I was recently asked by Tom Thumbs and Albertsons to create a unique recipe featuring products from their O Organics line since both grocery stores are available locally to me in Dallas. In return for my time and creative effort, I'm being compensated financially for this post. Thank you for allowing me to keep creating great content by supporting partnerships with brands I collaborate with on The Rising Spoon. As always, the opinions expressed here are 100% my own.
Before we dive face-first into a plate of this cheesy, vegetable-laden one-pot pasta awesomeness, I want to tell y'all about an amazing foodie experience I had last week. Grab a snack or tasty beverage to tide yourself over and keep reading. (If you're feeling hangry and need the recipe right meow before you pitch a fit then scroll on down.)
On the heels of my four-year blogiversary in August, I was blessed with an invitation to attend an exclusive out-of-state food & wellness event hosted by Tom Thumb & Albertsons in Chicago, Illinois.
I couldn't believe my luck. An opportunity to travel to a new city I'd never visited before to hang out with foodies all day while eating, talking, and learning about food? That's a dream come true for a food blogger!
But it gets better. (At least for a real foodie like me.) The focus of the event was bringing together bloggers to collaborate on simple and delicious ways to enjoy O Organics products.
Have you ever tried this brand? They have an awesome variety of products (from fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables, to dairy and meats like grass-fed ground beef, pantry staples like coconut oil and olive oil, snacks, and more) sprinkled across their stores next to name brands, but at a much lower, more affordable price point compared to organic competitors. ::happy dance::
I've seen the O Organics (and organic selection in general) grow in my local stores over the past few years and it makes me SO happy! That's proof that voting with your wallets for healthy, transparent food options works, guys.
And with this rising tide of consumers demanding high-quality real food, this is now the top-selling brand in all of the Albertsons family of grocery stores (they are one of the largest in the nation). Thankfully, O Organics has more than 300 products currently available and this year they're adding more than 100 new items to the line.
Yes, please! My wallet thanks you. Especially when I'm visiting my grandma in Northern Texas or my sister in Colorado and I want to shop for groceries (we cook a lot) without sacrificing quality or spending a fortune.
Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend an event focused on affordable organic food + wellness.
Organic For All™ Event
I and 32 other crazy talented food bloggers flew into Chicago this past Tuesday for a welcome dinner, a good night's rest, and then a day packed with food-related activities.
After a fun ride from the airport to the downtown Magnificent Mile area (I took the "el" and then subway since it was my first time in Chicago), I checked into my hotel and received a sweet welcome bag with a few O Organic snacks + bottled water.
To be honest, I was pretty nervous for the welcome dinner because I didn't know a single person and the list of attendees included bloggers I've admired since 2012-13 when my blog was still in its infancy.
Like, Irvin of Eat the Love, whose post on how to start a food blog provided me with honest, practical advice in those early blogging days when I felt energized, yet completely overwhelmed and confused.
And Kelly of Eat Yourself Skinny, whose lovely photography and bright, beautifully designed blog was total eye candy to a girl who was still snapping dark, grainy photos of her kitchen creations at night on her cell phone. She definitely inspired me back in the day to keep improving my pictures and design skills!
Or all the other food bloggers with 500,000+ Pinterest followers or nearly 1 million Facebook followers...yeah, I felt a little intimidated.
Fortunately, everyone was kind and incredibly laid back. In fact, the first person I conversed with (on the way to dinner in the tiniest of elevators) was the nutritionist leading the O Organics event--Annessa Chumbley. She was warm, bubbly, and a great listener, which erased all my nervous feelings and gave me more confidence to reach out to the other bloggers.
After a yummy dinner and relaxing night, we all piled into a shuttle the next day and drove through Chicago to the Kendall College of Culinary Arts.
And that's when the fun really began!
When we stepped into the first area, it was all set up with a breakfast buffet featuring O Organic products like fresh coffee, fruit & herb infused water, kombucha (fermented tea), and an overnight oats bar with plenty of toppings.
Of course, being food bloggers, we all started snapping photos immediately and more so once we'd grabbed our coffee & oats. It was the funniest/best feeling being surrounded by a bunch of foodies with an online presence.
Suddenly I wasn't the only weirdo arranging my meal in just the right way to get the best lighting & composition for an Instagram post - everyone in the room was doing it! These are my people, I tell ya. ;)
After breakfast and a quick introduction from the Albertsons Team, we moved into another area of the college with a beautiful open kitchen space (it was basically out of a Food Network show) and plenty of chairs for us to sit and watch as the nutritionist, Annessa, walked us through three of her most popular recipes using O Organics ingredients: peanut butter pancakes (with oat flour), muffin tin meatloaves (with grass-fed ground beef), and skillet penne pasta.
I loved that all of her recipes use wholesome, full-fat products with no iffy ingredients and that she doesn't follow any specific dietary dogma. She just focuses on sharing & eating good foods that nourish body and mind.
As she put it so eloquently: "to me, the essence of organic is freedom. It's more about what the ingredient is 'free from' so what you are left with is pure and simple--the way nature planned it."
She also shared some inspiring stories with us about extremely overweight clients she's helped over the years with basic changes to their diet (like removing soda to drop weight or adding oats to lower cholesterol) + food/health hacks like using jarred salsa in place of chopped onion and peppers in recipes to save time without sacrificing flavor and eating 2 cups of spinach in the afternoon to boost your energy.
Her cooking demo was a great reminder that what we eat so easily impacts our health--for better or worse--and that by making good quality food + self-care a priority + sharing our knowledge with others (or just our cooked food) we're doing our part to make the world a better place, even if we're seemingly only impacting a handful of people.
From here we moved on to the Rick Bayless kitchen, which was huge! We were given an introduction + safety tips from the gentleman in the big white hat (yes, he even made a Ratatouille joke) and then set free to create our own unique recipe in about 45 minutes.
There were tons of O Organics ingredients + fresh produce piled onto 4-5 huge prep tables near the center of the kitchen and we each got to pick a station with a cutting board & knife set out for us.
Honestly, it felt like I was participating in a Food Network cooking competition sans the loud, sweat-inducing timer and iron chef-esque Alton Brown play-by-play narration. Is this what culinary school is like? I can only imagine...
I knew I didn't want to mess with cooking something elaborate in a big, strange kitchen, so I took a look through all the produce and quickly decided on a fresh strawberry salsa. I've only ever made mango salsa and peach salsa, so I figured this would be easy enough! :)
Several of the bloggers paired up to form 2-3 people teams to work on a single, more elaborate recipe (I must have missed that memo), but I was perfectly happy letting my strawberries macerate in lime juice and chopping away at the rest of my produce next to Jenny of Honey & Birch (pictured above), who worked on a fancy-looking yet easy pumpkin pasta.
(The event photographer happened to like the color and plating of my strawberry salsa with organic spring mix and blue corn tortilla chips, so she had me pose for a photo. Also, several of the photographs I'm using throughout this post were taken by her on behalf of Albertsons Companies. Thanks for them!)
I was so inspired by all of the different creations and my stomach was grumbling from all the yummy smells. I managed to capture 11 of the recipes (pictured below), but I know I missed a few.
My two favorites (probably because I actually tasted them) were Irvin's apple berry cobbler and Allie's (of Baking a Moment) mixed berry muffins. I think she made this with two other bloggers, but I'm not sure who. I just know she walked in late with them (since they took longer to bake).
After taking a bazillion pictures of the food, we lined up for an O Organics buffet in the adjacent room, which was mostly vegetarian food (with a few meat options) and it was super tasty.
I ate a big plateful + two desserts and still felt energized after the meal. Awesome recipes + good quality ingredients + talented chefs at a culinary school to fix the food = one happy belly!
After the meal and some mingling, we moved back downstairs again, this time for a chance to pick up some O Organics products to take home with us (I stocked up on dark roast coffee & marinara sauce).
Some of the more experienced food bloggers hustled their bustles downstairs so they had first dibs on all the coconut oil, olive oil, and chicken broth. Ahem. Maybe next time...
Notes & Tips
- If you want to make this recipe gluten-free, you should be able to use your favorite gluten-free dried noodles (as long as they're rotini or penne shaped); however, I haven't tested it out yet. If you try this, please leave a comment and let me know how it went.
- I like to use coconut milk in a lot of recipes since I can keep several cans in my pantry for spur of the moment dishes (unlike regular dairy which tends to spoil in my fridge before I manage to use it all); however, if you have heavy cream, half & half, or whole milk on hand you can totally use that instead.
- Sweet bell peppers, leafy greens, and tomatoes are all on the Dirty Dozen list (meaning the conventional versions have high traces of pesticide residues on them) so I recommend buying them organic when you can afford it!
I'd like to hear from YOU!
What are your favorite ingredients to use in one-pot recipes?
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P.S. Keep Reading! More Recipes From The Rising Spoon: