Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ultimate Iced Mocha {Starbucks Verismo Review}

Just after starting my job at the hospital and working three-12 hour shifts a week from 6am to 6pm, one of the worst things Keurig stopped working! I don't know about you, but getting up at 4:45 am is really rough and requires a little extra umph to get going for 12 hours straight. So when my Keurig died, I panicked a little...okay, a lot!

To my relief, a week later, a miracle happened. The clouds parted ways and the heavens opened up.....

Staples (as in the office supply store) contacted me and asked to me review the new Starbucks Verismo system. Hallelujah! Dusty and I were getting a little desperate for some java and weren't sure if we wanted to invest in another Keurig, seeing how the one we had for just 2 years pooped out on us. This wonderful news from Staples and Starbucks answered our caffeine prayers!

After several weeks of using our Starbucks Verismo System, Dusty and I couldn't be more pleased. Not only can we brew coffee, but we can make espresso-based drinks like lattes and mochas (my favorite!). 

Here are our thoughts on the Starbucks Verismo System....

Cons: You can only use the Starbucks Verismo pods. Before our Keurig died, we bought a case of k-cups from Sam's Club, so now we are stuck with approximately 50 k-cups! I might have to take them to work and donate them to another Keurig user. On that note, the Verismo pods are difficult to find if you live out in the middle of no where like myself. Therefore the pods have to be ordered online or purchased when we go on a trip to the city.

Pros: Very simple to use! The instruction manual was very easy to follow and we figured out how to use the machine in a matter of 1 minute. Also, we live 80 miles from the nearest Starbucks, so having readily accessible Starbucks at home is AWESOME! Plus the system came with a recipe booklet so we can make our own Starbucks drinks. The system has a water reservoir, which we didn't have before with our basic Keurig, and we really like this feature. After checking I saw that the cost of the Starbucks Verismo System is $119.99....not bad considering you can brew coffee, espresso, make chai tea, hot chocolate and it includes a special milk heating feature. Not bad at all! Plus I really like that the machine requires you put it through a rinse cycle prior to brewing. I have a feeling that is a big reason why our previous coffee machine died. 

Like I said, it couldn't be more simple to use. Just simply fill the water reservoir, turn on the machine, run it through a rinse cycle, lift the handle, pop in your favorite little Starbucks drink pod and brew!

I used my family members as guinea pigs and made them various coffee drinks.They said it was just like having the actual Starbucks, without having to drive 80 miles! On our last trip to Great Falls, Dusty and I loaded up on coffee, espresso and milk pods from Starbucks and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Now we have enough coffee to get me through a years worth of 12 hour shifts. 

Like I said earlier, iced mocha's are my absolute favorite caffeinated beverage. Before having the Verismo system, I made a delicious iced coffee version, but now that I can brew espresso, I can make the real deal! 

Just simply place 2 tablespoons of chocolate sauce into the bottom of a glass....

Add the brewed espresso shots (2 shots if you need the extra kick like me!)
Pour in 6 ounces of Milk. Skim, 1%, 2%, or whole....your choice!

Stir or shake to combine...

Add ice and there you have it! 

Happy Monday!

This post is sponsored by Staples. They provided me with the Starbucks Verismo System to review and share with you all. I did not receive monetary compensation. All thoughts and opinions on the Verismo System are my own...and if you didn't figure it out, I love this new coffee system! The recipe for this glorious Iced Mocha came with my Verismo system. Thanks Starbucks & Staples!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Homemade Orange Julius

One of my favorite treats growing up was an Orange Julius smoothie. There is an Orange Julius at the food court at the mall in Missoula. So growing up, whenever we took a trip to the "big city" to go shopping for the day, I'd get an Orange Julius hot dog and smoothie for lunch. It was something my mom, sister and I looked forward to. Good stuff. Good times.

The Ravalli County Fair always had a booth too of really cute old ladies who made homemade Orange Julius smoothies also when I was little. It wasn't the fair without a homemade Orange Julius, Almost-Famous Caramel Sauce with Granny Smith Apples, and Cinnamon-Sugar Elephant Ears. Yummmm. I suppose I've always loved food!

Dusty and I absolutely love watching Good Eats with Alton Brown. I have a total foodie crush on Alton Brown. The nerd in me loves knowing the science and history behind some of my favorite foods.  On one episode, Alton featured oranges and made his own version of an Orange Julius. He explain that the secret to the perfect Orange Julius smoothie is to freeze some of the orange juice into ice cubes and to use powdered sugar. The orange juice ice cubes prevent the smoothie from getting watered down....

And the powdered sugar creates the perfect frothiness and sweetness that is required for an Orange Julius. Brilliant!

This guilt free treat is so easy to make and has such simple ingredients you probably have on hand already. These taste just like the original Orange Julius, but even better!

Homemade Orange Julius
{Makes 2-16 ounce or 4-8 ounce servings}

-2 cups pulp free Orange Juice
-1 cup Milk
-1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
-2 tablespoons Powdered Sugar

Pour 1-1/2 cups of orange juice into two ice cube trays. Freeze for 2-3 hours. In a blender combine the orange juice ice cubes, 4 ounces leftover orange juice, milk, vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Blend on high for 1 minute until smooth. Pour into glasses and enjoy!

Recipe Adapted from Alton Brown

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mouth-Watering Salmon Burger

What do you do when your mother-in-law gives you a giant bag of frozen salmon filets? Find as many creative ways to use it up! Over the past few weeks Dusty and I have been eating salmon at least once a week. First I made Picky Palates Maple Smoked Salmon, then I made Ina Garten's Mustard Roasted Salmon, followed by Salmon Tacos and then I made a Herb-Crusted Roasted Salmon. My latest salmon recipe are these perfect mouth-watering Salmon Burgers.

These burgers are decadent, flavorful and really good for you. You'll get your omega-3 that's for sure! You are basically having a salmon cake sandwiched between a toasted bun and smothered in creamy tartar sauce...yum!

To make the salmon burgers, start by taking 3/4 of the salmon filet and cutting it into 1/4 inch cubes.

Then you take the rest of the salmon, cut it into large chunks, and place it in the food processor with mayo, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Pulse the mixture until it makes a smooth paste....

And then add it to the small salmon chunks and stir to combine with 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs and minced green onions.

Divide the salmon mixture by four on parchment paper and form them into 4-inch diameter patties.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to firm up.

Once ready to cook, heat a large non-stick pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Press each side of the salmon patties into a bowl of panko bread crumbs and add to the pan. Cook for 4 minutes per side. Place the patties on a toasted bun with lettuce and tartar sauce. Then prepare for all the goodness that is about to be consumed! Enjoy!

Mouth-Watering Salmon Burgers
{Serves 4}

-20 ounces Salmon filet, skin and pin bones removed
-2 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
-1 tablespoon Mayonnaise
-1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
-Zest of a whole Lemon
-1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
-2 thinly sliced Green Onions
-1/ 2 cup + 2 tablespoons Panko Bread Crumbs, divided
-1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
-1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
-4 Hamburger Buns, toasted
-1/4 cup Tartar Sauce

To make the salmon burgers you start by taking 3/4 of the salmon filet and cutting it into 1/4 inch cubes. Then you take the rest of the salmon, cut it into large chunks, and place it in the food processor with mayo, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Pulse the mixture until it makes a smooth paste in the food processor and then add  it to the small salmon chunks and stir to combine with 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs and minced green onions. Divide the salmon mixture by four on parchment paper and form them into 4-inch diameter patties. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to firm up. Once ready to cook, heat a large non-stick pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Press each side of the salmon patties into a bowl of panko bread crumbs and add to the pan. Cook for 4 minutes per side. Place the patties on a toasted bun with lettuce and 1 tablespoon of tartar sauce on each burger. Serve with fries and fry sauce and enjoy!

Recipe Adapted by: Food Network

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Chips

You know how everyone on January 1st is jumping on the healthy lifestyle band wagon, promising to go the gym 7 days a week and only eating all-natural? For the first time in many years I chose not the do this, which is strange for me because usually I'm right there on the elliptical with everyone else.  Most years I'm hitting the gym January thru March and by then I end up back to my old ways of being a couch potato and eating cookies by the dozen.

This year I did something different. I decided to not get skinny and fabulous, but to just take care of myself. Cook from scratch.  Eat healthy snacks. Don't drink soda. Watch my portion sizes. Take my dog for frequent walks.

Instead of going to gym, get a Zumba DVD set and shake it like no one is watching. Thank goodness no one is watching! Their eyes would hurt from my sad uncoordinated dance moves.

 Working in the hospital also inspired me to take care of myself. Being around patients who spent a lifetime abusing their bodies and seeing the outcomes of those actions really opens your eyes. Plus, the amount of snacks in the nurses break room is insane! The temptation is awful!

Since starting my job at the beginning of March, I have been using the app MyFitnessPal and making fun snacks from scratch, like these Cinnamon Sugar Apple Chips. They give me the sweetness and the crunch I need to fulfill my sweet tooth during the work day. Other snacks I've been enjoying include homemade granola bars and peach fruit leathers. Plus you can't go wrong with apples and peanut butter to give you the protein you need to push through a 12 hour shift. So far with the small changes I've made to my daily routine and eating/cooking habits, I'm feeling wonderful and my body is thanking me :)

The great thing about this snack is that it couldn't be easier to make! Just slice a couple apples super thin with either a mandolin or sharp knife...

Sprinkle on a cinnamon-sugar mixture....

And then bake it at 225 degrees (F) for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. 

Pack it in your lunch bag and you are good to go!

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Chips

-2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith Apples
-1 tablespoon Sugar
-1/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees (F). Line two large baking sheets with Silpats or Parchment Paper. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, carefully slice the apples into 1/8 inch slices. Remove the seeds and lay the apple slices on a single layer on the baking sheets. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and sugar. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over one side of the apples slices. Bake in the oven for 2 to 2-1/2 hours (depending on your oven), flipping half way through, until the apple slices are dried and just crispy. Store in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks. Enjoy!

Recipe Inspired by: Bakeaholic Mama

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Registered Nurse

Sorry I've been MIA for the month of February. It's kinda been a whirl-wind! After moving 40 miles west from Chester to Shelby (Dusty's hometown) during the month of January, I finally began studying for my nursing boards (NCLEX) on January 27th. I signed up to take the test in Billings on February 20th, which gave me approximately 25 days to re-learn everything I've been taught in 2-1/2 years of intense schooling and training.

They tell you in nursing school to take the NCLEX as close to graduation as possible, preferably in early January, so you still have all the skills and knowledge from nursing school fresh in your mind. The fact I was taking the test in mid-to-late February had me slightly worried. Going on our honeymoon, the holidays, Dusty changing careers, me getting a new job and moving to Shelby caused to me to think of everything and anything besides nursing for the past two months.

The great thing about studying for the NCLEX is that you get to pay approximately $450 for a tutorial and study guide to take the test! Please note the sarcasm. Not only did we have to pay $300 to take the test, Dusty and I had to shell out big bucks to study for it too. Although, with over 3,000 practice questions and 30+ hours of lecture tutorials, it was well worth the money. I recommend Kaplan On-Demand to anyone who plans on taking their boards in the future.

My only criticism about Kaplan is that their practice exams really mess with your mind. After taking an 150 question practice exam, I would only score 64% and feel like a total failure. Dusty would ask me, "How did you do on the practice exam?" and I'd reply, "64%" and he would give me a look like Huh?!?!? Which was my thoughts exactly! I know this stuff, I got all A's and one B in nursing could I be bombing these exams? The really messed up thing that really messes with your mind is that in NCLEX world, getting between 60-70% on the practice exams means you are going to pass your exam and you are actually doing really well! What the heck? This doesn't make any sense!

All of my nursing friends who already took the exam would tell me how well I was doing and I just couldn't believe them. I basically required daily reassurance from them that I wasn't going to fail to get me through studying 4-6 hours a day for the exam. Thank you Kelsie, Monique, Libby and Courtney! I miss you guys! I owe you big time!

When Wednesday, February 19th came rolling around, Dusty and I drove down to Billings with his parents to go take this dreadful exam and get it over with. The agriculture Mate Show was also in Billings that weekend, so we thought we would all make a trip of it since we were driving 5 hours anyways. The 24 hours before the exam were awful! I did everything in my power not to have a complete full-blown panic attack and throw up every 5 minutes. Poor Dusty felt so sorry for me and knew the stress I was under, and could do nothing to help me. I just needed to get this exam over with!

The next morning, after barely keeping a yogurt down, Dusty drove me to the test center at 7:30 since the exam started at 8:00 am. I was really surprised for how strict and intense they were at this test center. You had to lock up all your personal belongings, empty your pockets, no bracelets, and no gum! The gum was the only thing keeping me from tossing my cookies out of nervousness! Once you check in, you had to get your hands scanned, photo taken and then you are allowed to enter the testing room while being accompanied by the person proctoring the exam. Plus you are monitored with video and audio throughout the entire exam. The certainly don't mess around!

The next 90 minutes were an absolute blur. I completed the test in 90 questions, which could have meant I did really well or really bombed the exam, but I had no idea. I walked out of the test center sobbing because I felt like I completely bombed it. After taking 7-1/2 years of college to complete 2 bachelors degrees, I had never felt worse about an exam than I did that day. Dusty picked me up and asked how I did and I just completely fell apart in the car. The worst part is that they make you wait 48 hours to find out how you did. Cruel and unusual punishment!

So after 48 hours of dreading my test results, I found out I PASSED! I'm officially a Registered Nurse! I've been waiting for this moment for over 4 years now, and it's finally here.

I want to thank my husband, Dusty, who has been such a huge support to me over the past few years while I've been in school. He always had dinner ready for me the moment I walked in the door and rubbed my feet after long 12 hour shifts. He also let me practice skills on him too! The emotional support he gave me was also priceless. Nursing school is an interesting creature. I didn't find the actual tests, assignments and exams difficult compared to my Microbiology program, but the physical, emotional and mental challenges nursing school makes you endure are like nothing else. I couldn't have made it without him.

I also want to thank all of my family members for supporting me as well. My grandparents for getting me my first pair of scrubs, my cousin Ashley for my wrist watch I wear every day on the floor, my parents for getting me my first stethoscope, Dusty's parents for helping me through the anxiety that developed the last semester in school and everyone else who listened to me vent and tell really gross stories about my experiences. I also wouldn't have survived without my nursing friends and classmates. What a wonderful bunch of people to work alongside and learn with during the past 2-1/2 years. I miss you all so much already!

I could go on and on thanking everyone for what they did to get me through nursing school, but it would make this post extremely long! Lastly, I want to thank all of you readers and blog friends who have stuck by me over the past years while I blog in spurts about food and life. I wish I had stayed more consistent in my blogging over the years, but nursing school got in the way most of the time, so thanks for sticking around!

So what is up next for me now that I'm finally not in college anymore????

Dusty will be busy on the family farm and I will be starting my new job tomorrow at Marias Medical Center as a night-shift nurse! Meanwhile, Duke is still adorable and up to no good as usual!

Wish me luck, I'll keep you posted!
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