Kicking off 2015 Right!
Yoga at Amansala Bikini Boot Camp, May 2014

Yoga at Amansala Bikini Boot Camp, May 2014

I love January.  As much as I love the holidays (and wow, do I LOVE the holidays!), January is never a let down for me. Why? Because there's nothing I love more than a fresh start. A chance to re-examine things, make some changes and believe that you can stick to them. Now, I'm not talking about resolutions per se...I've never really been into those...but I am talking about habits and lifestyles and changes for the better both big and small. I truly believe that every day I wake up is a new opportunity to be the best version of myself, and January is like the ultimate new day! Not surprisingly, a lot of the changes that I start thinking about each January have to do with food, health and fitness.

This year, however, my focus is a bit more on mental health than on food, physical health or fitness.  Why?  Because I feel like I inadvertently dabbled in this space a lot in 2014 as I went through my hardest year yet.  And every time I dabbled, it felt really, really good.  So good that I want to make this focus a more central part of my life and routine.  In 2014 I crossed an item off my bucket list and went to Amansala's Bikini Boot Camp, I took a 6-week meditation class, I got back into therapy after 10+ years off, I read a couple of really empowering and fantastic books (The 5 Things We Cannot Change and Nonviolent Communication for those interested) and I just genuinely focused on improving myself in areas where I was feeling a bit shaky.

So to start off 2015 I'm heading to a 3 day yoga and meditation retreat to try to lock in all of that cumulative goodness that I acquired in 2014 and really start this year off right. I'm super excited to take a solo and leisurely drive up the coast, have a few days with no cell service, practice lots of yoga and meditation, eat all organic, vegetarian meals, have time to hike in beautiful Salt Point State Park and then cozy down each night with a good book and a warm bubble bath all while surrounded by the beauty that is coastal Northern California. I mean really, doesn't that sound divine?

But before I head out, I thought I'd leave you with a few links to my blog posts, below, summarizing what I focused on in January 2013, two years ago. That year the focus was on food, so I did the 3-week Whole Living Detox which was amazing. A lot of prepping and cooking each Sunday, but so worth it as you'll see in my four summary posts below which are chock full of all of the amazing recipes and photos.  And the three habits that seemed to make such a difference for me back then, I'm proud to say are still 80% a part of my life 2 years later! When I return from my 3-day yoga and meditation retreat I'll be picking out a few of my favorites from that detox to include in my weekly menus throughout the rest of January to keep my healthy momentum going, so stay tuned.
SavoryGirl’s Favorite Mexican Dishes

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!  In honor of this fun, yet often American abused holiday I thought I'd stay away from the bars and instead share a collection of some of my past favorite Mexican recipe posts. If you've been following SavoryGirl at all you likely know by now that I think I may have been Mexican in my past life.  It's hard to go two weeks without one of my weekly dinner menus including something Mexican inspired and it's almost guaranteed that I am making some version of Huevos Rancheros for breakfast on the weekends.  So let's take a spin through SavoryGirl's Mexican past creations...

First up is my all-time most popular post...Eva Longoria's Chicken Tortilla Soup.  It's a little hard for me to swallow that a once in a blue moon recipe that I ripped out of a People Magazine while traveling has been the most popular post on my blog for the past 2  years, but I can indeed stand behind the recipe.  This soup is better than most that I have in great Mexican restaurants.
The 2013 Whole Living Detox – Week 2 Update

The 2013 Whole Living Detox is still in full swing in the SavoryGirl household...two weeks down and one to go!  I'm still feeling pretty great...the turbulent tummy and headaches of week one are gone and I'm still sleeping really well. I'm not waking up naturally as easily and early as I did week one, but I guess it's to be expected that your body would adjust. I don't think I've lost any more weight but I have maintained the same weight since week one so certainly not gaining any back. Week two brought back gluten-free grains, fish and the sweet relief of real breakfast again which made me extremely happy.  Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day so the smoothie-only breakfasts of week one were a little tough!

The Cardamom Quinoa Porridge with Pears and Toasted Almonds shown above was really good and probably something I'll continue to make even after the cleanse is over. Kind of like oatmeal, but a bit lighter and more savory. Christian could practically live on pancakes so he was thrilled to see them included in this week's menu and these healthy Banana-Oat Pancakes with Orange Segments and Honey did not disappoint! Nice and crispy on the outside (which I love!) and fluffy on the inside.  The only thing we would likely omit next time around is the coconut...the unsweetened coconut flakes that we can usually find are just too large and firm so it kind of messes up the texture you're looking for in a pancake.

One of our first meals this week was this Baked Salmon in Coconut Broth served with brown rice and thinly sliced carrots, red onion and bok choy.  In theory this sounded delicious, in reality it was a bit bland. So we had to really season up the broth with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Once we did that it was quite tasty and clearly a very healthy and wholesome meal.

The 2013 Whole Living Detox – Week 1 Update

Week one of the three-week Whole Living Detox is behind us...no sugar, no coffee, no gluten, no processed foods, no dairy and no meat. Week one is the hardest and still, I have to say I'm feeling pretty great! Sleeping better than I have in years, waking up without an alarm every day at 6:30am...seriously, and I'm a big sleeper. I never wake up early on my own no matter how early I go to bed so this is a hugely noticeable difference and a pretty unexpected benefit. I will admit, however, that the first few days of  Week 1 weren't all easy. My energy levels were pretty low, I had more headaches than usual and the stomach was pretty turbulent for most of the week, but all of those early cleanse side effects have almost fully disappeared by now. And to top it all off, I've lost 4-5 pounds this week!  To be clear, I am not doing this to lose weight nor was I expecting to lose weight since this detox isn't calorie restricted at all and I'm working out less due to low energy, but it was certainly a nice surprise.

So, on to the important stuff...how has the food been? Honestly, completely delicious...not a dud recipe in the bunch. The one thing that was tough was having only smoothies for breakfast...left me pretty starving by lunchtime but I think that ends this week. But before we head off to Week 2 here's a run-down of some of our favorites from Week 1:
Gløgg – Mulled Wine for the Holidays!
Gløgg, or hot spiced wine, is the taste of Christmas in the Henricksen household. It's warmth as we sip it and its spicy-citrus aroma filling the house can only mean one thing...Christmas is right around the corner! While Christian didn't grow up with Gløgg, he is of Scandinavian descent so he's our Gløgg maker and has been for the past 7 years. He's gotten so confident in his Gløgg making abilities that he doesn't even use a recipe anymore...but his general approach, which is delicious, is as follows:
Weekly Menu: December 9-15, 2012
Sunday: Homemade Turkey & Rice Soup (DIY)
Monday: Buffalo Turkey Meatballs, Buttered Noodles & Roasted Broccoli Rabe for the Pat’s Game!
Tuesday: Leftovers: Turkey Rice Soup
Wednesday:   Leftovers: Buffalo Turkey Meatballs
Thursday: Easy Breakfast for Dinner...Christian out of town
Friday: Eat Out
Saturday: Work Christmas Party!
The day after our cookie party usually means we're a bit rough around the edges. That means that Sunday is the perfect day to finally get that Thanksgiving carcass and leftover meat out of my freezer and simmer a homemade stock all day to make some soul satisfying soup. I don't have a recipe for you on this one...just winging it based on the leftovers and veggies I have in the house.

Monday night the Patriots are playing the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football...so we're having some friends over to watch the game. I'll make our favorite football food...these meatballs are amazingly reminiscent of buffalo wings but with a lot less guilt. I even use 2% fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to make the blue cheese dressing. To make it feel like more of a meal than an appetizer I'll make some buttered Parmesan noodles and roasted broccoli rabe to serve alongside the meatballs.  Go Pats!

Christian is heading out of town on Wednesday until Saturday so the rest of the week will be easy, breezy leftovers and other simple dinner solutions.  Saturday I'll pick Christian up from the airport and we'll whisk up to Santa Rosa for my boss' Holiday Party...gotta love this time of year!
A Photo Journey through Thanksgiving 2012

I know Thanksgiving is over and everyone is ready to move onto the next big holiday, but with the week of Thanksgiving being my favorite cooking week of the year I thought it was worthy of a couple more blog posts.  This one is simply a nice visual journey through all of the dishes I made this year with some descriptions.

Next week I'll highlight the recipe for Cranberry Pepper Jelly that I make every year. It is fantastic on sandwiches, baked brie, with cream cheese and crackers, etc...  So while most have already made their one turkey of the year there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spicy-sweet deliciousness all year long.

So let's start the photo journey with that one...Cranberry Pepper Jelly. This is almost always the first thing I make, the weekend before Thanksgiving, since it has a 3-6 week shelf life in the refrigerator. I've honestly never liked anything other than canned cranberry sauce (I know, blasphemous!) until I discovered this recipe. Now I'm totally hooked on it's spicy-sweet combination and for the first time ever didn't even touch my canned cranberry sauce this year!

The next thing I make the weekend before the holiday is homemade turkey stock as a base for my gravy. If you don't want to do this you can always use store-bought chicken or turkey stock, but I find that making your own makes a big difference in the gravy and it's honestly very easy. If you're like me, this also means you get a little extra Turkey meat for your leftover soup as well since I refuse to throw away all of the meat on the turkey wings after making the stock.  Just pick it all off and freeze it until your ready to make your soup or other Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving I start brining the turkey and prepping all of the veggies that will hold for a day or two.

I find that nothing makes for a juicy turkey like brining it for 2 days in advance...not frying it, not starting it cooking upside down, nothing. I also slather it in herb butter (both on top and under the skin), so that doesn't hurt! My favorite brine that I have found over the years is a beer brine...I use Newcastle which makes this turkey a bit of an expensive date, but trust me your guests will be singing your praises. And we all know that's hard praise to get with so many bad, dry turkey experiences from Thanksgivings past! Make sure the brine is completely covering your turkey...sometimes you have to get a bit crafty with pressure on the bag in certain spots to make this happen.

It's also important to have a great carver on hand day-of so that you can plate your turkey in a beautiful and appetizing way...my husband is a pro at this by now, so I'm lucky here as you can see below.

A SavoryGirl Thanksgiving, 2012

I love Thanksgiving...good friends, family, food, football and fun.  What's not to love? To be honest, though, I didn't always love it...when I was a kid it seemed kind of silly to me how my mom slaved away all day just for one meal. But ever since I've been the cook I totally get it. Yes it can be a lot of work but it's the work of love. All that effort is worth it for the "ooohs and aaaahs" when you walk in with the Turkey. Or watching your husband's face as he takes that first bite of your famous Sweet Potatoes that he loves so much but only gets this one day a year. Personally, I also love the strategy and planning that Thanksgiving takes...and that's the key to actually enjoying this holiday as host. So not only am I sharing my menu, but I am also sharing my detailed cooking and timing plan to get it all done and downloadable shopping lists. That's right, time to start enjoying your own Thanksgiving party!

You all know by now that I love to cook and hopefully you agree that I am a pretty good judge of recipes as well...therefore I can almost guarantee that my menu below is going to be delicious. I've been hosting large Thanksgiving dinners for years now and I can proudly say I haven't had a dud yet (knocking on wood as I type!). Some of the dishes below are old favorites but many are new.  Since I have a bit of a smaller crowd this year I'm keeping appetizers more simple than usual (and yes one leans Mexican!) but otherwise this year's menu is pretty typical of a SavoryGirl Thanksgiving. You can also check out my previous SavoryGirl Thanksgiving Menu, if the one below doesn't suit your fancy.

Last year the Pancetta Crisps, Succotash, Kale Salad and Cranberry-Pepper Jelly were big hits out of the new additions...one of which is making a repeat performance this year along with the turkey brine recipe and my ever-present sweet potatoes.

Chicken & Biscuit Pot Pie

This is a new, somewhat healthier spin on a classic comfort food that we just made for the first time this week, and it is delicious! It's from one of my favorite cookbooks, Almost Meatless: Recipes that are Better for your Health & the Planet, which is focused on finding ways to have a lower-meat diet.  So while there's certainly chicken in this it's not as much as you would find in your traditional Chicken Pot Pie.  And instead of using a super buttery crust there's a whole wheat biscuit topping that is just fabulous...especially with the scallions mixed in. This dish is almost a hybrid between chicken pot pie and chicken and dumplings, and for a potato-hater like Christian the swap of potatoes for parsnips is perfect.  Classic comfort with a bit less guilt...just how I like it!

The recipe below makes enough for 6-8 servings...I tend to cook it right in the dutch oven that the stew is made in for easier clean-up, but if you were having a dinner party or wanted to portion the meal out for the week the single serving approach is nice as well.  The only changes I make to the recipe is to increase the quantity of vegetables a bit (although a lot of parsnips will make it kind of sweet, which means you'll need more salt to counteract) and ensure that the texture of the sauce is about right before adding the biscuit topping.  Typically this means sprinkling a few extra handfuls of flour into the sauce and letting it thicken and then adding the biscuit topping.  Mushrooms might be a nice addition as well. So no major changes, just a few tweaks.