S’mores Marshmallow Bites

indoor smores marshmallows

We were invited to a Memorial Day backyard BBQ in the Florida summer heat. Although evenings in a backyard might make you think of s’mores, the hot weather keeps us from lighting fires. Instead, we concocted S’Mores Chocolate Nutella Bites. The plate was empty before I got to try one – the teens at the party gobbled them up before the adults got to them. These s’mores require NO campfire, NO stove, NO oven, NO baking… just a microwave and a few minutes. These are great to make with children as well.

First Alice tried just melting chocolate chips in the microwave, but they need some kind of fat to make the consistency right for dipping. I suggested butter. She tried Nutella. That worked great!

For an average bag of large marshmallows, use about 3/4 cup chocolate chips and 3TB Nutella. You’ll also want a sleeve of graham crackers. If you can crush the graham crackers (see gluten free option below) still in the sleeve without it bursting, it helps yield less mess. Or you can put them in a Ziploc Freezer bag, I was just trying to be greener than that. Once the graham crackers are very tiny dusty crumbs, smaller than a pencil eraser, dump them onto a plate.

Melting the chocolate is a bit of guesswork, don’t treat it like real science. You can’t ruin the recipe, you just might run out and have to melt more. We melted the chocolate and Nutella together in a small microwave-safe bowl for 14 seconds, stirred, gave it another 20 seconds, and everything was melted to a great dipping consistency. Microwave times vary, but don’t put it in for a long period so it will melt faster. You want to do short spurts of heat and stir in between. We used a rubber scraper to stir and then we had it ready for scraping the bowl when we were down to the last bits of chocolate.

Now is when you want to work quickly, before the chocolate cools and starts to solidify – although you can always pop it back in the microwave for 10 seconds. Take a large marshmallow, dip it about halfway into the melty chocolate goodness, swirl it around, and then roll it in the graham cracker crumbs. Stand your s’mores dipped marshmallows up on a plate. It’s easy and brainless and delicious!

These are great for parties with themes like camping, adventure, pow wow, gypsy boho, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.


  • Marshmallows – large size
  • Chocolate chips
  • Nutella
  • Graham Crackers

Other ideas:

Roll chocolate-dipped marshmallows in something other than graham crackers – like crushed nuts or rainbow sprinkles, but then they won’t be as s’mores-esque.

Swap the Nutella for peanut butter, cookie butter, or SKIPPY® Natural Peanut Butter Spread with Dark Chocolate. We’ve even made a blend of a few of those when we had too much junk food in the house! They all taste great blended with each other and/or with the chocolate chips.

You can make them gluten free by using Honey Nut Chex instead of graham crackers.

You can make them kosher by using Paskesz Marshmallows, Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels, and Nabisco graham crackers.

A full dinner plate of s’mores bites (nearly a whole bag of marshmallows) took me only 10 minutes to make. Enjoy!


Time for a Fresh Meal Plan!

Sometimes when balancing life and health and food – and for me that means packing lunch for work – I just want to look at the choices and shout, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Usually though, I try to set aside time on Sunday to cook up healthy food I can portion out for work lunches all week. But as we all know, Sunday Funday plans can ruin best-laid meal planning! Plus, many of my friends are packing lunches for their children as well, not just themselves.

Then dinner menus get added to the mix! It’s so easy to come home from work and NOT want to cook. But eating out means added sodium and other stuff I don’t want in my food.

Recently a friend introduced me to Fresh Meal Plan. By signing up for one of their plans, you can have freshly prepared, healthy and delicious meals delivered right to you! Plus, they offer meal plans to fit many diet types – like paleo, vegetarian, contest prep for bodybuilders, high performance for athletes, and vegan. Or, like me, traditional.

types of plans

The food comes ready to be heated up in small containers, so the portion sizes are determined for you. Sign up, select a meal plan, choose delivery or pick-up, and reheat the fully cooked meals!


mealsI was offered a free week of lunches by Fresh Meal Plan Tampa Bay in exchange for this blog post giving my honest opinion about the food. I had a salmon meal with spaghetti squash and broccoli with honey mustard sauce, chicken stir fry over quinoa, apple pecan turkey salad (shown), and brisket bolognese over spinach with zucchini (shown). Some comments…

  1. The food I tried was delicious! The salmon and turkey salad were my favorites but I would recommend them all.
  2. The portion size was perfect for lunch if I had fruit between lunch and dinner. If I had nothing in between lunch and dinner I was really hungry 5 hours later.
  3. labelThe labels on the meals don’t show the full ingredients. I don’t know what was in the sauces or breadings – just the main ingredients are listed. (shown)

There was another day we had a catering tray from Fresh Meal Plan at work to share. The gluten free waffles were too bland for me, but the banana muffins were delicious with very rich frosting – even though they were paleo – no wheat, no gluten, no dairy.

I also really enjoyed the sweet potato fries, pasta, farro with cranberries and chicken satay. The green beans had too many onions for me. I didn’t try the Mediterranean salad because I don’t care for olives.

IMG_7256 IMG_7257

Fresh Meal Plan is not a diet system using shakes, pills, cookies, or preserved and packaged meals. It’s all freshly made from a culinary team comprised of the highest level chefs led by Patrick Delaney. They also have 100% organic, raw, cold-pressed juices, but I have not tried one yet.

Not convinced? Here’s what they suggest:

For one week, log every dollar you spend on food and how much time you spent shopping for it, prepping it, cooking it and then cleaning up after it. Then think about how much your time is worth and realize that not only did you NOT save time or money, but you also do not have the variety of food that Fresh provides our Fresh Family clients with on a daily basis.

What is more convenient then having your own personal Fresh Chef deliver healthy meals right to your home, office, or school? You need a full spectrum of nutrients to achieve inner wellness and they’ll provide them at an exceptional level. Let their team of nutrition experts do the work for you so that you can use your spare time to do something much more fun!


Top Local Chef Tampa Bay

I was asked to attend and review the Top Local Chef event in April in exchange for 2 general admission tickets. If you are a big foodie, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this event next year.

Just like Top Chef, restauranteurs and chefs from the area were given a secret ingredient, and then had to bring finished, unique dishes made with that ingredient to the event with enough small plates to feed the crowd. This year’s secret ingredient was valencia orange. If you are a chef in Florida and you don’t know how to infuse orange flavor into a tasty dish, you have some explaining to do!


IMG_7650The event was held at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom. You can see the judges tables on a stage to the left, then VIP seating (the chefs were behind them) and then the General seating on the right. This often forgotten venue has great water views, hard floors for dancing, a bar, and is surrounded by fun, local hangouts. I had not been here for a few years, and thought it was an ideal location for a date night with my husband. I figured if the tasting portions weren’t large enough and he left hungry, we could pop into a neighborhood beachfront restaurant afterwards.

There were 4 savory dishes to try and 4 dessert dishes to try. I had 4 tasting tickets, so I tried 2 savory and 2 dessert. Because I was with my husband, we did some mixing and matching and I was able to try a little more than that.

Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ  with Chef John Riesebeck impressed most of my friends with his smoked pork tenderloin with jalapeño wrapped in bacon and topped with a Valencia orange glaze. Even my friend who thought the pork was overcooked still thought the glaze was unbelievable.

IMG_7659I also really enjoyed the yellowfin tuna tartare creation by Chef Sean Ford of Tryst (shown). With Florida orange Grand Marnier and sweet soy sauce in a crispy wonton, I actually asked for a second helping!

Brian had a crab popper from Pipos Cuban Cafe on Bay Pines but didn’t want to try the accompanying ceviche. I munched on it, with little veggies and baby shrimp – yum!

I had Beach’s 5 spice big eye tuna with valencia orange nage over orange fennel salad. I should have skipped that one. I don’t really care for 5 spice or fennel, but they said their tuna had been flown in from Hawaii the day before, so that roped me in. I wish I had instead tried Stella’s tuna dish – because it was a winner – but by then I was tuna’ed out.

IMG_7667The best presentation of the evening, if that had been an award, should have gone to Tastes of Tampa Bay/Street Surfer Food Truck. They had a dessert trio including Clearwater Beach pie – and orange twist on Key Lime pie, Siesta Key Sunset Colada bite, and the super fun Key West Dreamin’ Pop. This push-pop complete with plastic holder placed in an orange had layers of bright citrus curd and creamy mascarpone mousse. This was an attention-getting item, especially from the younger crowd in the room, but was hard to serve at an event like this because it should have stayed well chilled until served.

withcheesecakeEveryone I sat with was most blown away by the brownie cheesecake in a jar from Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More. Although they use a an old family recipe, they wanted to reimagine cheesecake for the heat of Florida, to make sure your slice doesn’t melt before you can eat it! Thats why they use a glass jar to insulate the cheesecake and keep it fresh. And of course those cute, little mason jars are so in style right now, that doesn’t hurt their brand either! LeAnn was friendly and chatty, explaining her layered orange-infused brownie-under-cheesecake topped with orange coulis and more brownie crumbles. Here’s what it looks like inside a jar of cheesecake goodness:



Congratulations to this year’s winners… 

  • Best People’s Choice Sweet: Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More
  • Best Judge’s Choice Sweet: Oob A La Mode (they had a series of mini desserts including a orange scented chocolate tart that I didn’t try)
  • Best Judge’s Savory Dish: Stella’s of Gulfport – the one I wished I had tried… Florida Citrus Cured White Tuna with Guava-Orange-Tamarind Glaze Garnished With Wasabi Leaves & Spring Watermelon Radish-Microgreen Salsa
  • Best People’s Savory: Smokin J’s BBQ
  • Best Overall: Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More

Top Local Chef is a production of LocalShops1, a Tampa Bay advocate for local businesses. The 2016 nonprofit partner was CASA, which offers shelter and support for survivors of domestic violence.

To get on the list and receive a reminder about next year’s tasty challenge, fill out this online form: http://www.toplocalchef.com/contact-us.html


Meal Planning for the Week

Brian and I try to find time every Sunday to grocery shop together. First, we compare calendars to find out who will be home for dinner on which nights, then we come up with our menu and ingredients lists, and then we shop. We do the bulk of our shopping at Target with a Red Card to save 5%. For out-of-the-ordinary items, better produce and better meats, we go to Publix a few doors down.

This week, our meals are:

  • Sunday night (2 adults) – We had chicken breasts we had purchased the week before and not used, so we figured they’d better get eaten soon. I made Rachel Schultz’s WORLD’S BEST CHICKEN. The mustard flavor is rounded out by the other ingredients, it’s always juicy if you cook it 10 minutes less than she recommends, and you don’t have to marinade this in advance! Brian wanted brown rice, which we had leftover in the fridge, and I roasted broccoli too. I’ll make 3 breasts for the 2 of us so I have one left for lunch one day this week.
  • Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 5.46.22 PMMonday (party of 4) – the girls requested turkey burgers, which usually means I make the patties and Brian does the grilling. We had leftover buns in the freezer I defrosted. I pre-made a side of roasted vegetables and couscous in a huge bowl Sunday so I could have it for lunch at work too. The “kids” snuck some wasabi ginger kettle cooked Lays chips in the cart too.
  • Tuesday (party of 4) – chicken thighs in an Asian soy/peanut sauce with sugar snap peas and brown rice.
  • Wednesday (2 adults, because the girls are leaving town to go check out a colllege) – salmon, probably pan seared. This recipe sounds great!
  • Thursday (2 adults) – Pizza, because I’ll be working that night so fast is best
  • Friday (2 adults) – Cuban sandwiches in our panini press.

I hope you find time to meal plan as well. It saves money, calories, time and aggravation.


4 Ways to Save with Tropical Smoothie Cafe

So New Years has come and gone… have your resolutions stuck around?

I discovered over winter break (I work at a school, so I get 2 weeks off with the kiddos…) how often I crave smoothies when my schedule is loosey goosey. After a workout, instead of a meal, as a healthy dessert – I sure do like smoothies!

tropsmoo1Sometimes I remember to keep bananas in a bowl on the counter and berries frozen in the freezer, but sometimes it’s just not top of mind. That’s where Tropical Smoothie Cafe comes in. There’s one about 2 miles from my house, one near my daughter’s bi-weekly appointment at the Children’s Hospital, two on the way to my parents’ house a few hours away… it sure is convenient.

My favorite, go-to flavor of smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Cafe is Acai Berry Boost with acai, pomegranate, banana, blueberries and strawberries. It’s chock full of fresh, real fruit.

Now here’s my first tip:

  • At Tropical Smoothie Cafe, you control your sugar intake. If you look closely along the bottom of the menu, it says smoothies are “24 oz. and made with turbinado sugar unless otherwise noted or requested”. You can request a smaller, kids size cup on some flavors. I’ve heard from one of their employees that they prefer not to make them that way because it screws up their recipe amounts when blending different fruits together – but some will. Also, Splenda® is available instead of sugar, or you can ask them to use half the sugar. Or you can do what I do, and ask for NO sugar added. 

Here’s my second tip about dining out at Trop-Smoo (as my husband pretends is its cool nickname when he is being goofy):

And a third tip for you:

  • Tropical Smoothie Cafe offers Supplements and add-ins for their smoothies! You can add things like non-dairy Pea Protein, multivitamins, ground flax seed and much more! When my daughters or their friends have a sore throat, I offer to bring them a fruit-based smoothie with no sugar and added vitamins. It’s a great pick-me-up, and when you’re sick, 24 oz. seems huge, so you can usually drink 1/3 and keep the rest in the freezer for later. They usually ask for the jetty punch or sunrise sunset flavor.

Maybe your resolutions have nothing to do with food or health. In that case, they’re probably about money. And Tropical Smoothie comes through on that too.

  • Aside from the fact that their smoothies are TREMENDOUS, they also offer a reusable cup you can buy. Purchase a reusable handled plastic mug and SAVE $.50-$1 on your future purchases when you bring it back for a smoothie refill! It’s greener and saves you green at the same time!

Now, I know you weren’t expecting this, but I have a BONUS tip for you! Just because I’m talking about smoothies from Tropical Smoothie Cafe, you need to know that’s not all they offer!chicken

  • You can totally go to Tropical Smoothie and get a full meal! They have wraps, sandwiches, flatbreads, muffins and cookies. My husband loves a peanut butter smoothie and a blueberry muffin after a 6 mile run on Saturday morning. You can enjoy artisan tacos in falvors like Smoked Jalapeño Chicken or Thai Chili Steak. I’ve never tried their Rustic Turkey & Apple Club, but I want to next time I go! It has turkey, cheddar, gorgonzola, bacon, dijon honey mustard and house-made kale & apple slaw on thinly sliced seedilicious bread. That is right up my alley!! A little cheesy, a little crunchy, and a hearty bread! If you’re on the way to work in the morning and need a healthier breakfast, grab an Omelet Wrap or Peanut Butter Banana Crunch Flatbread. Yum-o! And if you’re looking for a vegetarian, hearty meal, sub the chicken in a sandwich for their “Beyond Meat“. Comparable protein and complete enjoyment from a next generation product.
Tropical smoothie and a muffin

Brian’s Saturday post-run crew: “Trop Smoo” every weekend! #jealous

I road tripped to see my mom just before Thanksgiving. I knew exactly where the two Tropical Smoothies were to stop for lunch along the way. That was the day I veered away from the norm and decided to try a limited edition smoothie flavor. I opted for the Chia Banana Boost with Peanut Butter, which they were suggesting as a drink-your-breakfast option. It had coconut, almonds, dates, cinnamon, whole grain oats, chia seeds & roasted banana with peanut butter. I told them I don’t like coconut, and I was assured it would taste more like banana with peanut butter, which it did. Of course I asked for zero sugar added.

I love this fast-casual chain full of fruit and flavor! If there isn’t one near you, you can open your own franchise. If there is one near you, I suggest you visit it again soon!

I’m going to have a Tropical Smoothie Cafe contest coming up very soon. Remember where you read this because you might be quizzed on it later… *hint, hint, wink*

(This post was not a paid ad. I love smoothies from Tropical Smoothie!)