So guess what!? Ravioli has its own holiday (it’s today, March 20!), and I can’t think of a more deserving stuffed pasta. Good for you, ravioli!! I’m pretty sure we should all have the day off because of it, and if you’re reading this during work hours, go ahead and take the rest of the day for yourself – you deserve it.

As a very important food blogger, I sometimes get the alert to national food holidays I might not have known about, and get to try foods that aren’t on my list of dazzling go-tos like bananas and tuna pouches. Giovanni Rana contacted me because they are participating in some beneficial hashtag fun for National Ravioli Day. Each time the phrase #RanaRavioliChallenge is used on social media today, Giovanni Rana will donate 1LB of pasta to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.* Hey, if I can provide a bit of buzz for a company doing some good in my little corner of the interwebs, then it’s basically awesome for everyone, but especially me, because in this case, I get to eat some really good ravioli.

Rana Ravioli

Ravioli and I have been in a steady relationship for quite a few years now, ever since Chef Boyardee won me over as a child with his scrumptious canned pasta. Seriously, my brother and I couldn’t wait until Friday night when we were served something Chef B created by Chef Mom. Friday night was ravioli and TGIF, thereby making it the best night of the week.

Fast forward 25 (whoa) years, and ravioli still has a special place in my heart. I’m eating (somewhat) less canned pasta now, and I’m onto ravioli the grown-up way – fresh, or sometimes even deep fried. Oh, and I’m really, really into Bolognese…

Let’s talk about how delicious this Rana Ravioli is. It’s really good, and takes barely any time to cook, so you can get your ravioli eating on pronto. The variety I tried was the Caprese Duet with Bolognese sauce, which has two different colors and fillings, tomato mozzarella and basil pesto – basically awesome for the girl who has a hard time making up her mind.

Ravioli Rana

Rana Ravioli with Bolognese

As with many foods I love (sour cream, cream cheese), this Bolognese sauce falls into the category of “inappropriate to eat with just a spoon, but it’s so delicious you really want to”. Yes, that perfectly explains my thoughts and feelings on the sauce.

So, get out there and celebrate National Ravioli Day, and remember to tag #RanaRavioliChallenge on your Twitters, Instagrams and Facebooks to help the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

*This post is sponsored by Giovanni Rana, and I received the pasta and sauce gratis; thoughts and opinions are my own. Guests, friends, and family are invited to post up to three times on National Ravioli Day (March 20) on the same or different social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or others) to increase the amount of pasta donated.

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I don’t think it’s exactly a secret the grocery store is one of my favorite places. Having grown up the daughter of a grocery store manager, it only makes sense that I feel quite at home in the aisles of Jewel. I like to think all that time spent in the supermarket gives me a sixth sense about new products I’d like to try, and there’s no aisle I’m more familiar with than the frozen “Meals for One” section. Since adhering mostly the Weight Watchers Simple Start/Core Foods program, I’ve tried to eat more fresh foods and rely less on frozen meals for lunch, so these days I’m typically zooming through this aisle, past the green Healthy Choice boxes, the red Smart Ones and the white Lean Cuisines.

Recently I noticed a new line of products (just past the sea of green, red and white) from Jimmy Dean that looked pretty good, and sold me with their low calories. Additionally, for the most part, they used mostly Core foods ingredients, so I didn’t have to worry that I was veering too far off the nutritional course.

Jimmy Dean Delights

Jimmy Deans Delight Golden Roasted Turkey

I had a chance to try three of the new varieties of the Jimmy Dean Delight bowls, including the Southwest Style Grilled Chicken, Hickory Smoked Ham and Golden Roasted Turkey. I really liked the Hickory Smoked Ham and the Golden Roasted Turkey, and for 250 calories or less, there’s a lot to love. I think one of the highlights was the sauce in each of these dishes – not overwhelming in quantity, but delicious and certainly added to the flavor. I love ham, peas and potatoes together, and ham is not a protein usually featured in frozen meals.  The turkey dish seemed like the filling of a pot pie, and was my favorite of the three meals. The Southwestern Chicken was good, but not as good as the other two. If I bought it again, I’d definitely jazz it up with hot sauce and sour cream.

Jimmy Dean Delight Golden Roasted Turkey

 

In the realm of Healthy Choice, Smart Ones and Lean Cuisines, I think the Jimmy Dean Delights line is a serious contender. Inventive ingredient combinations and well-executed flavors make these frozen meals worth a try, and I’ll be adding them into the rotation.

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Smart Soup? You might as well just call this soup brilliant. At the beginning of the year, the wonderful people at Smart Soup reached out to me to see if I would be interested in trying their line of flash-frozen soups in conjunction with their (also brilliant) campaign to donate “Meal for Meal” to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Until February 28, 2015, Smart Soup will donate the cost of a meal to the GCFD. Great soup for a great cause – of course I was excited to try it.

And just like that, a box of soup arrived to my office!

Smart Soup Variety Pack

Yay soup! Soup is great, but what I noticed right off the bat is how amazingly low in calories these soups are. For the consistently “on a lifestyle change” blogger, low-cal lunch options are my favorite. All of the varieties of Smart Soup are 160 calories or less, and are 3 grams of fat or under. The line of soups was created by Anne Chong Hill, who was inspired by her childhood in Brunei where she grew up eating flavorful ethnic dishes. As an adult, Chong Hill was diagnosed with hypertension and sought to change her lifestyle by creating healthy meals she and her family would enjoy. Each flavor of Smart Soup is inspired by Anne’s childhood and travels, and all of their products are vegan, gluten-free, all-natural with no preservatives and are American Heart Association Certified. Definitely smart.

The first flavor I tried was the Vietnamese Carrot Lemongrass.

Smart Soup Vietnamese Carrot Lemongrass

The soup has sharp, layered flavors with vegetables – potatoes, carrot, edamame, ginger and coconut. The flavors are fantastic, and unique – I wish I could cook like this at home for so few calories and fat. I paired this with a side salad, but the portion is generous enough to eat as a lunch alone. The pureed soup is thick and satisfying. Definitely zippy, zingy, and I didn’t need to use my trusty salt shaker.

The next flavor I tried was the French Lentil:

Smart Soup French LentilThe lentil had definite curry undertones, and didn’t have the zip of the carrot soup, but was still flavorful and also didn’t need the salt shaker.

The next flavor I had was the Greek Minestrone:

Smart Soup Greek Minestrone

Totally delicious, super low in calories (110!) and full of veggies and flavor.

Next up was the Santa Fe Corn Chowder:

Smart Soup Santa Fe Corn Chowder

This soup has so much flavor, and was my personal favorite. I love Mexican-inspired food, and I think this would be even better with a touch of cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

The last flavor I tried was the Thai Coconut Curry:

Smart Soup Thai Coconut Curry

Really bright flavors in this red curry soup made with coconut water. The bamboo shoots and water chestnuts give it great texture and crunch, and the bits of mini corn on the cob will remind you of the movie Big (or at least they always do for me).

I highly recommend this soup for anyone watching their weight. In fact, because these soups are all vegan, they fit in seamlessly with the Weight Watchers Simple Start plan! So eat up, Simple Starters, and calorie-counters alike!

Smart Soup is available in Chicagoland at Costco. Remember, for every unit purchased until the end of February, they’ll donate the cost of a a meal to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

To learn more about Smart Soup, visit their website or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

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To be honest, you can eat this for lunch or dinner, even for a snack. It’s got quinoa (what IS quinoa? I read the entire first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry and still didn’t understand), which I cannot get enough of lately, and a poached egg, which is one my true food loves. Throw some salt and pepper on this, and it’s a real thing. Even though I’m confused about quinoa, I know they put it in everything at Protein Bar, so it’s gotta be good. This breakfast bowl keeps me full for awhile, and fits into the Weight Watchers Simple Start plan.

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

 

At this point I know what you’re thinking – why do these photos look so good? My only answer is they were taken using the magical powers of sunlight, the one thing that can’t be found in my office or in the average Chicago garden apartment.

Here is the official recipe for the Quinoa Breakfast Bowl, in case you’d need such a thing.

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Ingredients:

  • Quinoa (tri-colored quinoa is pretty fun)
  • Egg
  • Optional: anything else you’d want to put in, like green onions, spinach, tomatoes – you know, whatevs.

Directions:

Cook the quinoa. It takes approximately 20-25 minutes, so cook a bunch, because who has time for THAT? If you’re using leftover quinoa, put a big scoop into a bowl and microwave for 1 minute, then salt and pepper it (a lot). Ok, you also should have started boiling some water at this point for your poached egg. Once the water is boiling, drop an egg in it, eyeball it for doneness, and bring it out of the water with a slotted spoon. Put it on your quinoa. Take a picture, photo edit, write a blog, eat. It really is delicious.

Quinoa Egg Breakfast Bowl

Quinoa with egg

 

 

 

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The TL;DR version: if you like meats, if you like bbq, if you like good bbq’ed meats, make the trip to Green Street Smoked Meats.

Green Street Smoked Meats has been on my to-do list for a few months. I had a chance to go a few weeks ago when my best friend was in town. Despite living in Nashville, she visits often enough that the list of places she hasn’t been to in my neighborhood is growing quite small. We both are the type of awesome ladies who like to try new things, so Green Street popped into my head and we were off to try some smoked meats.

We met another friend around 5:30 on a Friday, and the place was already half full. Oh, and the place is cool-done-right. The lighting is dim, the bouncers (are they bouncers?) look 10 years younger and 10x cooler than you’ve ever been, and the whole vibe is very let’s throw back some good booze and bbq. The seating is communal picnic tables around a central bar with a separate line for food. I advise the threesome team approach – one person holds the table, one person at the bar, one person in line for the meats.

Green Street Smoked Meats Interior

Photo credit: Thrillist Chicago

My friend and I started with margarita (fresh and punch-packing), and our other friend (a GSSM veteran) took care of the meat ordering. We ended up with the pulled pork, chicken legs, chopped beef brisket, potato salad and pickles. The meats are served with white bread and two sauce options are available on the side – a mild and a spicy bbq. As a happy accident, my friend intended to order the sliced brisket and ended up with the chopped – he said it was even better than the sliced; I’ve never had the sliced, but the chopped brisket was my favorite thing on the plate tray. I can’t speak to the chicken legs, as these were all for the BFF. I can say that we weren’t sure what’d we’d get since the menu just read “Chicken Leg – $6,” and it included 3 pieces of chicken. It looked great, but can’t personally confirm.

Green Street Smoked Meats BBQ

The meats are so, so good. I love my neighborhood bbq, Lillie’s Q, but Green Street is serious competition. The meat is smoky, flavorful, and really couldn’t be shoveled into my mouth fast enough. The chopped brisket is without a doubt my highest recommendation. The pickles were tangy and a perfect complement to the pulled pork on white bread. The potato salad – I mean, just look at it. It’s the perfect mix of mayo-y to potato-y. There are rolls of paper towels on the tables to mop up your messy, bbq’ed, potato salad’ed self.

Other notable items – there is a secret ramen shop in the basement, and there’s going to be a line. Conveniently, there are some (obviously cool) risers for people to sit on, which somehow reminded me of people waiting to perform in a middle school talent show. I kept waiting for them to bust into song. When you’re done eating, roll yourself out of the picnic table and finish your night off right with an old fashioned from the Doughnut Vault truck, parked right outside. I’d never had Doughnut Vault before either, so this trip really fed two birds with one scone.

All in all, if anyone ever suggests going to Green Street, just say yes. If no one suggests it, take yourself.

Author’s note: Green Street Smoked Meats is another in the list of Midas Touch Brendan Sodikoff restaurants. 

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I missed the 19th because I was at Lincoln Park Zoo, drinking hot cocoa with some most excellent marshmallow vodka. Whoops.

Here are today’s recipes for ya!

First off, we have Grasshopper Cake, a recipe my Aunt Sally used to make for my cousin Jon, whose birthday is on Christmas. The funny thing about this cake is that we literally couldn’t keep it on our plates, and not because we’d eat it too fast (we did that, too) – I think it’s a bit top-heavy, so it jumps off the plate, you know, like a grasshopper.

I’m not sure if this is the exact recipe, but it looks very close:

Creme de Menthe Grasshopper Cake

 

Grasshopper Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist White Cake Mix with pudding in the mix
  • 1-1/4 c. water
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 4 oz. Creme de Menthe (liqueur or syrup)

For the topping:

  • 1 16-oz. jar hot fudge topping
  • 1 8-oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
  • 2 oz. Creme de Menthe
  • chopped Andes Mints for garnish, optional

For the rest of the instructions and full recipe, please visit A Farmgirl’s Dabbles.

Grasshopper Cake

 

Photos courtesy of A Farmgirl’s Dabbles

Next up we have Mini Tortilla Pizzas. I think I’ve told you about my love of mini meals, right? Ok, yep. So these are mini pizzas, made with torillas in a muffin tin. Yay!

Easy Mini Tortilla Pizzas

Mini Tortilla Pizza

  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1 cup pizza or pasta sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup mini pepperoni pieces, optional
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or basil, optional

For the rest of the instructions and full recipe, please visit The Comfort of Cooking.

Mini Tortilla Pepperoni Pizzas

Images courtesy of The Comfort of Cooking

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