Archive | July, 2010

I can’t believe I drank this…

30 Jul

And I can’t believe my two boys drank this for breakfast…and loved it!

It was sweet, creamy, fruity, filling, delicious and packed with nutrition. Are you dying to know what it was?

A green smoothie.

No, not really green in color. Green because it contained — now, don’t freak out — spinach!

I just heard you say “yuck” and it’s okay. I thought the same thing. I’ve been reading about people who can’t get through their day without their morning green smoothie and I thought there was no way I could gag down a smoothie made with salad ingredients. But the more I read about them, the more interested I became.

Calorie for calorie, spinach is one of the most nutrient-packed superfoods out there. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, K, B1 and B6. It’s high in beta-carotene. In addition, spinach contains potassium, calcium, iron and a bunch of other minerals that can help control blood pressure and protect you from heart disease.

As far as green smoothies go, I imagine this is one of the milder ones. I’ve seen recipes for ones that contain wheat grass and sea kelp and all kinds of strange “greens.” This is basically a fruit smoothie with the addition of spinach. I read somewhere online that as long as the smoothie has half of a ripe banana in it, you won’t taste the spinach. I was intrigued and decided to give it a try.

As soon as I hauled out the blender, the boys got excited. I told them I was trying a new smoothie and that I would make mine first and they could taste it. If they liked it, I’d make them one, too. Well, they loved it. They had that for breakfast along with a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and neither was whining an hour later that they were hungry.

I hope you’ll give it a try, especially if you are already a smoothie-making kind of person. I was really surprised with it and, after I drank it, I felt really good about myself. Kind of pleased with myself for starting off my day with something so nutritious. I’ll bet Popeye felt that way every day!

makes 1 serving

1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 of a ripe banana
1/2 cup So Delicious coconut milk, or milk of your choice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all ingredients in the blender and puree. Enjoy!

p.s. Not a bad way to sneak veggies into your child’s diet!

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Just another Manic Monday.

28 Jul

Remember The Bangles? They were one of my favorite groups in high school. And their Manic Monday lyrics do a good job of describing how my week started. Actually, the mess started last week, but Monday was the worst.

I woke up last Thursday with a headache. By noon, it had turned into a major stiff neck. I figured I must have slept on it wrong or something, but I woke up Friday morning and it was even worse. I couldn’t turn my head left or right and it hurt. So I called my beloved chiropractor and he was on vacation! Nooo! The earliest they could get me in was Monday at 3 p.m. So I took the appointment and dealt with the neck thing all weekend.

Finally…Monday’s appointment. I told Doc what was going on and he helped me relax then did one heckuva big crack on my neck. I’ve never heard it that loud and I’ve been to the chiropractor a zillion times. Whew!

When we left there, it had settled a little and I was starting to feel better. We headed down the road and were only about 2 miles away when BAM! I got rear-ended by the car behind me. So much for my newly-adjusted neck. I had noticed the cars in front of me braking quickly so I looked in my rearview mirror and could see the guy behind me was coming fast. I tried to swerve into the center turning lane to get out of his way, but he slammed into me anyway. After calling 911, I called my chiropractor and told him what happened. We made an appointment for the next day so the boys and I could get checked out.

The police arrived and the other guy got cited and we left to head home. Thank goodness I had already planned an easy dinner, right? Yeah… By the time we got home it was almost 6:00 so I started dicing potatoes as fast as I could to get them in the oven and I managed to slice off the edge of my finger with the knife. ARGH! WHAT A DAY!

I do have to say, though, that dinner was a total success. Jason helped me get the vegs diced and into the oven for roasting — redskin potatoes and onions, plus zucchini and yellow squash from our garden, tossed in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano. Yum. But the best part was the sandwiches we made. Tomato & Provolone Sandwiches from the August 2010 issue of Eating Well magazine. Did I say YUM already? I could eat these every day for lunch. I totally veganized the recipe and even the kids loved it. The recipe makes an herb-infused mayonnaise spread so I substituted Veganaise for the mayo. Then you use big, juicy fresh tomatoes and provolone cheese. I used smoked provolone soy cheese slices. (It’s the only fake cheese I’ve found that tastes good and melts). Rather than use the broiler, as in the recipe, I assembled the sandwiches and put them in the George Foreman Grill so they were toasty like paninis. Oh, man. Delicious! And so fast and easy to make.

So my neck is a mess again. Bruising, swelling, and bucketloads of pain. He did a minor adjustment Tuesday, but wanted to let it have a few days to settle and get the swelling down so I’m going back in on Friday morning. But, on a good note, Eating Well challenge recipe #6 is a success!

Has it been a week already?!

24 Jul

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I posted anything here. My apologies to my regular readers! Needless to say, summer is in full swing and the activities are endless.

I’m still cooking every day — just not as many new recipes nor as many attempts at creating recipes. I think my brain is fried from the summer heat, so throwing meat and veggies on the grill and tossing together a salad has become the norm.

But, I do have two new Eating Well magazine recipes to report on for the challenge this month. My in-laws were over for dinner last Sunday so we did burgers on the grill (we had just picked up the beef from our sustainably-farmed cow. Veggie burger for me.). I served them with my friend Lisa’s salad with the poppy seed dressing (can you say “addicted”!) and Lemon-Garlic Glazed Corn on the Cob from the latest issue of Eating Well magazine. I also made Raspberry Limeade from the magazine.

The corn on the cob recipe was fantastic! Everyone liked it and it was such a nice change from just buttered sweet corn. It was very easy to make, but I do have to say it’s a little bit of a challenge if you’re serving more than 4 people. You have to use a pan that the ears all fit in the bottom of because they cook in the lemon-garlic mixture. My biggest saute pan only fits 4 ears of corn on the bottom. I needed to make 10 ears. So I ended up making the full recipe two-and-a-half times and keeping the finished ears warm in the oven. Otherwise, we loved it.

Let me tell you about the Raspberry Limeade before I give our reviews. With the recipe, you mix the fresh lime juice, fresh raspberry juice and sugar together in a large pitcher and store in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, you’re supposed to stir in the specific amount of seltzer water (I used sparkling water). But — here’s where I didn’t follow the directions. I mixed the juices and the sugar and put it in the fridge. At dinnertime, I put ice in all the glasses then divided the juice mixture evenly among them. Then I had Jason fill each glass with sparkling water. We didn’t use the measurement in the magazine. So they were absolutely gorgeous in the glasses — dark raspberry red at the bottom fading up into pink and topped with a white foam. But, because we didn’t measure the water, I think they were too diluted. We stirred the juices in, but everyone agreed they needed more of the juice flavor. So — lesson learned — next time we’ll measure the water! Definitely give them a try, though. They were very refreshing. Oh, and we all agreed it could easily become a delicious summer cocktail with the addition of tequila or rum or something.<

Challenge recipes #4 and #5…successful! Thanks, Eating Well!

Fresh from the garden.

16 Jul

I just harvested my first batch of green beans and yellow wax beans, fresh from my backyard garden! I love green beans and there’s nothing better than eating them less than an hour after picking them.

You may think these guys are just some lowly side dish, often relegated to wedding buffets (straight from a can and swimming in butter) or in the traditional green bean casserole (straight from a can and swimming in condensed cream of mushroom soup), but they’re actually nutritional powerhouses. They’re very low in calories (about 40 calories per cup) and have enough nutrients to earn a high-five from the Jolly Green Giant.

Green beans and wax beans, often called string beans or snap beans, are an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A, potassium, calcium, magnesium and more. Believe it or not, they also contain omega 3 fatty acids. For those of us fighting high blood pressure, beans are a smart choice. Potassium and magnesium work together to help lower high blood pressure and the combination of nutrients offers much-needed cardiovascular protection.

Since I picked the beans right before dinner, I went the easy route and steamed them until just done. I tossed them in some vegan butter and seasoned with salt and pepper and a little sprinkle of fresh chopped basil. If your only experiences with green beans are canned ones, you have no idea what you’re missing. These are sweet, tender with a slight bite, and oh-so-yummy. They are nothing like the salty, mushy ones that come from a can.

But here’s the best part — you can use the leftover steamed beans to make a completely different side dish for the next night. After dinner, I gave the leftover beans a quick rinse to remove any remaining butter. Then I turned them into an easy, delicious bean salad. Popped it in the fridge overnight and served it for dinner the next night. Give them a try!

Mixed Bean Salad
serves 6

1 pound steamed green and/or yellow beans, cooled
15 grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (about 1/2 pint)
1 small onion, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1/2 of a sweet red bell pepper, diced or julienned
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

In a large bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, onion, chickpeas and red pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegars, oregano, garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour over bean mixture and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with basil and parsley and toss lightly. Refrigerate overnight. Enjoy!

Spears Family Camp-out!

12 Jul

Every year, we have a camp-out at our house for our families — parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Everyone shows up on Friday night with tents and campers and they stay for the weekend. This past weekend was this year’s big event.

I think everyone had a good time between swimming, playing games, and just hanging out together. Oh, and eating good food! Everyone brings goodies to share throughout the weekend, plus we have a big dinner on Saturday night. Each family brings their choice of meat/vegs to grill and everyone brings side dishes and desserts for a big buffet.

Friday night, after everyone arrived and set up tents and campers, we grilled burgers (a veggie burger for me), hotdogs and brats. We had all kinds of fresh fruit, veggies and dip, and chips, plus my sister made the Edamame and Black Bean Salad I mentioned in one of my camping posts last month. An easy night for a vegan!

For Saturday night’s dinner, most of us made kabobs — some had steak, some had chicken and some had shrimp. I made mine with marinated mushrooms and zucchini from our garden. The other item I grilled was a whole Vidalia onion like our friends did over the 4th of July weekend. Just peel it and cut it into wedges, but not all the way through to the bottom of the onion. Drizzle it with olive oil and season as you like. I used McCormick’s Montreal Seasoning, but feel free to experiment with other herbs and spices. Wrap it up in foil and place on the grill for about half an hour. It came out tender and sweet with a little hint of smokiness. I took a picture of it before I wrapped it in foil. Then when it came off the grill, it went onto the buffet. I forgot to take a picture of it until I was in line for food. By then, it was half gone!

My side-dish contribution to the buffet was a salad similar to the one my friend Lisa made last weekend — fresh greens, sweet corn, cauliflower, green onions, grape tomatoes, cucumber, and shredded cabbage — tossed with her Poppyseed Dressing. It was a big hit. My mother-in-law brought cheesy potatoes that must have been tasty because I’m pretty sure I saw my brother-in-law scraping the last bits from the pan! Jason’s aunt Janet made a delicious vegan Red Potato & Tomato Salad that was a Giada DeLaurentis recipe. It will go into my binder of favorites! And my brother-in-law made a new take on cole slaw from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. He surprised me by preparing a separate bowl for me to just add in my vegan sour cream and Vegenaise. It was fantastic.

And then there were desserts…cookies of all kinds, an eclair cake, and ice cream pie…none of them vegan so I steered clear of those!

Oh, and let’s not forget the late night snacks. Aunt Janet made a buffalo chicken dip with chips, my sister made a Mexican layered dip which she (very thoughtfully!) made a separate bowl for me without the sour cream and cheese, and I made Chicken Bacon Poppers. I blogged these back in one of my camping posts last month. They are always a hit, so I made them again. They’re basically seasoned chicken breasts stuffed into half a jalapeno pepper then wrapped in bacon and secured with a toothpick. They’re cooked on the grill or over the fire and served with a sour cream-based dipping sauce that has been seasoned with cumin, lime juice, chili powder and garlic powder.

This time, I also attempted a vegan version for myself. I took a Gardein “chicken” breast and seasoned it the same as the real chicken, then cut it into thick strips and put them in the jalapeno halves. Next, I had to come up with a substitution for the bacon. I cut really thin strips of zucchini, marinated them in olive oil, smoked paprika and other seasonings, and then wrapped them around the peppers and secured with a toothpick. The flavor was fantastic and I was really pleased with the outcome. Though the zucchini didn’t crisp up like bacon or have the bacon-y flavor, it held the poppers together and they were very satisfying dipped in a vegan version of the sour cream dipping sauce (made with tofu). I’m going to keep working on these before posting an actual recipe.

All-in-all it was a great weekend with perfect weather, good food and the company of family.

Happy Birthday, America!

8 Jul

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I posted anything here. It’s been a whirlwind 7 days. Last Friday, we packed up and headed north to Devil’s Lake, where we spent a long 4th of July weekend with our wonderful friends, Kevin and Lisa, and their extended family. It was a beautiful weekend to be on the lake and their hospitality was amazing. We filled our days with swimming, fishing, jet skiing, boating, tubing and watching fireworks from the middle of the lake…along with great conversations, great food and lots of laughter.

On the first night, they grilled steaks from the sustainably-raised beef they recently purchased. (They grilled portobello mushrooms for me.) They also made this delicious grilled onion — a large sweet onion cut into wedges, but not all the way through to the bottom, then drizzled with olive oil and seasonings, wrapped in foil and slow roasted on the grill. It was fantastic.

Lisa also made a huge salad filled with lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes, and fresh corn cut from the cob. It was topped with her homemade poppy seed dressing. I’m not sure if this is her own dressing recipe or one that’s been shared between families, but let me just say — this dressing is to die for! Yes, it’s that good. As a matter of fact, Brady announced quite happily that he had finally found a salad that he loved. What a great start to the weekend!

I took a few of my latest successful dishes to share throughout the weekend — the Creamy Southwestern Dip, the salad with the Apricot Vinaigrette, and the Eating Well White Bean Salad — plus a new recipe for a Black Cherry Fruit Dip, some patriotic strawberries that I dipped in white chocolate and blue sprinkles, and a variety of fresh fruit.

Not only was the food refreshing, so was the conversation. We talked more than once about eating healthy and I was pleasantly surprised to discover I’m not the only one who thinks many of America’s health problems relate to the way we eat. They were curious about my vegan lifestyle and were actually interested in hearing what I had learned about the food industry over the last 6 months of this journey. And I was interested to hear that their entire family chooses fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible, that they had purchased locally-raised beef, and that they were choosing organic products when available. Awesome!

To top it off, it was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve had in a long time. The kids all got along well and I got to spend lots of time just relaxing by the lake or chatting or reading. I think it was just what my blood pressure needed — no stress.

Now back to that salad dressing…I mixed up a batch tonight for dinner. Though I didn’t have the vegetables that Lisa had, I did cut fresh lettuce from my garden to make a salad. I topped it with cucumbers, strawberries and toasted hazelnuts and the salad dressing was perfect with it. It’s sweet and tangy and clings well to the salad. Luckily, Lisa gave me the okay to share the recipe here. I hope you’ll give it a try with whatever salad ingredients you have on hand. And if you don’t have anything to make a salad with, just dunk a big slab of bread in it. Trust me, you will leave the table happy! 🙂

Lisa’s Poppy Seed Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 cup oil (I used half olive oil, half canola oil)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1 teaspoon salt (I used half salt, half salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Put all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake until sugar dissolves. Chill and serve over your choice of salad. Enjoy!