How to Roast, Grill, Microwave & Slow Cook a Sweet Potato + Recipes

When I found out that today (February 22nd) was National Cook a Sweet Potato Day, I got really excited. It’s about time this delicious, nutrient-packed tuber got some attention other than in November. Packed with healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients, sweet potatoes are perfect for your plate year ‘round. With at least 16 varieties grown in the U.S., including one of my favorites, the Stokes Purple Sweet Potato, I can’t imagine ever get tired of this vibrant veggie.How to Cook a Sweet Potato

Bake, microwave, roast, saute, grill, fry and boil are just some of the ways to cook a sweet potato. Eat them “as-is” with simple seasons or mash flesh to use as an ingredient in soups, side dishes, smoothies, baked goods and more.  So, are you wondering just exactly how to COOK a SWEET POTATO? Read on the find out the basic methods and get some of my favorite recipes:  Continue reading

Let’s Lunch! Smart Meal Prep Tips & Recipes #ReynoldsHeatandEat

Lunch, you gotta eat it no matter where you are – home, work, school, errands, gym, airplane. The issues getting in the way of my healthy lunch life are meeting up with friends who don’t have the same concerns about eating “food for function” as I do, finishing a workout that went well past noon and being so hangry that I could eat the entire Shake Shack on my way home, or being stuck on travel and having the only option be airport food. Note – I have a $25 Gift Card Giveaway at bottom of post. 

Lunch Meal Prep

However, I’ve found that with a little bit of front in effort I can prep my lunches in nice little containers for the week on Sunday – the payoff is obviously a healthier meal with ingredients approved by me, less crazy mornings gathering my grub up, and saving money – yes, saving money is good! It means I can pay all the high dollar fees for getting to and entering the races I love doing.

Meal Prepping Tips & Recipes for Lunch!

These are some basic tips that I use every week when putting together my meals and packing them up in to-go containers . If you’re a pro meal prepper, these tips may sound simple. But, if you’re new to the game of big batch cooking and assembly line prep, these useful ideas will help you get started!

Prep your protein.  The slow cooker and grill are my two go-to ways to prepare large batches of beef, chicken and pork for lunches (and dinners) through the week.   On Sunday morning, it’s so easy to stick huge roast or brisket in the Crock Pot and then walk away to enjoy the day. I use darn-big slow cooker (8-qt) so that I can make the most meat possible and have even been known to have two going at the same time! For the grill, Costco-sized trays of chicken or steaks not only are more economical to buy, but will hook you up for the entire week or month – depending on your family size. For fish, fill a rimmed, oiled baking sheet with your favorite filets or one huge piece of salmon and bake in the oven ‘til done!

Get your whole grains, beans & legumes going.  Brown rice, quinoa, and ancient grains hold up really well to making ahead of time and reheating later. Often, I find that pasta gets mushy during its second showing- not always though, whole wheat pasta holds up pretty well.  Use a large stock pot or rice cooker to get the job done efficiently – mine has a 20 quart capacity!   Another benefit of cooking a week’s worth of grains at once, less mess to clean up.

Switch up the sauces & mix-ins.  Often eating meal-prepped lunches can seem monotonous, choking down the same bland thing day after day. However, adding a small serving of sauce or handful of mix-ins is an easy way to transform the same old lunchbox staples into a wider range of flavorful meals – try pestos, Asian-inspired sauces, marinaras, salsas and so on! Even some fresh, no preservative salad dressings make a good option on hot and cold dishes. As for mix-ins, the little “extras” I rotate through include nuts, seeds, cheeses and dried fruits.

Use the right container.  If taking a salad for work, a large mason jar can be layered with ingredients. Keep the dressing on the bottom and delicate ingredients up higher, leaving a little headroom at the top so that you can shake it up right before eating.  I also like to take my soup in a mason jar, placing a layer of plastic wrap over the opening and under the lid to both help prevent leaking during transport and to serve as a splatter guard when reheating in the microwave – you don’t want to put that metal lid in there!  Hot meals can be reheated in a variety of containers, but I am partial to the Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers  (more deets below)– they hold a generous portion, are a great alternative to plastic and can be tossed in the trash so no messy containers to take home.  Store small portions of dressings, nuts, and cheese in baby mason jars, cleaned baby food jars, small plastic containers or snack-sized zip-bags.

Know your food safety rules.  When meal prepping for a week of lunches, remember most pre-cooked proteins and grains will only stay fresh for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge—I prep for Monday through Thursday and then do actually treat myself to lunch out on Friday! You can also prep your “plated” meal, or bigger bags of “ingredients” for assembly later, cool and place into appropriate freezer-storage containers – in the freezer, you can keep the quality for about 6 months.   I refer to this handbook of food storage safety tips from Real Simple magazine often.  If you can’t keep your lunch in the fridge at work, make sure you’re using icepacks than keep your food chilled until chow time.

Reynolds Heat and EAt disposable containers

As I mentioned, I am digging these Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers (I purchased mine at Walmart on the food storage aisle where you find foil, plastic bag, wax paper, etc.).  Available in two sizes, these toss-away lunch tubs are a great alternative to plastic and are made with plant fibers.  The clear lids allow you to see what you’re grabbing from the fridge, but need to be set aside during the reheating process. Reynolds Heat & Eat disposable container at Walmart

Reynolds Heat & Eat disposable ContainersCheck these out for yourself by picking up a pack of new Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat Containers at your local Walmart – found on the food storage aisle. They are very reasonably priced and you can even save an additional $1.00 on one pack of Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers with this coupon.

Here are some recipes to get you going:

roasted-tomatoes-in-turmeric-sauce“Go for the Gold” Turmeric Hummus  can be tossed with pasta or zucchini noodles for a healthy option to a creamy sauce – another perk is that there is also added protein.

 

 

Beef Blue Cheese Date Jar Salad is full of protein and Iron Super Iron Boosting Beef, Blue Cheese and Date Salad relies on pre-prepped sliced steak from the freezer (or freshly cooked) and layers up nicely in a jar for on-the-go lunching. I’ve even eaten this one in the car!

 

Maple Pecan Raisin Butternut Squash Quinoa - thefitfork.comMaple Pecan Butternut Quinoa is a delicious fall-inspired salad that can be taken to work or school and eaten warm or cold.  Here’s a little tip, double up when cooking the quinoa for this recipe and bag the rest in the freezer for easy dinners later.

 

Shrimp & Sugar Snap Pea SAlad with Lemon Gremolata easily packs into a lunchbox served cold.Shrimp & Snap Pea Pasta with Lemon Gremolata – This is another dish that is just as good cold as hot. If meal prepping for lunch, I always leave the delicate veggies raw so that when I reheat, they don’t become mushy!

 

 

 

 

15 minute Beef & Veggie Fried RiceBeef & Veggie Fried Rice: I typically use sirloin or flat iron steads for this one, but prepping to eat several days in a row, I will swap up the meats with chicken, shrimp or just simply extra scrambled eggs for protein variety.

 

Don’t forget to GET YOUR $1 OFF COUPON for Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers!

walmart-25-giveawayEnter giveaway for a change to win a $25 Walmart Gift Card so you can try Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers yourself! Ends 10/20/2016 at Midnight CT.

Enter via Rafflecopter app below:

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Happy, Healthy Watermelon Day Workout, Recipes & Giveaway

Many say the career advice to follow your passions is hogwash. “It’s not practical, ” they say, or “you can’t earn a decent living unless you’re extremely talented, really lucky – or, both.” “Do what you love . . . and you’ll probably starve.”  As a female Jack-of-All-Trades-Master-of-None, I’m here to say baloney to that! Well, maybe not baloney, but instead to say “WATERMELON, BEEF and SALAD DRESSING” to that!

Jennifer Fisher thefitfork. watermelon

Yup, I’m doing what I love and I’m not starving either figuratively or literally. These are just some beloved clients of mine who have supported me and given me experiences not just as a food and fitness blogger and healthy chef, but as a creative consulting professional in the health industry. Nothing makes me feel fuller as a contributing member of society than helping others on a health and fitness journey in my own special way – and that, my friends, is definitely NOT starving.

Happy National Watermelon Day from TheFitFork.comSo, in honor of National Watermelon Day (which is August 3rd), I wanted to spread a bit more watermelon love in my #LivingOnTheWedge way.  Over these several years, some might think I’ve exhausted my ideas to showcase watermelon. Oh, I always have a new recipe, workout or health tip – and today, I have all three (plus a giveaway of goodies).

First up, the watermelon recipe.  I actually posted it a couple weeks ago, but I want to make sure you don’t miss it because it’s just that good. Inspired by the funky fusion of the local food truck scene, my “Keep Austin Weird” Beef, Veggie & Watermelon Stir-fry features all my favorite ingredients from around the Central Texas area. Get the recipe HERE.Beef, Veggie & Watermelon Stir Fry

Not being one to brag or toot my own horn (hardly ever, haha), the National Watermelon Promotion Board has unofficially named me as the Inventor of the Watermelon Workout . . .it’s even better than being the creator of Prancersize or some other such thing! Well, golly, you can find a few of my watermelon workouts right there on the Watermelon for Health section of Watermelon.org and there are a few more over HERE!

Watermelon Challenge - Idea World - thefitfork.comNow onto the Watermelon Workout. Earlier in the month, I helped Watermelon.org  share the benefits of this fruit in a healthy lifestyle by hosting a Watermelon Workout Challenge at the largest fitness convention on the planet, IDEA World in Los Angeles. Competitors had to spin a wheel and then bust out as many reps of the selected exercise as possible in 20 seconds – there were squat jumps, alternating lunges, Russian Twists, partner passes and more. Oh, and did I mention you had to hold a watermelon the entire time!

 

 

watermelon workout ideaworld day 1 overhead tricepThe idea was created mainly in the name of wholesome good fun and to make people stop, smile and talk about watermelon (which it did)– but everyone also commented on how is was actually such a great workout concept. Uh, yeah – have you ever tried to jump squat with a 20 pound watermelon?!

Watermelon Blaster Workout a muscle-sculpting and calorie-torching workout with a personal-sized watermelon!

Today’s Watermelon Blaster Workout is designed to kick up your cardio and sculpt muscles simultaneously. There are four separate exercises in the set, each one is done as many times possible (with good form) in 90 seconds. After all four exercises are done, you get a one minute rest and then repeat everything over a few times for a total for four sets.  Go at your own pace and modify as necessary – over time you will find that you can do more reps per set. I used a 5.5 lb personal-sized watermelon, go light or heaver as needed.  You could also use a medicine ball, but then it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

And here’s the video demo of the exercises. Enjoy and laugh if you will, I know I’m a watermelon dork.

Watermelon contains vitamin B-6 which may help the body process protein better -- this is great for muscle management!

 

And lastly, a Watermelon Health Tip from my friends at Watermelon.org.  Watermelon contains vitamin B6, which may help break down protein, another important source of workout fuel along with carbohydrates. #WatermelonForHealth

 

 

 

Watermelon Day Giveaway - thefitfork.com

Oh, yeah – and I’m having a Watermelon Day Giveaway, too!  The prize include an assortment of watermelon-themed swag including a pair of watermelon knee socks (not compression, but still awesome), watermelon ankle socks, a sweet little fold-up nylon shopping back, two single-serve packs of sprouted watermelon seeds and a $10 gift card to Fresh Market so you can get a watermelon or two! Enter in the Rafflecopter app below!

 

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6 Life-Changing Avocado Hacks + $25 Visa Gift Card Giveaway

Getting more avocados in your life is a good thing! Avocados are an excellent source of fiber and protein and pack an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – they are a super star in the world of super foods and are so beneficial in the diet of a runner, stand-up paddle boarder, CrossFitter, mountain climber, yogi, gymnast, obstacle course racer or other active person. Oh, hey, I just described myself!Avocado Pineapple Smoothie

This nutrient-dense fruit regularly stars as guacamole at my house, but also makes a rich and creamy addition to salads, soups, and even baked goods. Plus, have you ever had avocado in a smoothie?  It’s soooooo good!  I’m totally loving the new Veggie Avocado Pineapple Smoothie from Smoothie King, more about that in a second – let me tell you about these Avocado Hacks that will make dealing with the sometimes fragile, fussy and fake-out ripe avocado.

Six Amazing Avocado Hacks That Will Change Your Life.

1) Avocado Dicing for Dummies – Simply cut in half crosswise, remove seed and, key point, leave the skin on! Use a paring knife to make cuts across and down, without piecing the peel. If fairly firm, the avocado will “pop” out of the skin when pushed, or if riper, use a spoon to coax the dices out. This is sooooo much less messy than peeling and then cutting.How to Score Avocado

2) Use Avocados Instead of Butter: Swap out avocados for butter in your baking at a 1:1 ratio, you’ll save lots of calories and get all of the nutritional benefits of avocado. Of course, you can also spread on your toast too – apparently that’s a thang!

3) How to Freeze Guacamole – It’s a rare day that leftover guacamole is left at the bottom of the bowl, but it can happen. More likely, there’s a big sale on avocados and something need to be done with them before over ripening – make a huge batch of guacamole and freeze it! Yes, you can do that – just smash it up with a little lemon juice and freeze in a zip-top plastic bag. When ready to use, just thaw in the fridge! And, the same concept goes for avocado slices – find out How to Freeze Avocadosfreezing guacamole in zip-top bag

4) Prevent Avocado from Oxidizing Overnight – Coating with lemon juice is a popular method, but what if you don’t want that tart-puckery taste to linger around? Simply pour a layer of milk on top of your avocado slices or guacamole and then chill (literally and figuratively)! When ready to get your guac on, simply drain of the milk and stir or mash. Or, you can also set an avocado half cut-side down on a big slice of onion and keep airtight in plastic wrap! These methods will keep your avocado looking pretty good for a day, maybe a little longer.

5) How to Ripen an Avocado in 10 Minutes: Turn a rock hard avocado into creamy, edible goodness by slicing and tossing with lemon juice and baking at 300 F degrees for 10 minutes or until just softening.

6) How to Ripen an Avocado Overnight: If you don’t need to eat your avocado ASAP, then stick it in a brown paper bag with a banana or apple and leave on the countertop. Overnight, the fruit’s ethylene gases will soften your avocado to perfection.

Veggie Blend Smoothies at Smoothie King - thefitfork.comOkay, back to the avocado in smoothies? Have you ever tried it? It sounds weird, but blended beverages are blessed with a super creamy taste. In fact, nearly everything from the produce section is good in a smoothie – when I don’t have time to make my own, I swing by Smoothie King for one of their Veggie Blends – these veggie-packed smoothies are deliciously blended to help fuel my health and wellness goals and I love the fact they are so transparent with their nutrition details, so I can pick and choose which one is going to work the best to optimize my “fuel” needs for the day.

I’m not on a calorie-restricted diet. In fact, as an athlete, I’m often looking for ways to get filled up without scarfing down junk foods. The new Veggie Avocado Pineapple Smoothie has more calories and fat content than the other Veggie Blends (Carrot Kale Dream, Berry Carrot Dream, Apple Kiwi Kale) – but offers a long-lasting, satiating boost of nutrition is what I need to power me through an intense workout without making me feel bloated and filled up with a heavy meal. A 20-oz drink has 6 grams of fiber to fill me up and is naturally hydrating, providing me the electrolytes I need for a sweat session.

In fact, all the Veggie Blends at Smoothie King are hydrating and healthful – some even have a “Make it Skinny” option.  You can check out the nutrition info on all the green smoothies and other menu choices either on the Smoothie King web site or in the store.

Win a $25 Visa Gift Card at TheFitFork.comI’m hosting a $25 Visa Gift Card giveaway so one of you readers can load up on veggie smoothies or whatever your heart desires at Smoothie King or anywhere!

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How to Make Spartan OCR Spear in 10 minutes + Spartan Fit

How to Make a Spartan Spear in Less Than 10 Mintues and Under 10 DollarsTo date, I’ve only have 3 obstacle course races under my belt, but I’m trying to nab a coin for the Spartan World Championship . . .maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s in my reach, especially if I can optimize my performance with a fast run.  However, the races I’ve done, like 2015 Spartan Beast Dallas and 2015 Spartan Spring Houston have been so flooded and muddy that I’ve had the wind knocked out of my running wheelhouse. Oh, yeah – but that spear throw is also standing in the way. I am 0 for 3 on the Spartan Spear Throw obstacle, that’s no surprise considering in I am 1 for 40 in the accuracy baseball pitch at an annual 12-event fitness competition I do (although, I do hold the female course record in the mile – whoot, whoot).

So, I gotta practice. Practice, practice, practice, so I nail the obstacle and don’t have to take the burpee penalty.  With my crazy, busy life, I don’t have time to go to any sort of obstacle course training gym – so I’m bringing some of the obstacle to my plain vanilla, suburban back yard.

Making DIY Spartan Spear

If I can make a Spartan Race Spear in less than 10 minutes, you can too. Girl power!  Here’s the supply list – it’s amazingly short and available at home improvement stores for less than $10 :

  • 1 60” replacement ash rake handle with ferrule (metal cuff on end) – $8.50
  • 1 12-inch galvanized spike or nail – $0.70
  • Duct tape or masking tape – pennies
  • Hacksaw
  • Glue, optional
  • Decorative Duct Tape, optional

Get some hay to practice the Spartan spear throw.

You will also want to get a few bales of hay from a feed supply store, out here it’s about $12 per bale. I’ve seen it quite a bit cheaper on Craigslist, if you’re willing to drive out to the boonies for your haul.How to Make a Spartan Spear in less than 10 Minutes and under 10 Dollars

So, how do you make a Spartan Spear? Easy-peasy! Follow these steps:

  1. Use hack saw to remove head off nail. You have to put some elbow grease into this, let’s see what you’ve got!
  2. Wrap a few rotations of duct tape or masking tape around bottom of nail where head was sawed off. This thickens it up so that it will fit snugly into the ferrule.
  3. If you choose, pour a bit of glue into ferrule and stick in nail head to secure. Let dry. However, I prefer to just wrap tape so that I can remove the nail tip if I want to transport my spear in the car (would hate to get impaled if I slammed on the breaks).
  4. Wrap decorative duct or grip tape around center of handle to indicate where to hold (or to just look fancy), if desired.

And, just how do you do this? Sheez, I don’t know . . .that’s why I’m practicing. I do have some tips though from my limited experience:

  • Quickly scan for a spear without a bent tip, and no blood or vomit on the handle.
  • Make sure tether is hanging on opposite side of fence from you to prevent tangling up around your legs.
  • Step into the spear launch and throw hard with a slight upward trajectory.
  • Show good sportsmanship when completing your 30 burpees and congratulate the successful competitors at this obstacle who are kicking up mud in your face. Okay, hopefully not this!

Spear ThrowThe Spartan Race Obstacle Guide says you have “One attempt to throw the spear and have it stick into the spearman (wood or hay).  The spear can’t be touching the ground.” This means it can’t stick in the hay and then fall out or brush by the hay and land on the ground. Failure to perform on your single try is 30 burpees – yay!

 


I also want to give you the heads up on Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena’s new book, Spartan Fit. Basically, it’s everything you need to know to prepare for a Spartan Sprint or just get in the best shape of your life in 31 days, without a gym or weights. You also learn how to build your fitness from one race to the next and will be motivated by stories of inspiring Spartans. There’s also diet plan in the book, I’m really interested to see what Joe’s philosophy is on eating since that’s kinda my thang. This is essential reading for the Spartan athlete, newbies or veterans! Pre-order now, it ships August 30, 2016.

If you want to run a Spartan Race – from Sprint, Super, Beast or some of the ultra endurance events like the Hurricane Heat, Hurricane Heat 12 hour, Ultra Beast, and the new Summer Agoge use the code SPARTANBLOGGER at checkout for 10% off your registration.

Also, come back next week — I’m giving away a free race registration. AROO!

So, how’s YOUR aim? Good at throwing stuff like spears, footballs, baseballs . . . or maybe just throwing fits of frustration when you miss, like me?! Have you ever run an obstacle course race? If so, what was the biggest challenge for YOU? Please share in the comments – XOXO, Jennifer 

Rise & Grind – Benefits of Exercise and Eating Well in the Morning

7 Benefits of Morning Exercise

As tempting as it is to repeatedly hit the snooze button, check out these seven worthy reasons to workout, run or just get up and get your body moving early in the morning. Of course, if you can’t workout first thing, any time of the day is better than skipping!

Dodge Distractions: When you exercise early, it’s the first thing marked off your “to-do” list. Unforseen opportunities and obligations later in the day, like an unexpected dinner date or working late to meet deadline, can foil even the best-intentioned plan to workout or run.

Elevate Mood: Exercise, any time of the day, instructs the body to release mood-boosting, energizing endorphins the brain. Why not get your workout or “runner’s high” before the rooster crows and enjoy being in this happy place all day long?!

Improve Productivity: Exercise makes you feel more energetic through the day and also increases the release of serotonin, which leads to enhanced mental clarity. Chasing down these two perks early in the early hours just might make your day a whole lot more efficient and awesome.

Boost Calorie Burn: Calories continue to be torched at an increased rate for a couple hours (and in some instances, as long as 10 to 24 hours) after exercise. It makes much more sense to kick up your metabolism sooner rather than later to burn more quickly through the food you are eating all day.

Snooze More Soundly:  It seems contrary, but research shows that people who wake up early to exercise get more sleep in the long run over those who schedule their sweat sessions in the evening. That’s because exercising at night raises your core temperature, heart rate and adrenaline levels to a degree that makes it hard to wind down and fall asleep.

Beat the Big Crowds: Face it, the gym and many running trails get pretty packed right after the work whistle blows. If you hit it early enough, you won’t have to wait in line for your favorite piece of gym equipment or knock elbows and trip over dog leashes on a jog.

Bragging Rights: Telling friends and colleagues “I’ve already run 6 miles and done 50 pushups this morning” totally trumps “Hmm, I might go workout later today.”

Body By Breakfast 5 Reasons You Need a Morning MealEqually important to morning exercise is a good breakfast, I’ve talking about the importance of eating a morning meal so many times in the past — especially one that is protein packed to help taxed muscles recover and fight off the “hangries” until lunch.

calcium). This could vary slightly on the protein powder you are using.If I’m in a hurry,I typically grab a Core Power High Protein Shake out of my gym bag, but if I have a few minutes at home I like to whip a quick recipe like my Lemon Raspberry Protein Mug Muffin or another protein-packed breakfast recipe up my sleeve.

 

Do you workout in the morning? Is it a struggle or are you an natural early-bird? Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer

 

 

5 Ways Balance Fitness and Life + #prAnaSpringStyle

5 Ways to Balance Fitness & LifeIt’s now unofficially spring, how are those New Year’s goals progressing? Whether it’s general health and wellness, getting in bikini shape, or nailing a specific fitness goal on your list, I bet there has been hurdle or two in the road. Or, at least there has been for me!  Work obligations, family duties, a defeatist attitude and even the weather are obstacles that can get in the way of accomplishing your daily workout. Thankfully with the temperatures warming up, we can all get outside and move when and where we like and enjoy the feel-good mojo some good old-fashioned, natural vitamin D sunshine!  So, if your fitness good intentions have been waning loately (or weren’t even there at all), get back on track with these

5 Ways to Balance Fitness & Life.

1) Be Efficient: Have a game plan, don’t just show up at the gym and wander around aimlessly trying to decide what to do. I’ve seen focused people get a more solid and productive workout in 20 minutes than lollygaggers do in 2 hours.  High intensity activities like running, CrossFit, interval training, and rowing can all get you big gains with low time commitment.

 2) Be Sneaky: Use little bits of down time to fit in fitness. For example, do a few isometric exercises in the car while you wait for the light to turn green or close the office door and bust out some burpees.  Even if you pass up your after work run for a marathon of the latest television show, don’t fast-forward through the commercials – get up and move for the duration. Everything adds up and something is better than nothing!

3) Be on a Schedule – Don’t just “pencil” your workouts in, use permanent ink! While that may not be completely realistic in light of the constantly changing demands of life, it is good to have a general idea of when and where you are going to accomplish a sweat session.  When an activity is “on the books,” there is accountability and it becomes much easier to arrange other obligations around the workout or say “no” to things you deem less important.

4) But, Be Flexible – I’m not talking flexible as in bendy (although that’s good too, so try some yoga!), but as in adaptable when fate doesn’t seem to want to allow for a run or workout.  Sometimes “the schedule” gets put in total override; so view your workout as not “lost forever” but temporarily postponed and/or altered. Instead of running 5 miles in the morning, climb the stairs for 5 minutes every hour at work or knock out high-intensity intervals (like burpees, jumping jacks and air squats) while your kiddos are finishing up piano lessons.

5) Be Ready:  Because squeezing in workouts can sometimes be unpredictable, I always wear clothing that allows for a wide range of movement and is moisture-wicking. If your lifestyle doesn’t allow for wearing yoga pants or running shorts all day (haha), then keep a fully-stocked gym bag in the car at all times. Don’t forget your athletic shoes, swimsuit, sunglasses and yoga mat – you never know what opportunity will arise!

jen and lucy prana

I also wanted to share about prAna,  one of my all-time favorite brands that fits with my healthy, active, fun-loving lifestyle (and what you’ll find on my bod or in my bag to meet Tip No. 5). I feel so lucky that my “job” doesn’t require me to wear stuffy suits and high heels, another benefit of being your own boss! I’m on-the-go all day, from fitness class to famer’s market to coffee-shop client meeting and need clothes that are functional, but also fabulous and free-spirited. PrAna meets all my look-good-play-hard needs, plus all the pieces I own can be tossed right into the washer and dryer.

Kara Jean at prAna.com use discount code PSSS16TFF to save 15%For example, these Kara Jeans may just be the best pair of jeans I’ve ever owned – they fit true to size, are flattering, have a bit of stretch to accommodate the daily leaping, lounging, lifting and impromptu yoga poses in my life. Plus, they come in 11 different colors and patterns!

 

Kara Jean at prAna.com use discount code PSSS16TFF to save 15%

Another reason to love prAna is their mindfulness to where and how their beautiful clothes are made. Their creations are made with organic cotton, wools and hemp – and even recycled polyester and repurposed down feathers. They are stalwarts of sustainability, traceability, and fair trade practices and, since 2012, have partnered with bluesign® to ensure that the materials in the clothes I’m putting on my body meet the highest human safety and environmental standards.

Cali Sundress from prAna.com use discount code PSSS16TFF to save 15%I also added another prAna sundress to my spring wardrobe, I already have four or five of their dresses, they are just so very cute and versatile.  This one is the Cali Dress and it’s available in a variety of solid colors and prints (mine is Safari Guava) – I can’t wait to wear it and feel warm rays on my shoulders!

Whether you are a yogi, climber, runner, traveler, suburban mom or urban warrior, you’ll discover must-have clothing that helps turns any day, every day into the BEST DAY and gears you up to fit fitness in wherever you may be! Check out the new #prAnaSpringStyle for yourself! You can use my Discount Code PSSS16TFF to save 15% at prAna.com plus Free Shipping on orders $99 or more .

Five Ways to Balance Fitness and LifeSo, how are you balancing fitness and life? What is your biggest obstacle? Have you ever found a skinny jean that is perfect? What is your favorite yoga pose? Share any or all in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer

This post was sponsored by Fit Approach on behalf of prAna. All opinions and enthusiasm are my own.  

Best Ever Super Secret Chili Recipe + Beef Browning Tip

Best Ever Secret Beef Chili

I hope you have a big spoon at the ready, my recipe for Best-Ever Beef Chili is, well, THE BEST! With freezing temperatures and heated football bowl games going down, this big pot of spicy, rich and blissfully beefy chili is what to serve by the mug, bowl or trough.

Southwestern Steak Chile - TheFitFork.comI typically make chili by breaking down a roast into bite-sized chunks, my kitchen stampeded causing Southwestern Steak Chili is a family favorite. However, the kids love ground beef (and so does my food budget) and requested a chili made with their favorite food group — hamburger meat!

Won’t lie, I was a little worried that the ground beef would come out dry and the beefy taste might get downed out by bold chili spices. After reading an article in Cooks Illustrated on achieving “better browning through science,” I knew I had to try their technique of using a baking solution on meat to enable proteins to attract more water and hold onto it during cooking and also create a higher pH level to speed up the desirable Maillard reaction (basically, the harbinger of caramelization). My dad reported success using this method to keep steaks juicy and tender, and I hoped this easy hack would help improve the taste and texture of my chili’s ground beef.

So, how does this baking soda beef hack work? Typically, when ground beef is cooked on the stove top, so much water and liquid is expelled that the beef chunks just end up steaming in their own juices  — very little actually browning happens.  When cooked to the point of most water evaporating, the batch of beef will be unpleasantly overdone. However, by gently tossing a baking soda solution with the meat (about ¾ teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water for 2lbs of grind) and letting sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking , beef loses less liquid, browns faster and tastes better. Ground Beef browned traditionallyI tried it myself with 80/20 Chuck Ground Beef and I must say, I was impressed! The ground beef cooked “as-is” was almost immediately was sitting in a pool of liquids (as you can see from the picture) and when taste-tested seemed a little rubbery and bland.

Ground Beef browned with baking soda

However, the baking soda treated beef immediately started to brown in the pot. And, while there was still a fair deal of liquid released, it was noticely less so than the previous batch (Cook’s illustrated said about 10% less liquid, I felt like maybe even a little more).  More noticeable though, was the taste – the baking-soda treated batch had a richer, more complex caramelized flavor and was markedly juicier. In fact, the cooked beef was so yummy; I worried about taste-testing my way through the whole pile before I even started the rest of the chili!

So, my final recommendation on this “baking soda treatment” is definitely try it and see what you think! It does take little bit of pre-planning because you have to let the solution sit on the meat for 20 minutes, but you can have that going while you prep the other ingredients.

Best Ever Secret Beef ChiliSo, here is my  Best Ever Ground Beef Chili recipe, – every spoon is a mouthful of meaty goodness. It’s rich and spicy, without being too heavy or too “hot” for kids – I think you’ll really like it. But, feel free to use this baking soda technique with any beef chili recipe!

Mugs of Super Secret Ground Beef Chili -horiz

If you’re looking for other delicious chili recipes, check out this collection I curated for Mode! And, also head over to the Texas Beef Council for more inspiration.

 

Check out Life-Changing Beef Chili Recipes to Warm Winter

by The Fit Fork at Mode

Do tell, do you put beans in your chili? Do you like spicy or mild? What toppings do you put on top?  Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer

Super-Secret Ground Beef Chili Recipe
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
8 servings 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
2 hours 10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 servings 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
2 hours 10 minutes
Super-Secret Ground Beef Chili Recipe
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
8 servings 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
2 hours 10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 servings 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
2 hours 10 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: servings
Instructions
  1. Add ground beef to bowl and drizzle with solution of 2 tablespoons water and ¾ teaspoon baking soda. Gently break apart beef with hands to distribute, but do not over knead (causes toughness). Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large Dutch oven pot over medium high. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes until softened, stirring as needed. Mix in garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add treated ground beef to pot and cook, while stirring and breaking up into chunks. Brown beef for approximately 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink.
  4. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano and salt to beef mixture and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until spices begin to bloom and become fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. To pot of beef, add finely crushed tortilla chips, beef broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans with liquid, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then put lid on Dutch oven and transfer to a 275 F degree oven for approximately 1 to 2 hours, or until flavors have developed and sauce is thickened. .
  6. Remove from oven and let cool, uncovered for 10 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, to taste.
  7. Serve with rice or tortilla chips and other toppings of choice including cheese, avocado, red onion, cilantro, etc
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