Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quick Chocolate Dip

I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.  I did!  And this chocolate dip was one of my highlights.

Ahhh...chocolate.  Sometimes (ahhhem) there's just nothing like chocolate.  Ladies, you know what I mean, right?

The other night, I could have eaten an entire molten java chocolate cake.  I knew that would not be wise and I would feel disgusting in the morning.  Not what I needed either.  So I set about in an almost-panic-pure-desperation whirlwind of experimentation.

I had pretzels.  I had graham crackers.  I had rice cakes.

I had seen chocolate-covered rice cakes somewhere.  That's what I wanted. I thought I would dip graham crackers and pretzels in whatever chocolately goodness I had left over.  If I had any leftover.

Well, let me tell you what...my experimentation turned out great.  Better than great.  The pretzels, graham crackers, rice cake, and ummm...the spoon...were all just mere vehicles for this insanely quick and easy (and delicious!) chocolate dip.  It was so light it was almost fluffy due to the almond milk.

I think it's a good thing I used the last of my powdered sugar on this or else I'd be making it every night.

Quick Chocolate Dip
  • 2 T cocoa powder
  • 2 T powdered sugar
  • 3 T almond milk
  • pinch of salt
-- Whisk it all together and enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chilled Carrot Soup

Ahhh...chilled soups.  I love them.  Some people hate them -- and that's fine, more for me, right?  I adore soup and salad, and a little heat doesn't change that much.  The salads change, yes, and so do the soups, but it's still soup and salad.  (More on that in the next post)

This soup will be around a lot this summer.  It's filled with simple on-hand ingredients and get this -- I made this whole thing in the microwave in a large glass container with a lid!  Double score!

I found this recipe in my Health magazine and tweaked it just a little.  The original recipe called for just water and after trying it that way, I knew it needed some broth.  And then it was good.

I can see this soup next to burgers.  Along side quinoa salads.  With a wrap for lunch.  Yum.

Chilled Carrot Soup
Serves 4-6
  • 1 lb carrots - sliced
  • 1 TBLS fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (this will give it a good solid kick, so beware)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if using full-salt broth)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth 
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
-- In a pot, or glass dish with a secure lid, combine all ingredients (except lemon juice).  Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes, or nuke for 15 minutes, until carrots are soft.
-- Add lemon juice.
-- Carefully blend/puree until smooth with a hand blender or in a traditional blender.
-- Chill until ready to serve.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Favorite Summer Dishes

As the temps are on the rise, I find myself riffling through my recipe box finding every single dish that doesn't require the use of the oven (unless it's my toaster oven!), is easy and fresh, and can either be prepped ahead of time or served chilled.

The reason?  I have no central AC and when the kitchen gets too hot, I can't seem to keep the rest of the house cool.   Also, there are a lot of nights come summertime I just don't feel like cooking.

This is the list of my top 10 favorite summer dishes.  And not in any order, mind you.

Chicken & Black Bean Salad (I make mine with chickpeas sometimes)

Coming up:  I'm making a chilled carrot ginger soup that I hope will be a nice addition to my other cold soups!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saving Time & Money

Saving Money

In The Market
  • One of the first rules of thumb for saving money when it comes to buying your groceries is to shop from your own cupboards first.  So before you make that final grocery list, check your pantry for what you have to eliminate buying an item unnecessarily.
  • Once at the market, try your hardest to stick to your list and not let any items randomly jump into your cart.  The exception being shelf-stable items that you find on sale, like canned goods or pastas, that you know you will use in the future.  Remember, though, no deal is a good deal unless you’ll use it!
  • Also, don’t be rigid with your list.  If you want to have fresh fruit in your house, just write “fruit” on your list instead of strawberries and melons.  Buy what’s in season because it will most likely be less expensive.

At Home
  • Once home, there is a lot you can do to save yourself money when it comes to food items.   For starters, when you meal plan, try to make sure that for every more expensive meal you have on the list, you also have an inexpensive meal to balance it out.
  • Every week or two, try to make a dish that is either big enough or doubles easily, and freeze half for later use.  Also, make sure to use a meal stashed in the freezer every week or so.
  • Pay attention to your food and don’t let it go to waste.  A short list of some things you can do is at the bottom of this post.
  • Utilize your freezer for all it’s worth, which is a lot.  A chart of items to be frozen can be found here.
  • Make items you regularly use yourself.  If you eat a lot of pizza, consider making the dough yourself.  If you eat a lot of salad, make your own dressings.  Pop your own popcorn instead of buying the bagged variety.  Not only will these changes save you money, but they are healthier, too.
  • Buy items you use often, if possible, in bulk.   Some grocery stores have bulk bins for spices, too, and that’s a great way to save money!

Saving Time
  • Keep your work space (your kitchen) organized.  Make sure that, if possible, baking tools are near the counter you bake on.  Have your spoons and spatulas and spices near your stove top.  If your kitchen is well organized, then in the midst of cooking or baking you won’t find yourself at a loss to where something is when you need it.  The same goes for your pantry and fridge, it will make retrieving a necessary item all the easier if you know where to look for it.
  • Keep your knives sharp!  A dull knife is not only dangerous, but it’s slow going if you’re trying to use it to cut something.  Most kitchen stores and hardware store will sharpen knives for you and it’s best to keep them sharp to aid in a speedy prep-time.
  • Clean as you cook.  Some people like to clean at the end, but I have found this actually takes longer.  When you’re just sitting sitting for something to cook, or you’re sautéing onions, wipe the counters, rinse some bowls, chop more vegetables if you need to.  Just don’t sit idle when something could be done.
  • Only peel what you must.  Most vegetables are just fine with their skins left on them, and not only will not peeling them save you time, you’ll gain nutrients, too.  Items normally peeled that we suggest leaving whole: summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, sweet potatoes, ECT - just make sure to wash them well.
  • Chop and prep ingredients, if possible, ahead of time.  A lot of recipes can take very little time when it comes right down to it if a little time has been taken before hand to chop and prep the ingredients.  If you don’t have time earlier in the day, consider the night before.  We’ve even heard of people prepping for their meals the weekend before.  Just find what works for you.
  • Some meals can be made in stages.  These meals are great on nights where very little time is available to cook.  Rice and other grains can all be made a day or two ahead of time.  Lots of time sauces or casseroles can even be made ahead of time with only the cooking or warming of dishes necessary.  Some meals are even better after they’ve had time to sit and have all their flavors mingle together for a day or so.
  • Make a big batch of something you know you use a lot of.  Pancake mix stores great in an old oatmeal canister or bag.  If you know you’ll  be eating two meals in one week that require rice, make it all at once.  If you eat a lot of beans, make a large batch from scratch and them freeze them in 1 ½ cup portions in bags for easy use and a savings of money.

How to store veggies so they won’t spoil:
·         Lettuce: Take it apart leaf by leaf instead of chopping the end off.
·         Asparagus and Celery: Place in a container, bottoms down, in a little water
·         Scallions:  Thinly slice the whole bunch and keep in a plastic container/water bottle in the freezer.  Shake out what you need when you need it.
·         Mushrooms:  Store uncovered in the fridge in a loose paper bag
·         Onion and Potatoes: Store in a cool, dark place, away from each other, with good ventilation
How to store fruits so they won’t spoil:
·         Berries:  Soak in a 1:10 vinegar and water solution for a few minutes.  Let dry in a colander and store in the fridge uncovered.
·         Bananas: Separate to slow their yellowing (in the summer), or put in a brown paper bag to speed it up
·         Mangos, Pears, Peaches, Kiwi, other “hard fruit”:  Refrigerate. Put in a paper bag on the counter to ripen faster (and with a banana to speed it up even more)
·         Tomatoes: Do not refrigerate until ripe.  Keep on the counter, stem up, to ripen.
Misc items to keep fresh:
·         Store your bread in the fridge to make it last longer.  Make breadcrumbs out of the old ends.
·         Store ginger root in the freezer and cut as much as you need when needed.  Will last months.
·         When honey crystallizes, don’t throw it out.  Scoop into an oven-safe glass dish and heat at 250 for about 10 minutes until it liquefies.  You can also do this in the microwave.
·         Store herbs the way you would cut flowers, standing up in some water in a cool place with a little light.
Money/Time Saving Tips:
·         Save large yogurt containers for freezing soups/sauces.  This is perfect for crazy nights, you can literally “pop” the soup out of the container and heat it up in a pot on the stove or crockpot.
·         Make your own foaming soap (1/3 of the container full of liquid soup, 2-3 drops essential oil, water rest of the way.)
·         Buy spices in bulk at Whole Foods or other spice stores
·         Make your beans from their dry form.  It just takes a little planning.
·         Candle Tarts – take the remnants from your favorite candle and put it in a candle tart.  Light a tea light and enjoy the delicious smell!
·         If you like tea in the morning and afternoon, make a full (12 cup) pot of tea in a coffee maker and let it last a few days!  All you need is 2 good tea bags and you can get 10 mugs out of it!
·         Make your own popcorn with just kernels and a brown paper bag
·         Make your own breadcrumbs from old/stale bread “butts”
·         Use clean glass jars (from large apple sauce) to store dry beans or grains
·         When cooking frozen fish, don’t thaw, just add a little extra cooking time
·         Keep eggs cold if you need to separate the egg whites off, it’ll be so much easier
·         When needing to “snap” fresh green beans, just line them all up and slice the ends off at once. You can do this with carrots and celery (stack them on top of each other), too!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mixed Berry "Ice Cream" and other cool treats

I know this idea is not original to me.  I don't claim it at all.  But in case you didn't realize how close a berry ice cream is, I'm here to let you know.

It's close.  Very very close.  And it takes less than 5 minutes from clean-counter start to sitting down to enjoy the creamy goodness.

With warm weather headed our way, I'm all about the sweet cool treats.  And if I feel my boys haven't gotten enough fruit into their day (very rare) this "dessert" is a must.

Mixed Berry "Ice Cream"
Makes 2 cups
  • 2 cups (half a 16 oz bag) frozen mixed berries, just slightly thawed or popped in the microwave for about 15 seconds so they're firm but not hard as ice
  • 2 T sugar or honey
  • 2 T almond milk (for the creamy texture.  you could use water in a pinch)
-- Combine all THREE ingredients in your food processor/blender and puree until it's nice and creamy (about 30 seconds)
-- Spoon the thick sweetness into little bowls and get ready to be amazed at it's simple goodness

Other easy cool sweet treats:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Carrot Zucchini Quinoa

I love quinoa.  It's great warm or cold.  As a salad, as a side, or as part of a main dish.  It has a slightly sweet nutty flavor that I can't get over.  I'm hooked on it.  And in the summertime when I'm serving lighter dishes, a quinoa dish always seems to play a part in making my dinner a very filling experience.

I got the idea for this dish from a magazine and I am very pleased how it turned out.  I admit, I took a spoonful before I took a picture.  And then I took another one as I adjusted the settings on my camera.  A couple more bites were had before we all sat down to dinner, and then I kindly helped the boys out with their last bite.  Oh, and then the container for leftovers was just a tad small, so I had to take just a few more bites. Oh the sacrifices I make...

Needless to say.  I think this is my new favorite quinoa dish.  It's bursting with flavor and I just love it!  It's an added bonus that there's an entire zucchini and a solid cup of carrots in it, too!  I served this as a side/salad with the Spring Gazpacho.  The pairing was great.

Carrot Zucchini Quinoa
Serves 4-6
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup carrots - shredded or put in your food processor until they're little bits
  • 1 medium zucchini - shredded
  • 2 t dry tarragon
  • 1 T EVOO
  • S & P to taste
-- Combine all ingredients in a medium - large sauce pan.
-- Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes (until all the liquid is absorbed).
-- Serve warm or room temperature or chilled.  (I haven't tried it chilled, but I can't imagine it not tasting great!)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

OK.  I know brussel sprouts aren't on many people's "most favorite vegetable" list.  My husband isn't a huge fan.  My boys both took a bite their first time and didn't want anything to with the adorable little cabbages (they must get that from their father!).  I, on the other hand, love them.  I can't get enough of them.  And prepared like this, roasted and with a little drizzle of white wine vinegar and honey, they were irresistible.


I ate almost the entire pound.  No joke.

We figured out I got 9 grams of protein, 36 grams of fiber, over 3 times my daily need of Vitamin C and quite a bit of calcium (as far as "from vegetables" calcium goes).

And what's not to love?  It's easy.  They're super tasty (even Scot, who isn't a fan of the vegetable, said that the taste was great) and they pop so easily into your mouth.

I should know.

Ahh...brussel sprouts...so good!


Roasted Brussel Sprouts 
Serves 6 (or 2 people who just love love love them!)

Active time: 3-5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Serving Suggestions: With sweet potatoes and our Lentil Loaf.

What you'll need:

  • 1 lb frozen brussels sprouts
  • 1 TBLS olive oil
  • 1 TBLS white wine vinegar
  • 1 TBLS honey
  • salt & pepper to taste

What you'll do:

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Toss the sprouts in the olive oil and place on a lined jelly roll pan.
  • Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.  Stir after about 20 minutes.  Take out once they are soft (fork tender) and just starting to brown.
  • Mix together the vinegar and honey, add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Combine sprouts and dressing in a bowl and stir gently until coated.

Nutrition Facts (per serving, 1/6 of recipe):
Calories 62 (Calories from fat 23); Total Fat 3g (Saturated 0g); Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 8mg; Potassium 282mg; Total Carbohydrate 9g (Dietary Fiber 3g); Sugars 3g; Protein 3g; Vitamins/Minerals - Vitamin A 466 IU; Vitamin C 56mg; Calcium 20mg; Iron 1mg; Folate 93mcg