Monday, December 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: Blaze Pizza

Since going gluten-free three years ago, I have found substitutions for almost every food that I loved in its previous form. One exception has been pizza. I make cauliflower crust pizza all the time, and I buy the Udi's crusts on occasion, but I have missed ordering pizza in a restaurant like all the other girls. In other words, I'm seriously deprived, so when Blaze Pizza contacted me with pizza coupons and I saw gluten-free crust on the menu, I was elated and ready to chow down.

Blaze introduces a unique and fun concept - for one price, you get an 11-inch individual pizza with all the toppings you like. Think of it as the pizza version of Chipotle or Subway, except there are no additional costs for adding on more extras. After you've customized your pie with your favorites, the chefs fire your pizza in a blazing oven for 180 seconds until it's piping hot and crispy. For me, the individual size and selections are the perfect way to enjoy pizza. Each diner gets exactly what he or she wants and while sharing is always an option, the personal pan size means that you can convince your friends that it's all yours.

Jeff and I headed to the brand new Meridian location on Saturday night around 6:00 p.m. and were impressed to find the place completely packed. Families with cheese pizza lovers, young couples on double dates, and resident foodies filled the tables while I eyeballed their selections. The place smelled amazing and I couldn't wait to place my order. All of the crusts were being pressed to order, and the gluten-free option was made on a different machine. As soon as we ordered, our server asked about any allergies so she could make sure to alert the assembly line. The next step was to select toppings, or in my case, cover mine with almost everything. I topped my pizza with red sauce, fresh and grated mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Italian sausage, black and kalamata olives, caramelized onions, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, and a pesto drizzle. Jeff chose one of Blaze's signature pizzas, the Meat Eater with pepperoni, crumbled meatballs, red onion, mozzarella, and red sauce. We also selected local craft beers and two salads - a classic Caesar and a roasted veggie with Gorgonzola. 

The pizzas are served on brown paper and a silver pan and the salads and drinks are located in a refrigerator case by the cash register. After grabbing a table and Parmesan and red pepper flakes, we dug in. I was in heaven - the dough was chewy and crispy, the pizza was hot, delightfully saucy, and all of my toppings complemented each other perfectly. Our salads were cold and fresh, though I would have benefited from a bowl or plate instead of eating out of the plastic container. The environment was loud and lively, not exactly a romantic date spot, but a great place to grab a bite and take in the atmosphere. I tried my hardest to finish my pie but fell two slices short, so to the to go containers I went. The boxes, which come in half and full sizes, are made of eco-friendly materials, like many of the other items found in the restaurants.

Our Blaze experience was excellent, and we'll definitely be back. The gluten-free crust rocked my world and everything we ate was delicious. I love the concept and the price point, which makes Blaze accessible to every diner. I highly recommend checking out the Blaze Pizza in your area!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Giving in Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving week! I am very excited for a few days off to eat my favorite foods with my favorite people and enjoy one holiday that is all about being thankful. For many, it is also the beginning of the shopping season. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and my favorite, Giving Tuesday, will take place and our economy will be stimulated with lots of spending. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to look at your own life and consider your blessings. While I can do this any old day, I am always more tuned to my gratitude as the holiday season begins, and reminded of those less fortunate. Last year, I posted a gift guide of a few of my favorite charitable organizations. This year, I’m sharing a few tips and a few ideas for how to get involved in giving back.

Tip #1: Give to the organizations that matter to you
Everyone has their opinions, the cashiers are asking you to round up, the commercials on television are encouraging you to give, but you shouldn't feel guilted into making contributions to every cause. Learn about the organizations that are most important to you and focus your financial energy there. That being said, a few pennies for the Salvation Army aren't going to break the bank so give if the giving's easy!
Tip #2: Do your research
Websites like Charity Navigator are there to help ensure that the charity you’re donating to is actually going to put your money where your intent is. Unfortunately, and for lots of reasons, there are organizations that only donate a few cents to every dollar that you give, with the rest of your donation going to overhead or administrative costs. Once you know what area you want to give to, look into your options and pick the one that is able to donate the most to the cause.
Tip #3: Stay local
I am biased because I work in development for a local hospital, but I see every day the impact that local donations have on our organization. National charities are amazing for certain causes, but helping the people in your community makes a difference that you can see. For things like the animal shelter, the food bank, and of course children’s hospitals, give locally and know that your neighbors and friends are grateful.

Idea #1: Incorporate charity into your holiday gifts
This may a mildly controversial topic because there are people out there who don’t appreciate charitable gifts being made in their name. I am not one of them, and I have received livestock from Heifer International that I adore and wish I owned in real life. If your recipients love presents and you love giving them, add a small donation to another gift. Every dollar truly makes a difference and your recipient may feel compelled to pay it forward.
Idea #2: Get something new, donate something old
Thrift and second hand stores are in need at this time of year as well, so if your list includes a new coat for Christmas or Hanukkah, donate the one that’s in your closet from last year. If you have kids, encouraging them to collect a few gently used toys for the children’s hospital or books and stuffed animals for the shelter can help you clean house and provide gifts for those who need them.
Idea #3: Turn Girls’ Night into Give Back Night
This is a great idea for any time of year – round up your girlfriends and turn your happy hour into a night of serving food at the soup kitchen or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor. A group I’m in recently painted pottery for our food bank’s annual event – the bowls are donated to the event and people buy them back filled with delicious soup from local restaurants. It was fun, creative, and we even had wine! 

There are seemingly endless ideas and opportunities for giving back this holiday season and throughout the year. When you’re thinking about what you’re thankful for this week, imagine how you can help others. Every kind gesture makes a difference.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

These Are a Few of my Favorite Pins...

Unless the creative juices are flowing and my fridge and pantry are full of bounty, I turn to Pinterest for cooking inspiration. I'll often find a recipe online and tweak it, either out of necessity because I don't have all the ingredients or to make it lighter. However, there are those recipes that require no departure from their original goodness. Those meals that are perfect for me exactly as they were created and I wouldn't dare change a thing. These are the recipes that I wouldn't blog about because I haven't made them mine, but they deserve all of the attention of fellow foodies. Simple comfort food that's tried and true.
I give you, a few of my favorite Pinterest plates:

Spicy Peanut Chicken Soba Noodle Salad by Pinch of Yum

All American Beef Chili by Brown Eyed Baker

Cauliflower Pizza Crust by The Roasted Root

Skillet Taco Pie by Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Asian-Spiced Mini Meatballs over Vermicelli Noodles by Bev Cooks

Buttermilk Quick Breads by The Kitchn

Check out these delicious blogs and follow me on Pinterest for more of my favorites!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chili Macaroni & Cheese

Fall came on like a force in Boise, with one crisp morning after another and a much appreciated weekend of rain. I’m welcoming the new season with its changes in activities, wardrobe, recipes, and more. While I’m not always so happy to wake up in the dark, I love the scent in the air, being wrapped in a scarf, and curling up with a big bowl of something delicious. After a summer of salads and grilling, I am so excited for comfort food! To kick things off, I made an easy favorite – Chili Mac. This is one of those meals that comes together in a snap and uses plenty of pantry staples that you may have on hand. It's hearty, filled with protein, and hits the spot on a cold evening. Enjoy!

(Serves 6+)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
15 ounce can low sodium tomato sauce plus ½ can saucy water
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon onion powder
12 ounce can low sodium black beans, drained
3 cups dry pasta (I used brown rice penne)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Toppings: Black olives, green onion, salsa, sour cream or yogurt

In a large, deep pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and ground turkey, breaking up turkey with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until turkey is no longer pink and onions have softened.
Add to the pan the tomato sauce, water, cherry tomatoes, and spices, and stir to incorporate fully. Continue heating over medium until tomatoes begin to soften.
Add black beans and stir to incorporate. Leave heat on medium until it comes to a slow boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
Cook pasta per directions and drain.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour pasta into a large casserole dish (I used a 9x13 glass dish). Add ½ cup cheddar cheese to sauce and stir until melted. Pour sauce over pasta and mix together.
Sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese over the top.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden. Top with your favorites! I put sliced black olives and a dollop of Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Yogurt Dip on top and it was outstanding.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Our Newest Addition...

Jeff has been campaigning for a second dog for years, usually in fun but sometimes more seriously. I knew I couldn't handle another Vizsla...all 60 pounds of Bear, who thinks he's a tiny puppy that fits on your lap, is plenty of dog to love. So when Jeff sent me a link to a rescue last week, one would think that I wouldn't have given it a second look. But sometimes I surprise myself. 

Norma Jean, a Schnauzer and Scottie mix estimated to be about six months old and a dozen pounds, was looking for a new home. She was rescued a few towns over and had been in foster care for a couple of weeks. Her temperament and personality sounded perfect - she was playful, loved to snuggle, and would be very happy in a home with another dog. After reading her bio, I had fallen in love. I texted Jeff that I wanted to meet her and filled out an online application. A few hours later, I got a call from Norma's foster mom to schedule a home visit. She asked me lots of questions about me and Jeff, Bear, our home, our lifestyle. It felt like a great job interview, and I was thrilled that she was taking all of the necessary precautions to make sure Norma ended up in the right place. We scheduled our home visit for a few days later. When they arrived at our house, Norma was incredibly friendly, running around the yard, sniffing Bear, and letting us pet and hold her. After an hour of checking out the place, her foster mom asked if we loved her. The answer was simple (another surprise!). And just like that, we had a new puppy to adore. 

Growing up, we had a few kittens from the Humane Society, but this is the first pet I've had who was rescued from a dangerous environment. I never imagined getting another dog because I wasn't ready to care for a tiny puppy, but the decision to adopt Norma was an easy one. We could give her a home, a playmate, a family, and she would enrich our lives. A few days into having her and I can't imagine what it was like before. Bear is still getting used to this little creature who bats at his ears and wants to play tug of war all day, but I know they will come to be best friends.

Welcome to the family! Meet Hazel.

Now that I'm a rescue convert, check out the services available in your own community! We worked with Fuzzy Pawz and had a wonderful experience.


Monday, September 1, 2014

New Glasses from Firmoo

I have been loving the online eyewear craze but it can be intimidating to purchase glasses without the ability to try them on. I have a small face and head so unisex glasses don't always work on me, and I've made mistakes with the size and dimensions of frames before. So when Firmoo approached me to do a product review, I was excited to redeem myself and find a pair that works for me. I've seen Firmoo glasses on friends and bloggers and I love that they have a huge selection and reasonable prices. Armed with the knowledge of my spatial limitations, I got to shopping. The online experience was great - the dimensions of the glasses are very clear, all of details are readily available, plus many of the frames have customer pictures to show how they actually look on a person. I did my research and picked this pair. I love the sleek brown pattern, the metal arms, and the positive reviews from other wearers. After entering my prescription details, the glasses came quickly and in an adorable map printed case. They fit perfectly, the dimensions are just right, and I'm loving wearing them. I am so happy with my order and I can't wait to get another pair...sunglasses maybe? is offering its First Pair Free Program right now, with select frames free to first time customers. Also, Firmoo is celebrating its 5th anniversary with a special discount of 40% off storewide! Use the code FIRMOO5Y before September 10. Get online and pick out a pair!