Whole Foods Market Union Station Grand Opening Party + Why I Love Shopping There

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I attended the coolest event on Monday night. It mostly involved many bites of delicious food, mingling with some of my favorite local bloggers and trying my best to get some decent photos along the way at the newest Whole Foods Market location in Denver, a few steps away from Union Station - one of my favorite spots in town!

The party started at 5pm and I met my friend Monica at just a few minutes past because we did not want to miss anything. As soon as we got checked in I could tell it was going to be a great night. There was live music, all sorts of local Colorado food companies giving out samples and the place was packed with fellow food bloggers. At one point the mayor and governor actually said a few words which I thought was fun. 

The Union Station location is different than any other WFM I've been in before. The space is really modern and bright and there were various food sayings scattered throughout the aisles and sections. I loved this one:

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Now as much as I love shopping at Whole Foods (more on that below), I think I might actually love eating there more. If you haven't been, the larger locations have all sorts of buffet options featuring various cuisines like Indian, Mexican, southern/comfort foods, a million soups and the BEST salad bar you will ever find. 

In addition to some of their other stations, this store boasts the very first mac & cheese bar which was right up my alley. I tried the lobster mac and the roasted brussels and tomato option - both were excellent. 

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Moving on from the hot bar options there was also this fun Israeli counter - Tel Aviv Street Food - that was serving up innovative pita sandwiches, like the charred cauliflower one I grabbed. I wish I would have been able to get a photo of the beautiful display. There was a line, and I didn't want to be that person although it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary with this crowd.  

One regret of the evening is not splitting a Birdcall chicken sandwich with some of my friends. Birdcall is a Colorado fast casual restaurant that takes pride in local ingredients of the highest quality (at an affordable price) and specializes in all sorts of fun chicken sandwiches such as my favorite, Nashville Hot. There was a slew of beers on tap and fun fountain drinks (including a cucumber basil variation). Oh and something that sets them apart: they use a fun and innovative technology for the ordering process. It's a kiosk where you enter your name and order, then you can watch your wait time on the wall. The Union Station store will be the third Birdcall in town and I will definitely come back for the sole purpose of trying this place out at some point.  

A special shout-out to Monica for taking me as her +1 to this event! Here's us at the photo booth before we called it a night.

A special shout-out to Monica for taking me as her +1 to this event! Here's us at the photo booth before we called it a night.

Real Talk

It's kind of funny, while I have always loved browsing Whole Foods for fun items here and there, I was adamantly against doing my routine shopping there in the past because of the price. Things have really come full circle though because ever since buying a new house and moving to a new part of town, Whole Foods is now of course my most convenient option so I have been doing my weekly shops there.

The Amazon acquisition has helped with some of the prices but also, once I learned to be a little bit more strategic (namely, not grabbing everything interesting thing I saw and impulse buying), I have found that I don't actually spend that much more each week. Not to mention, I love the experience because their stores are clean, organized, and they usually have every item I would ever need. I also love that their staff is so knowledgeable, specifically at the meat and seafood counter when I always have questions.

Anyways, I'm working on a post that outlines some non-traditional ways to save money on groceries, so more on this later! I just wanted to throw that out there in case any of you had similar same thoughts. 

Do you ever shop or eat at Whole Foods? What's your favorite part and why? Alternatively - what questions (if any) do you have about grocery shopping on a budget?

My 2017 Healthyish Gift Guide

Is it just me, or is November totally flying by? Holiday shopping season starts in T-minus 11 days people. If you're anything like me, you always have great intentions of starting your shopping early. You might buy one or two things in October and think it's finally going to be that year, but then Thanksgiving comes and goes and you have yet to cross anyone else off your list. While I really do love buying gifts for my people, I have this annoying "need" to find the absolutely perfect thing which can sometimes drive me a little mad. I always check out online gift guides for ideas because there are so many cool things out there that I would never even know about otherwise. This year, I wanted to put together one myself! Here are some of my favorite healthyish things at the moment.

Oh and just a heads-up: This post contains some affiliate links. While these do not affect the purchase price of the item, they could result in me getting a small commission on anything you buy. Thank you for supporting this blog. Now on with the gifts!

The Instant Pot

It's probably no surprise that this made the list. I just talked about how much I love it in my post last week and I keep finding new and interesting ways to use it! Besides the ever-so-popular pressure cooker feature that the IP is known for, here are some other cool things you can make with it:

  • Yogurt
  • The perfect rice (minus all of the foam boiling over the pot and making a mess of your stovetop)
  • Anything that you would typically make in a slow cooker
  • Seared and shredded meat (with no extra pots/pans required)
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Oatmeal or other porridge 

It's just an amazing all-around appliance and would open up a whole new world of cooking possibilities for the home chef in your life!

chicken pho, made in the instant pot

chicken pho, made in the instant pot

Green Chef Subscription

I have waxed poetic about Green Chef so many times over the last few months, but I'm still holding strong that it's nothing short of amazing! You can read my full review here, but in short Green Chef sends you a box of brightly colored, beautiful and creative meals along with recipe cards that explain exactly how to assemble them so 1) you don't have to plan dinners for the week and 2) you don't have to do a huge grocery shop. Perfect for post-holiday travel when you're craving plants and just can't think about what to cook. 

They don't offer a gift card option, but you can sign someone up for a box (I did this for my mom). It would be a fun gift for a couple who wants to start cooking more, or for anyone who wants to start trying some new cuisines or branch out from their usual meal rotation. 

Mediterranean Bowls via Green Chef

Mediterranean Bowls via Green Chef

Cookbooks

A cookbook is a great gift for home cooks, because while they provide new meal inspiration and are just plain fun to read, most people don't buy them "just because". I know I browse cookbooks online often but it's hard to justify spending $25-50 on one when free recipes are available all over the place. This is why they make the perfect gift. 

Here are two of my favorites, plus two that I've been eyeing but don't yet own:

Cravings, by Chrissy Teigen

Seriously Delish, by Jessica Merchant

Dinner: Changing the Game, by Melissa Clark

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman

fish tacos, a la Cravings

fish tacos, a la Cravings

Apple Watch Series 3 or Accessories 

This is obviously a more pricey option, but for the active person in your life it sure is fun to wear. I have a Series 1 that I got as a Christmas gift two years ago. The main reason I love it is because I can't wear most metal accessories without my wrist getting irritated, and I really like wearing a watch. I also love the look of the Apple Watch (it matches my casual style) and you can easily switch out the band based on the season or your mood. 

Now I'm not religious about tracking my steps or anything, but I do find it helpful for reminding me to get moving at times when I'm focused on a task and it's fun to see how many miles walked while on vacation or on a particularly active day. It's also a great run tracker when training for an event if you are someone who likes to keep track of pace, distance, etc. I rarely use mine for texting and answering calls, but know that those are features as well, and with the new Series 3 you don't even need your phone nearby to do so! 

If someone on your list already has a watch, a bright and funky watch band is a less expensive option that would be really fun to receive. I love the dusty blue or bright pink options for days when you need a little bit of color in your life. 

Cocktail Making Supplies

You might be asking yourself how anything related to alcohol made the cut on a "healthyish" gift guide, but let me explain. I'm a big believer in the power of learning how to make a bomb cocktail. It's just one of those adult skills that I think everyone should have. Plus, one great tasting high-quality cocktail means it will probably be a lot more satisfying, which can be helpful for someone trying to cut down on alcohol intake. Less is more you guys!

I'm partial to Moscow Mules, but really the options are endless here. I love the idea of giving a local, craft mixer for a special add-on and you can cater it to whatever cocktail your gift-ee really loves. 

Citrus Juicer - I couldn't find the exact one I have, but this one looks similar.

Moscow Mule Mugs - we got these as a wedding gift and use them a ton when hosting company!

Craft mixer - Fever Tree makes some really interesting mixers although I've never actually tried them - I have been on the hunt for their ginger beer for weeks!

best.host.ever

best.host.ever

Bon Appetit Magazine Subscription

BA magazine is so much fun to read every month. Yes, the recipes are creative and delicious but their photography and graphic design is what really keeps me reading. They also write really funny and true-to-life articles that I find so useful. One of the columns is called "Basically" where a simple skill is broken down. As an example, one month it was on how to make perfectly roasted potatoes. Oh, and then there's the hot 10 list that I look forward to all year where they choose their favorite 10 new restaurants in the country and showcase them in the September issue. 

There are other food magazines out there, but if you're looking for one that's a little bit out of the box and will really challenge someone in the kitchen, I would highly recommend Bon Appetit. 

ClassPass membership

Anyone who knows me well, knows that when it comes to fitness I can't stay put doing the same thing for very long. Enter, ClassPass - the ultimate solution that seems like it was designed just for me! If you aren't familiar, ClassPass essentially allows you access to all sorts of fitness studios all on one membership with an app that allows you to schedule based on location, class type and/or time. This would be perfect for someone who has a hard time committing to a gym membership because of an ever-changing work schedule, or anyone who loves trying out new formats often. Classes are available in 39 cities and if you travel, you can use your membership anywhere, not just in the city you sign up. 

I recently re-joined and remembered just how much I like the flexibility. I tried out Barre3 (which I loved) and a new-to-me Cycling/Core class that was also really fun. Other Denver favorites include Core Power Yoga, Pearl Street Fitness, Fierce45 which is a pilates megaformer class and Fit36 - a super quick option near my work that I also really like. Taking classes like this as a drop-in can easily cost upwards of $25/class so CP membership is a great deal. 

Starbucks Mug

This is a classic and probably a bit predictable, but there are just so many beautiful mugs at Starbucks these days! This is another one of those things that most people probably gawk over but never actually buy for themselves. You can't buy the mugs on Starbucks.com anymore, but you can of course still find them in store, and on sites like Amazon. Check out a few of these patterns:

Siren Scales

Fall Leaves

Tropical Scene (for the iced coffee lover)

And then of course their city-specific collectible mugs and tumblers are great if you want to give a souvenir type gift to a special someone. I may be biased, but I think this Denver one is pretty cool:

Denver collection

What's on your list this year? Leave a comment with one must-have item!

Lately: Interesting Eats

I decided to mix things up a little bit and instead of doing a more informational post, I'm showcasing some of the more interesting things I've been eating lately. I always think it's fun when other bloggers do this because it can help spruce up my eating routine a little bit. I tend to buy the same things over and over again, so it's nice to go to the grocery store with the intention of picking up some new items. Below are just a few of my recent favorites!

Spicy Tea Lattes

When it comes to tea, I have a few specific preferences: black, green or spicy. On a colder day when I'm at home in the afternoon I love drinking it latte style by adding some steamed soy milk and cinnamon (and clearly, I love cinnamon). This Bengal Spice variety by Celestial Seasonings is my current favorite. Half steeped tea, a little less than half frothy milk of choice, and a little bit of foam on top. 

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Buffalo Chicken Nachos

I'm obsessed with buffalo chicken anything, but this was one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. Chips + leftover chicken tossed in buffalo sauce + bleu & cheddar cheese. Throw in a 400 degree oven for 5-8 minutes or until cheese is melted. Top with minced cilantro, sliced green onions, thinly sliced radishes and jalapeños before digging in. Other buffalo chicken favorites: stuffed sweet potatoes, pizza, quesadillas... You're welcome. 

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Kale Salad

The Butternut Squash, Cranberry and Kale Salad with Creamy Avocado-Pear Dressing that I featured a few weeks ago in my interview with Kristina Todini is really, really good. I made it for a Thanksgiving celebration at work and it was a hit! Not only is it really beautiful but it comes together fast and is a great make-ahead, festive side dish.

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Kodiak Cakes Waffles 

I'm a huge fan of the KC pancake mix so I had to grab some of these. I like making them into a sandwich with peanut butter and banana slices because it makes a good portable breakfast when I need something in a hurry. These also smell amazing so if you make them in an office there's a good chance at least a few people will want to know the details on these. 

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Nuttzo Nut & Seed Butter

I tried out this new nut butter because it was on sale and I got some cash back through a rebate app that I use. As you can see on the label it's packed with all sorts of different nuts and seeds which makes for a great texture and nutritional profile. This stuff is $$ but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway in case anyone has a peanut allergy or wants to branch out from the traditional peanut or almond butter. 

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What's the most interesting dish you've eaten lately? Feel free to share in the comments!

Tips for Getting Dinner on the Table Fast (+Free Meal Plan and Grocery List)

One of the most common (if not the most common) barrier to folks cooking more meals at home is a lack of time, am I right? Many of us work long hours, try to squeeze in some exercise, then have to brave traffic and by the time we get home, cooking can be the least appealing thing to do.

I look forward to it because I'm a total cooking nerd (at least most nights), but I know not everyone feels the same way so I wanted to give some practical tips that might be helpful for getting dinner on the table FAST on a week night, and a healthyish dinner at that. 

Go Semi-Homemade

Does anyone else remember that show on The Food Network, Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee? I haven't seen it in years (I actually don't even know if it's on anymore) but I used to love it. Sandra Lee made all sorts of fun stuff using shortcuts like boxed baking mixes to make cooking quicker and easier. As much as I love cooking, I know there is a time and a place for convenience items and I definitely take advantage of them when necessary. My favorites:

  • Rotisserie chicken 
  • Pre-chopped butternut squash (it's pretty much the worst thing ever to chop)
  • Angel hair slaw (versus buying the whole cabbage and shaving it myself)
  • Shredded cheese 

The trade-off is, these are usually a bit pricier than their "made-from-scratch" counterparts. Think about your week and what you'll have the time and energy to do.

Think Ahead & Be More Efficient  

Something that has dramatically helped me with week-night cooking is planning. I don't just mean weekend prep because while I realize that's helpful, I also appreciate that not everyone has the time or desire to do it. What I mean is, if you have to chop an onion on Monday and know you'll need another one on Wednesday, do both at the same time. Similarly, if you need a small amount of rice, double the batch because it won't take that much longer but saves you time later and rice is super versatile for other on-the-fly dishes later. If you take the time to rinse and chop some cilantro, chop the whole bunch even if you don't need it all in that moment. I know I'm a lot more likely to use it throughout the week if it's already chopped any way, which means less waste too so this one's a double win. 

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Try Breakfast for Dinner

If there's ever a night when Jacob and I just aren't feeling what was on our menu, or really just can't imagine spending more than 15 minutes getting something cooked, breakfast for dinner it is. Some of our favorites are breakfast burritos with avocado, hot sauce and whatever else we have on hand, or Kodiak Cakes with nut butter and fruit. 

Nutrition Tip: Keep things balanced by including a source of carbohydrates/fiber, protein and heart-healthy fat. This way you won't be raiding the kitchen for something else an hour later.

Here are some other quick ideas:

  • Open-face, whole grain English muffin topped with cream cheese, fried eggs, sautéed spinach or kale and tomato slices (don't forget to season with salt + pepper)
  • Savory oatmeal: make per the usual directions but instead of adding fruit and sweetener, add shredded cheese, a poached egg and some chives/cilantro/green onions
  • Scrambled eggs with green chili, avocado and Sriracha + sides (pictured above)
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Snack Boards for the Win

Like I mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of snack boards at any time of the day. They make great appetizers or party food, but you can also use them as a way to clean out the fridge on Friday night and make a super quick dinner that's perfect for movie-watching. Add whatever you like, but think about a variety of textures, temperatures and food groups to make it great. Click the link above to grab a snack board shopping list and how-to guide that I put together if you don't want to spend time coming up with your own (just scroll to the end!). 

Stock Some Helpful Tools

If you follow me on Instagram, you might already know that I recently bought an Instant Pot (<-- this is the one I have, and this is an affiliate link just fyi) and so far I am really impressed with how magical this thing is. You can cook things in minutes that typically take hours. For example, on Halloween I cooked a whole chicken in just 14 minutes! Now I will say that cook times are a little bit misleading because you also have to account for the time it takes for the IP to come up to pressure and then come back down before you can open the lid (15-20 minute each). However even with this time included, certain items that are usually only doable on weekends can easily turn into week night meals. This weekend I made black beans from scratch in an hour from start to finish (no soaking necessary). Not too bad considering that it's entirely hands-off once you get it going. 

In addition to the instant pot, I'm a fan of stocking some basic, inexpensive tools that save a lot of time, like a garlic press, and a few good quality knives (I say this a lot but... so important!). They make chopping quicker and easier and I promise, it's worth the investment. You might also grab some small sauce dishes to make getting your mise en place simple. 

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Free Resource

I recently created a basic one-week meal plan and grocery list if you're looking for some cooking inspiration and hate taking the time to meal plan yourself. It's completely free and you can find it on my Coaching + Resources page. Hopefully this helps!

So I would love to know, what's your go-to fast weeknight meal when you don't feel like cooking?

Mise en Place: What it Means and Why You Should Know

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Are you familiar with the term mise en place? I actually had to Google the spelling because while I'm familiar with how to say it out loud (it sounds fancy and impressive by the way), I have never actually had to type it out.

Mise en place (mees - en - PLOS) is a French phrase meaning "putting in place" or "everything in its place." It refers to how you get things set up before cooking, or organizing and arranging all of your ingredients necessary. Essentially, you do all of your slicing and dicing, measure out all of your spices and get out all necessary tools, cutting boards, etc. so you are ready to rock and roll when you actually start cooking. 

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Sounds like a waste of time...

If this sounds like wasted time, I think you should reconsider! It can actually save time because everything is organized and visible, just like on The Food Network (I swear, JUST like it). I can't even count how many times I have started heating up oil in a skillet only to realize that in addition to a diced onion, I need peeled and sliced ginger, a whole bunch of seasonings and a homemade sauce ready to go in about two minutes. Let me tell you, having to scramble around the kitchen and rush through a recipe with a sharp knife never turns out well. It's not safe, and usually leads to a forgotten step or even worse, burnt garlic.  

Imagine if you had prepped all of the ingredients ahead of time, and could relax and even sip on a glass of wine along the way? Mise en place. 

I made carnitas earlier this week and while the pork was cooking I got my fixings organized, which included warm tortillas, thinly sliced radishes, lime wedges, sliced avocado, and small diced white onion mixed with cilantro. If I had waited to do all of this at the very end, the meat and tortillas would have surely been cold by the time we actually sat down to eat. Set yourself up for cooking success!

Another tip I love is putting ingredients away (or off to the side) as you use them, so you don't accidentally add them twice. My mom taught me this one and I still do it because it makes so much sense. I find it especially helpful when baking. 

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Do I have you convinced yet? Here is a simple checklist to summarize:

  • Read through the ingredients list and take everything out and set it out on your counter. This way if you thought you had something on hand that mysteriously disappeared over the last few days (does this happen to anyone else?) you will know before you get started. 

  • Take out any measuring cups/spoons you need, plus any other tools or appliances like knives, cutting boards, food processor, or skillets. 

  • At a minimum, do all of your chopping since this is usually the most time-intensive step

  • If you are feeling up to it and have small sauce/spice dishes on hand, you can measure out your seasonings ahead of time (but I never do this).

  • Lastly, put items away as you use them to avoid adding multiple times

This is a key skill to learn when you are just getting started with cooking to prevent overlooking a step or getting mixed up because of stress. I think cleaning while you go can also make the cooking experience way easier and less time-intensive, and this all kind of works together. 

Are you interested in learning more in-depth information about healthy cooking and meal planning? I'm launching an e-course on this topic early next year and would love to have you on board! Click here to get on the interest list, stay in the know and get the best pricing once registration opens. 

There are two types of home cooks in this world - those who mise en place, and those are more of the "free-for-all" type in the kitchen. Which one are you?