Monthly Archives: March 2009

striking a balance

March is a big birthday month in our household.  We kick it off right with Brian’s at the very beginning, end it with mine and have a whole slew of friend and family celebrations in between.  I’ve never attempted to actually calculate the numbers, but if I had to guess I would say that 30-40% of the birthdays we actively celebrate fall within March.  That means a lot of cake and cocktails, which, following a winter of heavy comfort foods makes the whole month seem like a last hurrah for indulgent eats before the panic of a looming swimsuit season sets in.  

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The mostly dreary weather of March has put a damper on my running habit as well.  Although the coldest temperatures of the month are typically much higher than those in January and February, the occasional 60* teaser days make the moderately cold ones completely unbearable.  I have a hard time motivating myself to tie my shoes and hit the road on a 40*, overcast evening (which in February would have felt downright warm) when my previous run had me in shorts and a tank top.

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And now here I am on the eve before the start of April, my legs sore from last night’s run after the prior week’s hiatus, my mouth craving a sweet because its become a daily habit and, dare I say, my body a couple of pounds heavier than it was just one month ago.  I started this blog originally to hold me accountable in my healthy eating and exercise habits, but found (along with an amazing community of people and many new friends) that the creative aspects of photographing and writing about food were more compelling for me than the keeping of a food diary.

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Its been about a month since I switched formats, and although the timing may have been poor what with all of the celebrations that March holds, I think the changes I’ve seen in my daily habits prove a point.  Food diaries work.  At least for me they do, which is why I’ll be keeping a closer tab on myself starting tomorrow.  But don’t worry, I won’t be switching things up on you again.  I really love the direction the blog is heading and from the positive feedback I’ve received, I think you do to.  What you will be seeing are some lighter, healthier, simpler and hopefully more economical recipes popping up on Bella Eats this month, starting with this one.

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This soup was delicious.  So good that Brian and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it for two days.  Its very simple, using ingredients that we always have on hand – carrots, celery, onion, canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried mushrooms, dried grains, good olive oil and fresh herbs are staples in our kitchen.  The mushrooms added such a wonderful earthiness to the broth that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make vegetable soup without mushrooms again.  And the infused olive oil adds so much depth.  Please – please – don’t leave it out.  You won’t be sorry.

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Mushroom White Bean Soup with Rosemary

recipe inspired by keep it simple foods and the new york times

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried
  • 6 cups veggie or chicken broth (I used chicken)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, cut in half and sliced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves,  minced
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (15oz)
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 2 cans cannelini or navy beans (15oz each), drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. First make infused olive oil, recipe below.  It will need to sit for 2 hours before serving, so be sure to plan ahead.
  2. Boil 2 cups of water.  Place dried mushrooms in a glass bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Let sit for 30 minutes.  Place a fine mesh strainer over a separate bowl.  Lift mushrooms out of water and squeeze over strainer, collecting liquid in second bowl.  Rinse mushrooms in strainer with cold water and squeeze out excess over sink.  Chop mushrooms and set aside.  Pour the mushroom soaking water through the strainer into the second bowl.  Add water as necessary to make 2 cups.  Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom soup pot.  Add the onion, carrots and celery and saute’ for 5-7 minutes, until starting to tenderize.  Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme and saute’ an additional 30 seconds.  
  4. Add the chicken broth, mushroom liquid, chopped mushrooms and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a heavy simmer and add the barley.  Continue to simmer for 12-15 minutes until the barley is tender.  Add the beans and salt + pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately with rosemary + porcini oil drizzled on top.

Rosemary and Porcini Infused Olive Oil

recipe modified from bon appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • 1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried

Method:

  1. Place mushrooms in a strainer.  Rinse under hot water and drain well.  Pat dry.  
  2. Combine mushrooms, oil, rosemary and whole garlic clove in small, heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat until thermometer inserted into oil registers 180*F, about 8 minutes.  (I am currently without a thermometer so left my oil on for 9 minutes, just in case).
  3. Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
  4. Oil can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

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Thank You All for the great comments you write on my posts, they really make my day!  Welcome to my new readers who have found your way here from Tastespotting and Foodgawker, I look forward to hearing from more of you and to sharing some simple, healthy recipes with you this month.  Enjoy!

practice makes perfect

One of the things I miss about living in Florida is the extended growing season for fruits and veggies.  Our local farmer’s market starts up in a couple of weeks (so excited), but it will be at least a month after that before we start seeing any fresh local fruit.   Right now, in Florida, strawberries are abundant and I miss being able to stop at a farm stand to pick up a flat for several months out of the year.  We do grow strawberries here in Virginia (we even have a few plants in our garden!) but the growing season is limited to about 4 weeks starting in mid-May.  During that time I make it a point to visit the closest pick-your-own patch at least twice, coming home after each trip with a giant flat of berries, a slight sunburn and a full belly.

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We manage to consume most of the berries we come home with while they are still fresh, but towards the end of the season I’ll make a final trip to the patch to pick the few remaining berries that haven’t been zapped by June’s high temperatures, just to freeze for smoothies later in the summer.  Strawberries you’ve picked and frozen yourself bear no comparison to those you buy in the freezer section of your local grocery and I will surely be freezing some again this year. But I’ve also decided on another method of preservation for this May (JAM!!!), or maybe its merely an excuse to buy even more at the patch.  Because really, nothing makes me much happier than loading up a cardboard box with mounds of freshly picked berries.

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In the meantime I’ll be making do with the fresh Florida strawberries I’m finding at Whole Foods, which are absolutely delicious even if they do lack the nostalgia that comes with picking them yourself.  Canning is a new process for me, and I want to be sure to get some practice in before facing the challenge of preserving enough berries to make my fresh Virginia strawberry nostalgia last me from June 2009 until the following May.  Luckily I remembered reading a Molly Wizenburg article in last June’s Bon Appetit that outlined the process quite precisely, and was able to adapt her recipe to use strawberries and their favorite partner, rhubarb

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The result was delicious, although I might consider reducing the sugar in my next batch so that the tartness of the rhubarb shines through a bit more.  This recipe can be adapted to use an endless variety of fruit, and I plan on experimenting with as many as I can come summertime.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

basic jam recipe from Orangette via Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 24oz fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 1-1/2 lbs rhubarb (about 5 stalks), sliced into 1/2″ chunks
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Method:

  1. Place sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl with sugar and lemon juice.  Mix to coat and let sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Place 2 saucers in freezer.
  3. Transfer fruit mixture to large saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Use a hand-held mixer or immersion blender to puree the fruit as best you can. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently until mixture begins to thicken, stirring often, about 18 minutes.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat to test jam for gelling point. Drop 1 teaspoonful jam on chilled saucer and return to freezer 1 minute. Remove saucer and push edge of jam with fingertip. If jam has properly gelled, surface will gently wrinkle. If not, return saucepan to heat and cook jam a few minutes longer; repeat test.
  5. Ladle hot jam into jars.  Allow to cool and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.*

* If you’d like to preserve the jam for longer, follow Molly’s method here.  The jam will keep for months, unopened in the pantry, if you follow a proper canning method.  Then, you can send a jar to friends and make them very, very happy.

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Thank you all for the sweet Happy Birthday messages!  I had a fabulous day, or weekend actually, filled with cake (friday, saturday AND today!), dinner out, brunch in and lots of great company.  I could not have wished for more, and your messages have put it over the top.  Thank you!!!

In the Blog World:

Rose is giving away one of those fantastic Quaker robe and slipper sets!  The deadline is midnight tonight, so hurry up!  And after you enter, stick around to read more of Rose’s wonderful blog and fabulous oatmeal stories…she is such a creative lady!

baked oatmeal

Its approaching 4 years since Brian and I packed up and moved to Virginia.  We came from North Carolina, but had only lived there for one year so were really still Floridians at heart.  Having spent the first 22 years of our lives in the Sunshine State we were new to the whole idea of seasons, or at least noticeable seasonal changes.  Each year I discover new subtleties in the transitions from one season to the next.  I’m getting good at knowing which flowers in my yard  will be first to wake from their winter slumber (snowbells) and which trees will show the first signs of life (plums).  I’ve even finally realized that just because the temperature reaches 70* one weekend in early March, it doesn’t mean that we won’t have snow two days later.  I know this, yet I’m still surprised each year.

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Even with all I’ve learned in the last four years, I’m still trying to get used to the radical temperature swings that Virginia sees when transitioning from Autumn to Winter and Winter to Spring.  Last weekend the highs were forecast to be in the mid-60’s, perfect weather for getting seeds planted in the garden, yet when I woke up Sunday morning my bedside thermometer read 28*.  Since I knew what was to come later that day, I quickly called my walking buddy Christine (due any day now with her baby girl!!!) and rescheduled our stroll for the afternoon, when the weather would be more pleasant.  And then I crawled back in bed.

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Though it postponed my morning exercise, what this cold morning did afford me was longer snuggle time under the covers with Brian and our dogs, a large pot of coffee after finally making my way to the kitchen and the opportunity to make this recipe that I found at Seven Spoons some weeks earlier.  We all know that I love oatmeal (who doesn’t? really?) so I was excited not only to discover Tara’s lovely blog on Tastespotting, but to be introduced to it through a recipe that was so very perfect for me.  Oats, fresh fruit, almonds and pepitos and some of my favorite spices all baked together into a warm, satisfying breakfast…what’s not to love?

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This dish was really delicious.  I substituted fresh strawberries for Tara’s frozen blueberries and added some orange zest because, well, I think everything is better with a bit of citrus.  There are endless possibilities of fruit and spice combinations, and I think you could even substitute some or all of the sugar for honey or maple syrup.  It would make for a great meal when you have a couple of  house guests but it also heats up exceptionally well the next day if you want to keep it all for yourself.

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Baked Oatmeal with Strawberries and Bananas

original recipe from seven spoons

Ingredients:

  • Softened butter for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups large flake rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
  • 2 teaspoons flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • zest from 1 medium orange
  • 2 cups milk (I used plain soymilk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 3 medium bananas, diced
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  • Coarse sugar, optional

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease the inside of a baking dish, 2-quart capacity.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, brown sugar, pepitas, flax seeds, baking powder, orange zest, spices and salt. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, almost all of the butter (save about 1 teaspoon for drizzling over the finished dish), vanilla and maple syrup. Set aside.
  4. In the prepared baking dish, spread the diced bananas in an even layer, then scatter the strawberries over top. Pile the oat mixture to cover the fruit, but do not pack too tightly. Carefully pour the wet milk mixture over the oats.
  5. Drizzle over the reserved butter, sprinkle with coarse sugar, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the oatmeal is puffed and set, with a golden brown top.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

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In the Blog World…

Meghann is hosting another Blogger Bake Sale  to raise money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society!  Not only do I love Meghann because she is my cousin, but this girl is so incredibly inspirational.  I love reading about her accomplishments with running, fitness and healthy eating.  She’s competed in many races and come up with some really great recipes.  Read about her first bake sale here – she raised $1320 for a great cause!!!  I’ll be donating this and this, so be sure to check her blog on April 6th to place your bids!!!

biscuit fear? conquered.

I am a big fan of bread.  Such a big fan, in fact, that sometimes I will choose to have an extra piece after dinner in lieu of a second pour of wine, or even dessert.  In the last year or so I started dabbling with bread baking, lots of quick fruit breads, a few loaves of whole wheat, some scones, even some fabulous dinner rolls at Thanksgiving.  But biscuits have always frightened me, just a bit.  I’ve heard horror stories of folks attempting to make biscuits and ending up instead with pancakes, or worse, hockey pucks.

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Because of this fear I am always amazed when I come across a really fabulous biscuitMother’s in New Orleans bakes one of my favorites, so good that Brian and I stop by the restaurant on our way out of the city to load up on the black ham variety to eat on the plane ride home.  (The unbelievable ham they produce has something to do with that stop as well…the last time we were there we bought a cooler just so we could bring a few pounds of it home with us.)  And then there are the cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster, a restaurant I haven’t been to since I was a teenager.  Even after my 10+ year absence from the establishment the memory of those golden lumps is still crystal clear.

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When Foodbuzz contacted me a few weeks ago to find out if I would like to sample some Kerrygold products (yes!) all I could think about was cheddar biscuits.  After the chives popped up in the garden my intent was set – cheesy, chive-y buttermilk biscuits would be gracing our breakfast table, and hopefully they would be soft and flakey as well.  I decided that even if I failed at the texture, the power of delicious Irish cheese and fresh chives would carry them.

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I found this recipe at Thibeault’s Table via Tastespotting.  It was easy enough, delicious, and though my batch didn’t turn out as beautifully as the photos accompanying the recipe, they weren’t pancakes or hockey pucks which relieved me greatly.  I was amazed by their lightness…prior to this experience my most recent biscuit-like endeavor was of the hearty oat variety (recipe will come, I’m still perfecting it) which, compared to these, sit like bricks in your belly.  

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My technique needs some work.  The recipe didn’t call for a specific amount of cheese so I guessed, which may be the reason why my biscuits didn’t puff up quite as beautifully as the example.  Or it could be the fact that a bit of time passed before the ingredients pulled from the fridge were incorporated into a batter and then stuck in the oven…the problem with photographing as you go.  But the flavor was great, and Brian has requested that they be added to the permanent rotation for indulgent weekend breakfasts.  It seems like I will have plenty of opportunity to perfect the consistency.

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And I have to say, the Kerrygold Dubliner cheese was excellent.  So good that the first block I bought was consumed with a loaf of crusty bread before ever making it into the biscuits it was intended for.  The Pure Irish Butter is also delicious, although I think it may be too soft for this recipe.  My batter was very sticky, which may have also contributed to the lack of puffiness.  But spread across the top of a fresh-from-the-oven biscuit?  Perfect.

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Cheese + Chive Buttermilk Biscuits

recipe modified from Thibeault’s Table

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter (I used Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, unsalted), cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used Kerrygold Dubliner)
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh chives
  • 1 cup of buttermilk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 450*.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  3. Using pastry blender or fingers, cut-in the butter until the dry mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Add the cheese and chives and mix well.
  4. Stir in milk and mix with fork until a loose batter forms.  Gently pat the ingredients together but do not over-handle.  
  5. On a lightly floured board, pat out dough until you get a 1/2″ to 3/4″ disk.  Cut with biscuit cutters (I used a jar lid, a glass would work too) and place on prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 450* for 15-18 minutes.

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Oh yes, it was a weekend filled with indulgent breakfasts.  Is that bacon on my plate?!?  What?!?  

I”ll be sharing another breakfast with you this week, but it is of the sweet variety and involves oatmeal.  Get excited, because it is fabulous.  🙂  And its healthier than eggs, bacon and biscuits, so who wouldn’t be excited?

I hope you’re all having a great week!

bella terra: the first to show

There have been a few small changes in the garden since my first bella terra post.  The thyme, sage and oregano are starting to show some green.  The blackberry and raspberry vines have tiny bits of new growth.  And the weeds are popping up with a vengeance.  Brian (my hubb) and I have big plans for the weekend.  Some fence repair, re-mulching the paths, weeding and seeding.  In just a handful of days (7-10 to be exact) we should have broccoli, peas, beets, lettuce, kale and spinach poking out of the rich compost.  I can’t wait.  🙂

Here, the blackberry vine…

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The very first signs of life I see in the garden each year are chives.   Beautiful green shoots that peek from beneath the blanket formed by last year’s growth, the late-fall crop that laid down their lives with the first hard frost to protect the next generation.  They were already popping up two weeks ago when I ventured into the garden for the first time since fall.  The new chives are thankfully resistant with help from the old – they managed to survive the late snow we had just last week.  When I visited the garden after work one evening to check their progress I was pleased to find that they were ready for me to cut.

here, on march 7th…

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see how they’ve grown?

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Chives are one of my favorite herbs to use in the kitchen because they are so versatile.  Toss them with fingerling potatoes to roast, sprinkle them raw over top of an omelet, fold them into batter to be baked in cheddar biscuits…their mild, onion-like flavor allows for endless possibilities.  I’d bookmarked this NY Times recipe for an herb frittata earlier this month and knew as soon as I spotted those lovely bits of green from over the fence that the time had come to try it.

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I’d never made a frittata before.  It seemed to me that it would be a difficult task and, having never read a frittata recipe before, I assumed that it would contain whole milk and cheese (similar to a quiche) and not be terribly productive to my weight-loss efforts.  Boy was I wrong, on ALL assumptions.  For one, the process was really easy.  As long as you have a decent non-stick skillet and some patience, this dish really couldn’t be easier.  And I used just two dishes to make it…two!  I really like a quick and simple recipe, but add “very little clean-up” to its list of attributes and I am in love.

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Second, the frittata is much healthier than any quiche recipe I’ve made.  The main contributor to its healthfulness?  A lack of crust.  That’s right…no crust. And…no cheese.  The greek yogurt makes the consistency so creamy that you’ll never miss it.  Plus, this particular recipe is loaded with spinach and herbs, not to mention heart-healthy walnuts and yummy mushrooms.  

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I was so impressed with my first frittata experience that I’ve already been dreaming up new combos of flavors.  I can’t wait until that pile of herbs and spinach pictured above is all home-grown from my garden, maybe with some bell peppers and tomatoes mixed in.  Oh, what a glorious summer it will be…

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Spinach, Herb and Mushroom Frittata

258 cal, 19g fat, 6g carbs, 1g sugar, 2g fiber, 11g protein  [nutritional info from thedailyplate.com]

recipe adapted from the NY Times

Ingredients:

  • 12oz baby spinach 
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives 
  • 8 fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 8 large eggs 
  • 1/2 cup thick Greek-style yogurt 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt (more to taste) 
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste 
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), green stems removed, finely minced 
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons if you don’t have a nonstick pan) 

Method:

  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for 10 to 20 seconds. Transfer to the ice water to cool for a few minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the yogurt, walnuts, salt and pepper. Add the spinach, herbs and garlic, and mix together well. Adjust salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms.
  3. Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  Drop a bit of egg into the pan, and if it sizzles and cooks at once, the pan is ready. Pour in the egg mixture, scraping every bit out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Roll the pan to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface. Shake the pan gently, tilting it slightly with one hand while lifting up the edges of the frittata with the spatula in your other hand, in order to let the eggs run underneath during the first few minutes of cooking. Turn the heat down to low, and cover the pan. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while, until the frittata is just about set. Meanwhile, light the broiler.
  4. If the frittata is not quite set on the top, place under the broiler, about three inches from the heat, for one to two minutes, watching closely, until just beginning to color on the top. Do not allow the eggs to brown too much or they’ll taste bitter.  (I wound up leaving it under the broiler for about 4 minutes total, until just starting to brown).
  5. Remove from the heat, allow to sit in the pan for five minutes or longer, then carefully slide out onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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In the Blog World…

Tina at Carrots ‘N’ Cake has released a call for guest bloggers…how fun!  If you haven’t checked out Tina’s blog yet you really should.  She’s got great daily tips for creating a healthy lifestyle through good eats and exercise.  Guest blogging is a great way to spread your blog words to further reaches, so consider sending her an email with some ideas!

Two Spoons made a savory version of my scones!  Yum…the possibilities are endless.  🙂

Ryan at Chasing Daylight made bella eats enchi-ritos!  So glad you enjoyed them, Ryan!

Jennifer and Jessica of Keep It Simple Foods have been enjoying my dark chocolate PB and strawberry breakfast combo…glad you’re liking it ladies! Mmmm…a little french inspiration in the morning is a great start to any day!  🙂

If you’ve tried a recipe you’ve found on bella eats, let me know!  I’d love to read your thoughts on it and send others your way.  🙂 

Who else is THRILLED that tomorrow is Friday?!?!?!?  🙂