Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Kitchen Sink" Quinoa Salad

 I named this quinoa salad after the kitchen sink, because you can literally add just about anything but the kitchen sink and it will still be yummy. (Okay, any VEGETABLE, for all of you ultra-detailed people!) We had a surprising string of summer-like weather here in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, and suddenly I didn't want to make the kitchen any hotter than it already was by using the oven. This salad was cool and refreshing, while still being really satisfying. My family loved it and the kids were asking for seconds and thirds! Which is good, because this recipe makes LOTS of salad...enough for my family of five to have for dinner, plus some leftovers for lunch the next day. (If you'd like a more modest amount for a smaller family, simply cook half the recommended quinoa.) Have fun with this one and add whatever fresh veggies you have on hand...make it your own! If I'd had zucchini or summer squash, or fresh tomatoes, I definitely would have thrown those in. We ate this as our main dish last night, but it would also be a lovely addition to a picnic or barbecue! It's reminiscent of a pasta salad but oh-so-much-healthier and even more satisfying. (Oh, and I just tasted it again today...I can now vouch for the fact that it's even BETTER the second day!!)

Kitchen Sink Quinoa Salad

about 4 cups cooked quinoa*, cooled
1 sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), chopped
1-3 heads broccoli, chopped into florets
1 cucumber, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup kalamata olives
any other veggies of choice (fresh tomatoes, carrots, or celery would all be delicious)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons dried basil (fresh basil would be even better!)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

*How to cook quinoa:
1. Rinse well, just like you rinse rice. This means you add water to the pot with the quinoa, move your fingers around in the pot several times till the water is a bit cloudy, pour the excess water off, then add more water and repeat. You could do this for 3 or 4 minutes!
2. Add 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. For this recipe, I add 4 cups of water to 2 cups of quinoa. (After rinsing the quinoa repeatedly, however, I estimated that there was already about 1 cup of water in the pot, so I only added 3 cups of water to the pan.)
3. Bring water and quinoa to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Remove lid, fluff quinoa with a fork, and let it sit for about five minutes.
 5. To cool it quickly for quinoa salad (since I never seem to think far enough ahead for nice cold quinoa salad) spread it in a shallow baking dish and put it in the freezer while you prepare your vegetables and dressing. In a perfect world, the quinoa would be made and chilled before you start dinner prep. But who lives in a perfect world?

Chop your veggies. Add them to the quinoa. (I've been saving glass jars that some of my foods come in and they make great dressing jars!) Add all the dressing ingredients to a small glass jar and then shake it up - much faster and more efficient than trying to whisk your ingredients together. Anyway, pour it over the salad...mix it all up...and enjoy! The colder the better, so you can easily make this salad ahead of time and serve chilled. Yummers!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Moist & Rich Nut Butter Brownies (or Cookies)

**edited to add: when I first posted this recipe I neglected to include the coconut flour in the ingredients! I've added it now and I hope no one runs off and bakes this recipe without that little bit of coconut flour!**

I interrupt these healthy messages to bring you something decadent. Something moist, rich, and dark. Something that manages to be full of flavor, but not full of refined sugar or grains. And, of course, it's gluten free, dairy free, egg free, grain free, corn free, and soy free.

In fact, what I bring to you today is a recipe that is so versatile it will make cookies OR brownies...your choice! The first time I made this recipe, I used creamy almond butter as my nut butter of choice, and made cookies. The cookies were extremely moist and cake-like, and I thought...hey! These would make great brownies! The second time I made the recipe, I used chunky peanut butter instead. The brownies were still moist, but had a lovely added texture of crunchy peanut bits. This recipe would work just as well with Sunbutter or another nut butter, I'm sure. I found the almond butter was mild enough it took a "back seat" to the flavors of the cocoa, molasses, and banana...but the peanut butter held its own and made it more of a Peanut Butter Brownie.  Also, I made these without chocolate chips, because I didn't have any on hand, and trust me - they were plenty decadent. However, chocolate chips would be a lovely addition that would really put these over the top! This is about the simplest brownie recipe ever. So - experiment - have fun with this - and let me know what you think!

***Disclaimer: Many of you know I have been on a weight loss journey. I went a few months with NO sugar/sweeteners of any kind, before I started to allow myself to have treats in VERY small doses again. I have to be constantly vigilant with myself to not over-do things, because I have a killer sweet tooth. What I am learning is that IN MODERATION, it's okay to have a treat every once in a while. But now that I am more aware of the addictive qualities of sugar and other sweeteners - not to mention the impact on my general health and well-being - I am very intentional about limiting myself. I'm not always perfect at this...in fact, I've had a migraine for a few days now thanks to these brownies, because I do NOT do chocolate well (always seem to conveniently forget that fact, until a migraine reminds me). So, even though these brownies are relatively "healthy" compared to a lot of other options out there, they are still a treat to be enjoyed in moderation if you tolerate chocolate. But if you are on a weight loss journey yourself, it's perhaps best to skip these until you feel you can trust yourself again.***

Nut Butter Brownies
grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, corn-free, soy-free

1/2 cup dark cocoa
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if you are using peanut butter w/ salt in it)
1 cup almond butter/peanut butter/nut butter of choice
2 small mashed bananas
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional) (I recommend Enjoy Life brand for allergies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Mash bananas and add nut butter and molasses to them...then add wet ingredients to dry and mix well (add chocolate chips if you are using). Batter will be very thick. For cookies, place rounded spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and gently press down with fingertips, then bake for 10-12 minutes. For brownies, spread into a 9"x9" pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

The first time I made these, I used creamy almond butter and made them into moist, delicious cookies. Yum!

Linking up to Allergy Free Wednesdays!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eat Your Greens...and Enjoy Them! (That's an order!)

When I began making an effort to get healthy, I would hear about greens and how good they were for you and how they were super foods and yada yada yada (I probably rolled my eyes, too). I had no idea what "greens" were or how to cook them. Not only that, but the thought of eating warm, wet, slimy greens was...shall we say...less than appealing.  But as with so many different foods throughout this process, I've discovered just how good that green stuff can be! 

I wish someone would have taken me by the hand and given me a tour of the "greens" section of the grocery store. I didn't like feeling like I didn't know what I was doing...but everybody's gotta start somewhere, I guess. Obviously these are not the only "greens" out there, but I thought I'd just list my top three favorites with photos and a simple recipe that will work for any one of them. 

My husband is a huge fan of kale - that's his favorite. I, however, am a big fan of swiss chard and collard greens. I find their flavor to be a bit more mellow and mild than kale when they've been sauteed. I tell you, I eat them this way and I feel like it's practically dessert. Here's my simple recipe:

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Greens

2 tablespoons olive oil
one onion, chopped
two bunches of greens (kale, collard greens, or chard - or a combination of each)  
two large cloves (or three little ones) garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock (or water, if you don't have any stock on hand)
salt + pepper to taste

First, heat olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add the chopped onions and saute them until translucent. While onions are cooking, I prepare the greens by slicing the leaves off their center stems (the stem is fibrous and difficult to chew) and then chopping them into pieces (roughly a couple of inches square). Once the onions have become nearly translucent, add the greens to the pan. Add the chopped garlic and salt (I usually throw in a couple of pinches, probably about half a teaspoon worth?) and pepper (probably about 1/4 teaspoon). Saute the greens for a couple of minutes until they look "wilted". Then, add the chicken stock or water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the greens are nice and tender. Enjoy!

This is my Swiss chard in the pan last night, after I had sauteed them for a couple of minutes, but before I simmered them. (They got eaten so fast by my hungry family, I didn't get a chance to take a picture when they were finished.) They will lose much of their lovely green color during the cooking process, but don't let their wilted appearance at the end fool you...not only are they the most nutrient-dense food you can possibly serve your family, but they also happen to be delicious! I've been completely converted.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Healthy, Allergy-Friendly Cooking - you CAN do it!

I made this for Easter - the Raw Cashew Raspberry Dreamcake from My New Roots (although I used strawberries) - it was my first non-dairy cheesecake-making experience and it turned out pretty good!
There has been so much going on in my life lately, I hardly know where to begin. There has been much cooking and very little picture-taking of said cooking. There have been many trials (and a few failed attempts) as I attempt to master healthy, allergen-free baking. There have been new recipes tried...and enjoyed (though some more than others)...and new recipes created. But I don't have photos for you yet or anything written down, mostly because I've been  experiencing a weird phenomena recently that is new to me: people have actually been making my recipes.

I'll stop for a moment to let that sink in. Oh, we're not talking LOTS of people...but a few people have ventured outside their comfort zone and taken a chance on one of MY recipes. This both encourages me and scares me. It encourages me to keep on cooking, experimenting, photographing, writing. It scares the heck outta me because I don't want to put just any ol' recipe on this blog...I only want the GOOD ones. Nay, even the GREAT ones. So I can't tell you how many recipes I've created in the last few weeks that still need tweaking before they are good enough for you.

I made these Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies as a treat for the kids a couple of weeks ago - they were flour-less, full of protein, free of refined sugar, and delicious!
The thing I would say to anyone who is new to any kind of cooking, but particularly of the newly-healthy variety, is: DON'T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES. So you don't know exactly how to cook that crazy-looking vegetable you bought on a whim or that came from your CSA. Just TRY. (Roasting almost always works!) Be prepared to make mistakes, because that's how you learn. I am trying to believe this as I write it, because it's not easy stuff for a perfectionist. But this whole world of healthy cooking...and especially gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free baking...is so new to me that it would just be weird if I knew how to do everything perfectly, right out of the gate. And there's a big learning curve.

But there's also a big payoff: health. I had to remind myself of the payoff just the other day as I spent a Really Long Time making homemade gluten-free, yeast-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, corn-free cinnamon rolls for our Easter breakfast. I found myself remembering fondly the days that on a special holiday I would just pop open a can of those pre-made, refridgerated cinnamon rolls, plop them into a pan, bake them and then pretend I had slaved for hours over them. I shared out loud my happy memory of those days with my husband, who thankfully offered a different perspective: "Yes, but it turns out, those were KILLING us!" Perhaps a little melodramatic, but still a lot of truth to it. Our diet before six months ago was full of that garbage that was at the very least making us sick, chunky, and miserable, if not also slowly killing us.

We had these Yeast-Free, Vegan Cinnamon Rolls for our Easter breakfast - seriously yummy! (and easy on my tummy!)

So this Easter weekend, things were a little different. Here's an example of what our Easter meals used to look like:

- Ham (full of nitrates and nitrites, which are nasty preservatives, and who knows what else)
- egg/bread/sausage/cheese casserole
- cinnamon rolls (from a can)
- cheesy hash brown casserole
- perhaps that green bean casserole (gotta have a veggie, right?)
- coconut cake/cupcakes
- bottled sparkling cider

And this year's menu:

- Fresh, organic Herb Turkey
- Huge organic green salad with home made balsamic vinaigrette dressing
- Roasted organic asparagus
- Mashed sweet potatoes (mashed with coconut milk)
- Raw Lemon Tart (to die for)
- Raw Strawberry Dreamcake
- Sparkling strawberry punch (made with pureed strawberries, agave, and sparkling water)

And ya know what? Other than that moment of weakness where I really missed the convenience of the refridgerated, canned variety of cinnamon rolls...I didn't miss a thing from last year's menu. Really, truly. It's totally possible to re-train your taste buds (and that of your family.) to fall in love with green, healthy, and fresh. And this meal didn't make me feel terrible...it made me feel great. That is really rewarding and makes all the extra effort worth it!

This Raw Lemon Tart was a BIG hit at our Easter dinner!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Turkey Veggie Sliders with Avocado Aioli

Turkey Veggie Sliders with Avocado Aioli on Whole Grain Flatbread

So lately we've been eating a lot of vegetarian meals. Partly because it's healthy, but mostly because we don't have any money. Here's what we've learned: contrary to popular American opinion, you WON'T die when you remove meat from a meal. You actually CAN make a filling, tasty, enjoyable meal without meat. Not only that, but it's easy on your family's digestive systems and very easy on the wallet. What more could you ask for?

Okay, so now that I've sold you on eating more vegetarian meals (making a big assumption here, but...whatever) this is a meal that features MEAT. Which is probably part of why it was such a BIG hit with my family last night. This is the first time in five months that we've had a "burger" so it seemed very luxurious. Add to that the fact that I baked Whole Grain Flatbread from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen for the "buns" and my family was beside themselves. I whipped up the bread and stuck it in the oven first...and while it baked, assembled my "sliders".

Since we can't eat mayo (even Vegennaise) or ketchup in our house, I had to come up with something to spread on the buns so they wouldn't be dry. This Avocado "Aioli" was just the ticket! It was the finishing touch that really made the sandwich. I topped it with leftover grated carrot which added a nice color and texture. I used dark turkey meat, because that's what I had available...but you could make this even more healthy using all-white turkey meat. Ground chicken would work fine, too. This is a "burger" you can feel good about serving to your family!

Turkey Sliders with Avocado Aioli

1 lb ground turkey
1 cup shredded carrots (reserve 1/2 cup for sandwich topping)
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Preheat grill or grill pan. Mix above ingredients together, reserving half the grated carrots for topping the sliders. (I use my hands for this part). Use an ice cream scoop to form about eight or nine equally-sized portions on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, use your hands to loosely form into patties. At this point, I sprinkled a bit more salt & pepper on the surface of the patties. When the grill is nice and hot, grill the patties. Cook each side for 4-5 minutes...don't flip until you've got  nice grill marks and the patty releases easily from the pan. While patties are cooking, make up your aioli.

2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice

Place ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to adjust the salt or garlic powder according to your tastes.

Spread Avocado Aioli on your Whole Grain Flat Bread, gluten-free bread or wrap of your choice. (These would also be excellent wrapped in lettuce if you are avoiding breads.) Top with more aioli and grated carrots, then serve with a green salad to aid with digestion. For an extra treat, serve with roasted sweet potato "fries".