May 8, 2012

Ants on a Log, Caterpillars in the Sand

I’m having one of those days. Can I just feed the kids some twigs? Really, I’m not channeling Kim Jong-il, but what I’d really like to do is send S to school with a bag of trail mix and be done with thinking about and packing lunch. I’m feeling uninspired and tired. I’ve also realized that I’m not going to make it to my goal of making 108 different lunches this school year. Bummer.

After pulling together scraps from my rather bare pantry and fridge, I’m making a version of twigs: Ants on a Log and Caterpillars in the Sand. For the Ants on a Log, I filled two celery sticks (and, yes, it’s worth buying organic when it comes to celery) with sunflower seed butter and topped them with raisins. It’s pretty much your traditional version of Ants on a Log. For the Caterpillars in the Sand, I spread cream cheese in two other celery sticks and topped them with cashews. Nuts must be one of earth’s most perfect food. That and avocados. But I’m digressing. To go with her meager lunch, I packed a  bowl of sliced apples and strawberries, plus some sweet potato chips and Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls (made from lentils and potatoes).

 

May 3, 2012

Tacos with Black Bean, Corn and Avocado Salsa

Tacos! They make for a quick dinner and they’re perfect for lunch the next day. The kids thought I was a rockstar for serving crunchy tacos. Meanwhile, I was ecstatic because it was the world’s easiest meal. I haven’t made hard tacos before, because I try to stay away from corn taco shells or tortillas if they’re not organic. You know, that whole issue with all corn being genetically modified? Okay, I won’t hop on my soapbox. But the good news is that at Trader Joe’s I found taco shells made from organic stoneground yellow corn. The store also carries a taco seasoning mix free of monosodium glutamate and partially hydrogenated oils.

Shake the seasoning mix on a pound of ground turkey, beef, bison or chicken, along with some chopped onions and tomatoes, and simmer for about 10minutes and you’re done! The shells need to be crisped in the toaster oven for just  a few minutes. Scoop some ground meat into each shell and top with grated cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc. The kids loved creating their own.

As a side, I made a black bean, corn and avocado salsa. Since I only had 1 can of black beans, I added 1 can of pinto beans, too. Then, I added a bag of thawed frozen corn, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 4 chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup chopped red onion. I tossed the salsa in a dressing made from lime juice, olive oil and cumin. Lastly, I folded in some diced avocado (from 2 small avocados).

When I packed it for S’s lunch the next day, I separated all the ingredients so the tacos wouldn’t get soggy. S said it was fun to build her own taco at school.

Now, it’s time to go make myself a margarita!

** For a vegetarian option, you could fill the taco shells with the black bean, corn and avocado salsa.

April 26, 2012

Grain-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day at my daughter’s school today, and ever since I found out her teacher is vegan I’ve wanted to whip up some tasty sweets for the fearless leader of her classroom. Now, I had the perfect excuse. In addition to the Grain- and Dairy-Free Breakfast Bars I wrote about in October, I decided to make these Grain-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. A cookie that’s sweet and savory—is there a better combination? Plus, I like that you get a nice punch of protein from the peanut butter, making it almost good for you. With the grain-free recipe, you lose the flour and pack in even more protein from almond and peanut flour.

I first made these cookies last week when I found the recipe on Elana’s Pantry. If you’re on a gluten- or grain-free diet, you should bookmark the site. Elana has come up with some amazing gluten-free recipes for baked goods. Almost always, they’re tasty and straightforward. Last time, I made the cookies with butter (even though Elana’s recipe is vegan and called for vegan palm oil shortening)and added the chocolate chips. The kids loved, loved it! And so did I. This time, I substituted coconut oil to make it vegan for S’s teacher. They’re just as scrumptious, and the kids couldn’t tell the difference. With just 1/4 cup honey, 2 TB of butter or coconut oil and gluten-free, I’ve decided they’re healthy enough to serve as a mid-day and after-school snack. After the kids descended on these cookies, I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough left for S’s teacher. Try them, try them and you will see!

** If your child has a peanut allergy, consider making these with almond butter or sunflower seed butter.

 

Grain-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from ElanasPantry.com’s Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies)

Makes 12 – 16 cookies.

Ingredients

1 cup blanched almond flour (or 1/2 cup peanut flour and 1/2 cup almond flour)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup roasted peanut butter

1/4 cup honey or agave nectar

2 TB coconut oil or butter or palm oil shortening

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients: almond/peanut flour, salt and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, mix together wet ingredients (peanut butter, honey, coconut oil and vanilla extract) with a hand blender.

Blend dry ingredient into wet until well combined.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Scoop dough 1 TB at a time onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 6 – 12 minutes until golden brown around the edges.

 

 

April 24, 2012

Simple, Decadent Dessert for Breakfast—Without the Guilt

I’ve found a new love. And unlike most of my food loves, I don’t have to feel bad about it. To celebrate, I’ve been indulging myself every day for the past week. And, nope, I’m not tired of it. Not even close. It’s incredibly easy to make, the kids love it, and you can have it for breakfast, an after-school snack or dessert. Did I mention it’s good for you? When I first made it for S for breakfast, she said, “You’re going to let me eat this for breakfast?”

First, you start with 0% Greek yogurt. Regardless of the fat content, it’s creamy, dreamy goodness. Your gut will applaud you for bringing in all that good “probiotic” bacteria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, if you want to go with the full-fat version, try this (Fage’s whole-milk version is tasty, too, but I didn’t have it in my fridge).

Then, add a handful of frozen berries. If you haven’t heard, berries are chock full of super-healthy antioxidants that fight disease. I like the frozen variety for this “dessert,” because it really helps give it an ice cream-like consistency. However, fresh berries would work just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, spice and sweeten things up with cinnamon, vanilla extract and a tiny scoop of Stevia. Or, you could use a teaspoon of honey. The Stevia keeps the sugar content—and the guilt—really low. Take your metal spoon and start stirring and pounding it all together. If you have some early-morning stress, this is a good time to get it out. Smoosh and smash and mix it all up, the same way they do at Cold Stone Creamery when they add your mix-ins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After your first bite, all those cravings for Pinkberry and Red Mango will be banished for good. Now, close the door, sit down and have a moment to yourself. It’s better than Calgon. I promise.

April 23, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup

I’ve always loved a piping-hot bowl of Italian Wedding Soup, but I had never found the right recipe. Until now. I scoured the Web and combined a little bit of this one with a little bit of that one, added a few more vegetables and voila—it was perfection. Everyone had seconds and asked me to make it again.

I started by sauteeing a container of mirepoix from Trader Joe’s, which is basically chopped carrots, onions and celery, in olive oil. Pre-chopped vegetables for a good stock is just what I needed on a rushed day. Then, I added 8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, plus 1 can of cannellini beans and a the heel of a wedge of Parmesan cheese. I let it simmer for a about 15 minutes and then I added the meatballs.

For the meatballs, I combined:

1 lb. of lean ground beef

1/2 lb. ground mild Italian sausage

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

2  tsp minced garlic

1 egg

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup bread crumbs (leave out if you’re GF)

I shaped them into mini meatballs and dropped them into the simmering broth until they were cooked through. Lastly, I turned off the heat and stirred in a bag of baby spinach. You could substitute endive or Swiss chard, but you’d have to increase your cooking time. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.

April 12, 2012

Would You Let Your Child Pack Her Own Lunch?

Last night, I got too involved with Katniss and Peeta. It was past midnight and I was still trying to figure out if there was any way they would both make it out of the Quarter Quell alive. Yep, I’m talking about the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy. As a result, I didn’t get out of bed until 6 this morning. When I stumbled down the stairs, I found S packing her own lunch. A first, for sure.

Here’s what I found:

A gluten-free bagel with Trader Joe’s Cocoa Almond Spread (It’s basically Nutella, but made with almonds instead of hazelnuts.) and bananas. That’s almost healthy, right? Gluten-free and with fruit? LOL. To her credit, she also packed a pear, a granola bar and water. It’s certainly not the lunch I would have made for her, but she saved me the trouble of packing a lunch. For that, she got a big hug and the right to eat what she made. Had I known I didn’t have to make lunch, I would’ve kept sleeping.

Here’s the funny part: when I picked her up from school this afternoon, she told me the chocolate spread and bagel “tasted rotten.” After one bite, she decided to eat only the bananas. I was so floored I almost drove off the road. Now that Nutella sandwiches are off her radar, I clearly need to come up with some sort of arrangement with her so I can sleep in while she makes her own lunch. At least until I’m done with the Hunger Games trilogy.

Would you let your child eat whatever he/she packed for lunch?

April 10, 2012

Beet and Fennel Soup with Kefir

After a weeklong trip to New York City, I come home to find my pantry completely barren and my refrigerator empty except for a bin full of beets and fennel. They’re the same beets and fennel I was avoiding before I left for spring break. But now they’re staring at me and saying, “Cook us already. Make something different. Cook us together if you have to, and kill two vegetables with one pot.”

I quickly Google “beet and fennel” and this beautiful soup from Epicurious pops up. I’m sold. Plus, I know I need to detox after a week of chicken and duck pate, delectable macarons in every flavor imaginable, homemade Nutter Butters from the famous Bouchon Bakery and potstickers from a hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown. Not to mention: too many glasses of wine.

I start chopping an onion, and dicing the beets and fennel bulb into 1/2-inch cubes. Since I’m almost drowning in root vegetables, I decide to double the recipe and make 8 cups of soup. First, I sauté the onions, fennel and fennel seeds in olive oil. After 5 to 8 minutes, I add the beets and low-sodium chicken broth. It all simmers for 20 minutes in a covered pot. Now that the beets are tender, I drop in my immersion blender and let it do its magic. Ahhh, puree perfection. Lastly, I whisk in some unflavored kefir and season the pink soup with a little salt and pepper. Not only is the soup the prettiest I’ve ever made, it’s also delicious. It has just the right amount of tang, thanks to the kefir, and it ends with a nice licorice note because of the fennel. I have two bowls for lunch and C licks his bowl clean, telling me he also wants it for dinner. How could I not oblige? But truth be told: S turned her nose up at it after a few spoonfuls.

Even after doubling the recipe, I still have two fennel bulbs and eight beets in my fridge. I see more pink soup in my future.

CLICK HERE for the recipe.

April 5, 2012

Sweet Sandwich Ideas

I know it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted, so I wanted to start back up with something fun. I’m in New York City this week and came across some sweet sandwich ideas at the much ballyhooed Dylan’s Candy Bar. Check out this menu and let me know if you’d try any of these at home.

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March 20, 2012

Turkey and Bean Chili

Brrrrr! It’s cold—okay, at least for San Diego it is. That means soups, stews and the crockpot. And plenty of leftovers. I was craving chili yesterday, but a slightly lighter version of one, so I decided on ground turkey. I had stray vegetables from my CSA, such as a couple zucchinis and some collard greens, so I decided to toss them in my chili.The recipe comes to me from my neighbor and friend, S. This recipe is very easy and quick, perfect for those evenings you really don’t feel like cooking. You can pretty much throw in whatever you have on hand, so it’s a great way to get rid of those lingering items in your fridge.

I sautéed ground turkey, chopped onions, peppers and garlic in a big pot with olive oil. After about 7 minutes, I added three cans of beans (two red kidney and one great northern), chopped tomatoes (I like the ones from Pomi that come in a box), 10 oz. strained tomatoes, 6 oz. tomato paste, a handful of chopped olives and all my chili spices— 2 TB chili powder, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp dried basil and a pinch of cayenne for a little kick. Season with salt and pepper. I  brought it back to a boil and then added two zucchinis, sliced, and thin ribbons of collard greens, just the leaves. After 20 minutes of simmering, dinner was done! I served it with cornbread and shredded cheese, scallions and Greek yogurt. With all the veggies thrown in, it was the perfect one-pot meal.

March 14, 2012

Pork + Candy = Bliss!

Yes, candied pork. It sounds obscene, doesn’t it? One bite and I guarantee you’ll be moaning in ecstasy. This recipe came to me from my brother, who found it at TastingTable.com. What could be better than combining pork with brown sugar and bourbon? But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the slab of pork shoulder is rubbed with a mixture of spices, including cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and slow-roasted for many hours (I cooked mine for 6), until it’s tender and falling apart. Then, you brush a mixture of brown sugar and bourbon over the the meat and roast it again until it turns into a sweet and spicy candied crust. Break the pork into chunks and eat like a cave man.

This is a straightforward recipe that doesn’t require much skill. What it needs is time to slow-roast to ensure the meat will melt in your mouth. Making this was virtually a comedy of errors at my house. I had prepped the shoulder for roasting before we had left for church, so it could cook while we were away. Right before I put the pork in the oven, my husband came through the kitchen and saw that the oven was on but nothing was in it. So, he turned it off. On my way out the door, I slipped the roast in the oven, not noticing the oven had been turned off. Three hours later after church, lunch and shopping, as we’re driving home I mention how great the house must smell because of the pork in the oven. To which my husband responded, “Uh, what? I turned the oven off because nothing was in it.”

I tell you, this pig did not want to be eaten. When I got home, I immediately turned the oven on and started roasting the pork. But then, my 3-year-old came along behind me and pulled the lever for the cleaning lock. Thankfully, my oven didn’t go into nuclear mode and clean itself. However, it did shut off the heat. And it took my a little over an hour for me to realize what had happened. When we finally had the candied pork for dinner the following day, the kids went crazy. I had never seen my son eat with such zeal. Both kids made sure they had the perfect ratio of meat to candy before taking each bite.

For S’s lunch I made a couple of pulled-pork sliders. Even after that, I still have about 2 pounds of meat left. It’s time to get creative. Any ideas?

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