Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Inspiring Couple: Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse

{how cute are they? I can't take it!}

I recently caught a Rachael Ray episode featuring newlyweds Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse. Not only are they the cutest couple alive, but they are also seriously into green living. During their interview, they noted how they used local bakers for their cake as well as local chefs for their food. In addition, they used the natural elements as inspiration for their wedding details. You can read about their DIY green ideas here . A particularly interesting tidbit of the interview was when they mentioned how they had over 200 wedding guests and had ONE BAG OF GARBAGE!?!?!?!?!?! I am in serious awe of this. I thought long and hard about this and figured, if you use china, glasses, wine glasses, silverware, table linens and cloth napkins, composted all leftover food that was just might be possible. So now I am sitting here asking myself, "what's my excuse?" They have inspired me to produce less garbage here at home. Especially during the upcoming holidays. Cheers to Amy and Carter! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Easy Peasy Taco Seasoning

{taco seasoning from scratch. how gorgeous are these spice colors?}

Tonight, my quest was to make seasoned taco meat with ingredients from my own pantry. Turns out, my husband liked the homemade version better than the packaged! I omitted the red pepper flakes because we have other family members who do not like spicy foods, but even just a little dash would probably have added the "zip" that it really needed.

In the future, to save on time (not that it's not easy enough!), I might measure out a batch, then make a few batches and put it into a mason jar or spice jar for storage. On the outside of the jar, indicate the recommended serving amount. With the holidays coming up, it's a great idea to whip up a few batches and put it in a beautiful spice jar, decorate it and give it as a small gift! In fact, one of the best (and unique) gifts we received as a wedding favor was a  Montreal Steak spice rub! I personally love the simple, cute look of the following labeled jar:

{link for these decorative jars can be found here}

The following recipe (taken from here) was so easy, it's ridiculous! Please note, I did make a few additions.

1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper 
Dash of flour
2-3 Tbsp water

Mix all spices together. Cook desired taco meat in skillet, drain oil. return meat to skillet. Add 2-3 Tbsp water, a dash of flour and the spice mixture. Continue cooking on medium heat until thickened.

Compare the above ingredients to the packaged seasoning (who shall remain nameless):

Yellow corn flour
Modified corn starch
Garlic powder
Citric Acid
Autolyzed Yeast Extract
Natural flavor
Caramel color (sulfites)

I can imagine that you can also season black beans or vegetarian refried beans with the above seasonings if you are vegetarian. 


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vegetarian Highlight: Whole Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

My favorite host on Food Network is Giada De Laurentiis. My daughter just loves her and she is like another family member to us, seriously. You can only imagine my excitement when I tuned in one day and her show was entitled "Viewer's Choice: Vegetarian"! Basically, viewers wrote in with their requests on what they wanted to see on the show and vegetarian recipes won out. According to Giada, she is predicting that 2012 is going to be all about vegetarian fare--that of which I could not be happier about (check out her interview here). I had to try her Whole Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms recipe immediately. (Note: The only difference was that I kept the mushrooms whole and the Brussels Sprouts chunkier, just my own personal touch!)

{I am a huge Brussels sprouts lover...they really add personality to a dish}

{fresh lemon, creme fraiche and toasted slivered almonds. just a few of the stand-out ingredients.}

{brilliantly staged vegetables}

{the unexpected addition of the fresh lemon and lemon zest was the best surprise to this recipe.}

{finished and plated!}

Words cannot describe how wonderfully tasty this recipe was. I am pretty sure I existed on these leftovers for two to three days afterwards. The pepper gave it a kick and the lemon zest really was the highlight, adding a fresh zing. The creaminess of the creme fraiche made the taste smooth and really blended the ingredients together nicely. Toasted slivered almonds add a protein punch as well as a delectable crunchiness. Pair the dish with baguette on the side to complete the meal, but on it's own it was magnificent. This is one that will remain in my recipe book.

Now, onto Giada's other vegetarian recipes...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

 {pumpkin spice pancakes. YUM!}

While I have been trying to watch my sugar lately, if I do decide to make something sweet, I'll make it from scratch so as to avoid preservatives, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated anything. My daughter absolutely loves these pumpkin spice pancakes (recipe link here). I'll do anything to increase any fruits into my daughter's diet, and pumpkin does have some nutritional value worth getting excited about (read the benefits here). Next time I will opt out of using the cinnamon sugar on top since the brown sugar in the recipe is enough sweetness as well as the maple syrup. Ahhhhh fall...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stretching Your Hard-Earned Dollar for Healthy Eats

{fresh vegetables from our garden!}

I found this interesting article (link here) on healthy eating on a budget. At our place, we try and incorporate these ideas regularly, and, personally, I think there are some good ones here. The only exception might be the canned goods as it has been found that many cans are lined with BPA. This is not a great thing because I make marinara sauce regularly from scratch most weeks and use canned whole tomatoes.

Here, I've listed the suggestions in the above-mentioned article:
  • Join a CSA or go to farmers markets regularly (a great way to support local businesses) 
  • Plan ahead, don't impulse buy
  • Eat dried beans
  • Buy frozen vegetables
  • Buy eggs
  • Buy "generic" versions (I do this all the time at Stop and Shop with their Nature's Promise products, but Shop Rite also has many organic store-brand items)
  • Don't buy pre-cut fruits and veggies
  • Eat less meat
  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat
  • Eat foods that fill you up
  • Buy in bulk
Also, during the summer months, another budget/environmentally friendly idea is to start your own garden (even better, using compost that you've collected all year long). You will know exactly where your food has come from and you can't eat more indigenous to your area than that!

For those who are interested, here's my quick marinara/spaghetti sauce recipe. So easy!

Jenny's Quick Marinara

1-2 cans crushed tomatoes (use 10 whole tomatoes if making from true "scratch", without puree)
1 can pureed tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Italian seasoning
1 tsp sugar

Pour 1-2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and saute until the garlic is fragrant but not burned. Add crushed tomatoes, pureed tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar and stir well. Shake enough Italian seasoning over the mixture, enough to cover the surface area of the sauce in an even layer. Mix. Simmer for as little as a few minutes until it is hot or for a few hours to develop into a rich, hearty sauce. Mix throughout the time it is simmering. Add Italian sausage to maximize flavor or meatballs. (Or nothing!) Freeze, divided into1-cup servings in storage containers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Perfect Golden Chicken Nuggets

{eat your heart out Mcdonald's.}

When I saw Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution a while back, he did a special on "what's really in chicken nuggets?" It was enough to make me want to run for the hills! So instead, I found a great recipe will real, whole ingredients that I know you will enjoy.

When I am dealing with a picky-food child, I turn to none other than Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld to help me out. The premise of the book is that vegetable purees are added to sneakily "up" the nutritional value to her recipes. So when a friend graciously gave me this book as a gift, I turned to the chicken nuggets recipe (here) ASAP. The result was crispy, golden, tender chicken nuggets that blows McDonalds' out of the water by a million miles. I have to admit that I didn't have time to add the purees to the nuggets, but I will try to in the future.

{the secret is in the breadcrumbs and spices.}

{this is how I prepare, using an assembly line after cutting chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks.}

{the key to the "perfect" golden nugget is to coat skillet with non-stick spray. let it get hot. then add 1 Tbsp of olive oil. let that get hot again before adding nuggets.}

{let the chicken sit for a few minutes to develop a nice golden color. then flip.}

{nuggets will develop a delightful golden color. yum!}

Everyone loves these delicious nuggets! I serve these usually with homemade mac 'n cheese (or Annie's mac 'n cheese if I'm in a time crunch, link here) and a vegetable. With football season here, it's the perfect appetizer to wow your crowd. I dare you to find someone who doesn't enjoy these!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Ode to Cinnamon, Misunderstood Spice

I recently found this wonderful article (link here) on the health benefits of cinnamon and wanted to share it with you. When I say "misunderstood," I mean that cinnamon is often an ingredient in desserts such as cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, etc. However, cinnamon alone has the beneficial properties of lowering blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels--a great reason to include it regularly as part of your diet.

Fall is a great time of year for cinnamon to make a cameo appearance as it's a great compliment to apples. I put cinnamon in oatmeal, whole wheat waffles, and whole wheat pancakes regularly. Here's a great quick and easy oatmeal recipe that even the pickiest of picky eaters seem to love! This is from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet:

Quick Date-Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal
Makes 1 serving
1 cup organic rolled oats (I happened to use Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats, but Stop and Shop has both their Nature's Promise as well as the Quaker ones for the same price, $2.69)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/3 crisp apple, cut in cubes
About 5 dates, pitted and chopped
Fine sea salt to taste
3 shakes of ground cinnamon
Scant 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil (I would refrain from this if/when you are trying to conceive)
Note: I have made it like the above recipe, but really you can put whatever dried fruit you want---dried cranberries are also great.
Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
Combine the oats, syrup, nuts, apple and dates in a bowl. Add a pinch or two of salt, then pour enough hot water to just cover the oats; don't add too much or it will be watery. Cover the bowl with a plate or pot lid, and let the oatmeal stand until the oats have absorbed the water. Stir, and add a little more water if the oats look too dry or a little more oats if it looks to watery. Let the oatmeal cool a little, and then drizzle with the flaxseed oil. Enjoy!

This recipe is so quick to make and the taste is much better than those bagged oatmeal packets. Plus, you won't be on a jacked-up sugar high all morning and the fiber will keep you fuller, longer! *phew!* You can tweak this recipe to be whatever you want. Experiment! If you find a new combo to put in the oatmeal, let us know!

Let's Wrap Things Up

{fresh tomato, baby spinach, avocado and hummus on a whole wheat tortilla with organic red apple slices}

I've been running around like a madwoman lately with various appointments and places to be. In my post yesterday I had mentioned that my body craves clean food when I'm running a little ragged and need an energy boost. Today was one of those days. I didn't have a lot of time to make myself lunch but wanted to whip up something with lots of vegetables, a nice creamy spread, and a hearty bread. This wrap met all of those needs! I love wraps because they are so versatile. You can pretty much put anything in them; you can even make a breakfast burrito out of the tortilla!  

We were lucky enough this year to have a beautiful vegetable garden, compliments of my husband. There is something about knowing where your food comes from and the process of growing it yourself that is so satisfying--even if it's just herbs on the windowsill. Doesn't get much more local and "green" than that! For this particular post, I used our garden fresh tomatoes for my wrap.

{spread hummus on whole wheat tortilla, add fresh tomatoes, avocado, and spinach. A dash of pepper and roll it, "cigar style"}

{healthy, fresh, simple. what could be a more perfect? }

Note: Some turkey slices, alfalfa sprouts, and/or julienne carrots would have also been a nice addition to this quick and easy lunch. Next time! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vegetarian Highlight: Collard Greens with Pine Nuts and Raisins

I got this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. Although she has been a long-time vegan, many of her recipes appeal to vegans and non-vegans alike. Dark leafy greens are one of the most healthy veggies you can add to your diet. According to Alicia, "Greens are packed with a mind-blowing amount of nutrients, but especially nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. They also include the antioxidant vitamins and tons of fiber. Greens are that rich, dark color because they absorb so much sunshine, so eating greens is like eating light" (p. 63). I mean, common...who wouldn't want to eat sunshine? These are living foods that add vitality!

Collard greens may be a bit bitter for some people and are an acquired taste. For that reason, you may want to cook them a little extra longer. In addition, the raisins add a nice sweetness to the dish and the pine nuts pack a nice crunch (as well as being rather nutritious. Here is some more info on the benefits of pine nuts).

I have served this dish with  plain brown rice in the past for myself, but can be a wonderful accompaniment to a simple lemon chicken or grilled steak. Either way, it's a nice way to add some vital nutrients to the dinner table.

{toasted pine nuts have the most AMAZING aroma!}

{after removing collard greens from stem, slice into bite-sized pieces and sautee.}

{collard greens with pine nuts and raisins}

Monday, September 19, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

I'm a little late in posting this but wanted to include. This summer, I got festive with my 4th of July dessert. I wanted something both appealing to the eye as well as to the stomach. Nothing says Independence Day like red, white, and blue and what other way to celebrate than with good old strawberry (and blueberry) shortcake? I found the following Alton Brown shortcake recipe  online. The shortcake was so simple to make, it's almost a sin to get it from a store when most of the ingredients can be found in the common pantry. Add to it some all-natural Breyer's ice cream, a dallop of whipped cream, some in-season fruit and you have yourself a party on a plate.

{carefully spooned batter on parchment paper lined baking sheet}

 {right out of the oven}

{strawberry shortcake with blueberries and vanilla ice cream}

This strawberry shortcake?: Refreshing.

Copycat Boston Market Dill Potatoes

{copycat boston market dill potatoes}

Warning: If you don't like butter (and I mean tons of it), skip this post.  

It's possible that I can blame my Irish roots for this one, but I've never met a potato I didn't like. Potato salad, baked potato, boiled, scalloped, twice-baked, etc. You name it, I like it. That is why it was only natural that I find a copycat potato side dish recipe from one of my local fast-food restaurants. I have no idea what the original ingredients are for the recipe, but I found this recipe online and knew I had to make them immediately. Ok, so the tons of butter that the recipe calls for is not exactly the most healthy. I personally think that you can use the butter sparingly just enough to coat the potatoes with the seasonings and then add to it at the dinner table if you feel you want more. Or not. I threw it all in since I normally eat vegetables plain with no butter--why not splurge just this once? 

{small red-skin potatoes to be boiled}

{boiled potatoes + seasonings + butter=woah!}

The result: the dill brings a lovely taste to these potatoes and the butter and garlic make this one of the most comforting foods I have ever made. Butter lovers, unite! One word to describe these potatoes: satisfying. 

Not-So-Ordinary Salad

I love me a good salad. If I go a few days eating a little less than healthy, my body gets confused and I end up craving clean foods which usually includes a hearty salad. However, let's admit it. Salads can be boring. I found a really great link from one of my favorite blogs, Cupcakes and Cashmere, entitled "101 Simple Salads for the Season" (link can be found here). The author of Cupcakes and Cashmere added avocados, which I also added into the mix. I dare you to try some of these sophisticated yet simple creations to test your taste buds. I happened to make #2 on the list. The result was an alluring combination of sweet (tomatoes and peaches) and spicy (red pepper flakes). The cilantro and onions added a wonderful earthiness to the dish. This recipe in a word: unexpected.


Funfetti Cupcakes from Scratch!

The inspiration for my first blog post occurred on a not-so-unusual day like today. I invited some  friends over for a little cupcake birthday party for their daughter. The next day, kids in tow, I headed to the grocery store looking for the perfect boxed cupcake mix. Funfetti cupcakes came to mind. I eagerly grabbed the box and then I glanced over at my children. It was like something out of a movie. My inner voice said to me, How innocent and perfect are they? How can I feed them or any of the kiddos who were coming over propylene glycol monoesters (an actual ingredient in the mix)? My mission was clear. I had to find that same mix recipe somewhere else with ingredients I felt good about serving to others.

When I got home, I found this recipe. I felt good about this. At 1:00 a.m., the only time I had to make these yummy delights, I still felt good about this.

{paisley cupcake liners up the cuteness factor}

{I decided to tweak the recipe by putting sprinkles IN the cake batter, not just in the icing}


To say that these were good would be an understatement. The cake was fluffy, moist, and rich--unlike any cupcake I've ever had, period, let alone out of a box. The icing was buttery, tangy from the cream cheese, and smooth. These cupcakes in a word: heaven.

Well Hello There!


Ok, so...I don't know about you...but...when I pick up a box of macaroni and cheese, I cringe when I read the list of ingredients. I quickly put that box back on the shelf and begin a quest to find that same dish using *real* ingredients. Guess what? A majority of the time I can find that recipe online or in a cookbook of mine and usually it's with ingredients I can pronounce.

My main purpose here is to inspire others to bring back healthier cooking by keeping things whole, fresh, simple, and mostly from scratch. Above all, I'd like to keep it fun and non-intimidating. My recipes will be diverse from clean, healthy foods to baked desserts with the common denominator being that they are mostly whole foods without preservatives or weird stuff you can't pronounce.

Though this blog is still in its infant stages, I would like to eventually include posts on crockpot cooking, time-saving tips for busy moms/workaholics who want to avoid resorting to fast food, reviews on health food restaurants, guest blog posts, ways to eat healthy on the cheap, organizing menus, and other snippets of information that might be handy to keep things "real" in the kitchen. Stay with me through this journey!

Thanks for visiting and let's get started.