Tag Archives: fruit

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

It makes me a little sad that I only have one child young enough to do cute little Valentine goodies like this…

Logan’s 2nd grade class is having a traditional school party with games, treats and crafts, so we made these treat bags for him to pass out. Brady’s 5th grade class is doing a luau instead of a Valentine’s Day party, with tropical treats and games like the limbo. And poor Madison? Well, Brady asked her what they do for Valentine’s Day at the junior high and she said, “uh, you walk around and say Happy Valentine’s Day to your friends and then go to class.” He looked at her like she was crazy.

Actually, the junior high had a Valentine’s dance last Friday. Madison went with her BFF, Brooke, and they met up with a bunch of friends at the dance. It makes me even more sad to see how grown up she looks in her dress for the dance!

So I haven’t figured out a fun dinner yet for Valentine’s Day, but I did do a tasty little treat for last night’s dinner. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do have a few favorites that I DVR. One of those is Chopped on the Food Network. I’m addicted to this show. And it doesn’t sadden me one bit that Brady, my 10-year-old, has taken a liking to Chopped either! Chopped is a competitive show that starts with four contestants presented with a basket of “mystery ingredients.” They must create an amazing appetizer, which is then judged by the panel of expert chefs. At the end of the round, one competitor is chopped. The next round features another basket of mystery ingredients which must be turned into an entree. The last round is dessert, with just two competitors remaining. The one not chopped wins $10,000.

Over the weekend, Brady and I watched a recorded episode that was a special event. Rather than four restaurant chefs, the competitors were real “lunch ladies” and White House chef Sam Kass filled in as a guest judge. It was a great show, filled with a lot of emotion as these wonderful cafeteria workers talked about the kids they feed, the meals they try to keep healthful, struggling with budget limitations, and the many children who come to school hungry because there’s no food at home. The love they have for the students in their schools is immense.

As the show made its way to the dessert round, Brady and I watched with anticipation of what the mystery ingredients might be. The remaining two competitors mentioned that dessert is not really part of the typical school lunch. The mystery ingredients they had to work with were cream cheese, fresh grapes, canned pineapple and sunflower seeds. Both of these amazing ladies created a healthy dessert, but the winning dessert had Brady drooling! It was basically a dessert grilled cheese. The contestant took the cream cheese and mixed it with the crushed pineapple, fresh grapes, and other fresh fruit. She then spooned it between two thick slices of bread, buttered both sides, and grilled it. To serve, she sliced it in half, drizzled a little melted chocolate on top and sprinkled it with the sunflower seeds. What kid would not want that?!

Yesterday, while at Aldi, I picked up the ingredients I needed to make these. I bought whipped cream cheese (substitute Tofutti if you want it vegan), a can of pineapple, fresh grapes and, believe it or not, some gorgeous strawberries from Plant City, Florida!

I wish I’d taken a picture of Brady’s face when I told him that’s what we were having for dinner! They were delicious! Actually, they’d make a perfect breakfast. The amount of chocolate is minimal and the sandwich is stuffed with cream cheese and fruit. I didn’t have the sunflower seeds, so we left them off, but I think toasted almonds would be a nice touch. Here’s the recipe, if you want to call it that. Oh, and have a fork handy. These are messy! And what kid doesn’t love that?!

I wish you all a wonderful Valentine’s Day filled with the company of your loved ones!

GRILLED CREAM CHEESE & FRUIT
makes 4 sandwiches

8 oz whipped cream cheese or Tofutti, softened
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
6 large strawberries, stemmed and chopped
1 cup grapes, halved
1/4 cup apricot fruit spread (All Fruit)
8 slices whole wheat bread
1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted
toasted slivered almonds or sunflower seeds, optional

In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese and fruit until well incorporated. Divide evenly between 4 slices of bread, spreading to the edges. Spread 1 tablespoon of the apricot fruit spread on each of the remaining 4 slices of bread and place jam side down on top of the cream cheese covered bread, forming a sandwich. Heat a pan to medium and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Grill each sandwich, flipping once, until toasted and golden brown. Remove to a plate, cut in half and drizzle with melted chocolate. Garnish with toasted nuts, if using. Enjoy!

A great Father’s Day weekend!

19 Jun

What a fun day yesterday! We packed up the kids and headed north a few miles into Ida to the pick-your-own berry farm. I have great memories of doing that as a child and was pretty geeked about sharing the experience with my own kids.

We went to Whittaker’s Berry Farm, which I think might be the same place my parents took my sister and me to pick strawberries when we were growing up. It was called Rauch’s Berry Farm back then, but it had a sense of familiarity. Anyway, the kids had a good time and we came home with 20 pounds of strawberries. I got to work washing and hulling and made 10 jars of freezer jam (recipe below). Then I started chopping them up for the freezer so we can enjoy them later in smoothies. For dinner, I made a big salad of mixed greens, sliced strawberries, toasted almonds, red onion and a sprinkle of goat cheese. Since I didn’t have any of that delicious poppy seed dressing mixed up, I drizzled on Newman’s Own Low-fat Sesame Ginger dressing. Delish!

Next on the list is a strawberry pie and some strawberry shortcakes. Now, I’m not a big fan of strawberry pie — the one with fresh berries coated in a strawberry Jell-o sauce in a baked shell. It’s okay, but Jason loves it. And since it’s Father’s Day, I guess I could make one. Personally, I’d rather have strawberry shortcake. The real kind with fresh strawberries layered between a sweet biscuit-like shortcake. That’s the one I loved as a child. We always had it in a bowl and poured milk over it so the shortcake got soft and creamy. I’ll blog a recipe and photos of that after they’re done.

Here’s the recipe for the freezer jam. It’s straight off the package of fruit pectin. I figured that was my safest bet since this is my first attempt at this. It’s sweet, delicious and vegan, so go for it!

Strawberry Freezer Jam
makes 2 half-pint jars

1-2/3 cups smashed fresh strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Instant Pectin

In a medium bowl, whish together the sugar and pectin. Add the strawberries and stir for 3 minutes. Pour into clean jars and let stand for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Happy Father’s Day!
Since it’s Father’s Day, I want to say I hope you get to spend the day celebrating your dad, father-in-law or the father of your kids. If my dad were in town, I’d be making him a big serving of strawberry shortcake, because he deserves it! They don’t get any better than him. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! XXOO

Here’s how my hubby started his Father’s Day — French toast with our homemade freezer jam, pure maple syrup, fresh-picked strawberries and a side of breakfast sausage (Organic Prairie Breakfast Links, made from humanely-raised grass-fed pork). The kids loved it, too!



June 19, 2011

A birthday, friends, drinks and great conversation…

5 Jun

I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was just perfect. On Friday, we celebrated Brady’s 10th birthday at the local bowling alley. He wanted a bowling party, so we went all out with 8 friends, 2 games of bowling, the game room, pizza, blue slushies and dirt cake (his request). We left there at 8 p.m. and came back to our house with two of the families that were at the party. We had a campfire, the kids ran around playing games, and the adults enjoyed wine and beverages with a few simple snacks. It was great to just enjoy our screen porch and the beautiful weather with good friends.

Saturday was another gorgeous weather day. (We should have been camping!) It was about 80 degrees and sunny all day. After breakfast, I got to do a little garage sale-ing with my friend Stacey. Fun! Then came home and figured out what the plan was for dinner. I needed a few things from the grocery store, so Madison and I decided to walk there. It’s about 1.5 miles there and back and we picked up her friend that lives on our street along the way. It was nice to walk with “the girls” and chat for a while. I did a little reading, helped Brady with his new K’Nex kit he got for his birthday, did a load of laundry…just kind of a leisurely day.

The kids wanted grilled shish kabobs for dinner, so I whipped up a batch of my Meaty Marinade (see my June 30, 2010 post) and poured it over a big bowl of red bell pepper wedges, onion wedges, zucchini slices and whole baby portobello mushrooms. I marinated some “happy” boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s and a vegan “chicken” cutlet in it, too. Threaded onto skewers, along with some fresh pineapple chunks? Fabulous! To go alongside, I made a big fruit salad and came up with a new couscous recipe. This is super easy and is loaded with fresh herbs, making it a tasty Mediterranean-style side dish. I will definitely make it again. It was equally as good hot out of the pan as it was an hour later as I was scooping room-temperature bites out of the bowl while cleaning up. Yum!

Mediterranean Couscous
makes 6 (1/2-cup) servings
approximately 160 calories per serving*

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 teaspoon minced garlic
about 1/4th of a red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced onion (such as Vidalia)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup couscous
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
10 pitted kalamata olives, sliced
salt
freshly-cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In a medium sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, peppers and onions and saute until tender and lightly browned. Add 1 cup vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous. Return to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so then fluff with a fork. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the fresh herbs and kalamata olives and season with salt and a generous amount of cracked black pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese, if using, and toss to blend. Remove to a serving bowl and serve immediately or at room temperature. Enjoy!
*By my own calculations of the ingredients

Ah, Sunday…sunny and warm again. Honestly, it was the perfect camping weekend and we didn’t take advantage of it! We made a big veggie omelet for breakfast and then spent the day basically just “piddling,” as my dad would say. A little cleaning here and there, some work on the pool, a quick run to Target and Lowe’s, a little work on stuff for Madison’s 6th grade recognition program (I overvolunteered….again). Oh, and baked 3 dozen vegan Oreo cupcakes for Brady to share with his classmates tomorrow. (See my March 8, 2010 post for the recipe.)

I even went easy-breezy for dinner tonight. I made my own version of the Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad. If you know this salad, you know it’s delicious! What’s served in the restaurant is far from vegan or “happy,” though, so I created my own recipe that’s very similar in taste. I’m calling it vegan-ish because the dressing has honey, which is not technically vegan. If you want it 100% vegan, try substituting agave. (Note – You will end up with more dressing than you need, so save it for the next day on a wrap!)

Vegan-ish Oriental Chicken Salad
makes 4 dinner-size salads

Dressing:
3/4 cup Vegenaise
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste

Salad:
16-20 vegan “chicken” nuggets
4 cups thinly sliced Romaine or other mixed greens
4 cups bagged cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 of an English cucumber, sliced
2 8-ounce cans mandarin oranges, drained
3 green onions, sliced
1 cup crunchy Chinese rice noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients and refrigerate. Bake “chicken” nuggets per package directions. Meanwhile, arrange 1 cup lettuce and 1 cup cole slaw mix on each of 4 plates. Top each with shredded carrots, mandarin oranges and green onions. Slice the nuggets and layer on top. Drizzle with the dressing and garnish with Chinese rice noodles and toasted almonds. Enjoy!

As the weekend comes to a close, I feel relaxed and ready to tackle the week ahead. It’s the last full week of school and it’s going to be crazy! (I’m forecasting a lot of thrown-together-at-the-last-minute dinners this week!)

June 5, 2011

Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.

28 Apr

I am just back from a long Easter weekend in North Carolina. We stayed with my parents for 5 days and had a wonderful time. The warm weather and sunshine were such a welcome change from the cold, rainy days we’ve been dealing with here in Michigan.

I came home refreshed…and inspired.

While in North Carolina, I saw a poster in a store window that said “Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.” I thought it was so perfect. I know it refers to everything consumers spend their money on — not just food. But, of all the things I’ve learned over the last 16 months or so since I started this journey, trying to buy locally-made or locally-grown products as often as possible is the one that’s the easiest for me to incorporate into my daily life. I know it’s not always feasible to buy local goods…hey, I’m on a budget! But when it comes to food, I can’t stress enough how smart it is to really know where your food comes from, know your farmer personally, grow your own vegetables or support your local farmer’s market, and shop at smaller family stores instead of the big box stores whenever you can. Not only does this almost guarantee your food is safer, tastier and healthier, it also provides financial support to your own neighborhood. Now that’s inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my mom is a fantastic chef. I always enjoy her cooking and our discussions about food, cooking and health. My Easter dinner was SO good. While the omnivores in my family dined on grilled pork, I devoured marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms. The side dishes were all vegan –- oven-roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus and a wonderful chopped salad with toasted almonds and chai vinaigrette.

While in Asheville on Monday, we had a fabulous lunch at Rezaz Mediterranean Restaurant. (I should have taken a picture!) We started with an appetizer of polenta fries with their housemade tomato jam (a sort of chunky sweet catsup). Honestly, I could think of a hundred things to slather that tomato jam onto! It was that good. My meal was a fat little potato cake topped with a green olive tapenade. On one side of this was a fresh arugula salad. On the other side were four thin slices of grilled ahi tuna. Then the whole plate was lightly drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. After lunch, we shopped some more and came home with 3-4 new cookbooks each. That gets me inspired!

Speaking of inspiring…I consider my dad the king of all things house-related. He’s a builder, woodworker, tile layer, painter, wallpaper hanger, upholsterer, deck designer, plumber, and master of just about everything under the sun. Honestly, my dad can do anything! His latest project is a restaurant in downtown Waynesville, NC, where they live. The owner/executive chef bought an existing restaurant building but is basically gutting the whole place and starting fresh — using local products such as reclaimed barn siding, tin panels and other materials. My dad has been working on this project for months. We got to tour the construction site while there and meet the owner/executive chef. His name is Kaighn Raymond and he, too, is an inspiration.

The name of his restaurant is Frogs Leap Public House. It will be a farm-to-table restaurant meaning they will focus on locally-grown, sustainably-farmed organic foods, which will then be transformed into amazing regional dishes. He’s planning to have a seasonal menu that will feature the freshest produce from local farmer’s markets and farms. I got to talk with him as we toured the place and I absolutely cannot wait to eat there! It looks like the grand opening will be in June, but I’m not sure we’ll get back down there before fall.

If you want to know more about Frogs Leap Public House, check out their website at http://frogsleappublichouse.org or “Like” their Facebook page. I left the restaurant…inspired.

So inspired, in fact, that I already have several new recipes on the menu for next week. Recipes and photos to follow, so stay tuned!

Oh, and put your money where your heart is!

Can you be vegan-ish?

5 Apr

I think that’s what I have to start referring to myself as. Vegan-ish. Not 100%, but mostly vegan.

I’m still making the majority of my meals vegan. But I do eat eggs a couple of times a week (fresh from happy chickens at a home in my neighborhood). I have, on occasion, enjoyed a small piece of humanely and sustainably-raised chicken or beef, purchased locally. Not too often, but once in a while. I’ve also been actively searching out sustainable seafood. I downloaded the National Sustainable Seafood Guide (here), which helps me choose seafood that is not overfished, is environmentally-friendly and supports healthy oceans. I’ve always enjoyed seafood and I’m glad it’s back in my diet.

I feel good about my food choices. I’m still eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And I’m not supporting industrial animal farming in any way except dairy. Though we’ve cut way back on the milk consumption in our house, I still haven’t found a local source for it, so I’m stuck with the grocery store variety for Jason and the kids. Luckily, they like almond milk, so I keep buying it even though it’s more expensive than regular milk. I think that will be one of my goals this summer — locally made cheese and other dairy products.

But let’s get back to the vegetables. I think spring might actually arrive here in southeast Michigan sometime soon! Goodness, this weather is making us all crazy. We are 10 degrees or more below normal just about every day. I’m dying to get out into the garden and get my veggies planted! In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Some vegan, some gluten free and some vegan and gluten free. Check back often, because I’ll be posting them!

Here are a couple of recent ones that don’t require an actual recipe.

Sesame Green & Yellow Beans
Rather than the standard old steamed green beans with butter, try these for a quick side dish. Place cleaned beans in a deep saute pan with a little water. Bring to boil, cover and steam them until just barely tender-crisp. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. In the same saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Toss the beans back in and give them a quick saute. Remove to a serving dish and toss with salt, pepper and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Polenta Pizzas
The kids wanted to do make-your-own pizzas Saturday night for dinner. They made theirs on regular pizza crusts, but I wanted something gluten free and vegan. I have a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Dough mix, but just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I stared into my pantry hoping something would jump out at me. And it did! I pulled out a container of instant polenta. I cooked it per the package instructions (which takes all of 5 minutes) and poured it into a foil-lined baking dish. I spread it out evenly and placed it in the fridge to chill while I got all the pizza toppings ready to go. Once cold, I lifted the foil and polenta out of the pan and put it on a cutting board. Using a biscuit cutter, I cut it into 4″ circles and sauteed them in a little olive oil, turning once, so they were crispy on both sides. Then I used these to build my pizzas on. Though they don’t have the texture of pizza dough, they were really tasty and still had all my favorite pizza toppings. I just popped them into the oven with the kids’ pizzas so the vegan cheese got melty. Cut slightly smaller, these would be fun appetizers! Here are my combinations:

BBQ Chicken Pizza (top)
BBQ sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + red onions + sauteed vegan chicken slices + minced cilantro

Mediterranean Pizza (bottom right)
Vegan pesto mayo + Daiya vegan cheese + grilled red peppers + kalamata olives + red onion + dash of dried oregano

Sausage Pizza
(bottom left)
Pizza sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + crumbled vegan Italian sausage

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

3 Mar

Wow. I can’t believe March is here and it’s been almost a month since I posted anything on my blog. I apologize to those of you who have been looking for new recipes! I spent all of January’s and most of February’s “blog time” doing the one thing I dread most. The 4 or 5 hours a week I was spending on writing and creating recipes and blog posts has been used for exercising. Then, for the last two weeks, all of my spare time has been spent remodeling two bathrooms (paint, tile floor, baseboards, new wall hangings, etc.). I’m trying to get back into my morning exercise routine, yet the winter doldrums keep dragging me down.

But, spring is coming and that means gardening, fresh vegetables, and a whole new outlook on what to make for dinner. Plus, I finally got my new stove so now I have an oven that works! I promise you, new recipes are coming!

Maybe you already know this, but yesterday would have been the 107th birthday of Dr. Seuss, the amazing author of children’s classics such as Green Eggs & Ham and The Cat in the Hat, among hundreds of other stories. Dr. Seuss is a big hit in our house. All of my kids have enjoyed his crazy, rhyming stories as they’ve learned to read. As they headed off to school yesterday, one of them mentioned it was Dr. Seuss’ birthday. That got me thinking…about something fun for dinner.

Yep, I did it — I made green eggs and ham for dinner. The eggs were fresh from our local farmer (I waited in the car for him to gather the eggs from the barn yesterday). I simply whisked them for scrambled eggs and added a squeeze of green food coloring. I still haven’t found a local source for ham, so it was not exactly *happy* ham, but it was nitrate and nitrite free and minimally processed, so I included a small amount for my omnivore boys. I made Whoville Taters (cubed potatoes, tossed in olive oil, seasoned, and roasted in the oven) and Starbellied Sneetch toast.

For dessert? Some Cat in the Hat yogurt parfaits! I simply took vanilla yogurt (made with coconut milk) and mixed half of it with thawed frozen raspberries and some stevia. I mixed the other half with a little coconut extract and chopped ripe bananas. Then I alternated layers of the two yogurts to look like the stripes on The Cat in the Hat’s hat. The effect would have been better if I had tall, skinny glasses, but I used what I had and I didn’t hear any complaints!

It was a fun dinner and led to Brady running upstairs and digging out ALL of the Dr. Seuss books to read before bed last night. We didn’t make it through all of them, of course, but it was a great way to celebrate such an important birthday!

Good food and fun exercise… I’m making progress!

17 Jan

It’s been a whirlwind start to 2011 already. Not only have I been busy designing for clients, I’ve really gotten focused on exercise. I’m exercising for 30 minutes, 5-6 days a week and feeling really good!

I guess the big thing these days is to switch up your exercise routine often so your body doesn’t get “comfortable” with it. It’s called muscle confusion. So that’s what I’ve been doing. On our cable programming, under videos on demand, we have a section full of free exercise programs that you can watch whenever you want. So each day, I choose one and go with it — Jillian Michaels’ abs, Leslie Sansone’s 2 mile walk, Disco Abs with Cheryl Burke, Billy Blanks’ Cardioke, and more. They run about 30 minutes. Some days, I put on the kids’ Wii Dance Party and do a half hour of dances. I’m having a blast while working up a big sweat!

I’ve also been eating as clean and whole as possible — lots of veggies, fruit, nuts, and grains like quinoa and brown rice, and the occasional bit of fish or shrimp. For now, I’ve completely ditched the gluten, just to see what that does for me.

Apparently, something’s working. Since January 2, I’ve lost 7 pounds. Woo hoo! I also FINALLY have some energy! And on Friday when I was at Kroger, I checked my blood pressure on the machine in the pharmacy (I check it there every time I’m in the store). BP was 140/90! I’m hoping that wasn’t a lucky low reading; that maybe it’s coming down because of the exercise. Hoping.

Anyway, I don’t have any new recipes to share yet because I’ve been making easy, simple whole foods. I did make the Cauliflower Pesto Soup from Isa’s new book, Appetite for Reduction. Delish! Even the kids went back for seconds. I’ll be making that one a lot. It’s full of flavor despite having only about 4 or 5 ingredients. Plus, it’s quick and easy. I made it a little thicker than her recipe. Yummm…

Other than that, I’ve been making simple stir-fries, steamed veggies, big salads and stuff like that.

Here’s what this week’s dinner menu looks like:
Monday – shrimp & veggie kabobs on the grill + baked sweet potatoes
Tuesday – Popeye Spinach soup + cheesy quesadillas (for Jason & the kids)
Wednesday – GF penne pasta with sauteed mushrooms and onions + a big salad
Thursday – fajitas in corn tortillas (veg for me, locally-raised beef for the fam)
Friday – not sure yet – omelets? leftovers?

This past weekend, we spent a ton of time with our good friends, Kevin and Lisa. It was so much fun! We absolutely adore them — and we laugh a lot when we’re together, which is good for the blood pressure! Lisa is trying to eliminate gluten from her diet, too. She said she feels better when she doesn’t eat it, but it’s a hard diet. I told her I would make her some GF goodies. She asked for doughnuts! You know me…always up for a challenge! They’re on the top of my baking list as soon as I get my new oven (which will, hopefully, be at the end of the month).

Hope everyone’s New Year started out as good as mine. Are you still working on your resolutions?