My husband makes our 16 month old son sweet potato fries regularly for an afternoon snack and he gobbles them up faster than you can say hot potato. So when I was at the health food store the other day and saw Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and Japanese white sweet potatoes, I had to get them for an extra special, healthy, and colorful treat. Continue reading
I’m sorry to admit it but I fell deep into a cooking rut over the past several months. I’ve been on autopilot and turning over and over again to my tried and true meals. Enchiladas, huevos rancheros, chili, tamales, stir fry…same ol, same ol. I was feeling pretty uninspired. Until…a couple of months ago when I was given the opportunity to pilot a home delivery program for groceries. Total game changer. The act of sitting down to order my groceries online every weekend has led me to start meal planning more seriously and has inspired me to shake things up a bit. And seriously…shopping for groceries in my jammies instead of shopping with a toddler in a busy store on the weekend? Heck yes!
One of the fun new things I’ve been doing with my meal planning is picking a cookbook every week and choosing two or three recipes from it to try that week. A couple of weeks ago we had Berbere red lentil stew (fantastic!), pad thai, and red flannel hash from Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen and Lighten Up, America! cookbooks. Next week I’ll be moving onto Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen with BBQ tempeh and spicy smothered green cabbage on the menu. But this week I’m having a wonderful time reading and cooking from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. On Sunday I made Balsamic Glazed Beets and this flavor packed pate. Tonight, my husband made the Three Sisters Stew with masa dumplings and spiced pumpkin seeds. It was a delicious departure from my normal soup repertoire.
This pate, one of my favorite new recipes, is great smeared on top of crisp crackers, pita crisps, or used as a dip for your favorite crudites. This is also a kid friendly recipe. My 15-month old waddled back into the kitchen several times to tug on my leg for another taste. Finally, it’s freezer friendly – perfect to pack away in little containers for snacks at work or on the go!
- 1 pound winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut, or buttercup, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
- Coarse sea salt
- 1/2 cup dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes
- 4 and 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Freshly milled black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss squash chunks with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Evenly distribute squash onto a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until you can easily pierce with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
- In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the tomatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to soften.
- In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until it softens and begins to brown. Add the walnuts, garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, until the walnuts are fragrant.
- Drain the plumped tomatoes but save the liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the sauteed vegetables and winter squash. Puree until creamy, adding the reserved tomato water if needed, until the desired consistency is reached.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
When I was pregnant and shortly after I had my son fifteen months ago, I received a great deal of advice. Some of the advice was game changing, like the advice to get an Ergobaby carrier so I could “wear him down” to sleep while still getting some things done. Some of the advice clearly works for some babies but not mine…like the advice to put River in his crib and allow him to soothe himself to sleep. Let me just say that after many, many, many attempts and variations, he wants nothing to do with that business (and who would, when they can fall asleep with their head on mama’s warm chest, listening to the thump thump of her heart?). And some of the advice was just plain weird, like the time I was told by a well-meaning stranger at a concert that I should take a washcloth and rub vigorously to “toughen up my nipples” before I had my son. Seriously. A stranger told me that. I can’t make this stuff up.
Two pieces of advice that have been truly invaluable during this time have been 1) to take care of myself and 2) to embrace routine. Both are often easier said than done but over time I have found some great ways to streamline my day and make sure my basic needs are met so I can be a good caregiver and worker. As a food lover and still-nursing and pumping mom, that means making sure that I have snacks and lunches prepped and packed for the week every Sunday. I’m all about making one big batch of snacks and lunches to last through the weekdays. Freezable dishes? Even better. This recipe for granola bars provides me with a healthy snack that is easy to make ahead of time, easy to pack, provides a great boost of energy, and is freezable. A super food.
When I started out on my task of creating a granola bar recipe, several recipes I encountered online required baking the bars. I found that it was very difficult to get a consistent end result that was not dry or too chewy. After much tweaking and taste testing, this granola bar recipe is the result of my efforts. It requires roasting the grains and nuts ahead of time to add flavor without drying or hardening the bar. After the grains and nuts are roasted, it only takes a few moments to stir the dry and wet ingredients and to pat them in the pan to set. Easy. Delicious. Cheaper than a Kind bar. My favorite granola bar yet. I hope you love it too.
Have a sweet tooth? These granola bars are naturally sweet from the brown rice syrup and touch of honey. Still hankering? To turn this into more of a dessert granola bar, add a handful of dark chocolate chips to the mix. You won’t regret it!
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup puffed millet (optional – you can use another cup of rolled oats if you don’t have puffed millet)
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup whole raw almonds
- 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 2.5 cups dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, etc.
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use crunchy)
- 2/3 cup brown rice syrup (I buy at iHerb.com)
- Put the oats, millet, almonds, and pumpkin seeds on a large sheet pan. Spread to distribute evenly. Roast at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until crispy but not browned.
- Meanwhile, heat the honey, peanut butter, and brown rice syrup on low in a saucepan. Heat just enough to easily be able to mix the peanut butter with the sweetener.
- Put the dried fruit into a large bowl. Add the roasted grains and nuts and mix. Pour the liquid mixture onto the dry mixture and stir well to combine.
- Pour the mixture onto a sheet pan or a 9x13 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Press the mixture into the pan hard enough to ensure the mixture will adhere and be able to be cut into bars. I recommend using a flat bottomed measuring cup or bowl to press the mixture into the pan!
- Place the pan into the fridge to cool off for an hour.
- Cut the bars into squares or rectangles.
- These also freeze very well so you may freeze any extras you have.
- Makes about 24 bars.
December is right around the corner and we’ve had our first taste of snow. Mornings are covered in frost crystals and I know Jack Frost will make a visit to us soon. My little herb garden has seen better days so today I decided to harvest all of the parsley and put it to good use. This salad was the perfect way to use it up. Cooking Light aptly calls this salad “the perfect antidote to the winter blues.” And served with Cooking Light’s Ribollita, it was a perfect meal on a cold wintry night.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of raw mushrooms. I normally encounter raw mushrooms as afterthoughts in lackluster side salads with cheddar cheese, croutons, and a cherry tomato or two. They just don’t do anything for me. But the image of this salad was so pretty that my eyes convinced me to try it out. I love when food surprises me and this salad did just that.
I used my mandoline slicer to make the very thin cuts of white button and cremini (baby bella) mushrooms. You can use a knife if you don’t have a mandoline slicer but have a sharp knife and good knife skills. Use a vegetable peeler, cheese shaver, or mandoline slicer to make the wispy thin parmesan cheese shavings.
Cozy up, and enjoy!
- 3 large button mushrooms, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter (sometimes called "stuffers")
- 3 cremini mushrooms, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter
- 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground white pepper, plus more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Gently wash and dry mushrooms. Trim the very bottom ends of mushrooms, leaving stems intact. Cut mushrooms vertically into very thin slices; arrange on a platter so they overlap slightly.
- Combine parsley, rind, and garlic in a bowl.
- Combine juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
- Gradually add oil to juice mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.
- Drizzle juice mixture evenly over mushrooms; sprinkle with parsley mixture and cheese.
- Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Transitions…I’ve had a few.
Three years ago I lived by myself in a historic home in downtown Grand Rapids. I worked from home and spackled, sanded, and painted my house in the evenings. I took my dog for a walk nearly every night and would stop to watch live music downtown. I did yoga four to five times per week – once I even did thirty classes in thirty days for a challenge. I posted on this blog every week. Yup. Every week.
That feels like a lifetime ago. In what feels like the blink of an eye, my whole world has forever changed. I recently did five yoga classes…in seven weeks. It was a small victory. Parenting, nursing, and working full time doing research for a footwear company has changed the every moment and the every day. For one, I’ve had a real reality check in the kitchen. Like packing my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for the entire work week on Sundays so I can eat well throughout the week. Like steaming, baking, and pureeing everything I can think of so my little one can enjoy healthy and diverse solid foods and learn to love food like I do (puh-lease do not turn out to be a picky eater…I will crumble). Like burning the rice syrup while making these granola bars because he crawled out of the room (how did he get so fast???). Like nearly burning the granola bars because I left them in for two extra minutes.
Now put away your tiny violin. I’m not telling you a sob story. Most of everything has been so positive. My son brings more happiness to me than I could have ever imagined. I get to see the world from his perspective and finally have someone else in the house who completely gets my humor (he giggles when I pretend to smell his feet and say peeeeeuw!). And like everything else, this stage is a transition, a phase that won’t last forever. So I’ll just do my best, and keep on trucking.
But I digress. I wanted to talk about Transitions for another reason. The good folks at Transition Lenses asked me to try out a pair of glasses. Don’t mind if I do, I said, I’ll try anything once. I have to admit that the first image that crossed my mind was Cindy Knoebel. Seventh grade. Small glasses not much larger than swim goggles. Looking like she wore her sunglasses inside for ten minutes after first hour started. It didn’t really seem like my thing. Now, keep in mind that I was not exactly hip. I wore ugly-with-a-capital-U non-Transition lenses. Non-shading and non-transitioning from ugly. And keep in mind that Cindy Knoebel turned out to be prom queen and married the prom king. Maybe she was onto something. Anyhow, I gave them a shot and I have to say…I was pleasantly surprised. The tinting changes much more quickly than in the past. I was asked to choose from several shading options. And was able to add all the fancy stuff like anti-glare and a blue-screen filter to protect my eyes from the many hours in front of the computer screens at work. I also ran into two very cool people at an outdoor music festival this weekend wearing Transition lenses. Seems like it may be the cool people wearing them after all.
Well finally, let’s get back to what this blog is all about. Food. These granola bars from Cooking Light are my snacks for the week. On principle, I don’t buy snack bars because I know I can make them myself (but never do). They were so easy to make (they require about 10 minutes of dedicated attention), very easily adaptable, and very healthy to boot. I made this version, adding almonds, chia seeds, and some dried cherries to it. Let me know if you try these…and especially let me know if you come up with fun adaptations for the recipe!
For this and many other DIY healthy snack bar ideas, head to Cooking Light’s DIY Snack Bar slideshow.
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups puffed barley cereal (I couldn't find any so used puffed millet)
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2/3 cup prechopped dates
- 1/3 cup toasted pumpkinseed kernels
- Cooking spray
- 3 tablespoons toasted uncooked quinoa (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°. Combine tahini, syrup, olive oil, vanilla, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until bubbly. Alternatively, you can heat this on the stove but you must stir constantly and watch carefully so as not to burn the brown rice syrup mixture.
- Combine cereal, oats, dates, and pumpkinseed kernels in a medium bowl.
- Pour tahini mixture over barley mixture; toss well to coat.
- Press into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with quinoa (if using), pressing to adhere.
- Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until set. Cool completely in dish.
Oh be still my heart! We are in the midst of Michigan fruit season, my favorite food season of them all. Strawberries just exited the farmer’s market stage left. That is, other than in the Upper Peninsula, where the U-Pick strawberry season at Ostanek’s Strawberry Farm just started on July 4. Call 906-446-3050 to hear a detailed voice message from the owner regarding the status of strawberries – updated at 8:30 pm each day…a lovely personal touch that makes me think fondly of the U.P. Here in downstate Michigan, blueberries are in full swing and the cherries are in their last week. This recipe makes good use of cherries in a very crowd pleasing way in the form of an appetizer. It went over well at our annual potluck with friends at Portage Lake this weekend.
If you are looking for more recipes on how to use up your cherries, check out Cooking Light’s list of cherry recipes here.
Try these toasts with peaches or pears when in season. Or try them savory with salted ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and basil.
- 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
- dash of salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of honey
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
- About 20 cherries
- 1 plum
- 5 or 6 mint leaves, shredded finely
- 1 tsp lemon zest, optional
- Honey for serving
- Heat milk and salt on medium in a thick bottomed saucepan until it gets to a just-boiling state. Stir frequently to avoid burning the milk on the bottom of the pan. Once the milk begins to bubble slightly, remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Pour mixture into a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Let drain for 5 minutes.
- If you want thicker ricotta, simply allow to drain longer. The longer you drain, the more dense it will be.
- Scrape inside of half of a vanilla bean into ricotta. Stir honey into ricotta. Set aside.
- You can make ricotta ahead. Just cover and chill up to 3 days.
- Pit cherries and slice in half. Slice plums thinly into half moons.
- Heat nonstick skillet on medium-high and add cherries and plums to pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cherries and plums are caramelized slightly. Remove from heat.
- Cut baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the bias and grill or toast lightly.
- Spread 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta onto each toast.
- Top with 1 tablespoon of cherry-plum compote.
- Top with a sprinkle of shredded mint leaves and lemon zest (optional).
- Drizzle with honey and serve.
An old Ukranian proverb forewarns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.” As a big beet fan, I’d like to think that a tale that begins with a beet will end with deliciousness.
My cooking style has changed considerably since my baby boy arrived in November. Meals are simple, quick, freezable, and lunch-packable. Sundays are filled with food prep to make the work-and-baby-filled weeks a little easier. This Sunday I prepped muesli for breakfasts, grains, tofu, and greens for lunches, and snacks for the whole week. As a nursing mom, I need to make sure I’m eating small, healthy snacks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and hummus is a clear winner. Hummus is packed with protein and fiber, easy to make, and endlessly versatile (spread on crackers or in a sandwich, use as a dip with carrot sticks or sugar snap peas or put a dollop on a grain salad). Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with a basic hummus recipe but last month’s Cooking Light magazine inspired me to get a little crazy with my hummus and the results were great. Continue reading
Happy New Year! I just got done filing almost a year’s worth of paperwork (ahem…I sheepishly admit that last year’s resolution to stay on top of my filing didn’t stick for more than a couple of months….sigh…what do you do?). I feel accomplished and proud for the moment. That feeling will last only briefly, until the baby cries, , my hair stays wet, the laundry that needs folding piles up at the end of the bed, and I realize that I haven’t eaten in six hours. As I stand over the counter scraping avocado out of the shell with a cracker while bouncing just so to quiet the little one, I’m sure the elation of my paperwork success will feel like a distant memory. But hey, I’ll take it while I can get it. Continue reading
One of my favorite things about the holidays is the spirit of generosity that emerges. Though I wish the spirit was so strong all year round, I’m happy to see it wash over so many at this time of year. It’s fun to read stories of generosity and good cheer. In the tiny town of Lowell, just down the road, a police officer got to play Santa for several unsuspecting motorists (check it out here). My employer, Meijer, also played Santa this year, footing the bill for one shopper in each of their 213 stores (see the heartwarming video here).
In the spirit of generosity and good food, Cooking Light Magazine had the great idea this holiday season to “Bake it Forward,” making one batch of cookies, cakes, muffins, or bars to keep (yay!) and one to give away. The best recipes are those that can easily be doubled or tripled, like the chewy molasses cookies I made this week. Continue reading
Ummm….hi. It’s been a while. A looong while. In August I thought I was going to get back in the swing of blogging and it just never happened. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking…but while I was pregnant my priorities shifted. First, the focus shifted to just getting food in my mouth, not pausing to take a photo and write a recipe. As I neared the end of my pregnancy, my focus shifted to making large batches of soups, stews, and easy-to-freeze dishes like manicotti to get me through the early weeks of motherhood. We were also in the midst of frantically working on a major home project…the baby’s room. What started with a simple home improvement project (putting down new flooring and painting the walls) ended up turning into a major project, replacing windows, tearing the room down to the studs, and working on the roof.
My work life became very busy as I worked toward having a couple of months off of leave. And when it came down to it, my blog fell by the wayside. After all, the most important thing I had to cook was this little guy. River Wilder Nelson was born four weeks ago and my life has become consumed with feeding, diapering, and staring at my sweet baby. Can you blame me?
I’m just now getting my bearings enough to consider blogging again. Let’s hope this time it sticks…
As a way to cope with all of the busyness and life changes, I have become a very practical cook in recent months. This recipe I’m about to share is about as practical as it gets. It is my take on one of Cooking Light’s most popular dishes, Toasted Guajillo and Pork Posole. It’s a great way to use up Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and can easily be adapted if you have leftover pork or chicken. It’s a refreshing change after eating turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes until they come out of your ears. Not to mention, it’s very budget friendly and healthy to boot.
I flavor my posole with toasted guajillo salsa, which has been a staple in my house for the last several months. It is SO good. We use it as a flavor booster in soups, as a salsa with chips, on top of tacos and enchiladas, and with my baked eggs with kale and mushroom skillet on weekend mornings. It freezes well so I make a double batch. I’m even thinking about giving it away at Christmas with a jar of tomatillo salsa (red and green for Christmas!). So I highly recommend you make a batch and use some of it in this posole. If you aren’t into making some of this salsa, see my note at the bottom of the recipe for another way to use chiles in this recipe.
Treat this like chili when thinking choosing your toppings. I like radishes, cilantro, sour cream, and avocado on mine. Crumbled tortilla chips are also a nice addition. Whatever you like! I hope you enjoy. It’s good to be back!
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups water
- 1 pound leftover turkey, chicken, or pork, cut or torn in 1/2 inch pieces
- 3 tbsp toasted guajillo chili salsa (recipe here) or see note below
- 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
- 1 (29-ounce) can hominy, rinsed and drained
- Add oil to dutch oven/large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion to pot and stir frequently for five minutes, until onions and garlic are softened and lightly browned.
- Add half of the broth, cumin, cloves, salt, and pepper.
- Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, pour contents into a blender and blend until smooth, then pour back into the pot.
- Add remaining chicken stock and water.
- Add guajillo chili salsa and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce; reserve the chipotle chiles from can and remaining sauce for another use (I freeze mine in small quantities).
- Stir in hominy and turkey, chicken, or pork.
- Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- *Note: If you don't feel up for making a batch of guajillo chili salsa, you can use the following method: put 3 chiles on a baking sheet, bake at 400° for 4 minutes or until dark. Cool; remove stems and seeds. Place in a blender with 1 cup of liquid from soup pot and puree. Add to soup.