Protein Packed Chia Acorns

I do a lot of working out and a lot of lifting weights, and when you do that, you have to give your body protein when you’re done or else you’ll actually burn muscle instead of fat. Most of the time after I workout, I have a Juice Plus shake or smoothie, but sometimes I just want a quick little snack. I’ve also been researching and eating more chia seeds lately, in smoothies, juices, baking, etc.

Chia (yes, the same chia that is subjected to clay likenesses of Duck Dynasty characters’ live beards) is a tiny, edible seed that is derived from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. It grows in Mexico and is dated back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures who ate the tiny black or white seeds as an energy booster. Today, people eat them for the same reason and many others that we now know. The seeds are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants and even calcium. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds are a whole grain food that can be absorbed by the body in its seed form (flaxseeds can only be absorbed if ground – otherwise they pass through your system untouched). One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.

So it’s a great item to add into your diet whenever possible since they are so nutrient dense. There are also claims that because of their high fiber content, they can help you stay fuller for longer, and so for some people, perhaps, help them to lose weight. That’s a harder claim to prove, but it’s there.

So yesterday, after my workout, I decided to create a protein-rich post-workout snack that’s also just a tiny bit indulgent. You can find chia seeds at your local health food store and nowadays probably in your grocery store’s organic or health section. White or black chia are fine – I’m not aware of any particular taste difference, although there may be some. The chia doesn’t really affect the taste all that much in this recipe.

Protein Packed Chia Acorns

chia acorns

Ingredients:

  • 5 Medjool dates, pitted (yes, they have pits as my food processor discovered for me!)
  • 4 tbs of organic, low-sugar or no sugar peanut butter or other nut butter including almond, cashew – even tahini (sesame seed butter). PB can be creamy or crunchy.
  • 2 tsp chia seeds, ground (I grind flax and chia in my coffee grinder)
  • 1 scoop of Juice Plus chocolate shake mix or any other protein powder – I prefer chocolate flavored, but vanilla or unflavored is also OK. 1 scoop of Juice Plus is 38 grams – usually protein powders are measured by weight, not volume….soooo, you’re just going to have to sort of estimate there. I’d say the scooper that comes with it is around 1/4 cup?
  • 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips or pieces
  • 1 tsp vegan butter (or real butter, if you’re lucky enough to have a body that can process dairy)

Method:

  1. Process the dates, nut butter, chia seeds and protein powder in a food processor until crumbly and mixed well.
  2. Using a cookie scoop, scoop out 10-12 balls and roll in your hands until they’re round and packed firmly. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Microwave the chocolate and vegan butter in a heat proof glass dish for about a minute, on low, stirring with a silicon spatula about halfway through. If not completely melted after one minute, microwave for 10 second increments, checking each time to see if the chocolate is smooth.
  4. Once smooth, dip each ball halfway into the chocolate (or use a small spatula to spread the chocolate onto the protein balls) and place back onto the parchment.
  5. Freeze for half an hour, then put into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

chia acorns bitten

These are really yummy, just a little indulgent, and packed with protein. However, I think if I make them again, I might try a different method. I was thinking it might be easier to take the processed mixture, pack it into a parchment lined brownie pan, melt the chocolate, then spread the chocolate over the top of the mixture, freeze, then cut into squares and wrap individually in the fridge. Probably not as cute as these little acorns, but maybe a tiny bit easier to make and store?

Anyways, give chia a chance. It’s not just for white elephant gift exchanges anymore.

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The Drunken Clam

What is this? A second post this week?? I maintain that you shouldn’t get your hopes up, but for now – here’s some food.

The Drunken Clam

clams

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter (or Vegan butter, which is what I use and works great)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • one large shallot, chopped
  • two large garlic gloves, chopped fine
  • one large heirloom tomato, diced
  • 1/2 – 1 cup white wine (I suggest Pinot Grigio)
  • fresh lemon
  • one bag of Littleneck clams – usually around 50 or so clams – scrubbed and rinsed well
  • handful of parsley, chopped

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Once the butter begins to bubble, add the garlic and shallot and saute 2-3 minutes until shallot starts to become translucent, then add in the diced tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste and stir for two more minutes.
  2. Pour in the wine, stir to combine, and bring to a light boil, then reduce heat back to medium and add the clams and the juice of half a lemon, and stir gently to incorporate the sauce, then put the lid on the skillet and let sit for 7-8 minutes.
  3. Take the lid off, pour in a little bit more wine and a tablespoon more butter, a squeeze of a lemon wedge as well as the parsley. Stir to combine, then with a slotted spoon, divide the clams between the bowls then pour the remaining sauce in the pan over each of the bowls of clams.
  4. Serve with hot, toasted French bread, a lemon wedge and the rest of that Pinot Grigio. This serves four normal people or two of us.

The Littleneck clams I purchased were from Cherrystone Aqua Farms which farms and harvests clams and oysters on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Yes, Cherrystone is also a type of clam, but did you know Littlenecks and Cherrystone clams are the same clams? These as well as Topnecks are all just Quahogs – their different names simply refer to their size, with Littlenecks being the smallest, then Cherrystones , then Topnecks are big boys and the clams that are just called Quahogs are the largest. Smaller clams will do better in this recipe as the larger a clam gets, the tougher it gets. Quick steams with light sauces like this are best done with young, tender clams. Chowders and stuffed clams can be done with your Topnecks and Quahogs. So you see – bigger is not always better.

Clams are low in fat and high in protein and they offer higher than average amounts of necessary minerals like selenium, zinc, iron and magnesium as well as B vitamins and niacin. They’re also painfully easy to make, as you can see from above. People get freaked out by seafood and even more freaked out by bivalves. There’s really nothing to be afraid of, but there are some things you need to make sure of when dealing with clams and other bivalves such as mussels or oysters:

  • Buy them fresh from a reputable fish monger or seafood market
  • Keep them cold until you cook them (in a bowl of ice in the fridge is best)
  • Rinse them well before cooking – they dig around in the dirt for a living….
  • Once you have cooked them, check for shells that did not open. Any shells that didn’t open during cooking should be disposed of as this is indicative that the clam may have been dead prior to cooking and therefore not of the freshest variety. If you got a batch where several clams didn’t open, that means they weren’t fresh and you might want to purchase from a different seafood market next time. Having one or two that don’t open, though, is pretty normal.

So don’t freak out. Just split a bottle of wine with those clams and relax.

Frittata. Yo momma.

Part of the haul from the market yesterday went into this morning’s frittata. Sautéed kale, onions, and tomatoes in a large frying pan, when kale is wilted and tender, drop in some chopped turkey deli meat and pour in four large beaten eggs, top with a handful of shredded mozzarella. Transfer to oven at 350 and bake until egg is set.

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Yo momma!

Open Season

For locavores, June marks the beginning of open season. Markets open back up, farm stands are on every corner and fresh produce is back at last. This morning I woke up, threw some clothes on and told the husband to make my coffee to-go and hold off on frying the bacon. Half an hour later we were back home with new potatoes, kale, beets, green beans and fresh baked tomato basil rolls. And all for $15. But eating fresh and local? That’s priceless.

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Happy produce hunting, friends!!

Like Father, Like Daughter

My dad makes this outrageous clam chowder that people will literally put in requests for. Sometimes in the winter my mom and dad will host an oyster roast at their house and my dad will steam oysters under a wet towel on the grill outside and we’ll stand around shucking them over plywood laid out on saw horses with big steaming bowls of this chowder. It is really culinary perfection – exactly the way I love to eat and experience food.

The chowder that he makes isn’t thick and creamy like up north, this is what we call “Hatteras Style” clam chowder and it’s really more of a soup than a chowder. It’s brothy, chunky and extremely peppery. For the longest time I assumed it was some sort of complicated recipe that I didn’t want to take on, until one night when I was pining for it, he said nonchalantly,  “all you need is a can of clams and some potatoes.” What?? Seriously??

Anyways, the simplicity of this recipe doesn’t make it any less amazing. Much like me, my dad doesn’t cook to a precise recipe, so these amounts were estimated by me until it looked and tasted similar to his. I will say, just when you think you’ve added enough pepper, add some more.

Bob’s Clam Chowder, Hatteras Style

Hatteras Style Clam Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 4 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 2 small cans of chopped clams or 1 large can (depends on where you go – most grocery stores just carry the small, tuna can sized ones)
  • salt, pepper and parsley to taste

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot and add the onions and celery and saute until soft
  2. Add the potatoes, add salt and pepper and stir well
  3. Add both cans of clams – WITH juice, stir well
  4. Add 3 cups of water (or more depending on how brothy you want it)
  5. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
  6. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve steaming hot with oyster crackers

Hatteras Style Clam Chowder

This recipe makes about four hearty bowls. Double for more or triple for a crowd. At some stores you’ll be able to find the huge cans of chopped clams, which is probably worthwhile if you’re cooking for a small army.

 

Lunch

One of the best things about working from home is being able to make myself lunch every day. Like, really make something, not just a sandwich. Today I made a curried carrot and lentil soup. I picked up some carrots at Bergey’s Breadbasket Produce in Chesapeake yesterday and I also had some left over lentils from dinner last night that were already cooked. I sautéed some onion, garlic and three medium carrots in olive oil, curry powder, salt, pepper, oregano, fresh parsley and a dash of coriander. When they were tender I threw in a dash of red wine and balsamic vinegar and let that reduce, then added a can of stewed tomatoes with their juice – roughly chopped and let that simmer for 20 minutes. Then I added a cup of homemade chicken broth and let simmer another ten minutes and finally added about a cup and a half of cooked lentils, stirring to combine well. Let this simmer until warmed through and the carrots are tender but not mushy. Serve with more fresh parsley and cayenne pepper (if you’re a heat freak like me). Now that’s lunch!

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The resourceful cook

Jeremy once told me that I was the most resourceful cook he knows. This is because I never start a meal plan for the week by deciding what I want to make, then writing down ingredients. Instead, I go to the pantry, freezer or fridge, see what random left overs or items we have, then plan our meals around that. Because most of what I cook is done without recipes, this works for me. And that’s the beauty of learning techniques versus recipes. If you know how to make a basic cream sauce, or the components of a risotto or the technique of braising meats, then you don’t need recipes. What I find to be most important is the concept of ratio. So if you know that a basic risotto calls for 1 part rice to 4 parts liquid, then you’re fine, and you can experiment to your hearts’ content without worrying about if the rice is going to dry up or if it’s going to be too soupy.

So this past week we had some kind of random things sitting around. First off, my sage plant has exploded this fall, so I wanted to use some fresh sage. I also had a huge bag of pistachios left over from camping and a half of a container of Parmesan….some of you know where this is going already: pesto! Pistachio-Sage pesto. Because, once again, if you know the basic components of pesto (basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil) you can swap each of those ingredients out for something similar (sage, Parmesan, pistachios, olive oil). I also had a huge FIVE POUND bag of quinoa that I got at Costco the other day, as well as a side of salmon that I had cut down into fillets and frozen. Finally there was a random butternut squash that I had picked up at a farm and sort of neglected.

fall dinner

I wanted to experiment with the idea of quinoa risotto. Normally risotto is made with Arborio rice, a super short-grain rice that cooks almost like a pasta. It’s cooked slowly, adding small amounts of liquid, which are then absorbed before adding more, and of course – stirring the entire time. Quinoa is also a grain and is …. not “short” but small, let’s say. I wasn’t sure if it would cream up like Arborio, which slowly releases its starch as it cooks, creating its own creamy sauce when combined with water, broth, wine, etc. But I figured it was worth a try.

The whole meal came together like this:

Step 1: fall dinner squash
Pre-head the oven to 375 F. Peel and cut the butternut squash into 1/2″ thick slices, brush with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, then lay out on a baking sheet and roast while putting together the rest of the meal. I only used about 1/4 of the squash (I made the rest of it into soup – resourceful!)

Step 2: 
Make the pesto by combining 1/4 cup of pistachios (shelled) with a palm full of Parmesan, a hearty bunch of sage (chopped), the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients while drizzing olive oil through the top until a nice thick paste forms.

Step 3:
Make the risotto. Start with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and half of an onion, diced small; cook until soft. Add one cup of diced mushrooms and a

fall dinner quinoalittle lemon zest and saute until soft. Add in one cup of quinoa (or Arborio rice) and toast the quinoa until it starts to brown. Pour in half a cup of chicken broth and use this to deglaze the pan, and stir until it is absorbed. Continue to add half a cup of broth at a time, stirring until absorbed until you’ve reached the consistency you want. You’ll likely use less liquid than you would with a true risotto. I used about two cups of broth to one cup of quinoa. It will take about 15-20 minutes to get the quinoa cooked through. You know when quinoa is cooked because the grain sort of pops open. It’s impossible to describe, but immediately obvious when it happens. When the risotto is close to being done, within the last few minutes, add the juice of half a lemon and a large spoonful of the pesto and stir in.

Step 4:
About 10 minutes before the risotto is done, coat some salmon fillets with your pesto and put on a baking sheet in the oven with your squash. Bake the salmon for 10 minutes of until it flakes easily with a fork.

Step 5:
Serve it up! Top the risotto with a little more Parmesan and top your salmon with a bit more pesto. Your squash should be a little crispy on the outside and cooked through on the inside from roasting. Serve with a lemon wedge to brighten up the salmon and risotto.
fall dinner plate

Step 6:
Enjoy. And use these steps to make something completely different – based on whatever you have on hand.

fall dinner fork

Chili my way

We broke a record low overnight last night in Hampton Roads – 58 degrees. That is COLD for August in southeastern Virginia and when I woke up this morning and stepped out on the back porch, the instant the sub-60 degree temperate hit me, I knew we had to have chili for dinner. Does anyone else have these instantaneous food triggers? Jeremy will vouch for the fact that I CANNOT listen to mariachi music without immediately needing a taco. Like, if I hear it on TV or out in public I will literally stick my fingers in my ears and go “lalalalalala” if I think there’s any chance I can’t immediately acquire a taco. This is how I am with chili. I can go months and months without thinking about it and then a cool breeze will come out of somewhere or maybe someone is burning yard debris or ANYTHING that seems like fall and I cannot rest until there is chili.

As we all know there are about a billion ways to make and eat chili and everyone from every part of the country will swear that their way is the right/legitimate/original/best way to make it. Fine, sure. It is. But the truth is, MY WAY IS THE BEST WAY SO SHUT UP.

Rachel’s Chili

(eat it or get out)

chili bowl - rlb

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of ground turkey
  • olive oil
  • one onion
  • two cloves of garlic, minced
  • one 15oz can of kidney beans, drained
  • one 15 oz can of chili beans, drained
  • one 14 oz can of tomato sauce (or home made)
  • one 14oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • one can of beer (minus two swigs for yourself)(actually, take three swigs)(just put in whatever is left)
  • 1/8 cup of chili powder
  • 1/2 tbs cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne or hot sauce or more if you like it spicy

Optional Toppings:

  • diced onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • shredded cheese
  • lime wedges
  • sour cream or plan Greek yogurt
  • avocado slices
  • crushed tortilla chips
  • crushed saltines

Method:

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil, sautee the onion and the garlic until soft
  2. Add the turkey and cook until browned. Drain any excess fat.
  3. Put the turkey mixture and remaining ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours OR put all ingredients into a Dutch oven and cook over low heat on the stovetop for 3 hours.

I prefer using a slow cooker with chili because chili is just one of those things that gets better the longer it sits. I would even recommend making this the day before you’re going to serve it (The Saturday before game day, maybe?) but for me it’s too hard to make it and not eat it the same day, but do whatever your internal fortitude allows you to do. You can see by my beer recommendations, that mine is incredibly low.

chili toppings

And of course there are the chili toppings! I like to lay them all out and let everyone decide what they want. My must haves are plain Greek yogurt and shredded cheese with a squeeze of lime. This is the one part I’ll let you decide for yourself what is best.

 

Figgy bruschetta

Toast slices of French bread at 375 for a few minutes until they are just lightly toasted. Remove from oven and top each slice with a thin slice of Brie. Spread the Brie gently as not to tear the bread. Top the Brie with a thin slice of prosciutto and quartered fresh figs. Return to the oven and toast until cheese is soft and beginning to melt. Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic glaze.

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Pimento Cheese

Only in the south would someone throw together shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and some pimentos and call it fancy. But that is, in fact, what we have done. Southerners have a way of doing this – cutting up cucumbers, mixing some dill with some mayonnaise and putting them on white bread and suddenly everything is elevated.

A week ago I was headed to a committee meeting that I chair that is putting together an amazing local food event called Farm to Fork. I wanted to bring something for people to snack on, so I dropped into local gourmet retailer, Taste, and picked up the biggest container of their homemade pimento cheese they had. Upon arriving at the meeting location, I found out that our host had made her own homemade pimento cheese (of course!) and that mine was not necessary, so home with me it went.

Now, what to do with a giant, half-pound container of pimento cheese? Traditionally this delightfully spicy, rich treat is spread on crackers for hors d’oeuvres or on white bread for sandwiches that are perfect at the beach or for a picnic, but there’s only so much of that you can do before you’re over it, so I started brainstorming and the answer came to me that weekend as Jeremy and I put together our traditional Sunday breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits, toast, jam, coffee coffee coffee. PIMENTO CHEESE GRITS. Duh. I mean, seriously.

Oh the beauty of Sunday breakfast

Oh the beauty of Sunday breakfast

I’d like to think I invented this, however a brief googling of such shows that I am actually a little late to the game. But nonetheless, it was new to us and totally amazing.

All you do is make your grits as usual, then at the end, add in the amount of pimento cheese you like and add a little milk to cream it in. I like to serve my grits with a farm-fresh, over-easy egg on top, so that when you crack your egg open, this happens:

*drooooool*

*drooooool*

and you have to keep yourself from just sticking your face right into the bowl.

With a few crispy pieces of bacon, some whole wheat bread slathered with homemade jam from Jeremy’s Aunt Liz and all the coffee you can drink. I just…I can’t…it’s too much.

SO let’s say you don’t live near one of the six Taste locations (poor you, you should really move to Hampton Roads), and you want to make your own Pimento Cheese? Well, my friends, you’re in luck because it’s literally the easiest thing you’ll ever make:

Pimento Cheese

pimento cheese up close

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded sharp Cheddar
  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded extra-sharp Cheddar
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar pimientos, with juice
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Mix the shredded cheeses together with the pimientos and their juice. Stir in the mayonnaise until well blended. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and stir. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. It is easier to spread if left on the counter for 30 minutes before serving. Great on bread, celery sticks, or crackers.

Recipe credit to the Food Network

Yes, this is a Paula Deen recipe. Look, for better or worse statements, love her or hate her, if anyone is going to tell you how to make Pimento Cheese, it’s that lady. Period. Because in the south, “fancy” is sometimes just a spoonful of mayonnaise (or a stick of butter) away.