Category Archives: Cooking

10 Minute Jam

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No joke, this jam took less than 10 minutes to make. I do have to mention that a microwave played a major role, and I’m usually not one to rally behind nuked foods. But when a recipe claims to take a mere ten minutes, well, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

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When it first came out of the microwave, the mixture had ballooned considerably and then slowly deflated, leaving a soupy mixture. As it cooled, the jam thickened, and I have to say, it’s scrumptious. K, of course, thought it was a fabulous science/cooking experiment, which I guess it kind of is, and she loves the jam.

I’m always happy to try out new things, but it does make me a little uncomfortable to consume microwaved food. Every time I heat up leftovers, I feel a pang of guilt. But oh, the convenience! At any rate, this jam was definitely worth the try, and now that my curiosity is sated, I’m back to healthy cooking!

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Here’s a behind the scenes look-see of K styling the jam and taking test shots with her little camera, setting it all up for me to shoot. I think she might have a real future in this line of business…

 

No-Bake Energy Blasts

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve continued with my daily green juice for nearly a year now. It helps jumpstart my day, but I must ‘fess up to still being hopelessly addicted to my beloved coffee. Maybe it’s the coffee voiding the green juice, but by mid-afternoon I usually need an energy boost.

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I made these no-bake energy blasts (named by one of K’s friends who happened to be over while I was typing this up) and they live up to their name. I slightly modified this recipe by replacing the honey with brown rice syrup (left over from the healthier rice crispy treats), and adding a little dried bing cherries and slivered almonds. I also bought whole flax seeds instead of ground by mistake, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

These are delicious! And kid-approved! A seven-year-old and eight-year-old both extolled the flavor, and this is after I told them that these are on the healthy side as far as snacks go. I popped one in my mouth and savored the notes of poppy seed (from the chia seeds?) mixed in with the sweet/tart zing of the dried fruit and mellow nuttiness of the pistachios and almonds. Increasingly I’m preferring brown rice syrup as a sweetener because it’s not as cloying.

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My food processor didn’t like blending the dates, syrup, chia seeds and flax seeds though. An ear-splitting grating noise exploded the first couple of seconds, then it slowly and painstakingly churned the mixture into a semi-smooth mush.

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That was the only hiccup, however, and these are so easy to make — my favorite kind of recipe. I’m piling a bunch in containers to keep in the fridge (they’re supposed to last a couple of weeks chilled). Now I’m ready for the afternoon slump!

 

Pancakes: Banana Oat vs. Chocolate Chip

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K made an unusual pronouncement on Sunday that threw me for a loop. “I want something different for breakfast, Mommy,” she said. For the past five years, I’ve been serving up buckwheat pancakes every Sunday. It’s like clockwork: wake up, brush my teeth, make pancakes.

Turns out that my routine girl didn’t want to deviate too much from the ritual. She just wanted different pancakes, so we thought it might be fun to each make our own version. K created a chocolate chip concoction and I investigated our cupboards and pantry for ingredients that might work. I found a bag of oat flour and some super ripe bananas, and hazily remembered pinning a banana pancake recipe, but my gargantuan board proved to be too much work to sift through and the search function wasn’t too helpful, so I googled “Banana Oat Pancakes” instead (must address the Pinterest issue). Voila! I had all the ingredients, and though I forgot to include the cinnamon and nutmeg, these were delectable!

My pancakes were fluffy and virtually sugar-free:

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Her pancakes were a sweet tooth’s dream and more like crepes:

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Guess which one she preferred?

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“Here, Mommy, you’ve gotta try these. My recipe is awesome.”

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And you know what? She was right. She made the batter entirely by herself, so I have no idea what she put in there, but they’re soft and airy and marvelous.

Of course, I was partial to my own, much healthier version. Okay, I did drizzle a teensy bit of extra maple syrup on my tower of (mini!) oat pancakes, but these are fairly guilt-free as far as pancakes go:

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Oh! I completely forgot that today is April Fool’s!! May your day be filled with gentle pranks that make you chuckle.

 

 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies

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I keep a loose sort of blog schedule — every Friday, I list out potential post ideas for the following week and most of the time, I don’t follow the schedule at all because I’m always way too unrealistic and wait to create my post the day before. I’m pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal. On rare occasions, I will list the same topic over and over, carrying it through several weeks without making it happen even though it’s completely doable. These avocado chocolate cookies are an example of that.

I’ve been wanting to make these cookies for months. I love avocados. I love cookies. I especially love healthier options for sweets. I have all the ingredients for this recipe at all times (avocados, coconut sugar, egg, cocoa, chocolate chunks, baking soda and water). Seemed like a sure winner, yet I couldn’t muster the energy to make them.

Part of it was because I knew it would be yet another challenging photography project. Here’s what I mean:

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I tried all sorts of things to make them look less cow-pat-esque, but what can I say?

Just as I thought, the recipe was so quick and easy, and within half an hour, I had 18 cookies cooling on my rack. Having had success with avocado chocolate frosting before, I assumed I would adore these. They’re not bad, but some tweaks are in order. I wasn’t sure how much 50grams of chocolate chips would be (I don’t have a scale) so I tossed in a 1/2 cup. Should have added more. Also, my avocados weren’t totally ripe, and this was an issue. There’s a distinct guacamole aftertaste, which, for an avocado aficionado, isn’t such a problem, but it’s definitely weird in a cookie. So super ripe avocados are necessary.

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The recipe does state that these taste better cold and after chilling overnight in the fridge, so I’ll test that out tomorrow morn. I just had my second cookie, and you know, they’re growing on me. Guac-cookies they may be and a little odd, but they’re palatable. I like that the batch I made doesn’t use any flour, and coconut sugar is supposed to be a decent sugar alternative, but out of curiosity I might try this recipe next – this one sounds promising! I’m still trying to cut back on sugar, but sometimes chocolate is mandatory, don’t you think?

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread

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For a long time, butternut squashes intimidated me. The size, the shape, the armor of seemingly impenetrable skin. Inspired by lovely Lucinda’s suggestion in one of the comments, however, I tentatively bought a medium-sized butternut, hacked it in quarters, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled salt and pepper, and stuck it in the oven for about an hour. I admit I was a little spent after cutting the thing. It’s time to get our knives sharpened, it seems.

Fifty-some minutes later, gourd-shaped hulls filled with golden, steaming, sumptuously sweetened, anti-inflammatory pulp emerged (did you know that winter squashes have all sorts of health benefits?).

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My aim was to make soup, and I did. Tossed in with vegetable stock, an array of hearty cruciferous and root veggies and white beans, the pureed butternut squash soup was delicious. I had a lot left over that I didn’t use in the soup, though, and wasn’t sure what to do with gobs of roasted butternut.

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Enter Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread – an unwieldy dish to say, but oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth-good when consumed. I paced myself and had only one small slice, but this loaf disappeared in a matter of minutes. To reduce the sugar high, I skipped the glaze, and I for one felt no loss. It’s one of those comforting sweet baked goods in the banana and pumpkin bread family, but even better. I think it’s the browned butter that makes the difference, adding depth to the taste.

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I’ve had requests to make the loaf again, and now that I’ve conquered my winter squash fears, I’m ready. Bring it, butternut.

Healthier Rice Crispy Treats

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On Saturday, we had a mini early birthday celebration for one of our sweet little friends. She is turning five, and treats were in order, but she’s lactose-intolerant so I searched for some dessert options that wouldn’t involve any dairy. I could have gone for vegan cupcakes, but how could I pass up a chance to make healthier rice crispy treats? And how cute are they stacked high with candles on top? I love that she’s trying to blow out the candles from as far away as possible.

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I used this recipe, and it came together in a jiffy. It requires only rice crispy cereal, brown rice syrup, cashew butter and maple syrup. I already had the syrups, so all I needed were the cereal and cashew butter. I bought this brand of “veganic sprouted brown rice crisps”, and the treats came out a million times better than expected.

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They got a seal of approval from the kiddos, and just like the recipe states, the flavor has a caramel undertone. The cashew butter lends a milder nutty flavor, and I was pleased that they’re less sweet than your average rice crispy treat, but still very satisfying as a dessert.

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K was initially disappointed that no marshmallows were used, but she loves them so much that she’s been begging to eat one at every opportunity. Here, she’s enjoying one during our impromptu picnic in the backyard when there was a brief window of sunniness on Sunday (the sky ballooned with ominous-looking storm clouds shortly after).

Some words of caution: unless stored in an airtight container, these get gushy. I left them in the muffin tin with the plastic lid that it comes with, but it’s not completely airtight. I took a little bite this morning, and they’re not so yummy anymore….still, this recipe’s a keeper and I’ll be making this again for sure!

Yay, Black Bean Burgers

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Now that I’ve gotten the whole criticism thing out of my system, let’s talk faux burgers. “Yay, I love black bean burgers!” That’s what K actually says when I make these black bean patties. She doesn’t realize that under the ooey gooey cheese, there’s a chockfull of healthiness.

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As you can see, I’m continuing my theme of unattractive foodstuffs from last week, and I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for food bloggers and photographers wrestling with these homely dishes.

I’ve made these bean patties a few times in the last couple of months, and though I started off with a recipe that I can no longer find, I’ve been messing around with the ingredients and they are very much my own creation now.  I don’t have the exact measurements for anything, but I wanted to jot down the combo I used this week because it was especially tasty and easy. I always have left over brown rice, and this is a great way to use it up.

Ingredients

1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
6-8 mushrooms, sliced (I used mini portobellos)
1/2 cup of roasted sweet potatoes (left over from dinner the night before)
1 can black beans
About 1 cup of brown rice
1/2 to 1 cup of panko bread crumbs, enough to keep the mixture from getting too soggy
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute onions until translucent in olive oil. I like to caramelize them, which takes about fifteen minutes. Add garlic, cook for a minute, then add carrot, celery and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 10 minutes until softened. Let cool slightly.

2. Rinse and drain black beans and place in large bowl with roasted sweet potatoes. Mash. It doesn’t have to be totally smooth.

3. Add rice, then the cooked vegetables. Mix in the egg and then sprinkle in panko bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky enough to form patties but not too goopy. Technical terms, these.

4. Form patties – my mixture yielded 12 patties. I froze half.

5. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, place patties at least an inch apart and cook each side about 5 minutes. Melt cheese on top if desired. In this case, I had only shredded cheese.

6. Heap on lettuce, tomato, avocado slices, slide between burger buns and enjoy!

Those blue corn chips were stale and gross, so make sure you have fresh chips. Anyway. Yay, black bean burgers!

The Quest for Healthy Eating: Soups + Baked Bananas

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My health is still a little touch and go these days, though positively on the mend. Combined with K’s orthodontic situation, soups have been my go-to meals. I used to be so intimidated by soups back in my singleton days of living in a tiny studio apartment. I rarely cooked at home, and I remember being in awe when my neighbor told me about all the soups she liked to make. Despite her claims otherwise, I imagined having to slave over the stove for hours, endlessly tweaking and adding ingredients.

Now that I’m a more seasoned cook (albeit far from gourmet or expert), I scoff at my younger self’s fear of soups. Lately I don’t even follow recipes and dump in whatever seems compatible from the fridge or pantry.

Take this — unphotogenic, but truly delicious — veggie soup. I sauteed some onions in butter and olive oil, then added diced up celery, carrots, potatoes, mushroom, and then doused the whole mixture with chicken stock and water. Sprinkle in some salt, pepper and cumin and 35 minutes later, soup! It tastes even better the next day. With some french bread for dipping and leftover roasted broccoli and cauliflower, it’s hard not to feel good.

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And last week, I made a kabocha-kale-potato soup, an equally un-camera-friendly concoction that is wonderfully hearty and satisfying.  I also love making asian-style soups with soy or miso-based broths and tofu.

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I’m still trying to cut down on sugar, and as such, I’m often turning to my Pinterest board for “healthier” desserts. Baked bananas with cinnamon and honey seemed quick and possibly super yummy, so I gave it a go. I seem determined to share unappetizing food photos today, and they aren’t lookers, these baked bananas.

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The taste didn’t wow me either, but they were very easy to make. With a huge scoop of ice cream, these would be mighty fine, but I don’t have to state the obvious. Maybe if I bake them a little less (15 minutes is what I did for more caramelization), they would be less…goopy.

Next up for healthy dessert experimentation: chocolate avocado cookies!

Heidi Swanson is a Genius: Immunity Soup

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It seems ironic. Here I am, trying my hardest to eat better than I ever have before and (sob) to reduce my sugar intake, but I am constantly catching one cold after another. I must be doing something wrong – is there such a thing as too much kale? I appear to have turned a corner, though, and I am crediting my near full-recovery from what has to be the longest bout of sniffles/coughing fits to this powerful soup. I was browsing my backlogged blog reader a few days ago, and via DesignSponge, I came across this recipe. It was meant to be.

I’ve long been an admirer of 101 Cookbooks, but I don’t check it very often for some reason. With my new non-resolutions, however, that will change. There are so many soups and vegetarian dishes! Plus, the beautiful photography, the comforting narratives and the incontestably delectable-sounding recipes…Heidi Swanson’s site is a winner through and through.

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Anyway, I was going to talk about this particular soup, the one she calls the “Immunity Soup”. Other than the snow pea shoots, which was a new ingredient to me, watermelon radishes and fresh ginger, I had pretty much everything else in my kitchen so I made a quick trip to the nearest fancy health food store and rounded up the missing pieces. I was out of luck with the watermelon radishes but scored the other two.

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It’s a fast dish to assemble, and though you don’t want to stand close to anyone after consuming it — there are eight cloves of garlic in it — the soup makes short order of clearing your sinuses and lifting that ever-present sickness fog. It’s important to drink/eat it piping hot as she recommends. Slurping up the scalding concoction enveloped by the fragrant steam seems to add to the restorative properties of the soup. As for the taste, it has a distinct Asian flair with the peppery broth combined with the kick of ginger and garlic. The sweetness of the onions, carrots and snow pea shoots balances out the heat and I always love tofu and mushroom in my broths. It’s the kind of soup I imagine my friend’s ancient Chinese grandma would serve me with a strict admonition about not using my chopsticks properly.

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I couldn’t get M or K to get on board with my immunity soup as they both claimed to be hale and indestructible, but that means more for me, and I’m betting that by tomorrow I’ll be indestructible too. Highly, highly recommended!

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! We had a superb Christmas filled with friends and family. K raked in some squeal-inducing gifts (the expression when she saw the gigantic Yamaha keyboard box with her name spelled out with red camo duct tape was pure gold: “Mommy! There’s a present for me that’s bigger than our couch!!”).

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One of the things I really enjoyed on Christmas Eve was making miniature gingerbread houses that perch on the edge of mugs. I used Not Martha’s template and recipe recommendations, and though they were time-consuming all around, I was totally into it. I need to re-examine my priorities, as it was actually a little disconcerting how zealous I was about this. Also, I’ve said I don’t like to make the same thing over and over, but I realized that only applies to sewing. I could have made dozens of these (I ended up with 6 that didn’t fall apart). K jumped in to help too, wielding the icing bag recklessly. The icing got smudged in parts and I obviously need some training in the decorating department (K was far more expert than I was), but they are almost painfully adorable, no? We went to a fabulous Christmas gathering at our neighbors’ and the kids enjoyed the handmade peppermint cocoa with the mini gingerbread houses. Talk about a sugar rush.

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And as I suspected, with all this celebrating and baking and gift-wrapping and giving, I had zero time or focus for sewing for myself. My poor dress is still lounging about in a semi-done state. I usually barrel through projects until completion, but despite the subtly shimmery fabric, this dress was starting to emit a stodgy uniform vibe, and my motivation flagged. It’s Vogue 8511 (I’m sewing the sleeveless version), and I’m shooting to get it done in the next couple of days.

So, I have quite a few things brewing behind the scenes over the next few weeks, and there’s a mighty good chance that postings will be on the haphazard side for a while. I love to post every weekday, so we’ll see. I will definitely be back on a regular schedule by about mid-to-late January, but in the meantime, I’ll most likely be popping around with what I hope to be fun posts every few days.

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A friend showed me this linguistic quiz that determines your home city, and it’s uncanny how accurate it is. It’s US-based, but a world-wide version would be so fun!

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M and I are going away for the weekend! We’re driving up to a little town about an hour outside of Seattle, and we’ll be staying in a charming little B&B. It’s our first ever overnight trip away from K, and it just shows what big softies we are that we’ve waited until she was seven-and-a-half for something like this. My intrepid mom will shoulder the responsibility of our coddled child, and I’m sure she’ll be peppered with the question, “When are they coming baaaaaaaaaaack??” every two minutes. And what’s even more embarrassing? We’re only going away for one night…

One more week this year
twenty-thirteen has zipped by
Twelve months of awesome*

*And you, my dear readers, made it extra awesome! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Have a wonderful weekend, all!

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