Free Your Fork A food blog with recipes for health-minded meals and tasty treats, with tips & tricks for the at-home cook. Wed, 03 Jan 2018 15:00:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep) Wed, 03 Jan 2018 15:00:51 +0000 Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep)

I have a theory. It’s that everyone wants to eat well (meaning: healthier, better-for-you, more nutrient dense foods) on a regular basis. But sometimes it feels too damn hard to plan, prepare, and cook your own meals at home. The solution? Meal prep. And the easiest place to start is with just one meal a...

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The post Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep) appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep)

I have a theory. It’s that everyone wants to eat well (meaning: healthier, better-for-you, more nutrient dense foods) on a regular basis. But sometimes it feels too damn hard to plan, prepare, and cook your own meals at home. The solution? Meal prep. And the easiest place to start is with just one meal a day – something quick and easy, with simple ingredients, and minimal time investment. Which makes this Berry Green Smoothie the perfect place to start.

Smoothie freezer prep couldn’t be simpler. You just pre-portion out the ingredients you’d normally need to add to the blender (all the ones that are freezer friendly), seal them in some bags, and store them in your freezer until you’re ready to use them. Then add fresh ingredients like almond milk (liquid makes blending much easier) and Greek yogurt (an awesome source of protein), turn on your blender, and Just like that and you’ve made yourself a healthy, portable, sippable meal. All ready in mere minutes.

And because these servings are stored in the freezer, they will keep even longer than your normal meal prep leftovers. So if you skip a day or decide you want to make fresh scrambled eggs that morning instead, it gives you a little flexibility to make that impulsive change without having to feel like you let anything go to waste.

This healthy Berry Green Smoothie recipe makes a great breakfast on-the-go. But it is also a super satisfying snack to indulge in before or after your workout. I love that it has an awesome balance of all three major macronutrients – delivering plenty of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to help you feel energized and full for hours. Plus, you’ll see from the ingredients list that it is naturally sweetened – which is always a bonus in my book.

And did I mention that it has some sneaky greens and hidden vegetables blended right in (like spinach and zucchini)?!

RELATED: Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

Hold up. There’s ZUCCHINI in this smoothie??

Yep. You heard right. There IS indeed zucchini in this sweet smoothie recipe.

If you would’ve asked me a year ago if I would be game to put raw zucchini into my blender, my answer would have been a flat and firm – NO. But now, along with cauliflower, it’s my favorite way to add extra fiber and volume. And when you freeze it, it works even better. It contributes to creating that cold // thick // frozen // creamy texture we’ve come to expect in smoothies (without having to add ice, which changes the texture but waters down all the flavors).

Using greens and neutral flavored veggies (like spinach and zucchini) in smoothies provides you with some great vegetable fiber – which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer than if you just had an all-fruit smoothie. Plus it’s a great way to sneak an extra something-green into a meal where you might not have it otherwise.

And to me, with the dark sweet berries and banana blended right in, the taste is undetectable. You won’t even know it’s in there (I mean you’ll know because you are the one who put it in there but you won’t know-know…ya know?).


Set up an assembly line to make your freezer meal prep smoothie bags. After prepping the zucchini and banana, set out the rest of your freezer bag ingredients. Also set out some measuring cups and measuring spoons. And make sure you have the recipe card handy that says how much you need of each ingredient. There’s nothing more frustrating than running back and forth from the kitchen to your computer to check an ingredient list. You can either print out a copy, scribble it down on a post-it, or make sure you have it pulled up on a screen you can see easily from your *prep station*.

Open all of your plastic bags and line them up – I find that grabbing the very top of the bag and turning that top inch inside out helps hold them open (without needing a partner to help you do it). Once you have added your first ingredient inside each bag, this will weigh the light baggies down and keep them in place more easily as you build them. Start with the heaviest ingredient first (like the frozen mixed berries) so that it has a better shot at anchoring them down.


Reusable straws and reusable drinking cups are amazing for the environment. I love the idea of taking on habits that produce less unnecessary waste in the world. But I also understand that they can be a royal pain in the you-know-what to clean. But I’ve got a few tips for you that I hope will make your eco-aware lifestyle a little happier.

If you’re going to pack this smoothie to-go (like to sip on in the car on your way to work or while out running errands) then I highly suggest you give the vessel + your reusable straw a quick rinse as soon as you’re done. If you can, find a place to swirl some water in your cup to wash out some of the residue. If you get it unstuck while it’s still moist, nearly all of the residual food particles will simply wash right out. Whatever doesn’t will be SO much easier to clean later on.

RELATED: Blueberry Avocado Spinach Smoothie

If you forget or you just can’t find a place to do it, don’t stress. It won’t be stuck there forever, but it will dry out and crust onto the sides of your cup. When you get home, don’t try to scrub it and attack it while it’s like this. You’ll just get frustrated and spend more time than you need to trying to get it clean in one go. Instead, just fill it up with soapy water and let it soak in the sink for a while until the smoothie residue has loosened up and dissolved into the water. Then you’ll have an easier time giving it a final scrub.

I’ve also found that a straw and bottle brush cleaning kit is super helpful for making sure you get every nook and cranny of your reusable vessels squeaky clean. I use a 3-piece cleaning kit that has a long brush for reaching into the bottom corners of your bottle, a skinny brush for plunging into the length of your straw, and a small swoop-shaped detail brush for cleaning the inside of lids or caps. Saves me from having to get my hand stuck trying to jam it inside of a narrow bottle, or try (futilely, I might add) to reach those bottom corners with a regular sponge.


Be sure to use a freezer-friendly plastic bag – if they are suited for freezer storage they will say so clearly on the box’s label. If you don’t use a bag that is heavy duty enough then you may be exposing your smoothie bags to some freezer burn – which affects the quality and taste of your food.

To further prevent freezer burn, press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it. The easiest way to do this is to seal the bag almost all the way, leaving a small section unzipped. Then press the air out of the bag and while holding it pressed, seal the bag closed completely. This makes the smoothie bags very stackable and will help you save some storage space too.

I haven’t tried them out yet myself, but I’ve heard that there are also reusable plastic bags available. There’s a line of silicone bags that can even be used in the freezer that are made by the company Stasher that I’m super curious to try out. So far I’ve heard all great things about them and the reviews online look really positive.

Have any of you tried swapping single-use, disposable plastic bags for reusable alternatives like silicone bags? Would love for you to share your thoughts + eco-friendly product recommendations with me down in the comments!!



Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep)

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 25 min
  • Cook Time: 0 min
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 1 smoothie
  • Category: Smoothies
  • Method: Blender
  • Cuisine: American


This healthy recipe for a Berry Green Smoothie is perfect for a breakfast on-the-go or as a snack before or after your workout! Perfect for weekly meal prep or for a single serving smoothie (see portions for both in the recipe ingredient list and recipe card notes).


for one single serve smoothie (see notes section for full 7-day meal prep amounts)


  • ¾ c mixed berries, frozen
  • ½ banana
  • ½ c zucchini
  • 2 c baby spinach
  • 2 tbs rolled oats
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • (optional) 1 pitted date*


  • 1 c unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 c unsweetened Greek yogurt


  1. PREP THE FRUIT + VEGGIES: Remove and discard ends of the zucchini, then cut in half lengthwise and then half again – giving you 4 quarters. Chop into ½” pieces to create quarter moon shaped slices. Peel and slice bananas into ½” slices.
  2. ASSEMBLE THE BAGS: Layer mixed berries, zucchini, banana, spinach, oats, chia seeds (and date with pit removed, if using). Press as much air out of the bag as you can before sealing and placing in freezer. Stack multiple bags on top of one another to save space.
  3. BLEND SMOOTHIE: Take out on bag from freezer and add entire contents of the bag to your blender. Add almond milk and Greek yogurt on top. Blend and sweeten to taste. Enjoy immediately!


*SWEETENER OPTIONS – If you want to use a date to naturally sweeten your smoothie, then you can add these to your freezer bags. Or you can use a difference sweetener of choice (like maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut nectar, or stevia) which should be added along with the fresh blender ingredients.


  • 5 ¼ c mixed berries, frozen
  • 3 ½ bananas
  • 5 c zucchini (about 2-3 large zucchini)
  • 14 c baby spinach
  • 7/8 c rolled oats
  • 2 tbs + 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 7 pitted dates (optional)
  • 7 c unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 1/3 c unsweetened Greek yogurt


  • Serving Size: 1 smoothie

The post Berry Green Smoothie (Meal Prep) appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves Wed, 27 Dec 2017 15:00:26 +0000 Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves

Many of the most epic sauces, soups, and spreads owe their depth of flavor to one thing – roasted garlic cloves! Dried garlic powder is great in a pinch, but nothing compares to the taste of oven-roasted garlic. There’s just no substitute for that caramelized and complex flavor. So today I’m sharing my favorite method...

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The post Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves

Many of the most epic sauces, soups, and spreads owe their depth of flavor to one thing – roasted garlic cloves! Dried garlic powder is great in a pinch, but nothing compares to the taste of oven-roasted garlic. There’s just no substitute for that caramelized and complex flavor. So today I’m sharing my favorite method for quick roasted garlic cloves (which cook in roughly half the time!).

When I first started making roasted garlic, I used the classic whole bulb method – where you slice off the top, drizzle with oil, wrap in foil and pop into the oven. Easy peasy. But it felt like this traditional technique took for-ev-er. Okay maybe not actually forever, but it took an hour and that feels like a long time when you’re hungry.

Especially when you consider that the roasted cloves are usually not the be-all-end-all of what you’re wanting to eat. They are just a component of another meal you want to cook up.

So it’s not an ideal method in terms of time + patience.

In my experience, a whole bulb of garlic needs about 1 hour to properly roast and soften. The heat needs all that time to penetrate the tightly clustered cloves that are bundled together in that dense bulb.

But most of the recipes I make don’t account for an extra hour to prep just one of the ingredients involved. So I set out to experiment with the other methods out there – of which there are MANY. Like whoa. Lots and lots of methods to choose from. Everyone’s got their preferred way of doing it, a quick google search will reveal a plethora of techniques for the *best* way to roast garlic. Peels on, peels off. With salt, without salt. This oil, not that oil. Foil wrapped or open on top of a foil lined sheet tray. Medium or high oven temperature.

So I decided to try out a few to see what worked best for me and my kitchen routine.

And while I wouldn’t dare to claim that my method is the best-ever method, I will say that it is guaranteed to save you lots and lots of time! And that it will get you the coveted flavor and soft texture that you’re after. Every. Single. Time.

It’s so simple and straightforward, which makes it the ideal choice for busy folks.

I tried roasting the whole bulb at a higher temperature, but it didn’t turn out the same. Maybe it was my oven or maybe it was the size of the bulbs I used, but that method wasn’t coming out as a winner for me. And it shaved off only 10-15 minutes at most from the cook time.

Then I tried roasting peeled cloves, but didn’t love having to pick off the paper thin peels from each clove beforehand. It was messy and added extra time + hands-on labor — the exact opposite of what I was hoping for. Plus the naked cloves were in contact with the foil and occasionally got stuck or a little overly cooked for my liking.

Finally, I saw Rachel Ray (the queen of 30-min meals) roast the individual cloves with the skins still on. Which spurred another virtual flurry of internet searches. As it turns out, a lot of people were totally on board with this technique. Everyone was raving about how much time it saved them and I was stoked to give it a try myself at home.

I gave it whirl, and was so happy to see that it produced results pretty darn similar to whole bulb roasted garlic. I’ve been sold on it ever since.

A whole head of garlic is encased in several layers of a thin white peel. But so is each and every clove contained within it. So roasting the smaller cloves for half the time produces pretty similar texture and taste results, with the clove encased in its own skin being shielded a little bit from the direct heat. Concentrating all that flavor inside the peel. I love that this method doesn’t force you to compromise on taste in order to save on time.

The peels pop off so easily after roasting (many of them cracking and bursting open towards the end of their cook time) making clean up a breeze. They come off like a shell, usually all in one piece instead of in multiple wispy strips. No more thin peels stuck to my fingertips or pungent garlic oil getting stuck under my fingernails. Hallelujah.

I don’t know about you but 30 min feels pretty manageable to me. It means I can pop the cloves in the oven and then start making and cooking the rest of the recipe. The entire time I’m chopping, sautéing, seasoning, stirring, or simmering the other recipe components – those little flavor bombs are getting good, gooey, and golden in the oven. By the time I’m ready to add them in, they’re ready to be used.

The one downside of this technique is that the little, thinner, skinny cloves that sit bundled at the very center of the bulb will get overcooked if you leave them in the oven for the full 30 minutes. So you can either remove these and just roast the juicy, plump ones (saving the little ones for chopping or grating up into stir fries or dressings). Or you can check on them after 15-20 minutes and pull them out before they burn. I included a picture here of the finished cloves (both the big ones and the little one) to show you how dried out and tough the small ones will get if left in the oven for too long.

You can use roasted garlic cloves in sauces, soups, spread on toast, blend into hummus…and the list goes on. I like roasting several bulbs of garlic at once. Then I can save them in a sealed container in the fridge for future cooking – saving me even more time later on. I store them in a glass lidded jar with a little more oil drizzled on top to keep them moist and protect both the flavor and texture.

These quick roasted garlic cloves are an irreplaceable addition to some of my absolute favorite recipes. I don’t make it every week but I find that when I do, it really brings a little extra somethin-somethin to my dishes. A little sneaky special quality.

What essential // extra special ingredients do you find yourself obsessing over? Tell me your faves in the comments below!




  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 30 min
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 10-12+ cloves
  • Category: Basics
  • Method: Roasting
  • Cuisine: Italian


Simple and time-saving recipe for Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves. Roasted with just a drizzle of oil, these cloves are roasted skin-on and are ready in under 30 min (half the time of a full roasted head of garlic).


  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 tbs avocado oil*


  1. PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES: And prepare a baking sheet with a small piece of foil.
  2. LOOSEN AND SEPARATE CLOVES: Use your hands to break up the head of garlic into individual cloves. Don’t peel the cloves of their skins but use your thumbs to remove the looser paper thin outer layers, just until you can see and easily break apart the cloves. If the cloves in the center are particularly small, consider setting them aside to grate as fresh garlic into pan-fried dishes (they may burn or overcook in the oven instead of softening). If you really want to roast these smaller ones, then you will need to keep an eye on them and take them out earlier – they will be done in about 15-20 minutes.
  3. ROAST GARLIC CLOVES: Place cloves (skin-on) onto the baking sheet and toss with avocado oil. Roast for 30 minutes, or until softened. You can press the back of a spoon (if cloves are very hot to the touch) or quickly and carefully press your finger onto a clove to see if it yields to the pressure and has softened enough. It should press down easily and stay pressed. You’ll also see that the papery skins have cracked open and you can easily pull them off.


*Or other high heat cooking oil – olive oil would work well here too

You can roast several heads of garlic at a time if you want to stock your fridge with this super flavorful recipe add-in.

Store in a sealed container, with an extra drizzle of oil over the top to preserve the flavor and texture.


  • Serving Size: 4 cloves

The post Quick Roasted Garlic Cloves appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Super Citrus Salad Sun, 24 Dec 2017 03:54:06 +0000 Super Citrus Salad

Servin’ up a Super Citrus Salad today — with a sweet and refreshing Orange Vinaigrette to boot!! Just place handfuls of tender baby greens into bowls, top with fresh slices of orange, tear up some fresh mint, and sprinkle on as many toppings as your pretty little heart desires. Toppings like creamy crumbled goat cheese...

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The post Super Citrus Salad appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Super Citrus Salad

Servin’ up a Super Citrus Salad today — with a sweet and refreshing Orange Vinaigrette to boot!! Just place handfuls of tender baby greens into bowls, top with fresh slices of orange, tear up some fresh mint, and sprinkle on as many toppings as your pretty little heart desires. Toppings like creamy crumbled goat cheese + chewy, tart dried cranberries + crunchy chopped candied nuts. Drizzle on the dressing (which you make just by shaking up ingredients in a jar) and we are in business!

It is seriously THAT simple. This gluten free and vegetarian recipe is a total cinch to toss together.

This healthy salad uses three different kinds of citrus (navel + cara cara + blood oranges) to get a nice balance of flavors and colors.

But depending on seasonal availability or just your own personal preferences, you could use all of one variety too (adjusting the quantities as suggested in the recipe card notes so you have enough to fill your plate).

RELATED: Strawberry Pepita Salad + Maple Vinaigrette

There are a few different ways to prepare the orange slices. You can peel them by hand and then slice them, or you can try a different (and I would argue easier) approach. My FAVORITE way to get clean orange slices involves slicing off the skin with a knife instead of removing it by hand.

I’m going to show you exactly how to do it, but first a few quick tips!

Placing a light layer of fabric between your cutting board and your counter top will prevent your cutting board from slipping around while you’re cutting.

So before you start cutting – simply place a dish rag or thin hand towel underneath your cutting board. It should anchor it in place and make for a safer prep surface.

Also, make sure to wash your oranges really really well. Even though you’re not going to be eating the skins, you will be making knife cuts that go through the skins and then into the fruit that you will be eating. So you want to make sure to give them a good rinse, followed (just as important) by a good pat dry. You don’t want a wet orange slipping around in your hands while you try to grip it, while also wielding a sharp knife. Trust me (and my many-a-time bandaid-clad fingers). Okay, now let’s dive right in to…

How to *Peel* an Orange (using a knife)

STEP 1: Slice off the end of the orange. This accomplishes two things – it cuts off the bottom section of skin AND it also helps you have a flatter surface for the orange to sit on the cutting board. Making it more stable, and an overall safer and less frustrating cutting experience. If the first time you cut it, you don’t see any of the inside showing – don’t worry. Just cut off another thin slice until you have revealed the inner flesh and you’re good to go.

STEP 2: Now that you’ve cut off one end of the orange, sit the orange flatside down on the cutting board. Then, gripping the top and opposite-from-the-knife-side of the orange, start making shallow slices down the side of the orange. You want to be very careful with your fingers to make sure they aren’t in the path of the blade, and try to follow the curvature of the orange as you slice down. Just like in step 1, if you’ve made a slice and it didn’t go through all the way – just slice, slice again until you have exposed the inner flesh. Having a very sharp knife helps make this easier. Go all the way around until you’ve sliced off everything from the sides.

STEP 3: Clean it up. If you have any strips of white pith streaking down in between your cuts you can just go back and lightly saw them off. You can grip the top part of the orange, where there’s still skin on, and tilt it to one side to get the last bits of white off of the edges where the side of the fruit meets the bottom flat cut you made earlier.

STEP 4: Turn the orange back on its side and slice off the end that has the skin remaining. And just like that you should have a cleanly *peeled* orange that is ready to be sliced into rounds, half-moons, or quarter shapes.

This technique I just described is basically the beginning steps of how you would supreme an orange – which involves cutting citrus into segments that have had the skin, pith, and membranes removed. The only difference is that we are stopping once the peel has been removed, leaving the more skilled knife cuts and inner membranes where they are.

RELATED: Asian Pear Salad with Radishes

When you slice the oranges you should end up with neat little pinwheels (like you’ll see in the finished salad picture). A few slices at the very ends of both the navel orange and the cara cara orange will have a more mosaic look to them instead of the even pinwheel pattern. You can see an example on the cutting board in the picture above — the pink slice sitting in the middle of the long row of finished slices. Instead of the white membrane at the center, there’s just more circle shapes.

This mosaic pattern happens because there is more membrane happening in these sections. Did you know that navel oranges have a genetic mutation where a second orange starts growing inside of the first one? That’s why they have that funny little bulge at one end that kind of resembles a belly button. You’ve probably seen when you’ve peeled it that it looks like you got a mini (or what I call a bonus) orange inside of the bigger one. Cara cara oranges, the pinker hued ones you see in the salad, are also called pink or red navel oranges – so this happens with that variety too. The slices are just as edible, they just look a tiny bit different.

If you’re worried about presentation, then you can set these mosaic slices aside and freeze them to throw in smoothies later. They’re just as tasty and totally not worth letting go to waste.

RELATED: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

A note about blood oranges – if you’ve never had them before, they might sound and look a little morbid. But they are actually super delicious and offer a nice (color and flavor) contrast to the other super sweet varieties. This darker hue will stain things pretty easily so be sure to avoid wearing your fave white tee while slicing into these and to wash your hands right after handling them (they can stain your skin and nails, kind of like turmeric does).

Before this year, I had just looked longingly at both blood oranges and cara cara oranges in the store. I felt like they weren’t *necessary* foods, so I always skipped over them in the produce aisle. Vowing that “someday” I would give them a try. But life is short, and food is delicious. So I decided this year to be a tad more adventurous. To take a few more leaps in the kitchen. And just see where I land.

It’s how I found out that I’m actually much better at baking than I thought I was. And that things like homemade yeast-risen bread doughs and handmade tortillas are totally within the home-cook’s reach to master. Oh and that cara cara oranges are my favorite orange of them all. Anyone else think they look and taste like sweet pink lemonade?

What have you been dying to try in the kitchen but haven’t gotten up the courage to do? Tell me what leaps you’re thinking of taking (in the comments below)!



Super Citrus Salad

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Cook Time: 0 min
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2 salads
  • Category: Salads + Main Dishes
  • Method: Raw Preparation
  • Cuisine: American


Easy + healthy recipe for a Super Citrus Salad — with a bright Orange Vinaigrette! Baby greens, sweet orange slices, fresh mint, goat cheese, dried cranberries, and chopped candied nuts make for a refreshing dish. Gluten-free and vegetarian friendly.



  • 6 cups of fresh baby greens*
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 cara cara orange
  • 1 blood orange
  • ¼ c goat cheese**
  • ½ c candied walnuts, chopped
  • 10 leaves of fresh mint
  • ½ c dried cranberries


  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of ½ orange (about 3 tbs)
  • 1 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs golden balsamic vinegar
  • zest of ½ orange
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper


  1. SHAKE UP DRESSING: Add all dressing ingredients to a lidded jar and shake until well combined (or whisk together in a bowl).
  2. PREP THE ORANGES: Peel the oranges (either by hand or by slicing off the skin using the technique described in the post above // shown in the blog photos) and then slice into thin rounds. You can cut them into halves or quarters to make them into more bite-sized friendly pieces or just mix in some full rounds, halves, and quarters for fun presentation.
  3. ASSEMBLE THE SALAD: Divide the greens and oranges into two large bowls. Tear the mint leaves into pieces and sprinkle on top. Add the rest of the toppings (the candied nuts, goat cheese, and cranberries). Toss together with your desired amount of dressing. Serve and eat immediately.


You can use ANY oranges you have available. Since they vary in size (navels are larger, cara cara oranges are medium sized, and blood oranges are on the smaller side) you’ll want to adjust accordingly. So if you’re using all navel oranges – consider using just two of them. If you’re using all cara cara – then consider using four depending on the size.

*Tender baby greens and lettuces work best in this recipe. I used Organic Girl Sweet Pea Greens blend and have also used a blend of sweet baby lettuces, romaine, and spinach. All work excellent here.

**Honey goat cheese is especially delicious in this!


  • Serving Size: 1 salad

The post Super Citrus Salad appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep) Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:53:08 +0000 Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep)

Lemme introduce you to what we’ve been chowing down on nonstop in our house lately. THESE Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls! Super colorful, fall-meets-winter, feast for your eyes (and for your belly) kind of salad bowls that work perfectly for weekly meal prep. FOUR days of lunches (or dinners) ready in just an hour...

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The post Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep) appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep)

Lemme introduce you to what we’ve been chowing down on nonstop in our house lately. THESE Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls! Super colorful, fall-meets-winter, feast for your eyes (and for your belly) kind of salad bowls that work perfectly for weekly meal prep.

FOUR days of lunches (or dinners) ready in just an hour and a half. That means at least four straight days of not having to cook one of your meals. Saving you precious time + valuable energy. Sounds pretty glorious, right??

Instead of pondering the age old question of “what am I going to eat today?” you just get to….well, EAT. Pluck it out of the fridge, drizzle on some delicious dressing, and dig on in. Like those grab-n-go salads you’d pick up at the café down the street, only way better (because YOU made it and you know exactly what’s in it).

This meal prep is vegan and vegetarian friendly but can also be easily converted for omnivores (like yours truly) by popping your protein of choice right up on top. Grilled chicken or some cubed roasted turkey breast are pretty great on this peanut-sauce inspired salad bowl. I wouldn’t say no to some seasoned crispy tofu on top of here either.

This healthy Buddha bowl style recipe is packed with tasty seasonal ingredients. Like cozy roasted butternut squash + tart, chewy cranberries + crispy pumpkin seeds + toasty black rice + nutrient-dense kale. With a thick and saucy, creamy cashew dressing drizzled on top (to tie it all together and bring some major flavor to the party). Because if there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s a bland, boring, flavorless meal prep situation.

If you’re going to eat the same dish a few days in a row, then why not make it into something you can’t WAIT to eat again? Dressings and sauces always make restaurant food feel special and taste delicious, so they are one of the first places I turn to jazz up an otherwise plain set of ingredients. The creamy cashew dressing helps add some healthy fats into this hearty salad bowl, making it into a filling and satisfying meal.

RELATED: Mediterranean Salad Bowls

Let’s dive into a little Q&A before you get cookin…

*Reads recipe card* Hold up now. Did you just say “massage the kale”?

Massage the kale. I know. This sounds a little weird. And definitely more than a little creepy. But this is an awesome trick I learned from watching one of Aarti Sequeira’s episodes on Food Network. She showed her viewers how to “massage” the kale so that tenderizes the raw greens without having to cook them.

You just add some lemon juice on top of the chopped greens and “massage” them (as in squeeze them between your hands) for a few minutes until they wilt down. You can see in the pictures that the dark green color deepens even more after this manual marinating technique and that it draws some of the water out of the greens. You’ll see some light green streaks in the bottom of your bowl afterwards.

You’ll also notice a change in the scent, from smelling like freshly chopped greens (that smell well…green) to a lighter, sweeter, fruitier aroma. Aarti described it as smelling like bananas. When you do it, you’ll see what I mean! It’s one of those weirdly transformative things that happens in cooking, like when you see a liquid mushy batter become a springy cake. But this one happens right in front of your eyes (and nose).

The kale will keep for days in the fridge without getting strange or being too dry. This “massaging” technique makes it so much more palatable without any cooking needed. If you’ve ever wondered why that kale salad you’ve had in a restaurant tastes SO much better than the dry one you try to make at home, this marinating technique might be the secret to easier-to-eat greens from your own kitchen.


Can I use precut butternut squash?

Sure! It’s a great way to save a little prep time or avoid having to break down a whole squash if that’s not something you’re super comfortable with. While I would love to save the 15 minutes or so it takes me to break down a squash (I mean…who wouldn’t??), I still opt to cut it myself most of the time. I don’t always find that the quality of precut squash is super consistent (ie: it’s been sitting for a while in the store and gets a little dry / slimy, or the pieces aren’t evenly cut or aren’t the ideal size for roasting). And sometimes I get the most bang for my buck by buying a whole, uncut squash instead of the already prepped variety.

But I have relatives who swear by precut squash. It works perfect for them every time and never gives them any trouble. And the convenience of it is hard to beat. So if you are one of those lucky people who always picks out a great batch, then by all means go for it!!

If I don’t have forbidden black rice, can I substitute brown or white rice instead?

YES! I just love the color contrast and boost of antioxidants I get from using this darker hued variety of rice (which has *the* bragging rights for the highest antioxidant content out of all rice varieties). That black / purple-ish hue means it has similar properties to other richly colored foods (like antioxidant-rich blueberries). Black rice has a nuttier flavor profile, and is slightly higher in protein + dietary fiber as well

It also helps that forbidden black rice is offered in bulk at my local Whole Foods (just like brown rice or jasmine rice), so I can get it at a bargain price if I buy it from the bins instead of as an individual package.

But the flavors in this dish will hold up beautifully with brown or jasmine rice as well.

If you are going to use black rice – I’ve found that it doesn’t need quite as much liquid to cook as the package says. If you want to go off of the package directly and find that you have some liquid leftover in the pot, you can absorb that extra water by simmering it for 10 more minutes than suggested (and then uncover, stir the cooked rice, turn off the heat but leave on the burner, and re-cover for another 10 minutes).

RELATED: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

What about frozen rice?

Go for it! Precooked frozen rice is a great way to save time. You can usually find it in brown or jasmine varieties in the freezer section of most major grocery stores. This would cut the cook time of your rice down from 30 min in the oven to just 3 min in the microwave. Also saves you a pan in the process if you’re really in a bind for time (or patience).

But if you’re bigger concern is saving money, buying uncooked rice in bulk and cooking it yourself at home will always be your best bet to save a few bucks. Keep an eye out for whichever variety is on sale and stock up your pantry when needed. You can set aside a day where you stockpile your freezer with your own homemade *frozen precooked rice*. Cook a few extra batches, let them cool down, and then store them in freezer-friendly plastic bags or glass containers for easy heat-and-eat use in the weeks ahead.

Okay but what if I don’t want to use ANY rice?

A grain-free or low-carb option (if either of those are more your thing) would be to omit the rice and double the kale. Or you can add all the ingredients (minus the rice) on top of some fresh greens and enjoy this as a very greens heavy salad. Mixing in a variety of other non-kale greens like baby spinach, baby romaine, pea shoots, sprouts, and even thinly shaved Brussels sprouts would all make for a super interesting bowl with lots of hearty textures.

Just be sure to store the fresh greens separate from the rest of your ingredients so that they don’t get mushy or weighed down by the other cooked ingredients.

One of the best parts about cooking at home is getting to customize each option to uniquely suit your taste + your dietary preferences + your needs.

Do you like cooking on the fly or do you meal prep each weekend? Tell me which is more your style down in the comments!



Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep)

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Cook Time: 50 min
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 - 5 bowls
  • Category: Salads + Main Dishes
  • Method: Roasting + Steaming
  • Cuisine: Fusion


Healthy recipe for Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls! With dried cranberries, crispy pumpkin seeds, lemony kale, and a creamy cashew dressing. Perfect for weekly meal prep (gluten-free + vegan + vegetarian)!



  • 8 c butternut squash, cubed into ½”-3/4” pieces*
  • 2 ½ tbs avocado oil**
  • 1 tsp salt


  • 1 c forbidden black rice, uncooked
  • 1 ½ c water


  • 7-8 leaves of lacinato kale***
  • juice of 1 lemon



  • ½ c dried cranberries
  • ¼ c pumpkin seeds


  1. ROAST BUTTERNUT SQUASH: Preheat oven to 375 and prep a sheet tray by lining it with foil. Add squash cubes to baking sheet, toss with oil and sprinkle with salt. When oven has reached temperature, pop tray in oven and roast for 45 – 50 min (stirring once halfway through).
  2. COOK RICE: Meanwhile set the rice up to cook on the stove top. Add uncooked rice and water to a saucepot, cover and bring to a boil. Once it has reached a rolling boil, turn down heat and simmer (covered) for 30 minutes or until all water has been absorbed and rice is cooked through.
  3. MASSAGE KALE: While the rice and squash continue to cook, prepare the kale. After washing the leaves, strip each one of the hard center stem. To do this, hold the bottom of the stem in your right hand and use your left hand to lightly grasp around the stem (under your other hand but above where the leafy green part is). While keeping pressure on the stem with your left thumb and index finger, slide your left hand down the stem until you have stripped the leaf off of the stem. Repeat until you have done this for all the leaves (and discard the stems). Chop the kale into thin pieces and add all to a bowl. Squeeze lemon juice over top of kale and *massage* the kale between your hands for 2-3 minutes. Just until the color has darkened and the kale has been tenderized (you’ll notice the scent will change from very green to slightly sweet and fruity). Set aside. If you haven’t already check on butternut squash and stir before moving onto step 4.
  4. MAKE DRESSING: (see other recipe link for instructions on this 5 min recipe)
  5. ASSEMBLE BOWLS: Divide cooked rice, butternut squash, and kale evenly into your meal prep / food storage containers. Last, sprinkle dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds on top of each. Secure lids on top and store in the fridge for up to a week. You can drizzle the dressing on top of each one ahead of time (works fine for the first two days) but for best taste and texture for all 4-5 days, I recommend storing the dressing in a small separate container and using what you need each day.


*About one large butternut squash

**Or other cooking oil of choice – olive oil would be a good substitute.

***Yields about 4 cups, loosely packed. Also called Tuscan or Dino / dinosaur kale


  • Serving Size: 1 bowl

The post Black Rice and Butternut Squash Bowls (Meal Prep) appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie Mon, 11 Dec 2017 04:54:46 +0000 Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

It’s citrus season, my friends! And I’m celebrating with this (protein-powder free) Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie. My favorite retro ice cream treat is getting a full-on healthy makeover, cause who doesn’t want to eat dessert every day? I don’t know about you but my hands-down favorite popsicle as a kid was an orange creamsicle. The...

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The post Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

It’s citrus season, my friends! And I’m celebrating with this (protein-powder free) Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie. My favorite retro ice cream treat is getting a full-on healthy makeover, cause who doesn’t want to eat dessert every day?

I don’t know about you but my hands-down favorite popsicle as a kid was an orange creamsicle. The kind that looked like an orange brick on the outside with a ribbon of vanilla ice cream hidden on the inside. The best of both the bright sherbet + rich-n-creamy ice cream worlds.

This decadent smoothie is just like that treat you remember from your childhood (but without all the nasty artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives). It tastes like a sweet ice cream milkshake, but has an ingredient list that is sure to make you smile. It’s naturally sweetened with a splash of orange juice, some banana slices, and a squeeze of honey. A bit of vanilla extract roots this glorified protein shake firmly in dessert territory. Morphing the humble Greek Yogurt into something that tastes every bit like vanilla ice cream.

It gets a significant boost in protein from none other than protein-powerhouse Greek yogurt (which is my go-to for real, whole food based protein without having to use a pricier powdered whey protein). Don’t get me wrong! I think protein powders are awesome when you need to get some quick and easy to digest protein into your body or to use as a supplement to a healthy diet. But the key word there is as a supplement – defined as “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it” – not as a replacement for real food.

But I realize not everybody likes the taste of a protein powder, or is even comfortable using them as a supplement. Plus you may not always have powdered protein on hand and it can’t be found as easily in every grocery store. But I hope you’ll find that this smoothie’s ingredients are pretty universally accessible and easy on the wallet too. All of these reasons are why I wanted to create a macro-balanced smoothie recipe that didn’t rely only on a powder for its protein content.

This healthy fruit smoothie offers the same (if not more) protein than your traditional eggs + bacon breakfast. This recipe boasts around 26 grams of protein per smoothie!

Which comes in handy when you’re just not feelin’ a savory hot meal that early on in the day. Sometimes a sweet, sippable, breakfast on-the-go is just what you need most on a busy morning.

Combining protein + fiber + fat in a meal can help you feel fuller for longer, which for me is a MUST if I’m going to make it to lunchtime without needing to break for a snack.

Speaking of fiber – did I mention there’s a secret vegetable hidden inside? Once blended, it becomes totally invisible and from first to last sip, is damn near undetectable. I dare you to try it and see if you even notice it’s in there at all. Any guesses on what it is…?

If you guessed CAULIFLOWER – then you guessed right! This frozen veggie helps thicken up this smoothie and bump up the fiber content.

I’m more of a sweet breakfast or snack person than a savory one, which means I tend to miss out on those 2-3 meal times as opportunities to get some more vegetables into my diet. And I know I’m not alone in striving to incorporate more veggies into my life. Smoothies are an awesome way to sneak a little more plant-based fiber & nutrients into your diet (without having to chow down on a big plate of veggies).

RELATED: Blueberry Avocado Spinach Smoothie

Seriously though…WHY on earth would I add cauliflower to my smoothie?

First of all, it’s pretty damn good for you. It’s a cruciferous vegetable that is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, antioxidants, and even omega-3 fatty acids.

And on its own, cauliflower is relatively flavorless and carries no bitter taste like some of its greener hued cruciferous cousins (like broccoli, kale, or cabbage). Making it one of the best vegetables to hide in a blended smoothie – lots of nutritious benefits without that strong vegetable taste. Riced cauliflower is even easier to add in because the small pieces will surely get pulverized in your blender, so you won’t have that dreaded moment where you suck up a chunk of raw vegetable into your straw.

I think of cauliflower as the chameleon of the vegetable world. It has an amazing knack for versatility. It can meld itself into almost anything you throw it into and takes on the flavor of whatever dish you want. Its neutral flavor profile and lack of color are what make cauliflower such an awesome substitute for potatoes or addition to creamy sauces.

If you’re still feeling hesitant, I totally understand. I was in that same boat earlier this year. I’ve been adding spinach and kale to my smoothies for years, since they’re so easy to blend and their taste is so easily disguised by sweet frozen fruit. But let me assure you that I’ve got a mean sweet tooth and am not the most adventurous eater, and even my taste buds haven’t thrown a fit over it. I have even added more than a full cup of frozen cauliflower to the blender and was shocked that it was NBD. At all.

Can I use non-fat Greek yogurt in this?

Greek yogurt comes in several varieties – whole milk (full fat) + 2% fat (lowfat) + 0% fat (nonfat). I understand that everyone has their different preferences about which variety tastes the best. And I get that each person also has a unique set of health circumstances dictating how much fat to incorporate into their diet.

But I have to say that the best tasting versions for this healthy smoothie recipe are the whole milk and 2% fat varieties. If for whatever reason you have to be on a very low fat diet, then please know that the 0% will work perfectly for consistency. It just won’t be quite as full-bodied of a taste or mimic the feel of an ice cream milkshake quite as well.

Also, certain vitamins (like Vitamin K) are fat soluble. Meaning that they need to be consumed with a fat source in order to be properly absorbed into the body. So if you’re adding in the cauliflower hoping for that nutrient boost effect, I definitely urge you to not shy away from including a little more fat content in this.

And finally, I use higher fat yogurt in my smoothies because fat keeps me feeling fuller for longer. I know I might sound like a broken record on that but for me it makes a HUGE difference to feel satisfied after a meal. Consider the satiety difference you feel after drinking a glass of milk versus a glass of juice. Same quantity of liquid, but two very different feelings after the glass has been drained.

So the choice really comes down to this – what do YOU want to put in your smoothie to feel your best? What does your body need? Once you have your answer, honor it by making the best choice for you and you alone.

RELATED: Chocolate Banana Milkshake

I’m watching my sugar intake – how could I make this into a low sugar smoothie?

I’ve got you covered – I’ve put modifications for a low sugar smoothie in the notes below but I’ll tell you how to customize it here too!

Omit the banana + double the amount of cauliflower + use liquid stevia drops in place of honey. Adjust the amount of stevia to taste, adding as much as you need to compensate for taking out the banana from the recipe. The doubled amount of cauliflower will make sure that you have enough frozen goods in your blender to make up the textural difference for omitting the banana too.

Please note that I don’t recommend taking out the orange juice if you can help it, since it adds a lot to the taste. But if absolutely necessary, you could use a whole orange instead and double the almond milk. Instead of being a full-on Orange Creamsicle Smoothie this will result in a creamy smoothie with a lighter citrus flavor.

How do I make sure my smoothie is thick and not watery?

Be sure to freeze your fruits and veggies ahead of time! There is no ice in this recipe, so without those frozen components your smoothie won’t have that signature slushie quality to it. And it won’t stay as cold for as long. Frozen fruits and veggies add a lot of body to smoothies and give them a thicker texture, without having to add any ice. While ice does help thicken up your smoothie in terms of texture, it can also compromise the taste by watering down the flavors.

Plus if you cut and freeze your veggies ahead of time it’ll make it easier to grab them out of the freezer and just chuck them straight into the blender. Saving you from having to peel an orange in those brain foggy morning hours. You know, that time period before your coffee kicks in and you can’t even put on matching shoes (let alone have to grapple with a round fruit + a sharp knife).

Have you hopped on the hidden-veggie-smoothie train yet or are you nervous about switching up your blender routine? Tell me in the comments below!



Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 0 min
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 smoothie
  • Category: Smoothie
  • Method: Blender
  • Cuisine: American


Healthy recipe for a Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie made without any protein powder. Naturally sweetened with hidden cauliflower blended in for fiber! Perfect for breakfast or as a preworkout // postworkout snack!!


  • ½ c orange juice
  • ½ c almond milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbs honey*
  • 1 c Greek yogurt**
  • ½ c riced cauliflower, frozen
  • ½ navel orange, frozen (peeled and chopped into 1” pieces)
  • ½ banana, frozen (peeled and chopped into slices)


  1. BLEND ALL INGREDIENTS: For easiest blending layer in exact order of ingredient list. This just makes it easier on your blender to get momentum going and blend everything uniformly. Blend all ingredients until desired consistency has been reached, adjust sweetener to taste. Enjoy immediately.


LOW SUGAR ALTERNATIVE: Omit the banana + double the amount of cauliflower + use stevia instead of honey (adjust amount to taste). I don’t recommend leaving out the OJ, since it adds a lot to the flavor. But if you’re very concerned about the sugar in juice, you can use a whole orange instead of a half and use double the amount of almond milk instead of the half OJ / half almond milk combo. Please note this will give the smoothie only a light citrus flavor instead of a true creamsicle flavor.

*Or sweetener of choice, liquid stevia drops work awesome here if you’re watching your sugar intake

**I have used Whole Milk and 2% fat organic Greek yogurt varieties in this recipe and both taste delicious. Nonfat yogurt doesn’t give as full-bodied a taste or mimic the ice cream milkshake feel as well.


  • Serving Size: 1 smoothie
  • Protein: 26 g

The post Protein Orange Creamsicle Smoothie appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan Thu, 23 Nov 2017 07:08:23 +0000 Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan

Plain steamed veggies have no business gracing a holiday table. But roasted veggies, baked in rich avocado oil, tossed with crispy matchsticks of organic bacon, garnished with large curls of sharp Parmesan cheese, and lovingly drizzled with a balsamic reduction? That sounds like my kind of holiday side dish. This recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts...

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan

Plain steamed veggies have no business gracing a holiday table. But roasted veggies, baked in rich avocado oil, tossed with crispy matchsticks of organic bacon, garnished with large curls of sharp Parmesan cheese, and lovingly drizzled with a balsamic reduction? That sounds like my kind of holiday side dish. This recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan is worth going back for seconds!

Because BACON. OH. And because…CHEEEEESE.

A surefire way to make any vegetable into a celebratory dish that can stand on its own is to cover it in those two things. Okay. A surefire way to make ANYTHING special is to add those two things.

Rich. Cozy. With flavor and texture galore.

Brussels sprouts aren’t the most glamorous of the vegetable kingdom. With their spherical shape and layered leaf structure they look an awful lot like tiny cabbages (because they kind of ARE tiny little cabbages). They grow as little buds on a stem, but you can usually find them loose in the bulk bins of your produce section or bundled into little 2-lb bags for purchase.

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable (like broccoli) + are in the same species as cabbage. If the bacon and the cheese weren’t compelling enough reasons for you to start gobbling these guys up, let me tell you a little bit about these nutritional powerhouses. These little green buds are very nutrient-dense.

Brussels sprouts are high in Vitamin C (which helps protect your immune system) + Vitamin K (important for bone building + blood clotting).

Here in California, they are most often harvested in the Fall. So this is about the time when you’ll see them piling up in the grocery store or on display at your local farmer’s market. Making them readily available and pretty affordable when purchased in season. So get while the gettin’s good, my friends!

Since they’re a cold weather vegetable, it seems fitting to give them the good old roasted treatment.

Plus that is the first way I had Brussels sprouts and the way I fell in love with eating them.

RELATED: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

I never grew up having to choke them down. I didn’t have any past history with hating them or not liking how they tasted. I just never ever had them. Not because my parents were horrible parents who deprived their children of vegetables, but because my Dad absolutely despises them. With a passion. They never even made it into the door of our house.

The first time I had them was at BO-beau Kitchen + Bar in San Diego (a French comfort food restaurant). I got roped into going out for “drinks” with coworkers. Drinks that turned into dinner. Pressing panic button in 3-2-1…

I had juuuuust gotten this job at a high-end catering company and worked in an office surrounded by die-hard foodies. People who knew how to spell (and make) all the classic French sauces. People who could probably tell the difference between a Malbec and a Cabernet just by taste. And then there was me. The girl who didn’t eat freaking eggs (or cheese or sushi) until she was in her 20’s.

Needless to say, my social anxiety was HIGH. This was it. I was going to be found out for the picky, not-at-all-adventurous eater that I was.

So when they ordered a round of Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Parmesan, and Balsamic. I thought I was going to keel over. One of two things was bound to happen. (1) I was going to be found OUT as a picky eater in my new job that was all about food –OR- (2) I was going to eat a weird tiny cabbage in front of everyone and promptly barf right onto the table.

You may laugh, but I was legit afraid that the second thing might really happen.

I smiled and took the plate as it was passed around, grinning through the hesitation and doubt. Totally prepared to hate the living daylights out of this peer-pressured bite. And then it happened! Salty, sweet, crispy, soft. A seemingly lowly, rustic vegetable was dressed in all the finest flavors. Not dull or one note, but perked up by the bright, sweet tanginess of the balsamic reduction. And rounded out by the savory Parmesan pieces. It was everything all at once. I was completely hooked.

Though it could never measure up to the delightful original dish that inspired it, this dish definitely reminds me of that first bite. Here’s to hoping that this recipe helps any Brussels sprouts haters out there give the little green guys a second chance!

A few recipe + ingredient prep notes before I send you on your merry way…

How to safely cut bacon

Bacon is easiest to cut when it is cold. I cut mine when it is fresh out of the fridge – just take it out of the package, put it on the cutting board and start slicing. Or if you want you can opt to use a pair of kitchen scissors and just cut them into even pieces. Then you can just use your fingers to separate them into individual strips.

If your bacon still isn’t firm enough, you can pop it in the freezer for a bit to firm up.

Why can’t I just cook the bacon + then chop it?

In this recipe, the bacon strips are like a skinny version of a lardon (which is just the fancy term for when thick slab bacon gets cut into chunky matchstick pieces). We are cutting them into these even strips to get small, neatly shaped, bite-sized pieces that will blend well into the roasted veggies later on.

Plus making them into more uniformly sized and shape pieces before going into the pan means they will cook more evenly (and more quickly too!).

Think about when you try to pan fry several strips of bacon together at once and some start browning more quickly while others may lag behind. Or part of the bacon strip is fully cooked, while the other fattier section is still all wiggly and uncooked.

It’s because of the varied shapes and sizes that they have. The different swoops and lengths that bacon slices often come in, the leaner sections of meat interspersed with the fattier pockets. Cutting them into little strips helps avoid that frustration.

RELATED: Broccoli Carrot Crunch Salad

How to get crispy bacon (that isn’t soggy or burnt)

The easiest way to make sure you don’t burn them and end up with very crispy bacon bits is to remove the liquid fat as it renders off of the cooked bacon. This will give the bacon a better opportunity to have direct contact with the hot pan. You can just use your spatula to push the bacon to one side of the pan (away from you) and then tilt the pan (towards you) so that the liquid pools in the opposite corner from the bacon bits. Then use a spoon (or I found that a silicone flexible ladle was particularly effective) to scoop out the pan drippings.

Then remove them into a small paper towel lined plate to soak up the liquid fat. They will crisp up even more as they dry on the towel.

Wait a tic. Is that store-bought balsamic reduction I see on the recipe card?


There are just some things I have next to zero interest in making at home. Slowly reducing balsamic vinegar down to a glaze is one of those things. My mom always told me to pick my battles. And I don’t want to do battle with balsamic.

Sometimes all the word “store-bought” means to me is premade // already-done-FOR-you // time-saving // patience-sparing // magical.

The one I use (Nonna Pias, which I linked to in the recipe card down below) has only a few simple ingredients. Yes, it does use a little cane sugar. Which I don’t mind since I’m only using a small amount (and because the added sweetness really helps to balance out the sharpness of the Parm + the saltiness of the bacon).

What store-bought // ready-made items do you love to keep on hand at home? Let me know what your trusty recipe short-cuts are in the comments!!


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Cook Time: 30 min
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Roasting


Easy recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan! The perfect vegetable side dish for your holiday table with a delicious balsamic reduction drizzled on top (gluten free).


  • 2 lbs Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tbs avocado oil*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 slices of uncured bacon
  • 3 tbs balsamic reduction (also called balsamic glaze)**
  • 1/3 c Parmesan cheese
  • fresh cracked black pepper


  1. PREHEAT OVEN: To 400 degrees.
  2. TRIM AND HALVE BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Trim off the ends and discard. Then slice the Brussels sprouts down the center.
  3. ROAST BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Add all halves to a metal baking sheet. Toss with the avocado oil and then sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile start crisping the bacon.
  4. CRISP THE BACON: Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stack all the bacon slices and cut into ½” wide matchsticks (see photos above). Separate the individual matchsticks and place them in the hot pan. Let them sit on the first side until you see the underside start to brown before stirring around the pan. They will cook more evenly and quickly if you remove the fat from the pan as it renders. You can just use your spatula to push the bacon to one side of the pan (away from you) and then tilt the pan (towards you) so that the liquid pools in the bottom side of the pan (opposite from the bacon pieces). Then use a spoon (or I found that a silicone flexible ladle was particularly effective) to scoop out the pan drippings. Remove the drippings into a small dish to use for cooking another time or to discard (be sure to throw these away in the trash and not pour down your sink, grease + oil + fat will clog your sink). Once crisp and cooked to your liking, remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate.
  5. FINISH ROASTING THE BRUSSELS: After they have roasted for the first 15 min, remove tray from oven and stir the Brussels sprouts around. Then bake again for another 10-15 minutes (until softened and brown around the edges).
  6. MIX TOGETHER: Toss the roasted Brussels sprouts together with the crisped bacon pieces. Top with shavings of Parmesan + balsamic reduction + black pepper. Serve hot.


*Or other high-heat cooking oil of choice

**I used store-bought balsamic reduction, specifically Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reduction (this is a link to the 3-pack available on Amazon but you can also find individual bottles for cheaper at Whole Foods in the vinegar aisle). Trader Joe’s Glaze is also good, you can also find it on Amazon or (also cheaper) in their oil + vinegar section.

FOR EASY CLEAN UP: Line your baking sheet with foil, then add veggies + oil. When you’re done you can crumple up the foil, throw it away, and not have to clean the pan afterwards.

HOW TO CUT BACON EASILY: You may find the bacon is easier to cut when the bacon is still cold. It will cut more cleanly (and without the knife wiggling) if the meat is firm from being in the fridge.

TO REHEAT LEFTOVERS: These are best reheated in a hot pan. You don’t need to add any extra oil to the pan, just add the leftovers to a pan over medium heat and stir often. You’ll see the bacon regain it’s crispiness and the Brussels sprouts will heat through quickly. If you like you can add more fresh Parmesan to the top.


  • Serving Size: 1 serving

The post Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon + Parmesan appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Honey Cornbread Mon, 20 Nov 2017 05:05:22 +0000 Honey Cornbread

In no time the holiday tables will be set. The big bird will take center stage and all your relatives (oh and I do mean all your relatives) will be gathered round to give thanks. And while the main attraction is supposed to be the turkey or the ham, this girl right here is allllll...

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Honey Cornbread

In no time the holiday tables will be set. The big bird will take center stage and all your relatives (oh and I do mean all your relatives) will be gathered round to give thanks. And while the main attraction is supposed to be the turkey or the ham, this girl right here is allllll about those SIDES. Especially this sweet Honey Cornbread.

Naturally sweetened with honey and made with 2 types of cornmeal, this recipe does not disappoint in the flavor or texture department. Its light sweetness and rustic texture are the perfect complement to both the savory and sweet items on your table.

This is THE side dish I look forward to indulging in every year. When it comes to the holiday table, cornbread is my comfort food of choice (buttery mashed potatoes are a close second, but as the calendar ticks closer to Thanksgiving I always find myself dreaming about this recipe). My mom whips it up every year and this is my first year making a batch of her sweet recipe outside of her kitchen. Thankfully email (and FaceTime) has allowed us to connect our kitchens and cook long-distance.

This cornbread + a generous dollop of this whole fruit cranberry sauce slathered right on top is so good. Like makes your eyes roll back into your head, dessert-on-dessert, life-changing kind of good. As in, I ate it for breakfast this morning with hot coffee and could not have been happier…type of SO SO SOOOO GOOD.

As is, this recipe is not gluten-free. BUT! If you are gluten-free, I’ve got you covered. I’ve included some notes below on which gluten-free flours are proven to work best with this exact recipe. My family bakes up a gluten-free version every year (and I ate gluten-free for over 5 years) so trust me when I say that these swaps are tested + tried + true!

And I’ve got a few other helpful hints to share with you below before you start baking…

The biggest tip I have for you for this simple + sweet recipe is…don’t overmix the batter!

This tip is super easy to follow because it simply asks that you do the minimum amount of work possible to make sure that you have a uniform dough. You’ve probably seen this cautionary sentence on cake / brownie / cookie mixes a time or two before. They are telling you how to avoid an overly chewy or dense texture.

Most yeast raised breads (like the kind you would use for sandwiches or as bread rolls etc), rely on kneading to develop gluten in the dough. In those types of recipes, gluten development is a good thing because it gives that chewy + essential elasticity that we’ve all come to expect in a really good bread.

But in other recipes like pancakes or quick breads (like banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, cornbread, etc.), you’re striving for a different kind of texture. Something a little softer and fluffier. More tender crumbs than stretchy dough.

The good news is that this just means less work for you to do. Simply mix the ingredients until well combined (the operative word being just). This is why it helps to stir together the dry ingredients until well mixed and then incorporate the wet ingredients afterwards. That way everything gets combined evenly, without overworking the batter to do it.

Mix until you don’t see any dry streaks of flour striping their way through the bowl anymore. If it looks a little lumpy and thick, that’s okay. See the pictures of the mixed batter for reassurance!

RELATED: Whole Fruit Cranberry Sauce

Wait. Wait. Wait. Why do we need to use TWO different kinds of cornmeal?

You don’t need to, BUT I highly suggest it. You will be rewarded handsomely in the taste and texture department if you do. The inclusion of coarser grounds will break up the uniform texture of a usual bread and give it little pops of larger sized grains with more bite to it.

You can see the difference between the two types of cornmeal grinds (superfine and coarse) in the dry ingredient picture.

The superfine cornmeal is slightly more textured than the all-purpose flour, giving the cornbread added dimension. And the coarser grounds provide a third level of texture, giving it even more flavor and imparting that rustic homemade quality to each hunk of cornbread that you tear into.

It’s one of the reasons why I love cornbread so much. I adore a soft dinner roll as much as the next girl, but sometimes you just crave something with a little more bite to it.

Why are you using all-purpose flour, isn’t whole wheat flour “healthier”?

Pure. Personal. Preference. That’s the only real reason. And really the only reason I need!

While whole wheat flour is certainly less-processed and may be more nutritionally dense, I choose to use all-purpose flour because it lends an airy quality to the final product. Giving the bread lift and volume.

Cornbread is a holiday food in our house. Which means, we are prioritizing taste, memories, and nostalgia. Treating ourselves to the classics as we remember them. Making the foods that we look forward to every year and indulging in those foods (without guilt or judgment). I grew up on this cornbread recipe, which my mom modified from the cookbook Fit For Life. And while we often used a gluten-free flour blend in place of all-purpose flour, the taste of whole wheat flour was never involved.

I love using whole wheat flour in sandwich breads, muffins, pancakes, and some cookies but that deeper nuttier flavor profile isn’t what I remember from my own family thanksgiving celebrations. So I figure, if it ain’t broke…why fix it?

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll make a version with whole wheat instead of AP flour + fall in love + be eating my words. But until then, all-purpose flour it is!

RELATED: Cardamom Rice Krispie Treats

How do I know when the cornbread is *done*?

Use the toothpick test! Insert a toothpick into the center of the bread, if it comes out clean (as in it doesn’t have any wet batter clinging to it) then it means the bread is done. If you don’t have toothpicks handy, other things you can use in a pinch include a fork / a knife / or wooden skewer (like the kind that you’d use for the grill).

Can I double this recipe if I need to feed a crowd?

Absolutely! I know it works because my mom used to host a huge Thanksgiving at our house and life would have been pretty miserable baking only one batch of cornbread at a time.

This recipe doubles very easily, so if you needed to make more than one pan you can double the entire recipe and bake it in a 9” x 13” baking pan. It’s very forgiving that way.

What if I want to make cornbread muffins instead?

You can do that too!

If you’d like to make muffins, I would suggest lowering the oven temperature to 350 degrees and baking them for a shorter amount of time (check on them after 12-15 minutes). The batter rises a lot in the oven, so be sure to only fill each muffin tin halfway full. They will cook all the way through even if you fill them, but they will spill over the sides and connect to each other. Once I got too impatient to divide it into two batches and all the muffins looked like they were holding hands. Half of the pan just became one big uni-muffin.

I prefer to bake this cornbread in a large dish because I really love the ratio of crusty edges to cornbread that you get from baking something in a square pan. Versus the 360 degree crust you tend to get when baking smaller amounts of batter in individual muffin tins. Muffin tins have more surface area, so they bring more of the batter in contact with the baking surface. Which depending on how you like your cornbread, could be a great thing or a not-so-great thing.

You know how some people like the corner piece of cake and other’s want that center piece? Or some people fight over the edge brownies and others (like me!) are all about that coveted, gooey, center brownie?? That’s the same way with cornbread. It’s all just a matter of what YOU like best.

Are you more of a corner piece or a center piece kind of person? Tell me what your favorite is in the comments below!



Honey Cornbread

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 25 min
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 9 squares
  • Category: Quickbreads + Sides
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American


A naturally sweetened recipe for Honey Cornbread. Made with two types of cornmeal for delicious texture and taste! Can be made gluten-free (see notes for modifications).

Adapted from Harvey and Marilyn Diamond’s “Honey Corn Bread” recipe (from the cookbook Fit For Life)



  • ½ c finer ground cornmeal
  • ½ c coarse ground cornmeal (sometimes called corn grits or polenta)
  • 1 c all-purpose flour*
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda


  • ¼ c honey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1  7/8 c lowfat buttermilk**


  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tbs honey
  • zest of ½ an orange


  1. PREHEAT OVEN + GREASE PAN: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and make sure that the top rack is positioned in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9″ x 9″ square baking pan.
  2. MAKE BATTER: Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, whisk together. Then add the wet ingredients and whisk together just until well combined (do not overmix, it’s okay if the batter looks a little lumpy just make sure that you have moistened all the dry ingredients and everything looks well incorporated). Use a spatula to scrape out the batter into your prepared pan.
  3. BAKE: Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 min or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the bread. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
  4. OPTIONAL TOPPING: Slowly heat butter + honey + orange zest over low heat in a small pan, for several minutes until ingredients have melted together and the zest flavor has been lightly infused. Pour over top of warm cornbread and use a spatula to spread evenly over top.


*FOR GLUTEN-FREE HONEY CORNBREAD(1) be sure to select gluten-free cornmeal and (2) substitute 1 cup of all-purpose gluten free flour. These are usually blends of 4 or more different types of flour and are ideally suited for 1:1 ratio swaps for regular all-purpose flour. I recommend using the following two brands: Namaste Gluten-Free Organic Perfect Flour Blend or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1  Baking Flour (my family has used both of these and the cornbread still comes out excellent, the Namaste Flour Blend is by far the family favorite)

**REGULAR MILK // BUTTERMILK – If you only have regular milk you can make “buttermilk” by pouring the milk into a container and adding apple cider vinegar to it, letting it sit and it will curdle to become your buttermilk for this recipe. The ratio is 2.5 tsp apple cider vinegar for every ½ cup of milk.


  • Serving Size: 1 square

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Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole Sat, 11 Nov 2017 14:30:37 +0000 Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole

We have been chowing down on this Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole ON. THE. REG! It’s a minimalist // meal-prepper’s dream come true. Taking care of protein, fiber, and satisfying carbohydrates all in one dish. As a San Diego girl – any and ALL things even remotely similar to enchiladas / tacos / burritos is bound...

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The post Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole

We have been chowing down on this Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole ON. THE. REG! It’s a minimalist // meal-prepper’s dream come true. Taking care of protein, fiber, and satisfying carbohydrates all in one dish. As a San Diego girl – any and ALL things even remotely similar to enchiladas / tacos / burritos is bound to give me all those i-miss-my-hometown // nostalgic food feels. And THEN some.

This healthy-spin on a chicken enchilada bake is going to give you major comfort food vibes, but isn’t made with any extra oil.

You’ll be pleased to know that no tortillas were fried in the making of this dish. Making it both more healthy AND less work for you. It makes a great high-protein meal option and boasts lots of fill-you-up fiber with green chiles + white beans.

It’s the ultimate cozy, cheesy, warm, and inviting dish to come home to after a long day. Everything you love about enchiladas, without any of the rolling / stuffing / tucking required. With all the familiar flavors from white chicken chili layered between soft tortillas and melted cheese.

It’s a super forgiving recipe. This casserole gets that you’re tired / stressed out / not-in-the-mood / (insert other after-work emotion here).

This is the kind of dish where you just layer things together, as messy as you please (think: lasagna), and it comes out tasting great anyway.

Even if you didn’t want to make it with chicken (or just didn’t have the time or motivation to make it), you could just double // triple down on the canned beans and voila – a vegetarian friendly dish is born. The cheese will bind every ingredient together and the salsa will act like a sauce, melding all the separate flavors // textures into one cohesive dish. In spite of even my BEST efforts to totally screw it up, time and time again this recipe just soldiers on. And every time, defiantly comes out of that oven bubbling and delicious.

And how could it not? When melted cheese, soft tortillas, and green salsa are involved – it’s basically cheating. We are rigging the game here, friends!

When classic enchilada ingredients come out to play its impossible for things to not taste freaking fantastic. And then you add in tender, shredded chicken + creamy white beans and it’s game OVER. You’re bound to make whoever eats this pretty damn happy. For days on end too, because did I mention that…

This recipe makes 9-12 servings (depending on hunger levels) – meaning you could have several DAYS worth of dinner made in under 45 minutes.

In our house that would mean that I wouldn’t have to cook dinner again for 4-6 days. Take out a slice, microwave it on a plate. Then once hot, pop some prewashed greens on the side with a store-bought dressing and BOOM. Hot meal with a side salad. Or get even more creative and bake some delicate greens right into the layers (chopped spinach comes to mind)! Cheesy casseroles are the perfect place to hide an extra veggie or two.

I arrived late to the casserole game, I had never actually had one until THIS summer. Turns out…

Baked casserole dishes are brilliant time savers + amazing places to hide extra veggies (or use up whatever is leftover in your fridge or pantry).

I can’t believe it took me so long to come around to embracing them – I’m a total casserole convert. They are pure MAGIC.

See the only “casseroles” I was familiar were just the ones I saw on TV. The ones that they showed on the Campbell’s soup commercials or that I caught a glimpse of Paula Deen whipping up. Usually involving sour cream, mayonnaise, or a can of cream of mushroom // chicken soup dumped on top of some green beans and those dried crunchy onion things that came in a large pringles-looking kind of can.

I had never ever in my life eaten anything remotely like that. It was totally foreign to me. It felt like everyone was making them around the holidays but the visuals I was seeing on television were not exactly persuading me to eat them. If you’ve ever seen what’s inside a can of unheated soup, then you totally get what I’m talking about here. Seeing something just *gloop* on top of uncooked veggies or raw meat is not exactly what you would call hunger-inducing.

I had NO clue that (at least here in the states) casserole simply refers to the name of the pan that the food is baked in (or vice versa, the name of any dish that you made in a casserole pan). I did not know that they could be layered with tons of flavor and texture baked right in. And I hadn’t the faintest idea that they could be tasty, interesting, versatile vehicles for healthful meals. But let me tell you, my kitchen life got totally flipped upside down when I made my first casserole bake.

And I’ve been joyfully baking some version of a casserole at least once a week ever since.

Casseroles combine your usual meal prep staples into one single dish. They are an easy, foolproof way to make sure you’re getting all 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates / protein / fat) all in one meal.

And this casserole is one of my favorites, born (per the usual) out of that killer combo of necessity and desperation. You know – that situation you’re in when you come home to a fridge that is pitifully stocked but you have zero motivation to go out and grocery shop. Thankfully, your pantry saves you (yet again) with some canned goods that add a ton of flavor and save you a bunch of time on prep.

I swear those cans and jars stash themselves in the furthest, darkest corners of the cabinets for JUST these sorts of moments. That *eureka!* moment when you stumble upon ingredients that you know are going to help you make-it-work. Well, that moment just feels like a little *hug* from the universe. That don’t worry, girl – I got YOU.

What are some of your ride-or-die pantry staples? Share your faves with me down in the comments!



Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Cook Time: 28 min
  • Total Time: 43 minutes
  • Yield: 9-12 servings
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Method: Oven Baked
  • Cuisine: Mexican


A healthy-spin on a green chicken enchilada casserole! Baked in the oven with layers of soft tortillas, melty cheese, lean shredded chicken, white beans, salsa verde, and hatch chiles. Perfect for weekly meal-prep!!


  • 6 whole wheat tortillas (large burrito // wrap size)
  • 1 15-oz can white beans
  • 1 12-oz bag shredded cheese – Mexican Blend
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
  • 1 24-oz jar salsa verde
  • 2 4-oz cans of green hatch chiles (mild + diced)
  • shredded Crockpot Salsa Chicken *
  • 1 tbs dried oregano


  • whole milk Greek Yogurt * * / sour cream
  • guacamole (love the single serving containers for meal prep!)
  • cholula hot sauce
  • fresh cilantro


  1. PREHEAT OVEN: To 375 degrees
  2. PREP CASSEROLE INGREDIENTS: Cut each tortilla in half, set aside. Open, drain, and rinse beans. Put into a small bowl and stir together with the 2 cans of hatch chiles. Set aside.
  3. LAYER CASSEROLE: For the first layer, place four tortilla halves into the bottom of a 9” x 13” casserole or baking dish, lining up one flat edge (the cut part) against each side of the dish (see pictures above). The rounded parts will overlap to cover the center. Add enough salsa verde to coat the tortillas (about a third of the large salsa jar). Use the back of a spoon to spread it around evenly. Then add half of the white bean + green chile mixture, followed by half of the chicken (about 2 chicken breasts worth). Make sure the ingredients are spread out evenly by just pushing them with your hands. Now sprinkle one third of the bag of cheese over top. · Repeat this layer once more for the second layer. · Then for the third layer – top with the remaining tortilla halves, and use only half of the remaining salsa in the jar to spread around the top of the tortillas. If you like crispier edges on your enchiladas, then leave an inch around the edge of the pan where you don’t put salsa on the tortillas. · Now add the remaining Mexican cheese blend + the extra cup of Monterey Jack Cheese (which isn’t necessary but if you’re all about having the gooiest topping situation possible, is HIGHLY recommended). Finish by sprinkling with dried oregano.
  4. BAKE: Bake for 25 minutes at 375. Then if you like a golden bubbly topping, crank your oven up to broil (high setting) for 2-3 minutes. Be sure to watch it during those last few minutes as oven temperatures can vary greatly + you don’t want it to burn! Take out and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. · Can store in the fridge in the casserole dish covered with foil for up to a week.


For a vegetarian casserole dish – use 3 more cans of beans instead of chicken.

* If using my recipe for Crockpot Salsa Chicken, then only use 4 chicken breasts. You won’t need more than that to fill out the casserole layers. You can also use leftover shredded rotisserie chicken for this if you prefer

* *Full-fat (not 0% / 2%) varieties of Greek Yogurt made with whole milk will mimic the thickness and taste of sour cream or crema much better than the low-fat varieties


  • Serving Size: 1 serving

The post Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Crockpot Salsa Chicken Thu, 09 Nov 2017 03:59:34 +0000 Crockpot Salsa Chicken

Crockpot Salsa Chicken is happening on repeat here in our house! It’s been the hero of our weekly meal prep story. Swoopin’ in to save us from that often bland (and usually blah) chicken breast life. Rest assured. This recipe is anything BUT those things. 2-ingredient shredded chicken made in a crockpot by doing little...

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The post Crockpot Salsa Chicken appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Crockpot Salsa Chicken

Crockpot Salsa Chicken is happening on repeat here in our house! It’s been the hero of our weekly meal prep story. Swoopin’ in to save us from that often bland (and usually blah) chicken breast life.

Rest assured. This recipe is anything BUT those things.

2-ingredient shredded chicken made in a crockpot by doing little more than opening a jar. Can you feel my low-maintenance meal-prep glee BEAMING through the screen??

This is my kind of *healthy*. Slow cooker simplicity reaching new levels ovuhhh here.

Cooking chicken breast in the slow cooker is one of the easiest ways to meal prep a LOT of protein at one time.

The wonderful thing about make-ahead meals // batch-cooking is that it makes your whole week infinitely better. When you know you have at least half of your meal already cooked, everything else feels so much less hectic and so much more manageable.

Think about how that would make you feel. That peace of mind you’d get, knowing there’s one less thing to cook from scratch. When you’re trying to create a well-balanced plate for yourself or your loved ones, the last thing you need standing in your way are well…the things that always get in the way.

That inner dialogue that plays itself every time. I’m too tired. I can’t imagine cooking right now. Today was too stressful. I just don’t feel like it. Nope, can’t, won’t. (Things I think at least once a week, if not once a day).

I feel like we’ve all been there before…am I right?

RELATED: Mustard Balsamic Tri Tip

This is my “well screw it” recipe. My back-pocket, no excuse not to do it, meal-prep fallback plan. Even if something on my website broke (read: if I broke something on my website), or I forgot to send that critical email, or just barely met that deadline, or had to rush to the bank only to have the doors locked in my face. Even if I’m totally at the end of my rope and that day has been “the worst ever” and there’s zero you-know-what’s being given. I know deep down that I can do THIS.

If there is a jar of salsa in my pantry and some meat that needs cooking, I’m fresh out of excuses to skip out on it. It’s too damn easy.

This recipe (and meal prep in general) gets YOU one step closer to healthy lunch + dinner decisions AND one step further away from resorting to take out. A win for your wallet + your taste buds.

You can store this shredded chicken easily in the fridge and pull out portions as needed throughout the week. Perfect for building meals on-the-fly.

Or you can use it to portion into individual servings alongside your favorite side dishes for full make-ahead-meals. I don’t know about you but Salsa Chicken + Rice bowls (with a sprinkle of jack cheese melted onto the top) sounds like one hell-of-a happy way to make it through my work week.

When 12 pm rolls around, just pop that meal in the microwave and give yourself the gift of a nice, nourishing, high-protein lunch break. A few moments of uninterrupted time to let any busy morning melt away into meal-time bliss.

RELATED: Chicken Spinach Enchiladas

These are also FANTASTIC for using in things like…

  • Tacos
  • Burrito Bowls
  • Enchiladas
  • Nachos
  • Tostadas
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tortas
  • Soups
  • Casseroles
  • …you. name. it.

This is usually the part where I provide some words-of-wisdom. Or insight. Or at the very least some super important recipe notes. But this recipe right here, could not be simpler or more straightforward. The name says it all. Crockpot Salsa Chicken. Which is made using…salsa + chicken. End. Of. List.

What I DO want to chat about instead are all the merits of a slow cooker for this specific recipe.

So why use a slow cooker for something so simple? In other words, if this isn’t a complicated dish with a lot of ingredients (like a soup, stew, or chili) and this isn’t a tough, sinewy cut of meat – why bother cooking it in a crockpot?

Here’s some reasons why cooking chicken breast in a slow cooker makes your life better

  • It’s convenient + saves you time –The words “set it + forget it” come to mind. You won’t be babysitting a pot, stirring, adjusting the heat, or making sure it’s not being overcooked / burned. Crockpots give you the gift of less time spent actively cooking. 5 minutes of prep means you’re only hands-on *cooking* for a whopping FIVE MINUTES.
  • Less clean up involved – crockpots are super easy to clean, the gentle cooking method usually means less mess and less likelihood of burnt-on / cooked-on / crusty messes when you’re done. There’s less utensils and pans involved. A little soap and water usually takes any residue off without much of a fight.
  • You don’t have to trim the meat beforehand – any connective tissue or untrimmed fat will render itself out while cooking. If any tough cartilage (those opaque white sections where the bone used to be attached) remains, it will be easily separated after cooking and you can toss it out. Saving you from performing minor surgery on raw chicken + preventing you from dirtying a cutting board and knife (less dishes? Yes, please!)
  • Slower methods of cooking intensify flavors + keep the meat moist < – – sorry for the M word – Slow cooking steeps the meat in the salsa, infusing all those flavors of onion + garlic + tomato + peppers + citrus the ENTIRE time it cooks. Plus it keeps the meat from drying out or getting tough or chewy.
  • Cuts down on added fat – You’ll see on the recipe card that there is no cooking oil or melted butter required. The heat isn’t going to get high enough for you to need that protective buffer between your cooking surface (like a hot pan or baking sheet or grill grate) and your meat. So if you’re trying to eat more lean meats as a way to watch your fat intake, this is another win for slow cookers.
  • It frees up your other appliances for use – fellow meal-preppers rejoice! Stow your slow cooker away in a corner of your kitchen and free up your stove top and oven for making other things. Like trays of roasted veggies or broiled salmon, or simmering pots of brown rice / quinoa / oats.

Shredded rotisserie chicken ends up as an ingredient in a lot of recipes for a reason – it’s downright versatile and anchors a light meal into becoming a satisfying main dish. Crockpot chicken gets you pretty darn close to that same texture…

WITHOUT having to actually roast an entire bird on one of your days off + wait for it to cool down + pick it apart bit by bit into edible shreds with your bare hands. Every once in a while, we will shell out for an organic roasted chicken fresh from the store (because they are delicious and SO convenient when you’re fridge is emptier than empty). But that’s usually when we want to savor the roasted chicken as a dish in its own right. A lot goes into making those and we don’t want one single piece going to waste.

But if we are using it as part of another meal (like tucking it into enchiladas or stirring it into a soup) then more often than not, you’ll find us opting for this homemade variety.

What recipes do you make again and again in your household? Tell me your money-saving meal-prep favorites down in the comments!!



Crockpot Salsa Chicken

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 4 hours
  • Total Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
  • Yield: 10-12 servings
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Method: Slow Cooker
  • Cuisine: Mexican


Healthy+ low-fat recipe for Crockpot Salsa Chicken. This 2-ingredient shredded chicken is perfect for using in enchiladas, tacos, burrito bowls, soups, casseroles and more. A meal-prep favorite for batch-cooking a lot of protein at once!


  • 1 16-oz jar of mild salsa
  • 4-6 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless


  1. SLOW COOK: Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the slow cooker. Cover in salsa. Set slow cooker on high. Cover and cook for 4 hours (see notes for cooking on low).
  2. SHRED CHICKEN: Using two forks, pull the cooked chicken into shredded pieces. You can either do this right in the pot, or you can remove to a flat surface (like a cutting board) and shred on that if that is easier. Stir until it has soaked up the salsa + cooking juices.


You can also cook these on low for 6 hours but I find this makes the chicken a little too wet and thinly shredded for my liking, four hours seems to produce more substantial pieces with the best texture.

You can cook either 4-6 chicken breasts, depending on your weekly protein + meal prep needs. It will cook fine with 6 for the same amount of time, but if you’re looking for a stronger flavor then add another half jar of salsa.

I used red salsa for this recipe but have also had delicious results using salsa verde – the tomatillo flavor of green salsas works just as great!


  • Serving Size: 1 serving

The post Crockpot Salsa Chicken appeared first on Free Your Fork.

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Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats Sun, 05 Nov 2017 07:06:11 +0000 Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats

Things are about to get festive AF around here – starting with these holiday-spiced Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats! Can I get an AMEN for foods that taste like dessert but double as healthy breakfasts??? Insert praise-hands emoji HERE. These are super meal-prep + macro friendly. Each one only takes about 5 minutes to make. Meaning...

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The post Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats appeared first on Free Your Fork.

Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats

Things are about to get festive AF around here – starting with these holiday-spiced Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats! Can I get an AMEN for foods that taste like dessert but double as healthy breakfasts??? Insert praise-hands emoji HERE.

These are super meal-prep + macro friendly. Each one only takes about 5 minutes to make. Meaning you could make 5 days worth of breakfasts for your work week in less than half an hour. That’s breakfast ALL WEEK LONG in the same time it takes you to watch a rerun of The Office on TV. So simple that you could actually sit down on the couch and make them on your coffee table while you WATCH it (things I may or may not do on a regular basis).

Let’s add overnight oats to the growing list of reasons to never skip out on breakfast again.

The magic of overnight oats is that there is zero cooking involved. Just add your ingredients to a jar + shake ’em up + set them in the fridge.

That. Is. IT! Let the overnight soak do the “cooking” for you, while you sleep. As the raw oats soak overnight, their starches start to breakdown and the oats begin to soften making them more digestible. Some people find that this actually makes them easier to digest than traditional hot cooked oats.

I had the toughest time choosing whether to call these Pumpkin Pie… or Pumpkin Pie Protein… or Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake…overnight oats. Because, honestly they would ALL be so fitting for these delightful little jars.

Every time I eat them it reminds me of the morning after thanksgiving. That moment when I spring out of bed + check the fridge to see if there’s any leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast.

And thanks to the addition of thick + creamy Greek Yogurt (hello there, protein powerhouse), it also conjures up all those RICH + dreamy cheesecake vibes.

It’s like getting two desserts in one breakfast. And it’s high-protein + full of fiber + healthy fats?? I. Can’t. Even.

RELATED: Chai Coconut Chia Pudding

For those of you who need to know how to make it (in a “like right now” kind of way) – scroll to the bottom for the recipe card. It’s ready + waitin’ for you, my friend!!

For those of you who are curious about the *why’s* and the *what-for’s* of the ingredients – let’s get right on into it…

Why coconut nectar?

I like using coconut nectar because it is minimally processed and I love its thick + syrupy texture. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll notice it has a darker color and a deep sweet flavor to match. It comes from the sap of the coconut blossom and is a delicious, naturally-sourced swap for sugar.

Diabetes runs on both sides of the family in our household – Billy and I each have a risk of developing it so we are mindful about our daily sugar intake.

Coconut nectar sits lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners – making it a solid alternative to other sugars. Its average GI score = 35 (anything under 55 is considered a low glycemic food).

The glycemic index score for a food is not the be-all-end-all predictor of how a food will actually affect you. The glycemic load may be better for that. Admittedly, I don’t know what the glycemic load is for coconut nectar. But. I do know this….

When I eat refined white sugar, it makes my body physically hot and uncomfortable. I get a little spike in energy, my temperature rises, I often get sweaty (sorry if that’s t.m.i., but sweat happens), and then comes the dreaded sugar crash. This unpleasant sequence of events simply doesn’t seem to happen when I eat coconut nectar. I may not 100% understand the science behind it but I absolutely believe that everybody reacts differently to certain foods and ingredients. Ours respond pretty happily and normally to coconut nectar. The fact that is tastes delicious is certainly a huge plus.

Other low-GI natural sweetener choices include maple syrup (GI of 54) + honey (58) + agave nectar (15). While agave nectar is a natural sweetener and a low GI food, I find that its sweetness is so scant that I end up using a boatload more of it than I’d like to. So I wouldn’t recommend it for this recipe as it might make the mixture too wet.

RELATED: Blackberry Pie Overnight Oats

If you’re on the hunt for a natural sweetener that ranks super low on the scale, you may be interested in trying out stevia – which ranks at 0. That’s right, ZERO. This is one of the main reasons why I use stevia so frequently. I often leave out the coconut nectar entirely and choose to sweeten these oats with liquid stevia drops instead.

I originally started using stevia as a way to cut down the sugar I was drinking in my morning coffee. But now I reach for it to sweeten yogurt, traditional hot oats, mug cakes, smoothies, chia puddings, evening tea (and the list goes on).

These alcohol-free vanilla liquid stevia drops from Nu Naturals are my absolute favorite – depending on the price, I order mine from Vitacost or Amazon. I love how well liquid stevia mixes into cold + non-liquid foods. It stirs in evenly and easily, unlike the granulated or powder versions – which tend to clump when not being stirred into a hot beverage.

What’s the deal with ground flaxseed?

Healthy fats + fiber, that’s what! And as far as good-for-you add-in’s go, ground flaxseeds (and chia seeds) couldn’t be easier to stir into breakfast porridge, yogurt, smoothies, or these oats. I use the Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal from Bob’s Red Mill – which I either get from Amazon or in-store at my local Whole Foods. I use 1-2 tablespoons per day (at the very most), so this small bag lasts a good long while.

Flaxseeds are being studied for their anti-inflammatory and disease fighting properties. Some researchers are looking into the effect that these little guys have on everything from heart disease and cancer prevention efforts to hormone balance, lowered cholesterol, weight loss, and digestive health.

Ground flaxseeds are a great source of fiber + antioxidants + plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.

We all know that fish oil has omega-3’s (DHA + EPA) in it that are beneficial to us. But flaxseeds contain a different type of omega-3 called called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Another healthy fat that may promote healthier looking hair, skin, and nails. And while I rarely leave the house in anything but a pony tail and wildly unmanicured claws, I would still very much like those things to be in as good of condition as possible. Cause why not?

Also, ground flaxseed meal tastes surprisingly great. When combined with oats, it makes them taste like there’s something toasted or baked mixed in. It’s like a little nod to graham cracker pie crust. I often stir them into hot oats (with mini chocolate chips + cashew butter) because it makes the whole thing taste so much like a freshly baked cookie.

Bought the stuff to incorporate hormone-balancing, omega-3 goodness into my morning meals but ended up keeping it because it tastes like pie crust and cookies.

Some people have healthy decisions motivated by the desire for actual, long-lasting, live-your-best-life HEALTH. Others are driven by dessert-lust (that has incidental health benefits). I’ll let you decide for yourself which one I am today.

What healthy ingredients do you mix into every day meals + how do you do it? Tell me your sneaky superfood tricks in the comments!



Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats

  • Author: Lauren Kenson
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 0 min
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1
  • Category: Breakfast / Snack
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: American


Easy recipe for Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats! A high-protein, high-fiber breakfast or snack that is a healthy spin on the classic holiday dessert.


  • ½ c rolled oats
  • ¾ c plain Greek yogurt*
  • 1/3 c pumpkin purée
  • ½ c almond milk*
  • ¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs coconut nectar**
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tbs ground flaxseed***
  • 1 tbs chia seeds


  • extra dollop of Greek yogurt
  • pumpkin seeds
  • granola


  1. METHOD: Layer all ingredients into a medium-size lidded jar or container. Mix together with a spoon until well combined (or you can attach lid and shake until well mixed). Secure lid and place in refrigerator overnight. Open in the morning and eat cold straight from the jar. Top with an additional dollop of yogurt (to mimic whipped cream!) + add granola or pumpkin seeds for crunch.


*Both of these ingredients were unsweetened, if you use a sweetened variety of each then adjust the amount of your sweetener to taste

**Can swap for maple syrup, honey, or 10-15 drops of liquid stevia drops

***I prefer to use 2 tablespoons but if you’re unfamiliar with using this ingredient you can use less or omit it entirely.


  • Serving Size: 1

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