Monday Munchies – Garden Quinoa Salad

Another new favorite from The Simple Veganista, this quick and easy quinoa salad is filling and refreshing–perfect as a dinner side dish or a light lunch!  I didn’t have any edemame (soy beans) when I made mine, but since they are packed full of protein I definitely recommend adding them if you can.

If you’re not familiar with quinoa, it’s an amazing whole grain that doesn’t take long to prepare (I find it faster than rice) and gives you complete proteins–the only whole grain to do that by the way.  Just be sure to rinse yours first if you don’t purchase the pre-rinsed kind.  The outer layer can be bitter tasting, which can ruin the whole dish.

The zesty dressing can be made and used on regular salads as well.  I made a second batch for my spinach lunch salads all week. Yum!

Garden Quinoa Salad w/Zesty Garlic Dressing
 
Salad
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup edemame (optional)
  • 1 cup english cucumber, chopped
  • 1 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2  cup grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Dressing
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of two medium lemons
  • 3 rounded tablespoons stoneground or dijon mustard (I used stoneground)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • himalayan salt, to taste
  • cracked pepper, to taste

In a medium size pot, add quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Once done, remove cover and let stand 5-15 minutes, until all water is absorbed, then fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking, combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, taste for seasoning and let set.

Chop and dice your remaining vegetables, except the edemame. Place chopped vegetables and edemame in a large bowl, add the dressing tossing gently to coat.

Once ready, add quinoa to the vegetables and toss together. Serve with a little more sea salt & cracked pepper and squeeze of lemon on top.

Monday Munchies – Whole Wheat Pancakes That Actually Taste Good

I love pancakes.  Fluffy and warm and dripping with deliciously sweet syrup.  Even better if they have fresh fruit on top, or chocolate chips on the inside.  Pumpkin pancakes, banana pecan pancakes, blueberry pancakes, peanut butter and jelly pancakes–the options are endless but they are all fantastic!

And this healthy twist on pancakes is just as versatile for you to add any of your favorite mix-ins or toppings.  A lot of other whole wheat pancakes I’ve tried have always turned out too dense and heavy and thick.  This one (I’m quite happy to report) is light and fluffy, and although they are a little flatter than big buttermilk pancakes, I’m pretty sure you’ll still love them.  Health bonus: not only does this recipe use whole wheat flour, but there’s no oil or butter!

Want to make it even healthier?  Substitute the egg for a mixture of 1 Tbsp ground flax meal with 3 Tbsps water.  Flax meal gives you more protein and fiber for a nutrition boost, and it’s lower in fat and calories than a whole egg.  While you’re at it, go ahead and use unsweetened almond or soy milk milk (usually only 30-60 calories a cup depending on the brand you use).

Tasty Whole Wheat Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup white all-purpose flour)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (this will make them nice and fluffy)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • pinch or two of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons oil or non stick spray, optional (to grease the pan, but I found I didn’t need to use it)

Directions

  1. If using griddle preheat to manufactures instructions.
  2. Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into a bowl or wide-mouthed pitcher. Add egg, milk and vanilla, mixing until combined.
  3. If using skillet, heat on medium heat and add oil if using oil. Place batter on griddle/skillet, cook until bubbles form on edges or top and flip. About 3 minutes per side, more or less.
  4. Serve with syrup, fresh fruit or any dessert sauce of choice.

If you choose to use the flax+water egg substitute, it is always best to prepare that first so it has time to set, usually about 10 min . Make your flax egg by combining flax meal & water in a small bowl and set aside.

You can add your mix-ins (like blueberries or chocolate chips) right before adding the batter to the pan.

*A Note on Maple Syrup*

Like syrup on your pancakes like I do? Be sure to spring for the good stuff–100% pure maple syrup–not the fake sugary table or breakfast syrups that contain a crazy amount of processed preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup.

All natural maple syrup actually has some surprising health benefits, like containing compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation.  It also contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals (like zinc and manganese).

Of course, maple syrup is still a sugar, so use in moderation, but savor every drop!

Sweet Surprise – Eat Boutique

A few weeks ago I entered a giveaway on The Vanilla Bean Blog for an Eat Boutique gift package.  To my surprise, I won! It was the cutest little assortment of treats and would definitely make an amazing holiday gift for any food lovers in your life.

Eat Boutique is an online shop that crafts seasonal, regional, and tasting boxes… by discovering the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. You can choose from themed boxes, subscribe to seasonal boxes, or browse individual gourmet items they have available.  As a small creative business owner myself, I love the idea of supporting locally handcrafted foods.

My box included the following delicious treats:

  • Coffee Break bar from Liddabit Sweets, Brooklyn, New York
  • Mexican Chocolate Almonds from Q’s Nuts, Somerville, Massachusetts
  • Tangerine Hard Candy from Brooklyn Hard Candy, Brooklyn, New York
  • Scourtins from Lark Find Foods, Essex, Massachusetts
  • A handwritten note from Maggie at Eat Boutique (thank you Maggie!)

DSCN2670

First, I would like to show you a picture of the coffee break bar, but unfortunately I only have the box left.  The temptation was too much to overcome and I simply couldn’t wait to take a photo before I ate it.  It’s a sinfully delicious candy bar with chewy caramel, a fudgy chocolate center with a bit of crunchies in one layer, and all covered in Crop to Cup coffee ganache.  Decadent!  I want to buy another straight from Liddabit Sweets, or try some of their other great candy bar combinations.

DSCN2671

The Mexican Chocolate Almonds were equally fantastic.  The chocolate coating was unlike any other ‘cocoa dusted’ almonds I’ve tried.  There was definitely something very distinct about it, with a little crunch in the chocolate coating shell.  Again, I ate them all in one night they were so good!  At least almonds are heart healthy, right?

DSCN2673

The Scourtins were definitely a surprise.  Described on the box as “Traditional French-Style Sweet and Savory Olive Wafers,” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Once I tried one, my taste buds were utterly confused, but in a way that screamed of sophistication and fine food.  It was buttery like a cookie, crunchy like a wafer, and savory from the cured olives that are sprinkled throughout the treat.  Once I had a few, I was hooked.  I’ve been munching on them for the past few days with coffee and tea.  I’m intrigued at what else Lark Find Foods has to offer, so I’ll definitely be checking them out more.

DSCN2675

The last sugary sweet is a piece of hard candy in tangerine.  This one I’ve been saving so I can’t report on it right now, but I expect it’ll be just as tasty as the rest.  I think it’ll be really good stirred in a glass of hot chocolate.  If you’ve not tried the combination of chocolate and orange flavor, I highly recommend it.  The citrus is refreshing with the creaminess of the chocolate, mmmm.

DSCN2672

If you’re still looking for a great gift idea, check out Eat Boutique! I bet you’ll find something to suite your taste.

Bon Appetite!

Monday Munchies – Super Easy Homemade Applesauce

Chilly rainy days are the perfect time to cook in the warmth of the kitchen.  One of my favorite cold-weather treats is warm homemade applesauce.  Just thinking about the sweet apples and aroma of cinnamon filling the house makes me hungry!
Homemade applesauce is much easier than I used to think it was.   It really only takes about 30 minutes (including all the apple peeling, coring, chopping), and is totally worth the time and effort.  Have a bag of apples in the fridge?  Get to cooking and enjoy some truly homemade warming goodness!

Super Easy Homemade Applesauce

Ingredients

  • 8-10 Gala apples (or other suitable cooking apples), cored, peeled, and quartered
  • 1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • juice of one lemon (or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice)
  • dash of salt
  • Optional: 1/4 cup brown sugar
homemade applesauce

My Homemade Applesauce

Directions

1. Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the apples are soft.

2. Take off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick (if you used one). For chunky applesauce, use a potato masher.  For smooth applesauce, let cool and pulse in a food processor until it reaches the desired consistency.

3. Serve warm or chilled.

NOTES:

  • The finished applesauce freezes well.  Keep in a covered plastic container or zip-top freezer bag for several months.
  • To cook in a crock pot, place all ingredients in the crock pot, cover, and cook on low 8-10 hour or on high 3-4 hours.
  • Don’t throw away all those apple peels!  The peel is the most nutritious part of the fruit.  Try laying them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar (or leave plain), and bake in a 200F oven for 30-60 minutes or until they are crisp (totally depends on how many peels you have and how thick or thin they are).
  • If you are really adventurous, take the peels AND the cores and try this apple jelly recipe.

Monday Munchies – Blueberry Almond Bars

Time for dessert!  Blueberry season may be over, but with delicious blueberry jam you can have these tasty treats all winter long.  They may not be a traditional holiday dessert, but if you’re looking to make something other than piles and piles of cookies this year, give these a try!

Blueberry Almond Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 12oz pkg (2 cups) white baking pieces
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup blueberry jam
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325F. In a small saucepan melt butter over low heat.  Remove from heat.  Add 1 cup of the baking pieces (do not stir); set aside. Grease a 9x9x2-inch baking pan.  Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl combine eggs and sugar.  Add butter mixture to egg mixture; stir until just combined.  Stir in almond extract.

3. Stir together flour and salt.  Add to egg mixture; stir until just combined.  Spread half the batter in prepared pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Remove from oven.

4. Meanwhile, melt jam over low heat.  Spread jam evenly over warm crust.  Stir remaining 1 cup baking pieces into remaining batter.  Drop batter in small mounds onto filling.  Sprinkle with almonds.

5. Bake about 35 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Makes about 16 bars.

 

Enjoy!

 

Monday Munchies – 14 Fantastic Oatmeal Add-Ins

Nothing warms you from the inside out quite like a warm bowl of oats.  It’s definitely my preferred breakfast when the weather gets cold and nasty as is has been the past few days.  I even like half portions as snacks in the afternoon or as a warming snack before bed, it’s just that good.

Whether you make your oatmeal from scratch with old-fashioned rolled oats or whip it up super fast with instant oatmeal packets, there are plenty of great mix-ins you can add to give your breakfast a tasty (and sometimes nutritional) boost.

***A quick word on instant oatmeal:  avoid it if you can.  Sure it’s super fast and portable, but it’s usually packed with sugar and the oats are so broken down they don’t have a lot of nutrition left in them.  Certainly not enough for them to really “stick to your ribs.”  Many of the delicious variations below can be prepped ahead of time and taken with you to the office or where ever it is you usually take your instant oatmeal, and it only takes a minute or two to heat up. ***

Ways to Boost Your Bowl of Oats

For all of these I start with 1/2 cup of old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats, which are both unsweetened, but if you are starting with instant oatmeal omit any added sugars or sweeteners.

 1. Cranberry Almond : 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, 1 tablespoon chopped almonds (raw or dry roasted), 1 tablespoon brown sugar, a drizzle of honey

2. Peaches and Cream: 2 tablespoons peach jam, 1/3 cup vanilla soy milk instead of water, a dash of nutmeg and allspice

3. Apple Cinnamon: 1 whole cubed apple (with or without skin, it’s your preference), 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 tablespoon brown sugar

     ~This one does take longer to cook due to the whole apple.  Smaller apple chunks will let it cook faster, and apples without skin will be softer instead of having a crisp crunch to them.

4. Peanut Butter and Jelly: 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter, 1 tablespoon strawberry jam

5. Banana Nut Bread: 1/2 large banana cubed, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

6. Cinnamon Raisin: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 tablespoons raisins

7. Savory Breakfast: 1 slice of crumbled bacon, 1 slice of cheese (preferably sharp cheddar) or 1/4 cup shredded cheese, chopped herbs such as chives or thyme

8. Chocolate Decadence (more for a snack than for breakfast): 1 tablespoon chocolate chips

9. Tropical Paradise: 1 tablespoon each diced dried apricots, dried pineapple, dried mango, and shredded coconut

10. Just like Fruit Crisp: 1 cup fresh fruit (apple, pear, peach, or any berry combination), 1/4 cup granola added after cooking –> try the Best Granola Ever

11. Pumpkin Pie: 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 teaspoon allspice

12. Coffee Cake: Add 1/4 teaspoon instant coffee to 1/3 cup milk before mixing it in your oatmeal.  Add granola or a crumble topping of 1 tablespoon cold butter, 3 tablespoons white flour, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar after cooking

13. Berries Galore:  1/4 cup fresh blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, 2 tablespoons honey

14. Caramel Apple: 1 whole cubed apple, 2 tablespoons caramel topping

Adjust any of the measurements to your taste, as these are just guidelines to get you started.  Experiment with what you have in the cupboards, and never get bored with plain old oatmeal again!

BONUS

Want to take your oatmeal experience even farther?  Try this amazing steel-cut oats recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Alton Brown.  Be sure to toast the oats and don’t skip the buttermilk, it makes all the difference in the world.  It’s a recipe I make on lazy Sunday mornings when I have the time, and it stores and reheats beautifully!

Monday Munchies – Creamy Butternut Squash and Apple Breakfast

My grandmother, bless her heart, it always growing such wonderful veggies in her garden.  My newest acquisition from her is a couple of hefty butternut squash.  Never had butternut squash?  I highly recommend it.   Full of all sorts of nutrients and surprisingly sweet (as far as vegetables go), it’s super versatile and much lower in calories than the equally orange and delicious sweet potato.  Since October and November is the peak season for butternut squash, I thought it was time to share one of my favorites!
This recipe is an adaptation from a cookbook my mom and I cooked out of all summer a few years back.  It’s warm and comforting, and really fills you up in the morning.  My adaptations aren’t nearly as low-calorie as the original, but I usually work with what I have on hand.

Word of warning though if you never worked with butternut squash, it’s super difficult to cut, but well worth the effort.  Just a heads up!

Creamy Butternut Squash and Apple Breakfast 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup chopped apples
  • 1 oz light vanilla soymilk (or lowfat milk with a drop of vanilla)
  • 1/2 tablespoon molasses (or a whole tablespoon of maple syrup or other natural sweetener such as honey)
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Spray a small pot with nonstick spray and bring to medium-low heat.
  2. Add squash and cook for 12-14 minutes, until squash is tender.
  3. With a potato masher, mash squash in the pot.  Add salt, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and apple pieces.  Mix well.
  4. Turn heat to high and add 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil.  After 30 seconds of boiling, reduce heat to low.
  5. Let mixture simmer for about 3 minutes, until squash is tender and most of the water has evaporated, but apple still has some crunch to it.
  6. Add molasses, brown sugar, white sugar, and soy milk.  Mix thoroughly.
  7. Continue to cook and stir until mixture reaches desired consistency.

Monday Munchies – Baked Italian Pork Chops with Vidalia Onions

This recipe is another staple in my winter menu.  With only 4 ingredients, it’s easy to put together and usually doesn’t require a shopping trip.  It’s actually a Weight Watchers recipe, discovered when I was on the program a few years ago (and yes, it really does work!).   The optional items are additions/suggestions from me, and are not part of the original recipe.  If you can’t find true Vidalia Onions, try using another variety of sweet onions. They aren’t quite as good but definitely work, and the pork is the star of the show anyway.

 

And in case you want some interesting dinner conversation when you serve these….

Fun Facts about Vidalia Onions:

Southeast Georgia is the only place in the world where Vidalia onions can be grown. Onions from anywhere else in the world may look similar, but they can’t bear the famous label unless they come from one of the 20 Georgia counties that grow this popular vegetable.

While it is a fact that the harvesting of Vidalia onions is only Mid-April through June, this variety is availabe until December due to atmosphere controlled storage.

Vidalia onions are the sweetest onions in the world, due to the soil they are grown in.  The unusually low sulfur content makes them sweet (so the higher the sulfur content of the soil, the hotter the onion is)

vidalia onions

Vidalia onions are rather large and squat, making their slices big enough for just one to cover a pork chop in this recipe

Enjoy!

Baked Pork Chops with Vidalia Onions

6 center-cut pork chops, 4 oz each

6 slices Vidalia Onion, 1/4″ thick each

1 (10.5 oz) can condensed tomato soup

1/3 cup fat-free milk

Optional: Sliced baby portabella mushrooms

Also optional: Italian seasoning (or individual additions of basil, oregano, garlic power, rosemary, etc)

 

1. Preheat over to 375F. Lightly spray a large baking dish with nonstick spray.

2. Place pork chops in dish; top each with an onion slice (and mushrooms if you want)

3. In a medium bowl, combine tomato soup and milk (and any seasonings you’re using); pour over pork chops.  Bake uncovered until pork chops are cooked through and tender, about 1 hour.

When A Cake Is More Than Just A Cake

My grandmother’s birthday was last Thursday–the big 70!  Naturally, the whole family wanted to get together Saturday evening at my aunt’s house to celebrate.  It was, as always, utter and complete chaos.  Visits with my family are not for the faint of heart, or those sensitive to lots of loud noise, close quarters, and screaming children under your feet all the time.  Oh, and don’t think all the loud noise is just from the kids, the adults (i.e. my uncles) make just as much racket.  One thing is for sure though, there never fails to be a table of good food and enough laughter to make your eyes water and your cheeks hurt.

Now that you know the evening was a wonderful success, everyone had fun, and my grandmother loved it, let’s go back to the night before–an entirely different story.  Mom was in charge of making and decorating the birthday cake.  If you’ve never decorated a large sheet cake before, it is a very involved process.  Bake the cake, cool the cake (for many hours, usually overnight), frost evenly in all white, mix the appropriate frosting colors for decorating, then finally decorate the cake.

Friday night about 8:45pm the cake is done baking, with the plan to let it cool overnight–plenty of time to decorate on Saturday for the party in the evening.  But alas!  The cake is too thin!  She only used 2 boxes of cake mix and the poor cake was only about 1 inch high.  Deciding she can’t serve people a 1 inch high cake, she cuts it up and puts it in storage containers to eat later.  But now she’s out of cake mix, out of oil, and only has a few eggs left.

It’s now 9pm, dark and rainy, and me and my brother are hauling it to Wal-Mart for 3 more boxes of cake mix, a bottle of oil, and a dozen eggs.  Not a problem, it’ll just be a late night since now there’s a whole other cake to bake.  She whips up the batter in no time and sticks it in the oven.

 

Cake #2 (my personal favorite)

 

11:30pm–I’m in bed (I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning), and the cake has only a few minutes to go.  As I nod off under the warmest snowflake blanket I wished I owned, I hear a loud crash followed by many expletives.  A LOT of expletives.  Actually, just one, but repeated many many times.  I run to the kitchen and find Mom had dropped Cake #2 on the floor.  Half of it stuck to the pan, the other half popped out on floor and it was all I could do to keep the dog from leaping into it.

Poor Mom, half laughing, half crying, swearing and slamming doors all over the house, has no idea what to do now.  You may think this is an over-reaction to cake, that really it’s a cake, what’s the big deal?  Awful, yes, but not the end of the world.  I thought the same thing at the time, trying to keep cool and calm her down.  But then I realized something–to her, this is more than just a cake.  It’s her responsibility, it’s something wonderfully thoughtful and homemade for her own Mom, it’s important because 70 is a big birthday and she wants to make it special.  To her, this cake has strong ties to family, and integrity, and dedication.

The Lesson Here

My family would do anything for each other.  We don’t take short-cuts if we can help it, and we go the extra mile.  This is something I love about my family, and it’s a trait they’ve instilled in me.  These are lessons I apply to all areas of my life, and would do well to remember even in the hard times.  Lessons like:

  • Never give up
  • Always put your best into everything you do
  • If you want it bad enough, keep trying
  • Even when you fall, keep getting up and moving forward
  • Do the best you can with what you have
  • Family is always there to support you

These lessons went into Cake #3 Mom inevitably made on Saturday morning (after going out to buy 3 more boxes of cake mix and another dozen eggs), and they are lessons I remember to put into my business, my crafting, and my life.

So the next time something goes horribly wrong, you can go ahead and laugh and cry and scream if you want to (expletives and door slamming completely optional), just remember the next morning to get back up and try again.

70th birthday cake

The final cake!