Friday, January 31, 2014

Granola Bars

Granola Bars
This recipe is long overdue.  One of my gym buddies has been asking me ever since I started this blog if I had a good recipe for granola bars.  I have made granola in the past and have a couple of good trail mix bar recipes, but hadn't yet put the two together.  The problem I find with homemade granola bars is that without adding excessive amounts of sugar, it is hard to get the bars to stick together well, especially when you want to mix in healthy additions like dried fruits and nuts.  Oats alone, when soaked in some combination of oil and syrup, hold together well, so if that is what you are looking for, feel free to replace all or some of the nuts, seeds and fruit in this bar with more oats.  You might get bars that hold their shape a bit better.  That being said, these granola bars are ridiculously delicious, full of high fiber and high protein ingredients and are sure to please both kids and adults.  My daughter wasn't happy that most of the chocolate chips in them melted when I mixed the ingredients together and at first refused to take a bite, but once I convinced her to just taste it, she was won over.  I promised her that the next time I make them I will put a few chocolate chips on the top before I bake them so they retain their shape and are visible.  These bars are so yummy and so simple to throw together that I am certain I will be making many variations in the future and promise to post my most successful creations.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I got my daughter to eat dinner

my daughter's plate

My five year old daughter is pickier than most picky eaters.  She could subsist on crackers, cheerios, cheese and milk alone if I let her.  But now that she is getting older, I am trying to figure out ways to get her to eat a bit healthier without it turning into what at times has seemed like an inevitable battle at every meal.  My steadfast rule has always been that as long as I get her to eat a small amount of produce first, she can have whatever she wants within healthy limits (cereal, crackers, yogurt, cheese, etc...). But this is drastically limiting her palate.  When we go out to eat anywhere all she ever orders is a plain cheese sandwich (not grilled!) and it is getting a bit embarrassing.

I have heard all the different tips about getting kids to eat healthfully: model good behavior (always), incorporate the produce into a main meal so they don't notice it as readily (doesn't often work with main meals, although it seems to work when I also include chocolate, as in a muffin with zucchini and chocolate)... I know food should never be a battle and that dinnertime should be a peaceful time for the family to gather and share, but when she comes to the table and sees anything other than crackers, cheese, a carrot stick or cherry tomato or two, or a bowl of yogurt, she screams.  I mean screams.  She is willful, smart, and knows what she likes, but I know that meal times have become frustrating for her as well.

Knowing I was frustrated, my mom sent me an article a few weeks ago that mentioned having your picky eater try "one teaspoon" of every food offered at the meal and once they have eaten that, they can have more of any of the foods that they happen to like.  The trick is to make sure that at least one of those foods is something you know they do like (obviously).  I thought I had tried this method before, but perhaps not so precisely and considering I have gotten into the habit of making more elaborate, spicy, exotic meals for my husband and I which my son will usually at least try, I had almost given up on trying to get my daughter to eat even "normal" dinner foods.

To my great joy, my daughter has also turned into a very aware vegetarian.  Her being picky, and me not serving or eating very much meat myself, I think I can count on one hand the amount of times she has consumed even a morsel of chicken or beef in her whole life.  Now that she is older and I am making my family more aware all the time of what they are eating, she has gotten into the habit of asking whether something she has been served or something that I am eating was at one time an animal.  She has told me outright that she never wants to eat animals because she "likes them to be happy and alive."  I can't argue with that and I have promised her that I will never ask her or trick her into eating an animal, ever.  So tonight when she picked up her tiny piece of vegetarian Italian sausage, she looked at me and asked "is this dead?"  Poor thing.  I assured her it wasn't and she reluctantly took a bite.

So on her plate, which I pictured above, I literally placed one bite of every food I was offering, plus a few of her favorites.  I had told her earlier in the day that we were going to "try something new at dinner" and have her take a bite of a few new foods before she got to eat anything else.  She had agreed earlier, but I was unsure what her reaction would be once dinner time actually came around.  To my delight, she did not yell or scream or even complain.  She looked at her plate, contemplated what to eat first, and picked up a pretzel.  I guess it is typical to eat what you know first to feel "safe".  But after the two pretzels and the one cracker were gone, she tried the veggie sausage, then the avocado, then the rice and then the broccoli (which she has eaten before).  She was not a fan of the sausage, said the rice was "ok", and actually asked for a second piece of avocado and broccoli before eating the tomato, carrot and then more pretzels, a stick of cheese and a granola bar.  She also ate about four more cherry tomatoes and some dried fruit.  So all in all, I have to say it was a success. And I can say is that if this worked with my daughter, it is at least worth a shot with other picky eaters as well.  I plan to try this again at most meals and hope that she finds a few new foods that she can add to her safe list.  Slowly but surely I am determined to create another healthy, adventurous eater.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Taco Salad with Crispy Polenta

Taco Salad
with crispy polenta

This meal was a creative way to use left overs from Taco Night. Instead of just eating tacos again, (which my kids did since we had tons of left over veggie meat, cheese, tortillas and taco shells), my husband and I opted for something a little more inventive.  I had bought a roll of organic polenta at the store earlier in the week thinking I was going to serve it with some left over chili out of the freezer, but decided to use it with the left over taco fixings instead.  I hadn't cooked polenta in a really long time and was hoping to find a way to cook it in the oven so I could get it all done at once and not make a big mess on the stove top. The solution?  Broil it!

I sliced up the polenta into 1/2 inch slices, coated both sides with organic canola oil and broiled them for about 20 - 25 minutes (4 inches from the broiler, with the oven door open). I never turned them over, just rotated the pan once in the oven about halfway through and they were perfectly crispy and delicious.  I even had enough for left overs again and the polenta was just as good cold as it was straight from the oven.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Taco Night

Taco Night!!

Ok, so this post isn't so much a recipe as a guideline for making what is one of my family's favorite dinners into something that is also fairly healthy.  Definitely not perfect, but when I see how much my daughter and son eat and how excited they are about "Taco Night!" it is totally worth it.  My silly daughter has even come up with the quirky routine of needing to make and wear a "taco hat" or "taco crown" for this meal and last night declared that she was the "Taco King!"  So how can I resist not making this meal at least once a month and possibly even more now that I found an even healthier brand of taco shells to use.  Here are the basics of what I did last night and the ingredients that I used.

Fresh Ingredients
organic romaine lettuce
5 organic tomatoes
organic cilantro
Taco shells, chilies and vegan taco filling
This is the new brand of taco shells that I found this week for the first time.  They are a brand that I often buy when purchasing corn chips since they use only organic, non GMO blue or yellow corn.  It also comes with a taco sauce and seasoning packet that unlike other brands, contains only natural, real ingredients. I also bought some whole wheat flour tortillas because my daughter loves those.  The vegan filling I used is a brand I have bought and liked before and it really does taste like beef (my meat eating husband agrees). It uses non GMO whole soy beans which is the main reason I chose it, but unfortunately, some of the other ingredients are not so ideal.  It contains caramel color, which I had just heard on the Dr. Oz show hours before making this meal, is a known carcinogen. As the woman on the show mentioned, why do we need to put potentially dangerous unnatural chemicals into our food to color it brown?!?  I think I may send an email to the company to express my concern because otherwise the product is great.  Obviously you could use organic beef, chicken, pork or shrimp for your tacos as I have done in the past.  This is just what I happened to use yesterday.
taco "meat"
 cooked with green chilies, taco sauce,
taco seasoning and three chopped fresh tomatoes

Quick Guacamole
one fresh avocado, two chopped tomatoes,
one chopped jalapeno, fresh cilantro and Adobo seasoning

toppings include:
organic romaine lettuce
extra sharp cheddar cheese
2% Greek yogurt
homemade guacamole

(my 100th post!!!!)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Time to warm up!

The weather here in PA has been ridiculously cold these past few weeks, so much so that I have joked that my husband's family in Winnipeg, Manitoba have sent us their winter and I wish they would take it back! Consequently, school schedules have been constantly disrupted which means my personal schedule has been disrupted and in the past three weeks I have only made it to the gym twice.  Craziness... considering when I don't get a chance to literally blow of some steam I get a little crazy myself.  Of course I am a big proponent of the fact that you can get a really great work out without leaving your living room if you know what to do, but sometimes the motivation just isn't there.  I have done pretty well these past few weeks, but I know I am not in the same shape I was in two months ago.  Although it is hard to detect any differences day to day, it was obvious how things have changed after struggling through the home workout I created for myself yesterday.

I had about 30 minutes of time to spare before I had to pick my daughter up at preschool, so I turned up some music and got to work.  I have a set of six steps up to my living room from the entryway of our house so I used that as the base for the cardio portion of my workout.  The routine I did is as follows:

30 times up and down the stairs

30 crunches
24 side plank dips (12 per side)
50 front lunges holding 8 pound weights (25 per side)
16 side lateral raises using 8 pound weights

40 times up and down the stairs

30 crunches
24 side plank dips
50 back lunges holding 8 pound weights
16 lateral raises using 8 pound weights

30 times up and down the stairs

It actually looks like more than I thought it would be when I write it out and a few months ago this routine would have been fairly simple for me, but it just about killed me yesterday.  Especially the side planks.  Before Christmas I could whip those out so easily but yesterday I did my first two and almost fell over.  I felt so weak.  But I did them and today I am sore so I guess they worked.  Now I know what to do more of starting tomorrow!! Anyway, the reason for this post is to encourage others to not make being unable to get to a gym or being stuck inside because of the weather an excuse for not moving your body.  If you have stairs you have a cardio machine, if not, do jumping jacks or run in place.  It all works.  Switch up a little cardio with some toning exercises of your choosing (sit ups, push ups, tricep dips with your hands on a chair, squats...).  I find that writing out either on paper or in your mind a routine you hope to achieve helps you actually follow through.  You could even do it with a friend, either physically together, or just as a promise to both do the same routine while snowed in separately. With the way this winter has been going I know that I will definitely be creating a lot of little workouts like this to keep my body and my mind in top form.  So get up and start moving!!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Spinach Pesto

Spinach Pesto
This is an amazing pesto made with a slight twist from the traditional recipe (basil, pine nut, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil)... and by far one of the best I have had yet.  Granted nothing beats the taste and smell of fresh basil from my garden during the summer, but considering it is the middle of January and ridiculously beyond freezing here in Pennsylvania, having anything fresh tasting to eat is a bonus.  Because this recipe calls for organic baby spinach, which is easy to find any time of year, I knew it would be a bit bland as is.  The trick?  A jalapeno.  One seeded jalapeno gives this pesto a small kick and a flavor that made my son ask "what is in this mom?" as he gobbled up a huge plateful of pasta and told me it was delicious.  I can't say it actually tastes like Mexican food or anything since the prevalence of the Parmesan and garlic certainly take over, but the fact that it has parsley, lemon and jalapeno definitely increase the brightness of the dish.  And the pumpkin seeds are just a simple, easier to find and slightly less expensive version of pine nuts and a fun way to add a little creativity to the meal.  Next time around I plan to save a few pumpkin seeds to top the dish with as well for a little crunch and extra nutritional boost. Healthier for you than more cheese, although that is always nice as well!  This sauce is great on pasta, gnocchi, mixed with rice or as a topping for fish or chicken.  And it lasts for awhile in the fridge so you can easily save some for another recipe. I only used half on the first night for a pound of spaghetti and mixed the rest with some quinoa pasta and white beans a few nights later for another satisfying meal.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Inside Out Peanut Butter Cups

Inside Out Peanut Butter Cups
My favorite candy, besides creamy extra dark chocolate, is definitely a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Although I do not often let myself indulge in the original version, the combination of chocolate and peanut butter will always be a go to dessert flavor of mine. I recently came across a super simplified peanut butter cookie recipe that called for one cup each of peanut butter and sugar, mixed with one egg... which became my inspiration for the Chocolate Almond Fudge Drops I recently posted. I wanted to try the original version as well, but I can never keep anything simple, so of course I put my own spin on them and turned them into these marvelous delights.  While a peanut butter cup is mostly chocolate and processed peanut butter, these treats are mostly all natural organic peanut butter (and of course sugar) with just a touch of dark chocolate inside.  So while still being a dessert, they have some healthy protein, some nutritious flax seed and therefore, in my opinion, make an excellent after dinner indulgence.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cashew Butter Trail Mix Bars

Cashew Butter Trail Mix Bars
This recipe is a slight variation on the original Trail Mix Bars I made a few months back.  As promised, I added in some soy nuts to increase the protein and also switched up a few of the nuts and the nut butter to give it a slightly different taste.  I also left out the dark chocolate chips as I felt they overpowered the last batch and added more sugar than was necessary.  Once again, I made these as a nutritious snack for my husband and I to eat on the run since I too was getting sick of dropping seeds and nuts all over myself.  My husband texted me the other day from work actually requesting I make a batch of these because he said that eating seeds while trying to work on his computer was not fun. These bars do need to stay in the fridge in order to maintain their shape, but there is nothing about them that is perishable, so they can easily be taken with you wherever you go and are certain to keep your hunger healthfully at bay for hours.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kale Salad with Roasted Salmon and Sweet Potatoes

Kale Salad 
with Roasted Salmon and Sweet Potatoes
Friday night has become somewhat of a stay in date night for my husband and I over the past few weeks.  Since we see so little of each other during the week, and when we are home we are focused on the kids, it is important to take that extra time to reconnect with each other.  Even if it means eating a bit later than I would usually like to, the peace and quiet and ability to talk or watch a grown up show together is totally worth it.  Last week I kept it simple and made a delicious kale salad and served it with some organic chicken spring rolls from the freezer.  This past Friday, I got a little bit more elaborate while still keeping the menu light and easy to throw together while my husband got the kids ready for bed nice and early.

I prepped the kale and the potatoes earlier in the day so they were all ready to use, and while the kids were eating their suppers at the normal time, I made the salad dressing and the marinade for the fish.  So when 8 PM rolled around and my husband was getting the kids upstairs to brush their teeth, I just tossed everything together, put the fish and potatoes in the oven and opened a bottle of wine.

Obviously, this meal is ridiculously healthy, with it's rainbow of colors and fresh ingredients.  Between the leafy green kale, the heart healthy salmon and pecans, and the nutrient rich sweet potatoes, it is a light meal (good for eating late) that is also extremely satisfying.  The best part is that this makes enough for four servings and since kale holds up really well in the fridge (even with dressing on it), I had left overs for lunch two days later.  I will definitely be making this meal again.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What NOT to Make for Breakfast

I like to pride myself on the fact that I do not often waste any food.  Although I know I spend more than the average American does on groceries, since I buy a large amount of organic produce in addition to expensive items like nuts, seeds and dark chocolate, I know that everything I buy eventually gets consumed. I plan my weekly meals around leftovers, am constantly checking dates on everything I buy so as not to let anything go bad, and besides the very occasional piece of rotten produce, I throw out next to nothing.  I am always eating the last few bites off of my children’s plates, saving little bits of everything to be eaten later, and whenever I bake, I channel my great grandmother’s influence and insist on scraping the bowl of batter completely clean so as not to waste even one bite.  I value my food and I hate to see anything edible go uneaten.

This past weekend, however, I had to give in.  With all the experimentation I do in my kitchen, not often repeating a recipe twice, it is amazing that I have not had more failures than I have.  Usually, even if something doesn’t turn out quite right, it still gets eaten, whether it is a pan of brownies that will not hold it’s shape and becomes a topper for ice cream, or the extremely dark chocolate birthday cake I made three years ago for my daughter’s 2nd birthday that actually tasted bitter (it was ok if you ate every bite with some frosting and my chocolate loving daughter had no trouble finishing her giant piece).  But the meals I cooked up for breakfast yesterday and today were a different story.

In my defense, these were recipes largely based on ones published in magazines, so someone, somewhere, thought they were good.  I did make some subtle changes, adding in organic whole grains, extra cinnamon, different fruit and nut combinations, etc… but nothing that could place the blame solely on my cooking techniques.  I must say, my husband is a trooper and despite realizing either initially or after a few bites that what I had placed before him was actually pretty unsatisfying, he ate a large portion of each of these recipes while we both had a good laugh and I threw my meal away.

I have included the two recipes below, in case anyone wants to try something I wouldn’t recommend or thinks they know of a more edible method of preparing versions of them.  The first is a recipe for a twist on a carrot cake muffin using beets instead of shredded carrot.  I have never been a fan of beets and these muffins smell and taste like beets. My husband likes beets which is why I think he was able to eat two of these muffins and asked me to save them in the freezer “just in case” (I didn’t).  Maybe there isn’t enough sugar or cinnamon or the usual raisins and coconut that is found in carrot cake, but I just found them to be gross.  Beautiful to look at, extremely light and moist, and completely unpleasant tasting.  Both of my kids took one bite and looked as if they were going to die.  I felt really bad and of course gave them something else immediately.

The second recipe, which was this morning’s disaster and the inspiration for this more comedic blog post, is one that I have heard mentioned on TV shows, in numerous magazines and even on the package of quinoa itself.  It is a breakfast cereal creation in the style of oatmeal but using the highly nutritious grain quinoa instead of oats.  Sounds simple enough, but the flavor of the quinoa, and the smell, does not go well with blueberries, lemon and cinnamon.  As my husband so nicely commented while eating more than half of his large bowl (I ate about 4 bites total), “quinoa is not a breakfast food.”  I have to agree, unless you are in the habit of eating savory dishes for breakfast, because although my husband has never liked quinoa in general, I have found it palatable as a rice substitute cooked with beans, onion, garlic and plenty of other strong savory spices. But as an oatmeal substitute?  Never again!!

So although my breakfasts these past few days have been tragic disappointments and I had to break my steadfast rule on wasting food and literally throw it all away, I do plan on redeeming myself later on this afternoon with a delicious batch of chocolate filled peanut butter fudge drops and a delicious pasta dish with homemade spinach pesto.  Here’s to hoping that those creations turn out well!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Pudding

Peanut Butter Cup Pudding

This recipe is yet another twist on my family's favorite Dark Chocolate Protein Pudding. The inspiration for this version came from a large block of 70% dark chocolate that I received in a gift basket at Christmas.  Normally I would not have any trouble just eating a large amount of chocolate all on it's own, but this block was really big and every time I tried to cut a chunk off, it crumbled into tiny pieces.  I suppose I could have just gnawed on it, but unless the chocolate is in bunny form, I find that method a little gross.  So I figured I would melt it down and use it in a recipe.  And since I had recently bought some silken tofu and some organic coconut milk to try, I thought maybe I would combine the three and see what happened.  The result is a tasty pudding that is a bit smoother than my previous versions.  However, the chocolate flavor was a bit overpowered by the tofu and milk, so I decided to add the almond extract which was definitely an improvement.  I thought it was fine as is, but my chocolate loving daughter wasn't so sure, so I mixed her serving with some peanut butter.  I am so glad I did.  It was amazing. The pudding became rich and decadent, and since all I added was healthy all natural peanut butter, it was still fairly nutritious, and higher in protein and healthy fats.  Because this recipe makes a lot and I am obsessed with not letting things go bad in my fridge, I have been eating it for breakfast the last few mornings and it has been so much fun.  I guess I really do love chocolate more than most!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Brownies

These are so cool.  My 5 year old daughter watched this morning as I blended up the beans in my magic bullet and asked what they were and what I was making.  Trust me, she was not very excited when I told her black bean brownies and adamantly refused to eat them later.  I halfway convinced her that they would not taste like beans at all, but would be chocolate brownies that I was pretty sure she would like.  

Fast forward a couple of hours and the brownies are cooling on the counter and the whole house smells like chocolate.  I bring a sample over to her at the couch and she eats it without thinking and says, "yummy."  I give a bite to her brother, who has a slightly more developed palate, and he politely asks what is in them, fully aware that I am always making something somewhat odd... His sister tells him "beans!"...  so she did remember, and is now asking for more.  Awesome.

Of course these are still a dessert since they have sugar and oil in them, but they also have a lot of healthful ingredients in addition to the high protein, nutrient rich organic black beans.  I think next time I might swap out the coconut nectar for maple syrup because coconut nectar can taste a bit tangy and there aren't enough other flavors in these brownies to mask that.  I also plan to try variations of this recipe using coconut oil or peanut butter instead of canola oil, and maybe even white cannellini beans instead as well... in perhaps a peanut butter chocolate chip version.  So stay posted for updates!!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Purple Rice Chili

Purple Rice Chili

This past weekend I hosted a baby "sprinkle" shower for a dear friend of mine and since she is having a boy I tried to make many of the dishes on my menu (naturally) blue.  I had heard of red rice and black rice, but until I started searching online, I had never heard of purple rice.  Although not blue, I thought it might be something interesting to try for a vegan dish I wanted to make to have in a crock pot during the party.  Obviously, you could make this recipe using any type of rice you prefer, but I had fun experimenting with something new, and the color of the rice alone is pretty spectacular.  It did however turn my colorful bean mixture a deep dark purple, more like black bean soup, but it tasted better than it looked and piled high with simple toppings, it was visually appealing at the party as well.  

It is a very simple recipe to make, similar to a lot of my other bean and rice soups, but this recipe makes a lot.  I cooked it the day before the party, let it cool for awhile on my counter (since it has no meat it can sit out longer than the usual two hour limit), and then put it in the fridge overnight.  The next day I transferred it into my crock pot to have at the party and offered plain Greek yogurt, fresh salsa and shredded cheddar cheese to put on top.  Since it was a cold January day, the chili was definitely a hit and although there were only about 16 people at the party and enough food to feed an army, more than half of this was eaten. Which means that although everyone liked it, I also have left overs, which I love!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maple Whiskey Birthday Cake

Maple Whiskey Birthday Cake
My husband and I recently discovered and fell in love with Crown Royal Maple whiskey.  So when I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, which is in early January, this is what he requested.  I am not sure if at first he was at all joking, but I thought it sounded intriguing, so I did a little research. The basic recipe is a pretty typical pound cake, which lends itself well to being drenched in whiskey.  The shape, however, is a lot more childish than the flavoring, and was also part of my husband's request. Because I was preparing this cake during a busy week in which I was also getting ready to host a baby shower, I decided to make the cake a few days ahead and freeze it.  I think that if I were to do it again, I would do the glazing step while the cake was actually still warm from the oven.  Because the cake layers were fairly cold, the glaze had a hard time absorbing into the dense cake, even after I poked it dozens of times with a skewer and a sharp knife.  I didn't want to go crazy on the off chance that the cake would fall apart, but instead the glaze kind of pooled at the top (and bottom edge of the top half which I flipped over for glazing) and the butter part of the glaze congealed a bit.  Sounds worse than it was for sure, as there is nothing about this cake that is not delicious.  It smells like maple, tastes like maple whiskey and was definitely a hit with everyone at the party, and most importantly, my husband.  The best part is that because there weren't that many people there to enjoy it and they were all so full from eating all afternoon, I have a lot of this amazing cake in my freezer and plan to actually get a piece or two out after I write this post.  So I think I am done.  (and no, this cake is not particularly healthy, although I did use half whole wheat flour... it is a birthday cake after all and not supposed to be eaten more than once, or twice or a dozen times a year.)  :)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding

Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding
This recipe is fun.  And it got my daughter to eat about 1/3 of an avocado without knowing it.  It may seem strange at first if you haven't heard of a recipe like this before, but I promise you that the flavor of the avocado is completely masked by the cocoa, coconut oil and agave.  All you are left with is a rich, creamy, chocolate dessert that you can feel good about feeding your family and yourself.  Get mixing!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Vegan Coconut Sugar Cookies

Vegan Coconut Sugar Cookies
These delicious cookies are a simple twist on my vegan chocolate sugar cookie recipe.  I needed an easy, inexpensive party favor to give out for a baby "sprinkle" party I am throwing this weekend and I thought a healthy and simple sugar cookie with blue sprinkles (it's a boy!!) would be perfect.  The expectant mother is Brazilian so I figured the tropical coconut flavor would be a hit (she loves coconut), and who doesn't love cookies?  I filled cute little containers that I found on sale after Christmas with the small cookies and decorated them with ribbon and stickers, as well as an ingredient list. I hope the extra effort and healthful creativity that went into this party gift makes it even that more special for all of the guests.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quick Banana Oatmeal Cookies

Quick Banana Oatmeal Cookies

These cookies are ridiculously simple and super quick to throw together, and offer the health of a bowl of oatmeal in cookie form.  I have been really busy this week preparing for a party I am hosting this weekend, so once again when my son came home from school and asked what was for dinner, I replied with "I don't know."  "Seriously Mom?" He asked.  "Again?"... I had to laugh.  And then I offered him some choices.  He could share the left over beans and rice I had taken out of the freezer for my husband and I, or I could give him a burrito wrap out of the freezer, or how about a bowl of oatmeal?  He thought for a second and said, "How about an egg sandwich and a bowl of oatmeal?"  I agreed and then went about working in the kitchen on some things I had been preparing. Then I got to thinking.... what will I feed my daughter?

My daughter is super picky and there are many nights where I give in and let her have whole grain crackers, cheese and some small amount of produce that she always fights me about eating. But I had about a cup of oatmeal left in a big container in my fridge that I wanted to use up and knowing it would be way too much for my son, and that as oatmeal alone in a bowl, my daughter would not even attempt to eat it, I had to think of some other way to get it into her tummy.  How about in cookie form?

This recipe is basically just a very simplified version of my Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookie from the second post on this blog.  I literally just mixed five ingredients in a bowl, popped a small tray with 8 cookies on it into my toaster oven for 15 minutes, and presto, dinner and dessert all wrapped into one.  Of course I would normally use dark chocolate chips for their health benefits and the superior taste, or if it were just me, some walnuts instead, but I had a bag of white chocolate chips already opened and knew my kids would approve.  Otherwise this "cookie" is extremely nutritious, really moist and flavorful and super easy to throw together.  So the next time you are thinking about making oatmeal and have 20 minutes of time, why not make something a little different, and a little more fun!!!  The mix in possibilities are endless!!

* at the bottom are some additional photos from the following morning when I made them again, in a larger form, with walnuts and dark chocolate- amazing!!  :)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Arugula and Walnut Pesto
(with gnocchi)
Traditionally pesto is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese, but to me, that is only a template.  Basically the first two ingredients can be changed around in numerous ways to alter the flavor, or use up what you have on hand, depending on what type of greens and nuts (or seeds) you prefer.  I have tried many different varieties in the past but tonight I had some arugula that had to get used up and instead of just tossing it with some pasta like I frequently do, I thought I would use it to make a sauce for some delicious whole wheat gnocchi that I had picked up at the store a few days ago.  I always have walnuts on hand since they are my favorite (and in my opinion, the most versatile) nut so I figured why not try an arugula and walnut pesto?  I wanted to add some protein to the dish as well and love adding canned tuna to pasta (fell in love with that during a summer spent in Italy when I was 20), so I also added in some lemon to the pesto recipe to compliment the fish.  The result?  A healthy and delicious gourmet meal that I was able to whip together in about half an hour.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Kale Salad

Kale Salad
with walnut & cranberries

Everyone knows that kale is super good for you.  It is a cruciferous vegetable that is high in calcium, vitamins A and C and the powerful antioxidant vitamin K.  However, besides a few bites straight from my garden this summer I haven't ever served it raw as part of a meal.  Usually I have baked it into kale chips (my son's favorite!) or cooked it in a soup.  But over the Christmas holiday my mom served a salad that had kale in with the lettuce mixture and I loved it.  So when I was at the store the other day and saw fresh boxes of kale being unloaded onto the organic produce shelf, I had to buy some.  I had already planned out the next few nights' meals and knew I had to use the kale quickly to retain the quality so I decided to make a side salad out of it to go with an Italian Beef Stew I was planning to make.  The dressing is fairly simple and the addition of the cranberries and walnuts adds the perfect amount of sweetness, depth and crunch.  This salad was great the day I made it, and to be honest, even better the following night as left overs.  Because kale is so hardy, it doesn't wilt like other lettuces might when saved for another day.  So give this nutritional powerhouse salad a try the next time you want a quick and simple side dish.  Or add some beans and/or chicken and call it a meal!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

5th Birthday Cake (snow tubing party!)

5th Birthday Cake (snow tubing party!)

This is without a doubt a blog about healthy living, and along with that comes celebrations and indulgences.  Birthdays, and children's birthdays in particular, are definitely examples of such occasions.  So my daughter's 5th birthday party, the first real party, with friends, that she has ever had, called for an unforgettable cake. Growing up, my mom always made elaborate homemade cakes for my birthday parties and I have followed in her footsteps ever since my son's first birthday over 8 years ago.  Depending on the party planned and the theme involved, I plan out something extra special, usually weeks or months in advance.  Although not bakery display worthy, my creations are always fun, inventive, delicious and full of love.

When we first asked my daughter what she wanted to do for her 5th birthday, she said a pool party, but being that she was born in December, that wasn't such a great option.  We wanted to do something different and active and since there is an amazing ski mountain less than 15 minutes from our home that offers snow tubing we suggested that idea.  She took to it immediately.  And it didn't take long for me to imagine the perfect party cake to go along.

This cake recipe is one passed down from my mom, with the exception of the whole wheat flour that I always have to add at least a little of.  It is a basic cake recipe: moist, decadent, delicious and easy to make in all shapes and sizes.  I have listed all of the different baking times depending on what shape cake you need to make as I have made it numerous ways myself.  The frosting I used this time was made purely out of cream cheese (no butter) because I wanted it as white (and snowlike) as possible.  I think the dark vanilla extract I added yellowed it a bit and maybe next time, if I ever need to emulate snow again, I will use clear almond extract instead.  I used a lot of cream cheese because I needed a lot of frosting, but only one box of confectioners sugar.  Hence the frosting was really gooey and soft and I am sure adding another 1/2 or full (1 pound) box would stiffen it up a bit, but being health conscious I figured one pound of sugar was enough.  And it worked out fine regardless.

Below are the recipes as well as step by step images of what I did to create my daughter's delicious cake.  I also included a few other cake designs I have done in the past, often using the same basic chocolate cake recipe.  So please, instead of using a box, or ordering a cake from your local store (unless it is a wonderful small business you wish to support) try this recipe the next time you are in need of a birthday cake worth celebrating.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Italian Beef Stew

Italian Beef Stew

On a snowy and freezing cold day like today, with time inevitably spent outside shoveling and plowing away half a foot of snow, it is nice to come back inside and smell a delicious dinner cooking all on its own.  I usually don't like cooking beef and thought about making this stew with just vegetables and beans, but the organic vegetables at the store yesterday were not very plentiful or fresh looking.  I only used a pound of organic stew meat, which cost me less than $5, so this dish is not only deliciously flavorful, but economical as well. It does take a bit of time to cook, with a few steps in the process, but the actual effort is pretty minimal. It will make your house smell amazing, while providing you and your family (and probably a few more people) with a nutritious, high protein, hearty meal.  Sure to warm you up when the temperature outside is anything but!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chocolate Almond Fudge Drops

Chocolate Almond Fudge Drops
This cookie is about as simple, and delicious, as you can get.  With only five, mostly healthy ingredients it is a no brainer to throw together and yet it tastes like something from a gourmet candy shop.  I got the inspiration from a recipe I found in Oprah magazine that listed just sugar, peanut butter and eggs as the ingredients and I plan to try a peanut butter version of this soon as well.  The cookies seem very gooey when they first come out of the oven, but they solidify nicely and can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge for days if they last that long.

* I made a double batch of these for a party a few weeks after the original post, but I didn't have quite enough almond butter... only about 1 2/3 cups instead of the 2 cups I needed.  So in order to thicken up the dough I added an additional 1/4 cup dark cocoa and 1/2 cup organic sugar.  They tasted just as amazing.