Confession time: I had a piece of my daughter's birthday cake today. I was really looking forward to it. It looked great and smelled sinfully sweet. So after singing Happy Birthday to my sweet 9-year-old I indulged in my first piece of (store bought) birthday cake in quite some time. It was fine...maybe even good, but so sweet. Sickeningly sweet actually. So sweet that I actually have no desire to have a second piece. In no way am I complaining about the cake or feeling guilty for eating it, but rather I'm feeling victorious that I just may have (finally!!) kicked my sugar addiction! The 'old me' would have eaten at least 3 pieces of cake...per day...til it was gone. Yaaay me!
Now that I've got that off my chest and out of my system, I'm ready to start the 10 Days of Real Food Pledge tomorrow! If you have decided to join me, don't forget to sign up on Lisa Leake's website so you can earn your free prize too!
One of my go-to Real Food breakfasts is Overnight Oatmeal. I've had Overnight Oatmeal for breakfast most mornings for more than a year now. I expected myself not to want it during the long, cold (very cold in PA!) winter months but I ended up craving it just as much in February as I do in July! It's super easy to make, portable, versatile, filling, healthy....it's pretty much the perfect breakfast!
1/4 cup steel cut oats
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup berries
Place all ingredients in a bowl or jar. Stir until combined.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Eat within 2-3 days for best quality. Top with a dollop of almond butter or other nut/seed butter.
Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend! If you overindulged a bit (and don't we all?) I have the perfect recipe for you! This is another recipe that features my very favorite fruit: the avocado. Over the past few years I have developed a lower and lower tolerance to milk (and sadly, milkshakes), so I've been enjoying less and less smoothies and milkshakes. I had read many times that avocados are a great addition to shakes and smoothies to get the creaminess that is missing from non-dairy versions. I had never actively searched for a recipe but once I came across this recipe on Pinterest and knew this was one to try! Lots of smoothies look healthy but are secretly filled with tons of sugar and calories. What I like about this smoothie is that it is dairy-free (yaaay!), contains 1 1/2 servings of fruit, is sweetened with honey, not sugar and has tons of protein.
This drink totally disguised itself as a chocolate milkshake to my two princesses! JP liked it and Bean loved it. My little Bean definitely acquired Mommy's avocado obsession :) It's chocolate-y and creamy and sweet, but not too sweet. The avocado is there, but I swear you can barely taste it. It's a great way to sneak a lot of healthy things into your kids!
Chocolate Banana Avocado Smoothie
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup crushed ice
1 ripe banana
1 tablespoon honey (you can use dates if you want to make this vegan)
1/2 ripe avocado
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons almond butter (make your own here!)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground flax seed
Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Adapted from Against All Grain
I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and because of that I tend to hold a loyalty to all PA-based foods - TastyKake, Heinz ketchup, too many potato chip and pretzel makers to count and, of course, Hershey's chocolate. A few years ago when I quit working to become a stay-at-home-mom I began watching my grocery budget to the extreme (we're talking Excel spreadsheets, broken down by item, store and price per unit. Yes, I'm that person). I tried many store brand and generic items and, for the most part, they were all acceptable substitutes. Hershey's Chocolate Syrup though....no way I could give that up!! I justified the higher cost over store brand because I consistently bought it at Target which was much cheaper than my go-to grocery store.
About a year ago, when I first stumbled across food blog (seriously, you'd think I'd been living under a rock all these years!) I saw lots of recipes for DIY Chocolate Syrup. Naturally, my first thought was "Yeah, right. Who wants to do that when you can buy Hershey's?" I'm not sure what possessed me to do it (possibly the crazy short ingredient list?), but I gave this recipe a shot and, WOW! No more store bought in this house!! I felt a little bad abandoning my old-faithful, but I used Hershey's Cocoa Powder so I could still sort of call it Hershey's Homemade Chocolate Syrup....right? Give this one a try - it's one of the easiest DIY recipes you will find!
DIY Chocolate Syrup
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk together to break up any lumps. Stir in the water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Once cool enough to handle transfer to a bottle and store in the refrigerator.
I like these bottles from The Container Store because they are squeezable and BPA free.
We are continuing today with the Irish-food theme. Again, this is another recipe that is too good to wait a whole year to make again! Are you intimidated by making bread? If you are, this is the perfect recipe for you! Are you always looking for something warm and hearty to dip into your winter (spring) soups and stews? If so, this is the perfect recipe for you! Are you looking for something to whip up last minute while the kids are doing homework and you are tight on time? Again, I have the perfect recipe for you!!
I saw many recipes last year for Irish soda bread and had wanted to try one but just never got around to it. This year, as expected, all sorts of Irish soda bread recipes started popping up all over the place. This one, in particular, grabbed my attention because 1) it needed only 4 ingredients and 2) it takes about a half-hour from start to finish. These are ingredients that I usually have on hand too, so it earned some bonus points there too!
The bread itself is quite dense and doesn't rise much. It's perfect warm from the oven or at room temperature too. Just slather some butter on it and enjoy with a nice stew or even some chili. If you plan to eat the bread warm, pretty much straight out of the oven, bake it on the longer side (30-ish minutes). If you plan to let it cool completely and eat it an hour or two later, you should be fine with the shorter time (25-ish minutes) since the bread continues baking a bit while it cools.
Irish Soda Bread
3 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk **
**If you don't have buttermilk on hand you can make your own, easy substitute. Simply add 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add milk to the measuring cup, filling to the 1 1/2 cup mark. Let sit 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir and use in your recipe.
Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
Add flour, salt and baking soda to a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and slowing add the buttermilk. Stir with a fork to combine. The dough will be very sticky. If needed, add as much as 1/4 cup extra buttermilk.
Knead the dough lightly with your hands while it is still in the bowl to help it come together. Dump the dough onto the prepared baking sheet and form it into an 8-inch circle. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross in the top of the dough.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.
How was your St. Patty’s Day? Did you celebrate with green beer? Or Irish food? Or a local parade? How about all three?? I didn’t indulge in any green beer this year and (sadly) didn’t make it to Pittsburgh’s awesome St. Patty’s Day parade. I DID, however, attend a fun St. Patty’s Day party and enjoyed some good Irish food! My contribution to the party was this Guinness and Cheddar Dip. Come to think of it, I may have brought this exact same dip to last year’s party….hmmm…no one seemed to mind! I’ve actually made this dip several times over the past year and it’s always quite popular! I’ve tweaked the original recipe a little so that the Guinness flavor really stands out. I like to serve it with hearty crackers or some veggies. So, even though the celebrations are over for this year, please don’t wait until 2014 to give this recipe a try!!
Guinness and Cheddar Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1/4 cup Guinness
1 scallion, greens and whites, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mustard and half-and-half. Blend until smooth. With the food processor running, slowly pour the Guinness through the pour spout and blend until combined. Add the scallions and parsley and pulse a few more times to combine. Adjust flavor by adding salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a bowl and cover. Chill at least one hour before serving. Serve with crackers, pretzels or veggies.
My current food focus these days is healthy, easy and tasty. Portability never hurt, either. I'm also trying to cut back on my consumption of meat, sugar and dairy. I will NEVER cut these things out of my life entirely - I simply love food too much - but I'm doing my best to pick mostly whole foods for most meals and snacks. Last summer I came across these Energy Bites on Pinterest and they were a huge hit! However, they contain chocolate chips and sweetened coconut, which are fine, but in trying to limit my sugar I decided to avoid making them for a little while. So I kept searching. Thank you to all of you bloggers out there who do "Best of" posts at the end of each year! Thanks to Anne at fannetastic food I found these tasty little morsels as well as inspiration for lots more healthy meals in the months to come!
This particular recipe is as easy as they get. You will need a food processor to get the best results. You simply combine almonds and raisins together in the food processor to form a paste, then flavor the paste and form into balls or bars. That's it! Anne's original recipe flavored the balls with ground cinnamon but I used a little imitation rum extract for the rum raisin flavor I was looking for. Anne's recipe is gluten-free and vegan. To the best of my knowledge I believe the addition of the imitation rum extract does not change this fact. If anyone out there knows otherwise, I would love some education on the matter!
As you can imagine, these are highly customizable. You could use vanilla extract in place of the rum extract or you could swap out the nut/fruit combo. I plan to try an cashew/date version soon to simulate my favorite LARABAR!
Rum Raisin Balls
Makes 12 balls or 6 bars
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
Put almonds and raisins in a colander and rinse with water. Drain. Place wet almonds and raisins in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until a thick paste has formed, about 30 seconds.
Form into 12 balls or 6 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Adapted from fannetastic food
As I've said a few times before, life in my house has gotten pretty chaotic over the past month. Sometimes I have so much fun creating my little DIY projects like almond butter and blueberry jam that I run out of time and totally bonk on dinner! Not good! I know casseroles can be a great time saver but I rarely find any that I like enough to make more than once. That all changed when I came across this chicken casserole from Weight Watchers. I first made this back in January for a Monday night dinner. Monday night is the night when my 2nd grader has CCD at the exact same time that my 4-year-old has gymnastics on opposites sides of town. Fun, right? A quick, easy and healthy dinner is a must on these nights and this casserole makes everyone happy!
A few things about this casserole: the recipe calls for green beans as the veggie. I know corn might sound more logical in here (and you can certainly use it), but give the green beans a try! They are lower in calories and actually complement the dish very well. Also, you can totally use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, but I prefer to bake my own ahead of time and shred it in the Kitchen-Aid. If you haven't heard about this trick - well, it's mind blowing! I normally prepare the casserole a day before eating it and store it in the refrigerator, but you can also freeze it. I found two things when I froze it and baked it straight from the freezer: First of all, the cheese topping kind of got messed up. Next time I'll freeze the casserole without the cheese and add it just before baking. Second, I don't know why, but the frozen casserole seemed much spicier than the refrigerated ones. Not so spicy that it was inedible, just spicy enough that you had to add a little extra sour cream - fine by me!
Southwestern Chicken Casserole
1 pound cooked, shredded chicken breast
35-36 ounces salsa verde
16 ounces frozen, chopped green beans
1 15.5 ounce black beans, drained and rinsed
16 6-inch corn tortillas, shredded or thinly sliced
8 ounces reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
In a large bowl mix together chicken, salsa, green beans and black beans.
Spread 1/3 of the corn tortillas on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with 1/2 of the chicken mixture. Spread another 1/3 of the tortillas on top of the chicken, then add the remaining chicken mixture. Top with the remaining tortillas. Sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. (Freezer for up to 4 months.)
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° F. Bake for 20 minutes covered (30 minutes covered if baking from freezer). Remove aluminum foil and bake for another 30 minutes until bubbly and brown (45 more minutes if baking from freezer.) Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Weight Watchers
After the craziness of the second half of 2012 with the move and the overblown holidays (self-imposed...I know) I vowed to sit back and relax in January. Besides running and playing in the kitchen I succeeded in doing very little last month. By the end of the month I was starting to feel like a shut-in! All that's changed in February. How is it that the 31 days of January drug by so slow and then I blink and it's already February 20? Where did this month go? I have a good idea - it's called back to reality! After-school activities, meetings, doctor appointments, birthday parties, school parties.....like I said, reality. This past weekend I was lucky enough to spend 48 glorious hours with my hubby and our little princesses at Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio. This is an indoor waterpark and resort about 3 hours away from us. It was so much fun and such a great feeling to wear flip flops and bathing suits again for a little while! I love weekend getaways but they always leave me feeling flustered and 'behind' on things.
Tonight my 2nd grader had her First Reconciliation and each parent was asked to bring a dozen cookies for a little reception afterwards. Now, you all know me, so there was no way I was running out to the local grocery store for said cookies! In lieu of how much I have on my plate right now I chose to make a simple shortbread cookie and dip them in chocolate for a little something extra. They are so easy and delicious that I wonder why I don't make shortbread cookies more often. Oh wait, I know why - because I would eat them all! They are chewy and crumbly: buttery, salty and sweet. They are simple perfection! And after a quick dip in melted chocolate they are just that much better!
Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound milk chocolate, wafers
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, salt and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the flour and mix just until combined and a cohesive dough is formed. Roll the dough into a long roll, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and freeze until very firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Set aside.
Remove the log of dough from the freezer and slice into cookies, no thinner than 1/4 inch in thickness. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are a light sand color. Allow to cool on the baking sheets a few minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Place about 2/3 of the chocolate wafers in a microwave safe bowl, preferably glass. Put the bowl in the microwave and cook for 40 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Place the bowl back in the microwave for 20 seconds, then stir again. Continue heating the chocolate for 20 seconds and stirring until the chocolate is smooth and reads about 110° F. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate wafers to the melted chocolate and stir gently. Any clumps remaining should melt slowly.
Dip 1/2 of the shortbread cookie into the melted chocolate. Place on a wire rack to cool and harden the chocolate.
Cookies adapted from King Arthur's Flour Baker's Companion
Chocolate melting technique provided by the Foodies at Market District
Here we are, almost halfway through the school year and I've accomplished a big feat! My 2nd grade daughter has been a fan of school lunches and, for the price, I never minded her buying them. At a little over $2 a day she can get a pretty decent, balanced, kid-friendly lunch. Well, the problem with that is, well....she doesn't! I surprised her during lunch one day last April and I caught her eating an ice cream cone while her otherwise healthy lunch items sat there on her tray untouched! When I questioned her about it she had a perfectly logical answer: "I have to eat the ice cream first Mommy. It would melt if I didn't." Doh! How many times had she done this? I couldn't be too upset, she was only 6 after all. After a doctor's visit over the summer I'd discovered the my petite little girl had gained a whopping TEN pounds in first grade! Whoa! Time to 'Mom Up' and start packing lunches for her. We have a little system in place to keep mommy and daughter happy. Some things have worked, some haven't. A few things that are a constant are 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 sandwich and 1 'junk' each day. Thankfully, she DOES eat those fruits and veggies so when she was asking for a jelly sandwich every single day I kind of let it slide. About a month ago I started reading labels more carefully. Yep, as suspected, high fructose corn syrup in her little jelly sandwich (cut out in the shape of a heart these days!). Time to make another change and give DIY jam-making a try. How simple! Just combine some fresh fruit, sugar and lemon juice and let it thicken up a bit and you have jam!
This is only a small batch so you don't have to worry about getting into the canning game - I'm certainly not there yet! This recipe produced a nice, thick, fresh tasting blueberry jam. It tastes like summer on a spoon! Anything that tastes like summer is much needed in Pennsylvania these days. Ugh...don't even get me started on how much I hate winter and how I feel like it's never going to stop snowing or if I'll ever see my toes again.... Anyhow, I digress! This jam takes about a half hour of your time and makes about 2 cups. The only downside to this recipe is that it only lasts in your refrigerator about 3 weeks. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem. Just pair it up with some homemade almond butter and reinvent your PB&J for a yummy throwback lunch!
DIY Blueberry Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound blueberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place a metal spoon in the freezer to chill.
Combine blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. While bringing the mixture to a boil mash the blueberries with a potato masher or a fork to release the pectin of the fruit. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce to medium. Simmer vigorously until the mixture thickens and is jamlike, about 8-12 minutes.
To test for consistency, remove the spoon from the freezer and dip into the jam. Allow the jam to run off the spoon. Jam should fall off the spoon slowly, in one thick clump. If it does this, it is done. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. If the jam is too thin, continue simmering another 2-4 minutes until it reaches desired consistency.
Once jam has cooled to room temperature place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
Have you all heard about the current almond butter craze? I've known that almond butter has existed for years and though I love it, I've always steered away from buying it simply because of the cost. With my health kick/lifestyle change over the past month I've been reading some health & fitness blogs in addition to my running magazines and can I tell you something? Almond butter is EVERYWHERE!! It's packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein and tastes great in place of peanut butter on a sandwich, celery or pretzels or even in a smoothie. I decided to just suck it up and buy a tiny, overpriced jar of this awesomeness during my next grocery run. As I stood there in the nut butter aisle I pondered my choices. I could either buy a $10 jar of almond butter, or the cheaper $8 alternative. I went with the $8 choice. I had it in my hand. I put it in my cart. Then, it hit me! I recently bought myself some new cookbooks and I had remembered seeing a super easy recipe for making almond butter at home!!! I immediately put the little jar back on the shelf and hauled butt over to the nut aisle where I found a 1 pound bag of roasted almonds for $5! Score! Let's give this a try!!!
I made a few modifications to this recipe. The most notable being using already roasted almonds instead of raw. Since the recipe stresses the importance of having warm almonds when processing to bring out the oils I decided to still throw them in the oven for a few minutes. If you use raw almonds, roast for 10-12 minutes until they are fragrant and slightly darkened.
DIY Almond Butter
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound whole, roasted almonds
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375° F. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast about 6 minutes, until fragrant. (Be very careful with this step. It only takes a few seconds for nuts to go from perfectly roasted to burnt.) Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, until they are cool enough to handle - about 15-20 minutes.
Place almonds in a food processor for about 1 minute, until they resemble coarse meal. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue processing. After another minute or two you will have a very firm mass. It will be difficult to scrape down the bowl at this point - that's perfectly ok. Continue processing for another 2-3 minutes. The oils in the nuts will begin to break down and the mixture will start to look like a paste. Stop to scrape down the bowl. It should be pretty easy to do at this point. Add the salt to the nuts and process for about another 30 seconds. This whole process should take about 5-7 minutes. What you will be left with is gorgeous, tasty, pure almond butter!!
Store in an airtight container. It can be kept at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 2 months.
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
Pittsburgh area mom striving to provide clean, healthy, REAL food for her family!