In just hours, 2015 will be upon us. Time for a fresh start, no matter what that start might entail.
If you are planning on eating right in the new year, you’re probably poring over recipes (hello, Pinterest!), trying to figure out what eat — a tough task that can end in a massive collection of pins and bookmarked pages and still nothing specific for dinner.
Here’s a gentle suggestion: Stick to real food and dishes that only use a handful of ingredients. You can make those 20-ingredient Pinterest masterpieces in a few weeks. Right now, focus on the basics: Whole foods, mostly plants, nothing processed.
For me, that is the very definition of eating right.
I’m always trying to be as kind to my body as possible by giving it foods that don’t come in a package, are as minimally refined as possible and that don’t create havoc with crazy highs and lows. “Trying” is the operative word there: Nobody is perfect, no matter what’s on their Pinterest page or Instagram account.
Now, for those of you who have a resolution to attend to, I want to share this delicious side dish. Cauliflower has superb antioxidant activity, and coconut oil is full of good fats, aka the kind your body needs to stay healthy, not the kind that will kill your good efforts. Serve it alongside a healthy soup, salad or protein and give yourself a pat on the back for progress, not perfection.
Happy New Year!
Garlic-Cumin Roasted Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 F. Put the cauliflower in a medium bowl. Mix in coconut oil until the cauliflower is coated. Add in garlic and cumin. Stir again to coat.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the cauliflower out on to the baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Cover the sheet with aluminum foil.
Bake for 15 minutes covered in foil. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2.
Each year on Christmas morning, my family always, always, always has a big breakfast.
Homemade scones. Omelet casserole. A enormous bowl of fruit salad. Mom-mixed hot chocolate. Lemon poppy seed bread.
It’s a spread. And it’s something my parents have been doing for decades.
To me, the act of eating breakfast is almost often more memorable than the annual present exchange. Maybe this is because I associate these foods with Christmas and have a hard time believing it’s Christmas Day without the presence of a Plain Jane Scottish scone. Or maybe it’s just because it’s a delicious memory. Whatever the reason, a large breakfast is Christmas to me.
This year, there will be scones, yes. And fruit salad. But we’ve decided to diverge a bit with our entree and go with our son’s Sunday morning favorite: pancakes. But pancakes with a twist.
We don’t make your basic, dry-as-a-bone Bisquick pancakes. Oh, no. Homemade is definitely the way to go. And it’s worth it every single Sunday.
If you’ve never made homemade pancakes, they’re easy to do and taste delicious.
And these pancakes are hearty and mildly sweet thanks to the addition of a banana to the batter. In fact, these suckers are so good, I’ve been known to eat leftover pancakes cold while standing in the kitchen minutes before hitting the hay for the night. OK, maybe I did that once. Usually, there aren’t any leftovers.
For an extra bit of holiday fun, I’ve also included instructions on how to make these into Christmas-specific pancakes using cookie cutters.
Homemade Banana Holiday Pancakes
2 1/2 cups flour
1 small banana or half a large banana
2 cups hemp milk (can sub in almond or skim milk)
2 tablespoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
Coconut oil (If you don't have coconut oil, don't make a special trip to the store, just use vegetable oil)
In a small bowl, mash the banana and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the middle and fill with the mashed banana and milk of choice. Stir together until just mixed.
Heat a tablespoon or so of coconut oil in a skillet. Pour pancake batter into the skillet, making the pancakes about the size of a fist. Flip when just brown.
Let pancakes rest on a large plate as you finish up with the dough. When all the dough has been used, cut the pancakes into fun shapes using holiday cookie cutters, starting with the coolest pancakes first.
Top with real maple syrup and festive fruit toppings like pomegranate seeds, clementine sections or sliced bananas. Serves three to four.
Tip: Save back the extra bits of pancakes and serve the next day torn into pieces for a bit of post-holiday “pancake” cereal. Just put the pieces in a bowl and top with maple syrup and enjoy.
It’s funny to me how each one of us associates this time of year with a certain “holidays-only” flavor.
For some, it might be eggnog. Or fruitcake. Or chestnuts.
And then there are the secondary flavors — ones that we might enjoy more this time of year than we would in any other month, even though they aren’t a December exclusive.
As we rush upon the winter solstice, I don’t tend to crave a “holidays-only” flavor, but one lumped into the secondary category. The kind that can be enjoyed in the heat of summer, but somehow represents the holidays to me and probably many others: mint.
This is probably related to the fact that when I was young, my mother made pinwheel cookies as part of her massive yearly holiday bake-a-thon. If I shut my eyes, I can easily taste the sweet, minty flavor imbued within those pink and white swirls.
Yep, those cookies are Christmas to me. And they aren’t even my favorite Christmas cookie. (That would be my mom’s chocolate-pecan squares. YUM.)
And I wanted those pinwheels this week. But because making a huge batch of cookies just to enjoy a tiny taste of one seems to be a fool’s errand (you know I’ll eat the whole dang flotilla of cookies), I decided to try to slay my craving with something a little lighter. You know, a treat that can rotate in with all that heavy holiday party fare.
The result is this pretty green smoothie. Packed with good fats, vitamin A and taste, it’s got that wintery fresh flavor that is just as welcome this time of year as the dense foods we also associate with December. But don’t drink it with a slice of fruitcake. That can only end badly — dried fruit plus mint? Yuck.
Mistletoe Mint Smoothie
1 1/2 cups hemp, almond or regular milk
1 avocado, halved
2 handfuls spinach
1 or 2 tablespoons honey (to taste)
6 to 8 mint leaves
Dash mint extract
Dash vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in the blender. Makes one large serving or two small ones.
My kitchen got some pretty heavy use over the holiday — before, during and after the holiday. Honestly, we needed to take a break from each other. The feeling was mutual (my poor oven).
To ease back into the kitchen, it seems only right to use my slow cooker. Easy for me. Easy for everything that’s still recovering from serving 10 people a week ago.
As you may have gathered by now, I’m a pretty big curry person. I’m also huge on eating seasonally, which is why almost everything you see in this space during the colder months tends to include some sort of gourd or tuber or root. Thus, it seemed completely appropriate (and painless) to feature a butternut squash slow cooker curry this week.
I’ve made a few different butternut squash curries in my slow cooker this season and this one is by far my favorite. I love the depth of flavor from the onion, garlic, chili paste and curry. And I love the simplicity: The hardest thing about it is peeling and chopping up the squash (seriously), but then everything else is as easy as pie. Well, eating pie. Not making it.
We tend to eat this alone with some Wheatfields bread or nothing at all, though feel free to go all traditional and have it over rice.
Savory Butternut Squash Slow Cooker Curry
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)
1 red onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced or pureed fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
4 teaspoons Thai red chili paste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
Lime juice (to taste)
In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add red onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 3 minutes, until onion is soft. Add curry and chili pastes and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk.
Transfer everything in the skillet into a slow cooker. Add in butternut squash, sugar, boiling water and a generous squeeze of lime juice. Turn on slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours. Serves 4.
Happy Thanksgiving week, friends. I hope everyone is warm and cozy and gearing up to devour some delicious seasonal treats on the big day (and then for a few days thereafter).
Last week, I shared an easy and tasty side dish perfect for bringing to dinner or adding to your own menu. This week, I've decided I’d share a recipe geared more to those inevitable holiday hours when everyone is around the house, looking for something fun to do, and trying to avoid eating all of the special Turkey Day food (both before and after the day itself).
Therefore, I present the perfect, healthy, kid-friendly snack for this holiday week (and the ones we’ll have in December): Tea-Time Banana Sandwiches.
These are easy, require no special equipment, and, by design, they include ingredients you probably already have around the house: bananas, peanut butter and chocolate. Because, if there’s one thing that’s no fun, it’s heading to the store for a single ingredient during the holiday rush.
Make a few with your kids while you enjoy the holiday hours together, and then make them again over winter break in a few weeks. They’re messy and won’t impress guests, but they’re good fun for the kids and the grownups, and they double as a not-so-bad cabin fever snack.
Tea-Time Banana Sandwiches
2 medium bananas or 1 large one
2 to 3 tablespoons peanut or almond butter
1/4 cup chocolate chips (or a chopped-up bar of regular chocolate if you don’t have chocolate chips)
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a double broiler (or a glass bowl mounted over water in a saucepan), begin to melt the chocolate chips over low heat. Meanwhile, slice the bananas into quarter-inch slices. Spread a bit of peanut butter on half the slices (this is awkward but fun) and then assemble your banana-peanut butter sandwiches.
When the chocolate has melted, use a toothpick (or just your fingers — no need to head to the store for just toothpicks!) to dip one side of the banana sandwiches in chocolate. Place each dipped sandwich on the lined cookie sheet.
When all the sandwiches are made and coated, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. Then pull them out and enjoy.
You can store these in the freezer, but they probably won't last long enough to do so.
Variation: If you want a version without any refined sugar, swap the chocolate chips for 1/4 cup semi-soft coconut oil (too melted and it won’t coat properly), 1 tablespoon (or more) maple syrup and 1 teaspoon cocoa powder. Mix it together and use it to coat the sandwiches. You may need to freeze the sandwiches once first and then dip them in this mixture before returning them to the freezer.
It’s hard for some people to imagine, but maternity leave isn’t just a 12-week staycation with a cute baby. It’s 12 weeks of barely any schedule, unpredictable amounts of sleep and never knowing when you’ll actually have time to do something.
Which means that I both have time and don’t have time right now to actually get in the kitchen and cook.
There are blocks of time where I could prep and cook a great meal. But the chances of a particular block of time like that being around an actual preferred eating time (breakfast, lunch or dinner) are slim to none. Try more like 5:30 a.m. or 2:15 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Not exactly ideal.
Plus, half the time I’ll either end up with an hour I didn’t know I was going to get (surprise!) or plan on time that’s not there (double surprise!).
Obviously, it’s sort of hard to time something in the kitchen if you have no idea if you’ll have to tend to a fussy baby in the middle of chopping things or right when you need to flip something in the oven. Thus, my cooking has been pretty much limited to weekends — not helpful when I want to make something fresh for lunch or dinner.
To make things easier, I’ve been trying tricks that I’ve heard about but never necessarily tried. Up first: the genius use of a slow cooker to “bake” sweet potatoes.
I heard about this cooking hack more than year ago, but I’d never actually decided to give it ago until I really, really needed it to work. Which is dumb, because all you have to do is wrap potatoes in foil and place them in your slow cooker. I have no idea why I waited so long.
Prep took about a minute. And four hours later, I had a blissfully perfect baked sweet potato, plus three more to have for leftovers during the work week, when eating lunch is usually a difficult, solo affair.
I know it sounds silly that it’s easier to have something cook for four hours than for 45 minutes, but if you’ve ever lived on the uneven terrain that is fresh parenthood, you’ll know exactly why this seems so much easier.
And if you haven’t or are long past that point? You’ll still love the “set it and forget it” easiness to this recipe.
“Baked” Potatoes A La Slow Cooker
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, skins washed
Wrap each sweet potato in foil. (No need to poke holes in the potatoes). Place the wrapped potatoes in a single layer in a slow cooker. (Mine can fit four, though some may only fit two or three.) Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Remove, split open and enjoy.
October is pretty tuber-tubular, according to the local farm set.
A group of area farmers, foodies, restaurants and stores have banded together to make October “Celebrate Sweet Potatoes” month in Lawrence, even going so far as getting the City Commission to give the orange spud its own month.
The group set up a website, celebratesweetpotatoes.com, and filled it with information on events, “Tuber Tuesday” sweet potato specials and facts about the different types of potatoes and their stellar nutritional value.
Hoyland Farm’s Bob Lominska says the idea really is just to get local eaters out of the idea that sweet potatoes are strictly for eating with marshmallows at Thanksgiving.
If you’ve followed this space for the past few years, you know I’m quite the sweet potato fan and feature them often in my recipes and the recipes I share. As part of my own personal mini celebration of sweet potatoes, I went back through my recipes and found some of my favorites, and thought I’d also share a recipe I haven’t yet that pairs two of my favorite fall staples.
But first, some of my personal favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes include:
Now, for a new recipe. I love this dish from Nancy O’Connor’s “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” because it’s pretty and pretty versatile. It really is both a side dish and a dessert (I’ve even had it for breakfast). If that sounds like it could be a description of the old marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes of yore, think again. This one has the added bonus of apples and makes your kitchen smell like that homey scent Yankee Candle only thinks it gets right.
Oh, and even though October is almost over, there’s obviously nothing wrong with keeping the tuber-tubular train rolling well into spring.
Sweet Potato and Apple Bake 2 or 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced approximately 1/4-inch thick
2 flavorful fall apples, peeled and sliced approximately 1/4-inch thick (I used Granny Smith and didn’t peel them)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup apple cider
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a large shallow baking dish. Arrange sweet potato and apple slices attractively in dish.
Combine butter, maple syrup or honey, cider and salt in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter is melted.
Pour half of the mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Halfway through the baking, drizzle the remaining butter/syrup mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples. Serves 6.
— Recipe from “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” by Nancy O’Connor
October is a strange time of year if you eat seasonally. It’s easy to want the best of both worlds — the taste of summer to go along with the sort of warm comfort food that sounds so fantastic when a chill comes to the air.
Luckily, there are quite a few dishes that bridge the gap between summer and fall quite well. One of them being the famous French stewed vegetable dish ratatouille. It’s an entree that highlights summer vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash) all the while being warm in a way that would be perfect in the dead of winter.
Local cookbook author/food maven Nancy O’Connor takes ratatouille one step further in the direction of a cold weather dish with a recipe from her “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” that combines the deliciousness of ratatouille with the extreme comfort food quotient of a baked pasta dish. The results are a bridge of beauty.
My hubby liked this so much, in fact, that he wants to try the same sort of method with other seasonal vegetables when the weather really does turn. So keep your eyes peeled for a “winter ratatouille bake” later on.
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups eggplant, peeled and diced
2 cups zucchini (or other summer squash), chopped
1 large green or red pepper, diced
2 to 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
8- to 10-ounce package frozen cheese-filled pasta (ravioli or tortellini)
4 ounces Mozzarella cheese, grated
Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and eggplant and saute for several minutes, stirring constantly. Add zucchini, pepper, tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Stir well and cook over medium heat several minutes more. Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook until vegetables are tender and flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. While vegetables are simmering, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Lightly oil a large casserole and line bottom with cooked pasta. Cover with hot vegetables (ratatouille). Top with grated cheese. Broil until nicely brown on top. Serves 6.
— Recipe from “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” by Nancy O’Connor
Honestly, I hate casseroles.
I don’t know if it’s the word I don’t like or if I just had a gag reflex to tuna casserole as a child.
I just know that most of the time when something is called a “casserole” I immediately get anxious and start trying to figure out which sides I might be able to fill up on instead.
And though even as an adult I still have a weirdness about casserole, I am extremely glad I got over it for a night and tried the following dish: Crowd-Pleasing Tex-Mex Casserole.
The second my hubby took his first bite, he immediately announced it to be possibly his new favorite dinner. And at my first bite, I happily agreed. Even the kiddo tried it and liked it (score).
Crowd pleasing, indeed!
Note: We made ours with leftover basmati rice from India Palace takeout. Starting with pre-cooked rice is definitely a huge time-saver on this one.
Crowd-Pleasing Tex-Mex Casserole
For the Tex-Mex spice blend:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika or 1/2 teaspoon regular paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
For the casserole:
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded, if desired, and diced
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 cup tomato sauce or tomato puree
2 to 3 cups chopped kale leaves or baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups cooked wild rice blend or brown rice
1/2 cup vegan shredded cheese such as Daiya (If you aren’t into fake cheese, just use Colby-Jack or omit it all together)
1 to 2 handfuls corn tortilla chips, crushed
Sliced green onions
Sour cream (regular or non-dairy)
Make the Tex-Mex spice blend: In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and coriander (if using). Set aside.
Make the casserole: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Oil a large (4 to 5 quart) casserole dish.
In a large wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell peppers and jalapeño and saute for 7 to 8 minutes, until softened. Season with salt and black pepper.
Stir in the Tex-Mex spice blend, corn, diced tomatoes and their juices, tomato sauce, kale/spinach, beans, rice and 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Saute for a few minutes and season with more salt and black pepper, if desired.
Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and smooth out the top. Sprinkle the crushed chips over the casserole mixture along with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 15 minutes.
Uncover the casserole dish and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, until bubbly and lightly golden around the edges.
Scoop the casserole into bowls and add your desired toppings. Serves 6.
— Recipe from “The Oh She Glows Cookbook” by Angela Liddon
Confession time: If you follow me on Twitter (@shhenning), you might already know that I’m pregnant. And probably going to have another kid just about any second now.
In any case, as most of you know, pregnancy often comes with its fair share of cravings. In fact, if you look back in these posts, you can tell I was having a major love affair with curry during my first trimester.
But in August, a new, forceful craving emerged: the BLT.
Which is funny because I haven’t had bacon in probably 20 years or more.
Though, it wasn’t the bacon I was craving, per se, it was the mixture of crusty bread, juicy tomatoes and mayo that I really, really wanted.
So I came up with my own twist on the BLT: The AST, otherwise known as the avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich.
I’ve had probably three a week since. Don’t judge me. The baby loves it. Apparently, she’s as much of a “rut” eater as I am.
Recipe note: I know that most people probably eat their BLTs on sandwich bread. I prefer a baguette because when combined with mayo, it reminds me of some truly great sandwiches I had while studying abroad in Spain in college. Even if you’re not a crusty bread person, I urge you to give it a go. You might just love the hard/soft combo of ingredients.
The AST (Avocado, Spinach and Tomato) Sandwich
1/3 to 1/2 crusty baguette (We used Wheatfields), sliced in half
1/2 large slicing tomato, preferably a Cherokee purple, Brandywine or beefsteak, sliced
Half an avocado, sliced
Handful baby spinach
Mayo, Vegenaise or other condiment of choice
Slather both halves of your baguette with mayo. Top with spinach leaves (stems removed). Place avocado slices on one half and the tomato slices on the other half. Smoosh together. Enjoy.