Thursday, August 25, 2011

Garden Fresh Pesto

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. I walk by my pot of herbs and nearly swoon from the smell of the basil every time.

Basil tastes great in everything from pasta to lemon cookies (just try it!). But my all time favorite thing to do with basil is make pesto. 

If I have tons of basil, I'll make a triple batch and freeze a bunch in labeled freezer bags and it lasts all winter long. Now hear me on this one.
 There is absolutely nothing more satisfying than eating Garden Fresh Pesto in the middle of a snow packed, ice covered winter day. 


This is a simple recipe. You can use pine nuts if you want, you can also use macadamia nuts. And if you have a nut allergy in the family feel free to substitute the nuts for white beans. Use a drained and rinsed can of white beans and substitute the same amount. The flavor and consistency are so close that you won't even miss the nuts (or the trip to the emergency room if there really is an allergy!) Plus using beans will lower the fat and increase the amount of fiber.. you can't go wrong with that!

Enjoy and freeze this summer day forever with a batch of Garden Fresh Pesto!

On with the recipe! Happy sunshine to you and yours!

Garden Fresh Pesto
1 Cup Walnuts
7 Large Cloves Garlic
4 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4-1/2 Cup Fresh Italian Olive Oil
1. In a food processor add the walnuts, garlic, basil leaves (really pack them in there) and the parmesan cheese.
2. Turn on the food processor and begin pouring in the olive oil. Start with 1/4 cup and see if you need more. The consistency should be that of a smooth paste (think hummus or baking soda toothpaste). It should be smooth, but not watery or loose. If need be add additional olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time as you process. Scrape down the bowl of the processor once or twice throughout.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste and give it one more whirl for a few seconds to incorporate!

4. Seal tightly in a jar and use immediately! This can also be put into zip lock bags and frozen for up to 4 months! I love to do this in the summer and in the dead of winter I thaw a package and make summer fresh pesto pasta just to remind us that the ground does thaw.

Servings: 30-33 (1 tbsp. per serving)

Nutritional Skinny:

 107 calories / 4.5 g fat / .6 g carbohydrates / .4 g fiber / 1.2 g protein

Mental Health Tid Bit: For me there is nothing that feels better than making a lot of something yummy that will help me build meals in a hurry some day in the future when I may be tired, frazzled, over worked, or just plain exhausted. This pesto freezes for up to 4-5 months and can be thawed quickly in luke warm water and added to your favorite whole wheat pasta and some chicken and you have an instant home made meal. Having this around is like having a winning lotto ticket hanging around... it provides me comfort and security. Hopefully it will do the same for you!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Homemade Granola Bars

I feel like I need to tell you this before I share this delicious recipe: I'm one of those nerds who resists the easy way. I'm kind of what you would call an "Over Achiever". Otherwise known as "One Fry Short of a Happy Meal". 

Whatever you prefer to call it, I just can't seem to figure out how to take the easy way. I'm the one huffing and puffing up the stairs in the airport carrying my huge suitcase and over-sized purse while everyone else sips martini's on the way up using the escalator. The people on the escalator, those folks have sense, me on the other hand, maybe a little less sense. 
These Nutty Oat Protein Bars were born out of one of these "Over Achiever" moments. We were planning a camping trip and I knew we would need snacks for hikes, but I resisted buying the snacks and instead decided to try my hand at "Granola Bar-Making".
I did some research, bought the necessary ingredients and hunkered down in the kitchen. 
The first batch was soft and sort of fell apart. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you prefer softer chocolate chip cookies and the like, you will probably like the softer version of this granola bar.
However, not everyone in my household prefers things that way, so I took some and placed them on a baking stone and heated them in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until they were darkened and crisp. Then I melted some peanut butter chips in the microwave and dipped the tops of them in the melted peanut butter for good measure.

The results were delicious. I was happy with the softer variety, but adding the crisp and the peanut butter coating really spruced things up. You could also add chopped walnuts, dried cranberries or raisins. Dates could be delicious too! Hey, whatever you have that makes you feel inspired, just toss it in and give it a shot!

I encourage you to try it both ways, or start with the soft variety and if you don't like it, just throw them in the oven like I did and try the second, more crisp and sweet variation.

Here's the recipe! Enjoy!

Nutty Oat Protein Bars
2 Cups Oats
1/2 Cup Flax Seed
3/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds
1 Cup Peanuts; Crushed
1 Cup Walnuts; Chopped
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Creamy All Natural Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Sugar Free Syrup
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

For Crisp Variation:

1/4 Cup Peanut Butter Chips

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, flax seed, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and walnuts. Toss with a spoon to combine. Then place the mixture on a clean baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Check every 5 minutes and stir so you avoid burning the oats or nuts. Then remove from the oven and return the mixture to a large bowl.
3. In a medium sauce pan, combine the brown sugar, peanut butter, syrup, vanilla extract, and salt. Heat over medium heat and stir together with a whisk until it is smooth. Remove from heat.
4a. For the soft variation: Pour the syrup mixture over the toasted nuts and oats. Stir with a spatula until the syrup mixture has coated everything. Then place un-greased wax paper in a 9 X 13 baking pan and transfer the oat and nuts to the baking pan. If you don't have wax paper you can also use plastic wrap which I had to do. Press the mixture down with the spatula until it is evenly distributed and packed really tight. This is what will hold the bars together when they cool. 
5a. For the soft variation: Allow the bars to cool for 2-3 hours. Then slice and wrap them in cling wrap or just eat them right then and there!

4b. For the crisp variation: Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour the syrup mixture over the toasted nuts and oats. Stir with a spatula until the syrup mixture has coated everything. Then place the mixture in a 9 X 13 baking pan. Press the mixture down with the spatula until it is evenly distributed and packed really tight. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.

5b. For the crisp variation: Turn the cooled bars onto a large cutting board and slice into 14 even bars using a large sharp knife. A few crumbs will fly, but those can be your little treat. Microwave the peanut butter chips in a microwave safe bowl for 30 second intervals and stir using a fork until they are smooth and shiny. Dip the top of each granola bar into the melted peanut chips. Or spread the melted peanut chips over the top with a large butter knife or cake froster. Set on a flat surface and allow to cool completely (about another 20-30 minutes). The peanut butter chip topping should be firm to the touch. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap and they are ready to go!

Servings: 14

Nutritional Skinny:

216 calories / 13.7 g fat / 18.8 g carbohydrates / 4 g fiber / 7 g protein

Mental Health Tip: These most nutritionally resemble a Cliff Bar or a Power Bar. The higher fat content is due to the fact that we have added so many nuts and seeds. These are the 'good' kinds of fat or the kinds that raise our good cholesterol or what's called the HDL, so don't get too worried. Enjoy these on a hike, after a bike ride, or just as a mid-day slump fighter!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Spiced Salmon Patties

There are a few things from my childhood that I have hung on to. One of them is my inability to handle criticism and another is Salmon Patties.

I grew up in a vegetarian household that allowed fish and occasionally white meat chicken. Canned salmon and tuna were an absolute staple. Affordable and family friendly. Our family subsisted on cans of salmon and home made soup. Those were my mom's go to dinner options after a really long day.
These salmon patties remind me of standing next to the stove with my mom, my head barely clearing the counter, forming these balls in my hand using stale saltines to bind the pink meat together. 

My mom would always let me help in the kitchen, but my real duties included setting the table and doing the dishes after dinner. I didn't mind doing those chores as long as I got to help my mom do the cooking. She often had the soft sounds of a Naked Gun movie playing in the background and she would laugh while we chopped, swirled, and sizzled these patties until they had a golden brown crust. 
Then my dad would get home and my mom would whisper instructions to me as she floated up the stairs with him to talk about the day. Ten minutes later, we would all sit down together over these crisp salmon patties, some hunks of Italian bread and usually a salad or steamed vegetables. 

These Spiced Salmon Patties remind me of those many nights, just the four of us sitting across the table together, our legs sharing space beneath the oak table. I've updated the recipe. Added some Indian and curry spices, omitted the stale saltines and replaced them with milled flax.
But the essence remains as do the Naked Gun movies that still make my mother howl with laughter. My favorite sound to hear coming from her lips. 

Now on with the recipe!

Spiced Salmon Patties
1 (15 Ounce) Can Red Salmon; Drained
1 Medium Egg
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. Fish Sauce
1 tbsp. Dried Ginger
3 cloves Garlic; minced
1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/2 tsp. Curry Powder
1/4 cup Celery; minced
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1/4 tsp. Red Pepper
1 tbsp. Milled Flax seed
1/4 Cup Toasted Sesame Seeds

For the Yogurt Curry Dressing:

1/2 Cup Plain Non-Fat Yogurt
1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. Curry Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
1. Add the can of red salmon to a large mixing bowl. Remove and discard any grey skin, then mash the salmon between your fingers to crush any small bones and gently break up the salmon making a smooth paste out of the salmon meat. 
2. Add the egg, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, cumin, curry, minced celery, black pepper, red pepper, and milled flax seed.
3. Combine the ingredients mixing with your hands. Then form into 4 equal patties. Place the toasted sesame seeds on a large plate and press the patties into the toasted sesame seeds. Place only a few sesame seeds on the plate at a time to ensure each patty is equally coated with sesame seeds on both sides. Flip carefully to press toasted sesame seeds on both sides.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and spray with canola oil cooking spray. Once the skillet is hot, add the patties. Cook the first side for 4-6 minutes. You want it to become crisp and browned so that the patty holds together. Then flip and cook the other side for another 6-7 minutes or until that side is browned and crisp as well. Try not to move them around much while they are cooking so they don't break up in the skillet. If a few things fall out, no worries, these are little tasters for you
5. Remove from skillet and in a small bowl combine the yogurt, lemon juice, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately with a drizzle of yogurt curry dressing on top.

Servings: 4

Nutritional Skinny:

 182 calories / 8.6 g fat / .8 g carbohydrates / .6 g fiber / 24.6 g protein

Mental Health Benefit: These little golden salmon patties are loaded with protein from the salmon and also loaded with omega 3's from the salmon and the flax seed. Not to mention these are extremely cost effective to make and serve to your family. Served on a bed of fresh lettuce or spinach and you are really hitting the health button from all ends! And with only 182 calories these delicious little nuggets are a happy lunch or dinner!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thai Chicken Peanut Wrap

Just this past weekend, I was bartending a 50's themed birthday party. It was sold to me as being a quiet fundraiser. It turned out to be a raging poodle-skirt laden, grease lightning, booze-fest. Absolutley my favorite events to bar-tend.

The host was nothing sort of hilarious and he told me the best pick up line I have heard to date (and that's saying something). He said to me shortly after our first introduction, "Honey, I would swim through a lake of beer with my mouth closed just to hold your hand."

I howled with laughter and replied, "That sure beats, 'Hey, what's your name?'"

Although, it doesn't beat the line delivered by my honey in a smokey lodge with blues music swinging in the background it was a very, very close second.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with this amazing Thai Chicken Peanut Wrap recipe.
My best answer is; nothing really. Except for the fact that I love to laugh and be ridiculous almost as much as I love a wrap.

I crave wraps like some people crave butterfinger Blizzards from Dairy Queen. There is something about a soft shell craddling warm nuggets of chicken drenched in sauce with crispy cabbage, lettuce, or my personal favorite, avocado. 

I will take leftovers straight from the fridge, wrap them in a tortilla add some fresh lettuce and cheese and call it delicious.
This recipe is no different. It starts with leftover Soy Ginger Grilled Chicken, however you can use any leftover chicken you have laying around and gets dressed up with crunchy cabbage and green pepper.
Then as if that wasn't enough, it is smothered in a savory peanut-honey-soy dressing. 

Simply swoon worthy if you ask me. During dinner I did my usual moaning and ooohhing and aahhing to which my honey responds, "Even if you didn't like it, I think you would still moan. It's just your thing."

Pretty much, but this deserves every lip smacking moan I gave it.

The End

Now on with the recipe! It's great for lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack!

Thai Chicken Peanut Wrap

For the Peanut-Honey-Soy Dressing:
1/4 Cup All Natural Peanut Butter
3 tbsp. Low Sodium Soy Sauce
2 tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 tsp. Garlic Powder

For the peanut-honey-soy dressing:
1. In a small bowl combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne pepper, oil, and garlic powder. Stir together with a whisk or fork until a smooth paste is created. Then set aside.

Servings: 6

Nutritional Skinny (just the dressing): 

95 calories / 8 g fat / 2.5 g carbohydrates / .7 g fiber / 2.8 g protein  

For the wrap contents:  

3 Cups Leftover Soy Ginger Grilled Chicken Breasts (or 3 cups of any cooked chicken will do)
2 Cups Green Cabbage; thinly sliced
1 Green Pepper
2 tbsp. Paul Newman's Low Fat Soy Ginger Dressing
6 Low Carbohydrates Flour Tortillas (I love Mission's Carb Balance Plus!)

1. Slice the chicken, cabbage, and green pepper into thin slivers. 
2. Heat a large skillet and add the green peppers and half of the soy ginger. Cook until the peppers have softened and charred slighty, about 3-5 minutes. Then add the sliced chicken breast and the remaining dressing. Heat for another 1-2 minutes tossing to coat the chicken and heat it through. Then add the cabbage and stir over the heat for one more minute tossing to coat. Once the cabbage is added, toss your tortillas on top of the steaming skillet and allow to heat slightly turning them once. Then remove from heat.
4. To plate: Take the warmed tortilla and smear a generous amount of peanut sauce on the bottom of the tortilla. Top with the cabbage and chicken and roll up! Eat right away!

Servings: 6

Nutritional Skinny (per wrap):

 280 calories / 11.5 g fat / 15.7 g carbohydrates / 9 g fiber / 23 g protein

Mental Health Benefit: This wrap is loaded with fiber from the high fiber wrap and the vegetables and loaded with lean protein from the chicken, wrap, and peanut butter. Now, there is a little bit of fat in these. This comes from the all natural peanut butter. You can reduce that by using reduced fat, however nut oils contain the good fats that keep our metabolisms alive and thriving and our energy soaring. These aren't empty cotton-candy calories here. This is the real, whole-food, energy-packed sort of lunch or dinner that will carry you across that lake of beer to that sweet girl on the other side and you'll still have energy left to hold her hand and possibly swirl her around the dance floor like my honey did our very first night.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Italian Sausage Rotini

Pasta is one of those things that nearly everyone eats and loves (except for my best friend's husband, but that's for another day).

I like pasta even better when it has some spicy Italian sausage in it and come fresh tomatoes don't you? But this is even better because I didn't exactly do the cooking.

Rather, my honey did all the cooking. The recipe is an off shoot from what he learned from his Sicilian friend when he lived in New York. My honey was over on the east coast young, working, and hungry when he bumped into Carmen.
Thank goodness for Carmen who taught him the ropes behind 'blonding' onions, making homemade spaghetti sauce out of fresh roma tomatoes, and most of all how to saute some juicy, yet slightly crisp Italian sausage.

At the beginning of our relationship, my honey made his famous home made meatballs and sauce, which is one of Carmen's recipes. He had me at home made sauce out of fresh tomatoes. We might have Carmen to thank for us getting together and staying that way.
So, this is Scott's (my honey's) recipe, tweaked from one of the lessons he recieved from Carmen in his tiny apartment far away from home. Both of them far from the land that they grew up on coming together to share one thing in common... a love of all things that involve sausage, tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

I guess food does unite afterall. Nothing like a Montana Lumberjack and a Sicilian gentleman meeting across oceans to make a delicious Italian Sausage Rotini. 
It's my dream that one day I get to meet Carmen in person, thank him for teaching my honey how to navigate a roma tomato, and watch the two of them in the kitchen together.

I can just see it now. Two strong men discussing the amount of basil needed and how much olive oil is too much for the right consistency in a slightly sweet yet tart tomato sauce.

I'll be the one at the table with a fork, sipping a delicious Chianti taking pictures.

I'm getting hungry already.

On with the recipe... 

Italian Sausage Rotini
1 (13.25 Ounce) Box Whole Grain Rotini Pasta
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
5 Cloves Garlic; Minced
1/2 Sweet White Onion; Diced
1.25 Pounds Italian Sausage (5 links)
1/2 Cup Sliced Black Olives
1 Vine Ripened Tomato; Diced

1 (29 Ounce) Can Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp. Dried Basil
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1/4 tsp. Dried Cayenne Pepper

1. Cook pasta in boiling water removing from the boiling water 2 minutes earlier than directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
2. Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Swirl around the bottom of the pan and add the minced garlic and onion. Cook until the onions become translucent, about 3-4 minutes, then cut each Italian sausage in thirds and add the sausage to the skillet. Brown the sausage over medium high heat turning the sausages every 3-4 minutes until they have a golden brown crust on the outside. This will take about 10-14 minutes.
3. Once the sausage is browned, transfer the sausage and onions to a crock pot set to high or a large stew pot that is over medium high heat and dice the olives and tomatoes and add those to the pot. Stir to incorporate.
4. Then add the tomato sauce, basil, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine all of the ingredients and if using a crock pot set to high for 1 hour to allow flavors to combine. If using a large stock pot, set the burner to medium low and allow to simmer for one hour.
5. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the drained cooked pasta and the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Then serve in a large deep bowl topped with parmesan cheese and fresh basil if desired!

Servings: 8

Nutritional Skinny:

313 calories / 9.5 g fat / 46 g carbohydrates / 6 g fiber / 15 g protein

Mental Health Benefit: As much as I love to cook, chop, and saute, one of the small blessings in life is having someone else prepare a meal for you while you look on and drool. That's what I got to do for this recipe and it was a gift that my honey gave me. And it doesn't matter what he cooks (although it's usually Italian flavored). I love getting a break from the kitchen and enjoying someone else's inspired dishes. That was my mental health benefit for this recipe... a night off. Thank you honey (and Carmen!).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Traditional German Potato Salad

I'm a red head, naturally. Most people assume I'm Irish. They're not entirely wrong, I have a tiny bit of Irish in me, but mostly I'm German.

Strong bones, sassy mouth, strong will, and a love of saurkraut, sausage, and all things to do with mustard.
I've talked a lot about potato salad and coleslaw this summer, but I'd be a really bad friend if I didn't share this recipe. It's simple and goes great with everything.

It has this heavenly bite from the caraway seeds, dill, and mustard seeds. Combine that with the creamy zing from the ranch dressing and that's about all you need to know.
I'm done. It's that good. It's even better served with German sausage charred on the grill and saurkraut and maybe even a nice dark beer. Did someone say Guiness?

This German Potato Salad is great if you prepare it the day before so the flavors can all get happy together in the refrigerator.

Let's get on with the recipe, shall we?

German Potato Salad
6 Yukon Gold Potatoes; scrubbed
2 Cups Celery; diced with leaves on
2 tsp. Caraway Seeds
1/4 Cup Light Mayonnaise
1/4 Cup Light Ranch Dressing
2 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
2 tsp. Dried Dill
1 tsp. Mustard Seed
1/2 tsp. Celery Seed

1. Scrub the potato skins and dice into bite sized pieces and place into a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes pierce easily with a fork. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water and allow to cool completely. Place the potatoes in the refridgerator if you want them to cool quickly.
2. Once the potatoes are cooled transfer them to a bowl and chop the celery into thin slivers. Add the celery and caraway seeds to the potatoes and set aside.

3. In a separate small bowl combine the mayonnaise, light ranch dressing, dijon mustard, dried dill, mustard seed, and celery seed. Stir together with a fork until creamy and smooth.
4. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and stir until all potatoes are coated with dressing. Refrigerate overnight before eating.

5. When ready to eat, char-grill some German sausages, chicken wings, or possibly some pork and serve this potato salad along side with plenty of sauerkraut, mustard, and napkins.

Servings: 10

Nutritional Skinny:

77 calories / 2 g fat / 13.7 g carbohydrates / 2.4 g fiber / 1.2 g protein

Mental Health Tid Bit: Potato salad can be loaded with fat and unwanted calories. However, using the light ranch, and light mayonnaise for this recipe cuts the fat in half and saves over 100 calories. Creamy potato salad doesn't have to be followed by guilt and it is just as delicious. Most have over 300 calories per serving and with only 77 calories per serving for this potato salad that swimsuit will still look smashing!