What I’m Loving Wednesday

First, congrats to Marci! She won the World Market gift card giveaway. Happy shopping =)

Now. What I’m loving Wednesday.

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Checkout 51. If y’all haven’t checked out (ha!) Checkout 51, you should. A coworker introduced me to it, and it’s a simple way to get a little bit of money back from buying groceries. Every week they post about 15 items, and if you buy any of those items you can take a picture of your receipt, “claim” whichever items you bought and earn money back. It’s usually not very much (this week I earned $0.25 for buying bananas, $0.25 for buying tomatoes, and $1.00 for buying Glade Wax Melts-the new sage & thyme smells so good!), but it adds up. And when you get to $20, you can cash out (or keep saving) and they’ll mail you a check. I received my first check for $21 on Monday! The only downfall is that there aren’t many items that I buy. I usually just take advantage of any offers on produce & chocolate. And if I need cleaning supplies, and there is an offer on there, I’ll buy that brand of toilet cleaner (or whatever). So, it does take a while to get that first check. But still. Money back for things you need to buy anyways? Yes, please!

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These bone china loaf pans from Anthropologie are gorgeous. They’re $24 and are so much prettier than the ugly, non-stick metal ones I typically use. I think one of these (with a loaf of bread in it), would make such a pretty hostess gift for all of the upcoming holiday gatherings. They come in three colors; white, pink & gray. I want the white to give as a gift, and the pink & gray for myself ;)

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This glassware. *swoon*. I own ‘plain’ glassware. You know, the clear glass wine glasses & champagne flutes. But I rarely use them. My favorite pieces of glassware are the ones that are a little bit special. Whether it’s special because of a monogram etched into it, Swarovski crystals in the stem, or just specks of color blown into the glass, they’re all beautiful and special, and I would be really sad if they broke. These glasses from Anthropologie would be an excellent addition to my collection of pretty glassware.

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This beech wood platter & porcelain bowl from West Elm is perfect for the upcoming soup & grilled cheese season (aka fall). I’ve seen lots of similar items to this on Pinterest, but they’ve all had a perfect square cut out for where the sandwich should go. There are so many great types of bread out there these days, a grilled cheese is much, much different from it was when I was a kid. I love that this tray can accommodate any shape of bread, without making my OCD head hurt that the sandwich doesn’t fit perfectly in the specified spot. (Yes, I am a weirdo.)

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How awesome are these timers? So cute. I’m not sure how practical they would be, since I need to hear a buzzer going off, but as a decorative accessory in my kitchen? Adorable.

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These painted mason jars are so pretty! I’d love to make one of these, buy the soap pump and turn use it as the soap pump in the kitchen. The navy matches the wall I’m (probably) going to paint, and the gold glitter is just fun. Has anyone spray painted mason jars before? I’m worried the paint will eventually scratch or chip off, so if anyone has any tips to paint them and have the paint last, I’d love to hear them!

Recipe: Vegetarian Lasagna

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Lasagna. I love lasagna. It’s easy, it’s hearty, and it’s delicious. I usually make it with spicy Italian sausage, but this time I was looking for something a little lighter. So, instead of sausage, I sauteed a ton of vegetables and it was every bit as delicious, with a heck of a lot less calories. I promise, this lasagna is so delicious and filling, even the biggest carnivore would never miss the meat. One thing I love about this recipe, is how easy it is to customize to your own preference and what a great way it is to use up a lot of veggies that may be on their way out. It’s also really easy to make multiple dishes of this. I doubled up on the amount of veggies and sauce, froze half, and already have the filling ready for another pan of lasagna in the future.

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Vegetarian Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 16 oz. crimini mushrooms
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 10 oz. box of frozen spinach; thawed & all liquid squeezed out
  • 2 cloves of garlic; minced
  • 4 cups of marinara sauce
  • 3 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan
  • 15 oz. of part-skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup of chopped parsley
  • 1 T. of red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees.
    2. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and bell pepperfor about 5-7 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for an additional two minutes. Add the spinach, the marinara sauce, red pepper flakes and salt & pepper to taste. Lower the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
    3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and cook and drain as directed on package.
    4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the parsley.
    5. To assemble:
      1. Spread 1 cup of the sauce mixture in a 13×9-inch baking dish. Top with 4 noodles. Spread 1 cup of the cheese mixture over noodles; spread with 1 cup of the sauce mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat with 4 noodles, the remaining cheese mixture, 1 cup of the sauce mixture and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Top with remaining noodles and sauce mixture. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. 
    6. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 more minutes, or until the cheese is golden & bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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I survived camping!

This past weekend Graham and I took a fairly last-minute camping trip to upstate South Carolina with his family. They take a trip there nearly every summer, and it’s Graham’s favorite place in the world. It’s been five years since he’s been able to go with them, and everything just kind of fell into place for us to tag along this year.

While I’m not the camping type, we did have a great time. The scenery was gorgeous, the water felt amazing, and everyone we were with seemed to have a great time. We came back with a few battle wounds… I have a huge gash on my foot from stepping on a stick, Hermione has a broken tail, and Graham has huge scratches on his face from when Hermione freaked out when he tried to help her off the boat. But, other than that, camping was a success, and I would do it again. Although Graham is talking about maybe renting a house for next year. That would be better…

At the boat dock, waiting for his parents, Hermione was instantly in the water.
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She loves being on the boat, which is adorable.
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Once we got to the beach area where everyone else had set up for the day, we headed back out on the boat with Graham’s brother and their friends. We drove out to a rock that the boys took turns jumping off of…
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… and checked out some waterfalls. There was a bigger waterfall we went to that I would have loved to take pictures of, but it required jumping off the boat and swimming to it. So, my camera didn’t make it to that one. It was beautiful though. And the amount of snakes slytherin slythering around only made it mildly scary.
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The next morning we headed back out for day two. Graham drove, and I realized that my husband looks really hot with his hat backwards. =)
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Hermione was anxious and stressed out with all of the new people around, so we distracted her with sticks. She is such a good swimmer. It was adorable when the other dog arrived. They would swim after the stick, and came back a few times with one holding on to one end of it, and the other on the other end.
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After a while on the beach, Graham and I took the boat out to search for more waterfalls. We didn’t find any, but it was so relaxing.
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Once we got back to the beach, it started to rain. Luckily, there were two canopies set up, so we all crammed in under those. And Graham and I “buried” Hermione (we didn’t actually bury her… we just covered her in sand). She was tired, and I’m sure the cold sand felt nice on a 90+ degree day, so she stayed there for a while. It was pretty cute though when Jenny used her as a step to see what was going on with the food situation.
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Even when it was raining and gross, it was still beautiful out there.
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We headed back to Virginia yesterday, but made a stop at a roadside market for South Carolina peaches. I bought way too many… I weighed them when I got home, and I ended up with just under 25 lbs. I need to get off the computer so I can start making this peach & blueberry jam =)
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Restaurant Review: Luna Maya

Okay. Before I start, let me apologize for the HORRIBLE photos that are accompanying this post. I asked for a table outside, but that didn’t happen and we ended up in the darkest corner imaginable. Great for a cozy dinner with your husband, not great for decent quality food photos.

Now. On to the review. Luna Maya has been on my radar for a few weeks now. A guy who lives in my apartment complex mentioned it one night while we were in the dog park. We’re still on the lookout for a Mexican restaurant here that we can call our favorite, and since this place was so highly recommended, I wanted to check it out. We went on a Friday night and at that point the wait was about 20 minutes for a table. We grabbed seats at the bar and perused the menu while we waited. Graham ordered a margarita, which he said was too strong. For him to say that, it had to be REALLY strong. For $10, I’m glad there was a lot of tequila, but still. If he had wanted straight up tequila, he would have ordered that.

Once we were sat at our table, I ordered a drink and he switched to beer. I ordered a pomegranate caipiroskas (pomegranate juice, vodka, muddled limes and sugar). It was just strong enough and absolutely delicious. They also have a drink called the caipirnhas, which is similar, but contains Brazillian rum instead of vodka. For both drinks you have a choice of lime, mango, pomegranate and passion fruit. I plan on getting a different flavor every time, and eventually I’ll let you know which one is best ;)

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When the waitress took our drink orders, we also ordered the Queso Fundido con Chorizo (melted cheese, homemade chicken chorizo and roasted poblanos) as an appetizer. Y’all. This was SO good. It was spicy, had a TON of chicken chorizo in it, and I pretty much just wanted to eat it with a spoon. It was so, so good.

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I’m really glad we ordered an appetizer. We were both STARVING, and considering every table that was sat after us, got their food before us, I think our waitress forgot to put in our order. She sucked on multiple levels. For example, she never refilled our water glasses. She took the pitcher around to all of her other tables, filled up their water, and left my glass completely empty. I stole Graham’s, but that’s just unacceptable. She also never spoke to us. At all. Someone else brought us our queso, she never asked how it was. As she stopped by to clear off plates and glasses, she never told us our food would be out shortly, or asked if we needed anything else. FINALLY, our meals came out.

I had ordered the Enchiladas en Chipotle (two enchiladas with your choice of protein, in a spicy chipotle sauce, covered in cheese, with rice and black beans). I chose the chicken chorizo, and these were amazing. There was so much chorizo in these, and the enchilada sauce was rich, slightly spicy and really delicious. Even the black beans and rice were good, both of which are usually very hit or miss at Mexican restaurants.

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Graham ordered the Tamales Luna Maya, which was two sweet, yellow corn tamales, shredded beef slow cooked in Ancho chile sauce, with sour cream, rice and black beans. He loved this. I did not. The beef itself was really good, but the super sweet corn under the beef was just a weird combination for me. But I’m not a big fan of corn in general, so there you go.

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Other than our waitress, we really enjoyed our dinner here. The food lived up to the hype, the ambience was very cool, and it’s in a very charming area of Norfolk. After dinner we walked around for a little bit, and saw a few other places we’d like to check out. We don’t usually cross the bridge that much, because there is ALWAYS traffic. But we’re learning that most of the (really) good restaurants are on the other side of the bridge. So, I guess we’re going to have to suck it up and sit in traffic more often… I was recently scrolling through my list of places I wanted to try, and most of them are in Norfolk or Virginia Beach… Oh well… If I get too stressed out by the traffic, I can always relax with a cocktail once I get there, right? =)

And FYI, I’m going camping this weekend with Graham and my in-laws. It’s supposed to be 94 degrees. If I survive, I’ll see y’all on Monday with an update. And if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a $25 World Market gift card!

What I’m Loving Wednesday & a GIVEAWAY: World Market

The location of our apartment is pretty amazing. We have a Trader Joe’s, TJ Maxx, Petco, Starbucks, Five Guys, Jason’s Deli, Sweet Frog (and more) almost right in our parking lot. Go a little further down the road and there is a Chipotle, Target, the future home of Whole Foods (vegan chocolate chip cookies & hot bar macaroni & cheese, ftw!), a Fresh Market & a World Market. We went from not having a World Market in the same state, to having one right down the street. It’s a pretty awesome. And considering my obsession with serving dishes, pretty dangerous for our bank account.

World Market is one of my favorite stores ever. We didn’t have one in Arkansas, and I hated that. Every time we were home in Charlotte, stopping by there was always near the top of my to-do list. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re always guaranteed to find something wonderful. Most of the serving dishes I use on a daily basis are from World Market (these bowls are my favorite. Ever. And don’t even get me started on these wine glasses. I hated stemless wine glasses before I found these).

If you’re more practical than I am, and don’t feel the need for an absurd amount of dishes, you’re still guaranteed to find something there you love. Especially in their wine & beer section. SO many different wines and beers that you can’t find at regular grocery stores. Other than the serving dishes, my favorite section is their gourmet food section. Holy crap, they have so many awesome things to choose from. Spices, ethnic items, and a killer selection of pickles and other pickled things. They have a spicy pickled okra that I just snack on straight from the jar.

So, I’m going to stop rambling about how awesome World Market is, because I’m sure most of you have been there, and show you some of my current favorite things and then give you the opportunity to pick up something for yourself!

LOVE this wood bark pedestal stand. It’s charming & rustic. I love it as is, but I saw a picture of one online with a glass serving bowl on top, and it looked just as awesome, in a completely different way. This little beauty is $29.99, and I’d love to use this as part of my Thanksgiving table setting.

This wood & marble cake stand is beautiful. Simple, elegant and just begging for me to bring it home with me next time. The 9″ is $24.99 and the 12″ is $34.99.

Apparently I have Thanksgiving on the brain, because I’m picturing this beautiful serving bowl full of vegetables on my Thanksgiving table. They have a whole set of bakers and bowls in this pattern, and honestly I want them all. But this one the most. This bowl is $26.99.

I love these napkins. I love anything blue & white, really. But at $9.99 for a set of four, I really love these.

I want this chair for our guestroom so badly, I can’t even handle it. The only thing holding me back is that our animals are destructive hellions. I’m not even going to tell you what our 2 year old, $4,000 couch currently looks like. So, I’m holding off. For now. But I’m sure I’ll cave eventually. Because I really, really love this chair.

Y’all know I love mason jars… and these mason jar measuring cups are right up my alley. I love the style and the color of these so much! And at $12.99? Yes, please!

So, those are some of my current favorites, but I really could go on and on. But like I said, now it’s your turn to pick something. My blog has been growing a lot, lately. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m posting more consistently, the different format, or who knows. The point it, it’s growing and I wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you. And I’m saying thank you by giving away a $25 gift card to one of my favorite stores! So, just click on the image below to enter, and gain as many entries as you want. Thank you guys so much for supporting me here, and I hope you’ll stick around as I continue to grow.

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*** This post was not sponsored or endorsed in any way by World Market.

A Random Saturday in Maryland

Saturday morning, we had just finished breakfast and we sitting on the couch throwing around ideas for what to do that day. While G was on the phone dealing with reservations for our camping trip next weekend (this should be interesting…), I decided that I was driving to Assateague Island to see the Chincoteague ponies. I’ve been wanting to see them for a while, but to get there you have to pay a $15 toll (each way), which is ridiculous. I decided I was tired of being held hostage by this toll, so I decided I was going. As soon as G was off the phone, I hopped up and said that I was going to see ponies, and if he wanted to come with me he better hurry up and get ready.

So, we packed a lunch and headed out. When I decide I’m doing something, it’s best not to stand in my way ;)

Thanks to traffic, it took about 3 hours to get to Assateague Island. A lot of the guides online told me I probably would not see ponies. So I was really, really happy when we saw these right off the main road. I was happy we saw ponies, but I was even happier with the wildlife refuge itself. It was so beautiful, and I loved seeing animals, just doing their thing, free from human interference.

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After leaving Assateague Island, I realized we weren’t far from Ocean City, Maryland, so we kept driving. I’ve been wanting to head that way, and I figured we might as well do it now instead of paying that insane toll again.

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As a kid, I grew up vacationing at Myrtle Beach. It was always so much fun. We’d spend the day at the beach or the hotel pool and every night we’d head to the pavilion for rides and arcade games. Ocean City reminded me so much of Myrtle Beach. Just much bigger & much more culturally diverse.

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We were starving as we neared Ocean City, so our first order of business was dinner. We stopped at a burger joint on the boardwalk and took our dinner to the beach. I had a hot dog, G had a bacon cheeseburger. Both were fabulous.

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After our completely unhealthy dinner (and I mean really unhealthy… there was more cheese sauce in the bottom of the cup), we walked along the beach for a little while. I have never, ever seen a beach as wide as this one!

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The sand sculptures out there were amazing! The religious ones were beautiful, and considering they were roped off & had lighting, I would assume they were commissioned. The Frankenstein one was in the middle of the beach, which makes it so very cool.

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We continued heading down the boardwalk in search of an arcade. We we’re planning on an epic skee-ball showdown. After the first few games we stopped keeping track of who was winning. I’ll say I did, he’ll probably say he did. I will say I am pretty I’m the only one who made the 50 point mark. And I made it more than once…

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It was a really fun, random day & the boardwalk provided so many good people watching opportunities. The downfall: getting pooped on my a seagull.

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Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend!

Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.

“I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for the Beef Checkoff. I received products to facilitate this review and a promotional item to thank me for participating.”

I could never become a vegetarian. I watch something depressing about the plight of farm animals and I always think I could, but then the thought of never having a Five Guys burger, or a Steak burrito bowl from Chipotle again, makes me sad. But the humane treatment of animals is also very important to me. The best way I’ve found to do my part to make sure animals are treated more humanely, and still be able to indulge in bacon cheeseburgers, is to buy higher quality meat products. More expensive? Yes. Worth it? Heck yes. I feel so much less guilty eating my food when I know where the animal came from and what kind of conditions they were raised in. Since higher quality meat is much more expensive, we eat much less of it, so it’s a very nice treat when we do have meat at home.

The point of my little ramble (I’ll spare you all of my thoughts about animal rights for another post) is that when I was asked by Mom Central Consulting & Beef Checkoff (part of the 1985 Farm Bill) to have a get together at home and include a beef dish as part of our dinner, I jumped at the chance. This opportunity was timed perfectly, since we had friends and family visiting for Charlotte and I was able to create a huge, delicious spread that would have been wasted on just the two of us.

When I was younger, and an avid soap opera addict, I always thought that entertaining & dinner parties should consist of fancy food, elegant clothes, wine in crystal glasses and maybe a waiter or two to pass hors d’oeuvre on silver platters. As an adult, I’ve realized that is a boring, and stuffy way to have friends and family over for dinner. Most of our friends and family members are fairly picky eaters, and I wanted to serve a dinner that would be easily customized to individual tastes. I thought a ‘Build Your Own Burger” bar would be the perfect, fun way to do that. And really, does anything scream “summer get together” like burgers?

No.

As part of this opportunity, I received some great items to help put together my party, including some fantastic rub from Williams-Sonoma and an OXO digital thermometer. The rub would be amazing used, well, as a rub on any cut of meat, but I wanted to use it in my burgers. So, I sprinkled two teaspoons of the rub into the beef for a nice little burst of flavor. Everything was absolutely delicious, and dinner was a huge hit. Serving a casual food like burgers made for a really fun way to entertain. People were able to talk while they built their burgers, people were convinced to try toppings they may have been hesitant about, and everyone had a good time.
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I know burgers aren’t exactly complicated and you don’t really need a recipe. But here’s something you may not know: adding chopped vegetables to lean meat (I bought 93% hamburger meat) helps add moisture to the burger. So, here is how I made these:

  • 2 lbs. of lean ground beef (93%)
  • 2 cloves of garlic; minced
  • 1 small onion; finely diced
  • 2 t. of Williams-Sonoma butcher rub (or whatever rub/seasoning blend you like)

Once you have everything mixed together (be careful not to overmix), divide the burgers into eight equally sized burgers. Once they were made, I sent my husband to the grill and I worked on our set up. I love the way this came together. I used a large sheet of craft paper in place of a table cloth. Burgers are messy and I wanted this to be super fun & casual. I didn’t want people to worry about dropping a dollop of ketchup on a table cloth. This worked well, because I was also able to write on it. This came in handy for the cheese selection.
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We served almost every topping I could think of, and that I thought people would enjoy. We had high quality traditional toppings (bibb lettuce, farmers market tomatoes, thick cut bacon, sliced raw onions & pickles), and then we had more interesting toppings like caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and sliced, perfectly ripe avocado. And I’m not at all upset that no one ate avocado but me.
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The thing that put these delicious burgers over the top: special rolls. I had a couple of whole wheat Kaiser rolls, and I bought pretzel rolls from the bakery. I’ve decided every time I have a burger at home from here on out, it will be on a pretzel roll. These were so delicious!
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I wanted people to have a variety of cheeses to choose from, but I didn’t want to break the bank buying the pre-packaged cheeses. So, I went to the deli counter at the grocery store, and selected three cheeses that sounded interesting. I ended up with Chipotle Gouda (the one I chose for my burger-so good!), Vermont cheddar and horseradish cheddar. I also had some American slices in the fridge just in case… I am SO glad I went this route with cheese. I got 4 slices of each cheese, hoped everyone wouldn’t want the same one, and each pack cost about $1.70. Once everyone picked out their cheese, we just put the burger with cheese under the broiler for a minute to melt it, and then it went back to it’s owner.
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For the side dishes, I wanted to do classic “cook out” side dishes, with a more upscale twist. I made a simple pasta salad with English cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, parsley and Tessemae’s balsamic vinaigrette
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and I made a swiss chard salad with dried cranberries, carrots, sunflower seeds, lots of fresh basil and a lemon-Dijon vinaigrette. Both salads were so light & tasty, and were absolutely delicious!
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Once we devoured our burgers, my mind started going about 100 miles an hour, thinking of other delicious and exciting burger toppings. How about an pizza style burger: warm marinara in place of ketchup, a slice of mozzarella, and all of your favorite pizza toppings. Mine would have sautéed peppers and onions, olives, a few slices of pepperoni and the cheese melted over the top to hold it all in place. Or a taco burger. Just mix the taco seasoning into your beef, grill it up and then top it with salsa, guacamole, crushed tortilla chips and then either a slice of pepperjack or cheddar melted over the whole thing. The opportunities for burger creativity are endless!

For more information about the benefits of cooking with beef (and some really delicious recipes), check out these helpful sites:
Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner
Beef’s Essential Nutrients