Sweet Potato Chicken Casserole

Do you love cheese?! Do you love warm, ooey gooey comfort food? If so, then this casserole is for you. This dish resulted from my craving for something warm and hearty. Right now life is pretty cold, everywhere I go. So when hot showers and hot cocoa just don’t cut it anymore, I turn to comfort food.

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Oftentimes comfort food leaves you feeling heavy and sleepy, so I wanted to make something that would leave me feeling energized and ready to go. Instead of using pasta or rice as the base, I chose to use sweet potato, which offers lots of great nutritional benefits like fiber, vitamic C, potassium and B vitamins.

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This dish is gluten free, full is healthy veggies and could be easily made vegan by omitting the chicken sausage and subbing the butter and cheese with alternatives like Earth Balance or Daiya Cheese.

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Speaking of chicken sausage, let’s talk about it for a second. It’s one of my favorite go-to’s when I’m in a pinch for a quick, healthy meal. I love to stock up on Trader Joe’s or Al Fresco chicken sausage and freeze it. Then I’ll microwave it for an easy protein solution. Just make sure your chicken sausage is all natural and nitrate free. You don’t want any of those nasty chemicals in your beautiful casserole. I’ll be talking more about chicken sausage in my next post, 6 Healthy Food Swaps For Quick Dinners. So stay tuned for that!

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Sweet Potato Chicken Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 2 chicken sausages

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and dice sweet potato, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes. While the potatoes are baking, slice mushrooms, broccoli and chicken sausage into bite size pieces. In a medium pot melt butter and mix in flour, salt and pepper. Add in half and half and then melt in half of the cheddar cheese. In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and chicken sausage and mix in cheese mixture until everything is fully coated. Pour into baking dish, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese and bake for 20 minutes.

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This dish kinda reminds me of mac & cheese, minus the mac. It gives you that same comforting feeling, but without the guilt!  I don’t know about you, but for me, mac and cheese is always great going down, but pretty uncomfortable after.

Sweet Potato Chicken Casserole

The last thing I want to say about this recipe is that it’s so friggin’ easy. If you’re like me and have a husband who thinks he’s the only one that can cook a good meal, bring this out when you want to beat him at his own game. Super easy, but impressively delicious. Enjoy!

What’s your favorite comfort food?

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Healthy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Good morning! Yesterday we got hit with some thick, heavy snow so naturally we all cancelled everything we had planned (when I say we, I mean the entire state of New Hampshire) and hunkered down for the day.

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Dance was cancelled so that meant I had some extra time on my hands. For me extra time = baking time. I decided to experiment with my new favorite healthy food swap, pumpkin puree!

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Pumpkin is so versatile and full of essential vitamins and fiber. You can easily use pumpkin as a healthy alternative to ingredients like butter, oil and eggs in baking recipes! By swapping in pumpkin you will automatically reduce the calories and fat in the recipe and increase your veggie intake for the day. It’s a win-win!

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Today I replaced the butter that would normally go into these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with the same amount of pumpkin puree. The results = you don’t miss the butter for a second. Your baked goods may come out a little more orange tinted than normal, but who doesn’t like a little extra warm glow in their kitchen?

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Healthy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup coconut

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine pumpkin, sugars, egg and vanilla. In a smaller bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Mix in walnuts, chocolate chips and coconut. Drop 1.5 inch size cookies onto greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Yields about 18 cookies.

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These cookies are full of other healthy ingredients too like dark chocolate chips, which provide healthy antioxidants, walnuts and coconut for some healthy fats and whole wheat flour and oats for added fiber. The recipe title says cookies, but these could probably qualify as a power bar if you’re in a pinch. Enjoy!

What To Do & Eat In Maui

Aloha! Are you dreaming of palm trees and warm breezes too?! If you’re in a northern climate like me, now is the time to plan your escape from the cold. So while everyone else is busy watching the Super Bowl (don’t worry it’s on in the background), I thought I would share with you some highlights from my trip to Hawaii!

WARNING: May induce extreme vacation envy and/or sudden-trip-booking syndrome.

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In October Shawn and I made the very (very) long journey to a place I had dreamed of visiting since I was a kid. My Dad used to live in Hawaii, so I made it my goal at a very young age to honeymoon there. And that we did! We visited Maui and Kauai, but today I’ll focus just on Maui. More to come on the amazingly beautiful island of Kauai.

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First I have to start by saying that Maui is one of the most beautiful, welcoming and vibrant places I have ever been. Once you step off the plane, breathe in the sweet air and talk to just one person, you’ll know that you’re in a magical place. Not only are you surrounded by natural beauty that you didn’t even know could exist, but all the people are so incredibly happy and kind. I think I would be too if I lived in Hawaii!

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Second I want to say that there are a lot of things to do in Maui so you definitely need to do research before embarking, just to make sure you know what you’re going to do and what you’ll have to pass on, because you cannot do everything. I used the internet, Maui Revealed travel books and friends as references.

Road To Hana

This was definitely a can’t-miss activity for us. Yes you have to wake up at like 6 am, so I recommend doing it on your first or second day to take advantage of jet leg. And yes the road is winding and slightly dangerous. BUT, it. was. incredible. Waterfalls, hidden caves, lava rocks and road-side food stands are just some of the highlights you will find. Here are my top 4 tips for Road To Hana:

  1. Download the Shaka Road To Hana app. It’s inexpensive and will guide you to all the stops even when you don’t have cell reception. The book is good to read beforehand, but can be really confusing to follow to a specific spot on the road.
  2. Bring a rain jacket and water/hiking shoes with grip. It rains about every 10 minutes on RTH so you will need the jacket if you want to get out of the car at all (which you will, every 10 minutes). Everything is muddy and wet so the water shoes are a must-do because they will dry quickly in between hikes. I got these Ryka Hydro Sport shoes and they were a life-saver.
  3. Stop at the food stands! Best banana bread and fruit I’ve ever had. There’s a lot of good food options along the RTH, so you don’t need to pack a lunch. We got fooled on that one and bought sandwiches before we left, paid for a cooler bag, which didn’t actually keep anything cold, and then found awesome taco huts and authentic eats along the way. On your way back you should stop at Mai Thai. Insanely good Thai food cooked by a little old lady in a hut by herself. “Best meal of my LIFE!” is what I exclaimed as I was shoving shrimp and noodles into my face as I spoon-fed Shawn his meal while he navigated the dark winding road home. Not an ideal situation because we didn’t head back before dark, but an ideal meal for sure.
  4. Go all the way to the Pipewai Trail. You will need to decide before you set out what you want to stop at. This is very important. You cannot stop at everything in one day and if you try you will be heading home at 2am and it will be very scary. The road is SUPER dark and winding and not good to travel at night. Just pick and choose what you want to see. I suggest NOT missing the Black Sand Beach and Pipewai Trail, which is located at the end of the road. At the end of the Pipewai Trail was a 500 foot waterfall…so friggin cool. See Waimoki Falls below.

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Haleakala Crater

The next must-do in Maui is the Haleakala Crater. I read a lot about this before deciding to go because they say the best way to see it is at sunrise, but we are decidedly NOT sunrise people. Also, the winding road up the side of a mountain did not thrill me. So we went around 10am and it was still ammmmaaaaazing. The drive up the mountain is scenic itself and when you get there it’s like you’ve landed on the moon. That’s actually how you will feel too. The elevation sickness definitely got to us, but you just have to take it slow, like turtle slow. 10,ooo feet is very high. I have to say that the drive was pretty scary. At times I had to close my eyes, but the view from the top was well worth it.

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After seeing the crater we stopped at Mama’s Fish House in the North for lunch where we ate one of the best meals of our lives. Seriously this place is NOT overrated. You must go here and you must not be deterred by the high prices. It’s well worth it and you can enjoy a walk on their beach after for freeeeee.

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Lahaina 

This is an adorable little town located on the West side of the island. Definitely take a drive through to see the endless coastline of beaches with surfers and campers hanging out and living the good life. A walk downtown is nice for some souvenir shopping and to see the largest tree in the United States, an enormous Banyan Tree. But the BEST part of Lahaina is Island Cream Co. Oh my god. I still dream about this ice cream experience. Island Cream Co. has actually been called the Best Ice Cream In America and I whole-heartedly agree! They claim that it’s not ice cream, not gelato, but rather a cross between the two – island cream. Whatever it is, it works for me. I had Maui Loco, which had coconut, macadamia nuts and chocolate chips, served in a homemade cone with a pirouline for dipping.

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Kanapali Beach

This is the beach our hotel was located on, which made for some easy snorkeling whenever we wanted! I recommend staying on or near this beach if possible, because it is apparently some of the best snorkeling and best swimming conditions on the island. We saw multiple turtles, an eel and colorful fish every time we swam. The water was warm, clear blue and very calm.

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The other good thing about staying near Kanapali beach is the close proximity to one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Mostly because it was so much fun! Slappy Cakes is an all-day breakfast joint where you can make your own pancakes at your table! Each booth has a hot griddle in the middle and you can pick your own batter like pumpkin, mix-ins like bananas and granola, and toppings like macadamia nut sauce, whipped cream and maple syrup!

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Holy yum.

Honestly I could go on and on about Maui and all the magical things that we did, but this post would get exceedingly long. And All this talk about good food has me ready for a snack. Must find chocolate covered macadamia nuts stash…

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If you’re not currently planning a vacation I hope this post inspired you, because there are studies that show that traveling literally makes you a better person. I think that’s a pretty good argument for getting on a plane. And if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii sometime soon, feel free to hit me up with questions! I’m more than happy to relive my experience by helping someone else plan theirs.

Aloha my friends!

4 Healthy Snack Swaps For The Food You Crave

Nowadays there are lots of healthier snack options out there to satisfy even the most ravenous sweet tooth. I’ve compiled a list of a few I’ve come across that are actually delicious. Because that’s the point, right? No one wants to be gnawing on cardboard when they just want a cookie.

I’m not saying that you should eat these every day, all day (although you might want to after you try them), but they are each packing some beneficial ingredients and are probably a bit better for you than their classic counterparts.

4 Healthy Snack Swaps For The Food You Crave

#1 – When You’re Craving GUMMIES

The Solution: Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar

I’ve never seen a fruit bar so jam-packed with goodness. This bar has flax and chia seeds and provide 6 grams of fiber! Next time you’re craving gummy worms, reach for this instead and let the superfoods do their work.

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#3 – When You’re Craving CHOCOLATE

The Solution: Lovely Dark Chocolate Coconut Chips

These little guys are my new favorite thing. Organic, non-GMO coconut chips covered in 60% cacao. Addicting, but winning in the antioxidant game. I actually found these in the food isle at Home Hoods.

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#3 – When You’re Craving COOKIES

The Solution: Zema’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are so cool. They’re gluten free, but actually taste good. Go figure! They’re made with a blend of quinoa, oat, teff and millet flour and also have flax and chia. Not going to lie I enjoyed a few dunked into a glass of milk. Because apparently I’m 5. Or Santa Claus.

Another Home Goods find!

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#4 – When You’re Craving CAKE

The Solution: Kodiak Cakes Cups

The Blueberry & Maple flavor below is actually more of a breakfast go-to for me, topped with walnuts, fresh blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup, mmmMMmmm!

But if you’re in a “I NEED CHOCOLATE CAKE RIGHT NOW” kind of mood, try their Double Dark Chocolate flavor with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. You will think you have died and gone to healthy-cake heaven.

I buy these at Hannaford or Shaws, but they’re probably available at other groceries stores as well.

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These little cups are chock-full of 100% whole-grain goodness and have a pretty clean ingredient list. Each one has a whopping 6 grams of protein (plus 2 more if you use milk instead of water, which I do, duh) and 5 grams of fiber. This is 250 calories of cake that you don’t need to feel bad about.

Hopefully this list inspires you to upgrade your snacks so that you’re at least getting something good out of that chocolate splurge…may it be fiber, protein, antioxidants or just that good’ol happy feeling of satisfying your craving.

Truly, you CAN have your cake and eat it too.

5 Stretches You Haven’t Tried Yet

Happy Tuesday! How is your week going so far? Today we are talking about stretching!

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I want to talk about stretching, not just for performance, but also for general well-being. Everybody knows that stretching is important for injury prevention and flexibility, but it can also be key to feeling balanced. Read on to find out why! (if you’re impatient scroll to #5)

Below is a list of some of my favorite stretches that are geared to challenge your normal and make you push a bit further.

5 Stretches You Haven’t Tried Yet

1.Foot Stretch – Point

This stretch will be most enjoyed by the dancers and yogis looking to work on their point and foot flexibility.

HOW TO: Start on your knees and bring your right leg in front of you. Gently roll over your point. Use your left hand as support and use your right hand to firmly press against your heel, leading your heel forward and pressing your arch further. Hold for 10 seconds and then switch to #2 below. Repeat 4x on each foot.

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2. Foot Stretch – Ball

This is part 2 to #1 above. Simply flip your foot so that you are stretching the flex position of your foot on the ball. Again press your heel forward with your hand. Alternate between this and #1, 4x on each foot.

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3. Split Stretch – Reach Back

This stretch will be enjoyed by anyone looking to increase their flexibility in their split. Only attempt if you already have your split, meaning you do not have to support yourself on either side and your thighs are completely touching the ground. This stretch can be very intense for your hips, so make sure to stretch before attempting.

HOW TO: Once you are fully in your split, reach back with your right hand. At the same time lift your back left leg up to meet your hand. Hold for 30 seconds. Do #4 below and then switch to the other side.

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4. Split Stretch – Flex & Lift

This stretch is again only for those who want to further stretch their split, this time the front foot. Only attempt if you are fully down in your split already. This stretch can be very intense for your calves and hamstrings, so make sure to stretch them before attempting.

HOW TO: Once you are in your split, flex your right front foot and grab and lift with your right hand. Hold for 30 seconds.

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5. Stretch. Every. D@m#. Day. 

My 5th and final stretch tip is not a specific stretch, rather a challenge to incorporate stretching into your life every day.

Throughout the day stress builds up in your body and causes muscles to contract, making you feel tense and generally uneasy. All this tension can lead to negative affects on your mind and body. Bah! We do not want that. Especially when the solution is so easy.

Stretching loosens muscles, increases blood flow and releases endorphins (love those guys!), all of which helps you to relax and feel balanced.

Even if it’s just a quick toe touch and a shoulder stretch, try to fit stretching into your daily routine to reap the (easy and free) benefits! Why not?! Dancer or not, stretching is good for everyone.