just like store-bought guac — very flavorful but not overpowering on the onion or cilantro. The aftertaste is when you get more of a corn chip flavor. I wished it were more like a tortilla chip than a Frito, but still, these were by far my favorite snack.

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Carrot Strawberry Fruit Chews – First reaction: wait, aren’t these the same fruit snacks I buy at Target? Well, the taste is not quite the same (the Nature Box kind were slightly less sweet), but even the ingredients and the nutritional information is almost exactly the same — like a fruit snack made with real fruit juice, which is what both products advertise themselves as being. You get 5 individual pouches with Nature Box, which makes each pouch about $0.80 each (when paying the full $20-per-box price); Target’s boxes come with 6 pouches which even out to $0.42 each.

The idea of Nature Box is great — healthy snack food delivered to your door. For the price, even at a full $20 per box, it’s not an exorbitant amount, in my opinion (and don’t forget this is including delivery), if you are already purchasing pre-packaged snack food. For those of us that are used to bringing fresh fruits or veggies to the office as snacks, Nature Box can’t really compete (health- or dollar-wise). And for some items, like the fruit chews, the Big Box stores are still able to outdo Nature Box when it comes to price-per-serving.

As a whole, I would give this box a 7 out of 10. The flavor of several snacks was a bit overwhelming (I doubt I will ever finish those pretzel pops), but there are still a few different items in my pantry that I have yet to try, and I will most likely order another box in the future. I also think that the box every month is a little bit much — this box (along with several fresher snack choices) will satisfy my snacking needs for at least 6 weeks, if not longer.

Nature Box might not be the cheapest option for your snack-time needs, but it is definitely the most convenient. If you are like me and keep several bags/boxes of food in your desk, try adding up what you spend in a month on snacks — if it’s more than $20, give Nature Box a try. In fact, if you follow this link you’ll get $10 off your order, making your first box just $10. You can cancel at any time, but there are so many options (and new stuff being added every month), there’s bound to be some misses, which is why you’ll probably see me roaming the halls of my office in a few weeks with another orange and green box.

Have you tried Nature Box yet? Tell me what your favorite snacks are in the comments!

Newlywed Holiday Traditions

Now that the wedding is over, I’ve really been enjoying the “officialness” of being a family. It was (and is) really important to me, during this first year of marriage, to create some new traditions for our family, and carry on some old ones as well. And what better time to kick of some family traditions than over the holidays? I hope that, by documenting them here, we’ll be able to look back over the years and see how our traditions develop over our lifetime together. So here we go!

(All photos personal.)

Thanksgiving

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls are one of Troy’s favorite, but as the name of the recipe suggests, they take quite a while to make. So, since I’m off work early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, this gives me plenty of time to prep the rolls and allow them to rise, just in time to bake on Thanksgiving morning.

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I use Alton Brown’s recipe, and when they are ready, we chow down while…

Watching the Parades. I love watching the Detroit and NYC parades on Thanksgiving morning, and now it’s part of our holiday tradition.

This last one is more of a broken tradition now that I’m married. I used to make Jello for Thanksgiving dinner, every single year trying to outdo the year prior. I’ve made so many Jello dishes in my years, I’ve pretty much run out of recipes worthy of such a feast. This year, I decided to forgo the tradition in favor of something a little more “grown up” — this year I made this cauliflower gratin, which was amazing.

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I’m hopeful one of my younger cousins will pick up the Jello slack and carry on the tradition!

Christmas

The first Christmas tradition is one that was started by my mom when I was a kid, and one that I wanted to start with my family: the gift of pajamas on Christmas Eve. Here I am modeling the PJ pants I gave to Troy.

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I love me some new jammies!

Something that I think nearly every couple, new or old, deals with during this time of the year is the holiday shuffle — doing their best to make time for each side of the family. Troy and I have been doing our shuffle for nearly as long as we’ve been together, and I think we pretty much have it down to a science: my dad’s side the weekend before Christmas, his dad’s side on Christmas eve, Christmas morning with his mom and siblings, and Christmas dinner with my mom’s side. Maybe we’ll travel less once there are some kiddos in the mix, but for now, this works out great for us.

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After the busyness of the holiday shuffle, there’s nothing like some serious relaxation on Christmas night, hence the tradition of blowing up the air mattress & watching Christmas movies. This year we got home fairly early so we had time to watch a few flicks — The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Holiday, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Leading up to Christmas, we also got in viewings of Love Actually and A Christmas Story (naturally).

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Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other very important member of our family: our pupster, Brady. We definitely don’t forget about him during the holidays. In addition to the new bed he got from Nana and Papa, we also celebrated Doggie Christmas — the time directly after the holiday when all of the holiday pet toys are 50-75% off! This is the only time of the year we (willingly) allow the pup to have plush toys that he demolishes within a few minutes. But hey, it’s Christmas.

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Finally, I was very excited to send out our first family holiday card this year. We used one of the photos from our honeymoon session and created a “cheers to the New Year” card. It was also pretty handy that we had collected everyone’s addresses for the wedding, so getting these babies in the mail was a snap compared to all the wedding-related mail we’ve sent in 2013.

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New Years Eve

Again, this is more of a broken tradition. Normally NYE is the time we celebrate the anniversary of when we first starting dating. This year, however, we have a new anniversary (September 28!), but midnight on January 1 will always have a special day in our hearts.

New Years Day

In addition to football and hockey, I’ve instituted yet another food-based tradition: biscuits and gravy on New Year’s Day. Like many, our diets start on January 2, so this is the last day we can really indulge in dishes like this — might as well start the year off right!

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Not very pretty, but man were they delicious!

And that does it for the Stieve family holiday traditions! We’re all looking forward to continuing these for many more Christmases to come.

Please feel free to share your holiday traditions, new and old, in the comments!

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

Juicing Journey: Day 3 Update

Sorry for the delay! Here is the final chapter in the juicing journey.

7:00AM: wake up and am feeling ok until that hungover feeling hits again — headache, dry mouth, sore throat. Bummer. Gotta get to work this morning, though.

8:30AM: trying to make these juices last so I delay my first green juice for as long as I can. Suck it down and realize how sick of this juice I am.

9:00AM: everyone at work thinks I am crazy for doing this cleanse.

10:30AM: PAM juice is so delicious. I’m trying not to be hungry, but am thinking about what I will and will not be able to eat the rest of the week with my post-cleanse tummies. D agrees it will be rough going.

12:30PM: it’s probably not a good thing that it is quiet at the office today — all I can think about is food. I literally gag down the final green juice. I just can’t stand the taste of it any more.

2:00PM: both D and I decide that we will break the fast tonight. Thinking about the upcoming days at work, neither of us want to be either hungry or uncomfortable as we navigate the post-cleanse.

3:00PM: it’s becoming increasingly difficult to resist my drawer of salty snacks these last couple hours of the work day. Items on my desk are starting to resemble food. That can’t be a good sign.

5:00PM: when I get home I finish the last of my cashew milk. I skipped my final CAB juice, as there was no way I was drinking a final glass of dirty beets. The cashew milk was filling, but I was still craving salt.

6:30PM: I couldn’t hold out any longer and made myself some kale chips. I could not wait to get those salty leafs into my mouth. I snuck a piece of raw kale as I was prepping. Chewing is weird.

7:00PM: kale chips are ready! I put them in a bowl and eat them like popcorn. They are so delicious, and I eat every last one.

7:15PM: get an almost immediate stomach ache. Guess salt wasn’t exactly what the belly wanted.

7:30PM: sooth belly with tea and lay on the couch the rest of the night. D and I both complain about stomach aches and share what we are most looking forward to eating again: carbs.

10:00PM: eventually go to bed, proud that I was able to get as far as I did on the juice cleanse.

When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, “I get to eat today!” However, this is not the end of the journey. Since the end of the cleanse, I have had to reintroduce food to my stomach. The day after breaking the cleanse, the only thing I was able to eat was applesauce and a few almonds. This entire week I have found that it takes much less food for my body to feel full, which has caused me to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. As of today, I have not had any meat, caffeine, alcohol, or refined sugar since beginning the cleanse. I feel great, my stomach is flatter, and my skin is clearer. I hope to be back very soon with some thoughts on juicing, cleansing, and the overall experience.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, and a special thanks to D, who was a total trooper for attempting this experiment with me.

Cheers!

Juicing Journey: Day 2 Update

In case you missed it, I’m doing a juice cleanse! Here’s Day 2…

9:00AM: woke up and had a cup of tea while Fiancé scrambled around to leave for his work trip. I’m not glad that he’s leaving, but at least there won’t be anyone around our place cooking delicious smelling food. Not feeling so hot today – a kind of hungover feeling, sore throat, dry mouth, headache.

10:00AM: after dropping Fiancé off at the airport, headed home for my first green juice of the day. Glad I made it the day before, because I was in definite need of nourishment.

10:30AM: thought I would come home and fall asleep, but the house was a mess, so I spent some time cleaning. For the past few days I’ve had counters full of produce that wouldn’t fit in the fridge, and it was starting to smell…

12:00PM: PAM juice time is my favorite time. If I ever juice again, PAM juice will be at the top of my list, probably because it tastes the most like what I used to consider ‘juice’.

12:30PM: D and I have been commiserating over text. Neither one of us are very happy at this point. My day of relaxing on the couch turns quickly turns unbearably boring as there is nothing on TV except reality shows.

1:30PM: time to do the last of my juicing. Prepped and juiced 3 green juices to finish out the cleanse. I am so glad to be done with this little machine for a while.

2:00PM: mix some tea with the spicy lemonade. The taste is not so bad, but the burning in my throat is horrible.

2:30PM: still horizontal on the couch. Decide I need a distraction and buy a movie on-demand – 21 Jump Street. Not too bad. Does its job to distract me for 90 minutes.

4:00PM: hold nose and finish the horrible-tasting CAB juice after doctoring it up with some leftover lemonade. D informs me that hers is much more palatable after peeling beets. People, peel your beets. Blech.

5:00PM: still not interested in any of the wedding or house hunting shows on my DVR. Find a horrible Kristen Bell movie and watch it in entirety.

6:00PM: realize I’m not really focusing unless the characters are eating food.

8:00PM: cashew milk not as yummy as last night. Bummer – this is really getting old.

8:30PM: finally decide I’m enough of a mess to warrant a shower. Standing for 20 minutes is the most difficult thing I’ve done today.

9:00PM: watch a markedly terrifying episode of True Blood. Scripted TV succeeds in distracting me, but I do find myself sympathetic of hungry vampires… They can’t eat solids, either.

10:30PM: call it a night and think I’ll fall asleep immediately. No such luck. Feels like I wake up about 20 times during the night. Not a good sign of things to come on Day 3…

One more day to go… cheers to that.

Juicing Journey: Day 1 Update

In case you missed it, I’m doing a juice cleanse! Here’s how Day 1 played out…

10:30AM: I woke up late so I was already way off schedule, but I wasn’t too concerned. I juiced the majority of my drinks the night before, but needed to juice my first green juice of the day. I had some tea while I was juicing, which helped with the slight hunger while I juiced.

11:00AM: after letting it chill, I enjoyed my first green juice of the day. I had been craving it since my test run last weekend, so it went down pretty quick. Fiancé and I were ready to leave the house at this point to run errands, so I packed up a couple bottles of water and my morning PAM juice to take on the road.

11:30AM: while Fiancé got his hair cut, I got my nails done. I wasn’t able to drink my water during the manicure, which was probably a good thing because I really had to pee by the end of it (and yeah, definitely ruined my nails within 5 minutes. Awesome).

12:30PM: Fiancé took me to get my engagement ring cleaned, and then I got to try the PAM juice for the first time. It was so good, definitely my favorite of the juices I had tasted. Due to some juicing malfunctions, however, it was also the smallest.

2:00PM: we went to the mall to buy some clothes for fiancé’s business trip the next day. I used the bathroom on the way in and on the way out — whew, I was going so much! The worst part about the mall was the smells: cookies at Mrs. Field’s, greasy pretzels from Pretzel Time… Even the smells from Bath & Body works made my mouth water!

2:30PM: I only brought one juice with me and errands took a little longer than I thought. Running further behind schedule, but I was glad I brought the extra water to feel full.

3:30PM: finally got home. Since I was so off schedule already and not wanting to waste time juicing, I skipped the green juice to the spicy lemonade. Even with some extra agave, it was incredibly sour! D felt similarly (I’d been texting her all day — cleansers gotta stick together!) and had the idea to mix the lemonade with tea (which we are allowed in unlimited quantities) to make an Arnold Palmer. I will definitely be using that trick tomorrow!

4:00PM: I made two green juices (one for today and one for tomorrow morning). It’s quite time consuming, washing, peeling, and juicing all the veggies. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the couch.

5:30PM: green juice time. Took a little more effort to suck this one down. The taste is just so bland.

6:00PM: fiancé makes himself dinner. I told him to make something that wouldn’t make me want to tackle him for, so he made steak and potatoes. It didn’t matter that I don’t eat red meat — the smell of cooking garlic made me cry a little inside.

7:30PM: time for the purple CAB juice. Not gonna lie, it was incredibly disgusting. It was like drinking sugary mud. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a beet before today, but I will make a point to steer clear. Yuck. I held my nose and tossed it back. I made some tea directly after to get the taste out of my mouth.

8:30PM: we left the house to go to a movie with some friends. I packed my cashew milk and a bottle of water to take with me. I wasn’t feeling hungry, so I left the milk in a cooler in the car for afterwards. I took my bottle of water, but tried not to drink too much — I really didn’t want to be running in and out of the movie theater, because it was too crowded for me to have a seat on the aisle.

11:30PM: movie let out, and I didn’t realize how much I had to pee until I stood up. The lines at the bathrooms were enormous, so I decided I could hold it. When we finally got home, I nearly peed my pants. Not going to risk that again. Once I was able to use the bathroom, I grabbed my cashew milk out of the cooler. It tasted great, and the slight grittiness was actually a nice change — even a little texture was welcome at this point!

12:00AM: we stopped by the park near our house to catch the end of the summer picnic and hang out with some of our neighbors. My juice cleanse seemed to appall most.

1:30AM: finally went to bed after some more water. I was surprised at how good I still felt. The biggest thing I missed about eating normal food was the variety and the savory — no sodium at all in this diet. I fell asleep and dreamed of cheeseburgers and burritos (not really, but it wouldn’t have surprised me).

Here’s to hoping Day 2 is equally as successful.

Cheers!