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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Back with the Beets

Hey, so it’s been awhile. And I apologize. But I’m not going to pretend like it’s a new year and I’m going to be better about blogging and make resolutions or promises about this, because then we would both be disappointed. See, around May of 2014 I turned my freelance career into an actual business: The Content Chop Shop. And since then I have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by the amount of business I’ve had. Quite a bit of this business is blogging….for other companies. This leaves very little time for blogging….for myself.

But this past Christmas I was gifted a new kitchen appliance . . . one that, unlike the uninspired toaster or a microwave, has basically spawned a cult of loyal followers. That’s right – someone gave me a juicer.

Breville Brothers. AKA - the gateway between me and 90% of my food.

Breville Brothers. AKA – the gateway between me and 90% of my food.

Why Juice?

I’m not going to go into a long, scientific, Alton Brown-esque explanation here like I usually do, but here’s the gist of it:

It’s hard to eat a bunch of fruits and veggies. It’s much easier to just drink them and get the same nutrients in one glass of juice than five or six whole foods. 

Yes, ideally I would eat two apples, three carrots, a nub of ginger, half a kohlrabi, a pear and a handful of parsley, but I’m not going to, so instead I juiced them all and had that for lunch. Simple. I like simple.

I’ve only been juicing for a couple of weeks, but so far I love it! I have so much energy when I do and the juices are really so much more filling that you would think. I really did have that juice I just mentioned for lunch today and it kept me satiated until 5:30 when I had a handful of pistachios while getting dinner ready.

But as you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to incorporate my all-time favorite food into my new juicing obsession: beets.

Blood-Red Beet Juice Martini

beet juice

Ingredients:

  • 2 honeycrisp apples
  • one raw beet, scrubbed and trimmed
  • four medium carrots, scrubbed
  • handful of baby kale

Method:

  1. When/if possible, choose all organic ingredients listed above. Wash and trim any greens from carrots and beets
  2. Process all ingredients through your juicer
  3. Pour juice into a martini shaker full of ice and shake for several seconds
  4. pour into chilled martini glasses and enjoy!

So why the martini shaker? 

Because it’s cool. I mean, really – when juice comes out of a juicer it’s basically just room temperature, so if you like your juice a little chilled, shaking it in a martini shaker is actually a kind of brilliant way (if I do say so myself) to bring its temperature down without diluting it too much by pouring it over ice. This juice was just a bit sweet from the apples and beets with a nice earthiness from the carrots and kale. It was a really good balance and when sipped during dinner, kept my appetite at bay, meaning it kept me from over eating, which is a common problem for me . . .

So while I can’t commit to blogging on a regular basis, I can commit to juicing. Because it’s easy, it’s good for you, and the other people in my cult tell me it’s cool.

Summer Recipe Roundup

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I could post some fun, summer recipes. The problem is that because summer has just begun (or not even, officially), I can’t really start experimenting or playing around with summer recipes yet until the produce is available. I did get a pretty good haul this past weekend and hopefully will have some recipes to share with you at the end of the week, but for now, what I thought might be nice is to round up several recipes from previous summers, with links, so you can dive into the archives and go with something tried and true. So here ya go, Janessa.

Summer Recipe Roundup

Creamy Avocado Linguine with Meyer Lemon and Arugula
shrimp avocado pasta

Although avocados are technically in season all the time, this dish is decidedly summer. The addition of shrimp make it seasonal for the Eastern Seaboard, and it’s just so damn refreshing.

 

Dried Strawberries

Dried Strawberries

There are still some strawberries in the fields around here – if they’re still available where you are, a great way to save them is to dry and freeze them. Great on salads, in cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Veggies

eggplant Rotini

This is one of my favorite summer recipes. Quick, fresh, easy and adaptable to whatever veggies you have on hand. Don’t go through the summer without making this.

Local Yokel Mojito
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Of course I had to add a beverage in, but mojitos, with fresh mint from your garden, are the epitome of summer sipping. My mint is already coming up like crazy, and if yours is too, then don’t let another Happy Hour go by without making this.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette
Beets in vinaigrette

I just got a bunch of beets from the farmers market this past weekend, so beet salad with vinaigrette is not far away. This is by far my favorite beet recipe out there and a summer staple at our house.

Shrimp Ceviche
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Shrimp Ceviche is so fresh, light and healthy that it screams summer. Dish it out into martini glasses for a classy, but super easy app.

Summer Beef and Rice Skillet Casserole
beef skillet

This recipe was great and I’m furious at myself for not making it this past summer between our epic move and living in two different states. This is a great way to use up all that squash and zucchini that presents itself mid to late summer. It’s also great for a family or for a small crowd. This summer, I’ll be making it as much as is reasonable and/or until my husband starts complaining.

 

OK! There are so many more recipes, many of which are summer seasonable, over on the RECIPES PAGE, but hopefully this gave you a good start. This is such an exciting time of year when things start to pop up and the options are endless, so don’t let it pass you by – get out to your local farmers market, farm stand or local grocery and BUY LOCAL and EAT FRESH!

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!!

Bison stuffed cabbage

Stuffed cabbage was not a part of my childhood growing up – it’s something I sometimes heard other people talk about or maybe even tried once or twice, but it wasn’t until I married my half-Polish husband and had “Galumpkis” at his family’s house in Ohio that I realized what I’d been missing out on. A few years ago I made the traditional Polish Galumpkis recipe and swore I’d never take it on again – it was a three page long recipe that downright exhausted me. But I found myself with an abundance of cabbage recently and decided to give it a go again in my own simplified version and with bison rather than ground beef or pork.

Pastured bison (which is really the only kind of bison you can buy) is leaner and healthier than beef or pork. Pastured animals are free-range, they eat grass and graze on open pasture, which means they move around, develop healthy muscles and fat and because they’re eating what nature intended for them to eat (instead of corn and antibiotics like mass produced beef), their meat is actually healthier and contains WAY more Omega-3’s and less bad (saturated) fats.

I also substituted quinoa for rice. We generally don’t eat rice – I don’t really like it unless there’s raw fish on top of it and there’s just not a lot of nutritional value. Quinoa is a whole grain with a higher fiber content and other nutritional benefits like a particularly high dose of antioxidant phytonutrients…..and other scientific sounding things that I will refrain from diving into.

And cabbage is good for you. Obviously. If it wasn’t, nobody would eat it.

Bison and Quinoa Stuffed Cabbage

rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground bison
  • 1/2 a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped with juice
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 8 medium to large cabbage leaves
  • 1 15oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • Parmesan, shredded Swiss or Jack cheese (optional)

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, brown the meat and cook the onions – drain off any fat (there won’t be a lot – remember, this is a very lean meat), then stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the water, quinoa, 1/2 tsp oregano, and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper. Bring this up to a boil, then reduce, cover and let simmer about 20 minutes, until the quinoa is cooked (when quinoa is done, the grain sort of “pops” open).
  2. Meanwhile, trim the large veins from the back of the cabbage leaves so they rib is flush with the leaf. Use a small paring knife to do this. Drop the leaves, three or four at a time into a bot of boiling water for just 2-3 minutes or until they are just limp – then quickly drop into a bowl of ice water as you continue with the others. This is “blanching” and it retains texture and color:

    blanched cabbage

    Blanched Cabbage

  3. After all the leaves have been blanched, pull them out of the water and dry them off with a towel. Scoop about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture into the center of the leaf, fold in the sides of the leaf, then start rolling at one of the unfolded ends until its all rolled up nice and neatly and no meat is exposed. Do this to all of the leaves and set to the side.
  4. To make the sauce, combine the tomato sauce, maple syrup*, oregano, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste in a small mixing bowl. Pour half of the sauce into a 2-quart baking dish. Arrange stuffed leaves on top, then pour the remaining sauce over the rolls. Cover the baking dish and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. If you want cheese on top (I did a tiny bit of shredded Jack – it honestly made no difference), then top with cheese and bake for a few more minutes until melted, then remove from oven and serve!

rolls with fork

*I use a Virginia made maple syrup that is, without exaggeration, the best maple syrup in the world. It is made by two very special people, Pat and Valerie. If you can’t name the people making your syrup, then get on it (and Aunt Jemima doesn’t count). Now you can. You can purchase it through their Back Creek Farms website – they even did the work for me and tell you all about why maple syrup is actually good for you! While you’re there – check out their adorable cabin, which I have stayed in and can vouch for the fact that it’s one of the most adorable places on the planet.

maple syrup

 

 

 

The Secret to Life is Soup

Soup is the secret to life because it’s simple, hearty, enjoyable, shareable, saveable, warming, nurturing. Nobody ever wrote Chicken Satay for the Soul and nobody ever will. The secret to life is something that is easy to make, something that can be done while you live your actual life, something that can bring people together and then when enjoyed later can bring them right back to that same place.

Soup is particularly great this time of year because it can be a breeze to make for a big crowd, then you save your left overs for when you’re too busy to cook one night (you know, like, every night until January). This soup is one of my favorites that I’ve been making for years because it is SO SO simple, low-cal/fat and stores really well. You could even make big batches, freeze, then thaw as needed.

So make this soup so you can stop standing over the stove, worrying about what you’re making/missing/buying/gifting/planning/doing and just go sit by the fire or the tree or someone you love and share some soup.

Stupid Simple Salsa and Black Bean Soup

black bean soup 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of salsa
  • 1 cup of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Optional toppings: plain Greek yogurt, cilantro, chopped onions, sliced green onions or chives

Method:

  1. Combine the beans, salsa and broth in a blender and pulse until smooth, or put all the ingredients it a stock pot and blend with an immersion blender.
  2. Add the spices to taste and allow soup to warm to a simmer.
  3. Reduce heat and let warm on the stove top for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors combine.
  4. Serve warm with optional toppings.

black bean soup 2

Super Food: the case for sardines

We’ve all heard the term “super foods” being thrown around a lot lately – it seems there’s a new one every week. Something exotic, often expensive and difficult to find, but that without incorporating into your daily diet, you will most certainly die of a rare disease by your early 20’s. If you’re older than that, then you are actually already dead for lack of pomegranate seeds.

But today I want to make a case for a super food that’s a little less pedantic: the humble, lowly sardine.

Sardine Superfood

Sardine Superfood

The sardine is a super food for many reasons, but for me the primary reason is its accessibility and cost. A good tin of sardines is available at nearly every grocery store for less than $3. Sardines, which are actually not a type of fish, but rather a way of curing and packing fish, are often brisling – a small, Norwegian fish. These fish are packed full of Omega-3’s, which I’ve talked about before, but to review, Omega-3’s reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation being a major source of illness from high blood pressure to heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and more.  Omega-3’s are not something our bodies naturally produce – they must be consumed through diet. Yes, you can take a supplement, but remember supplements are meant to do just that – supplement a healthy diet, not replace it. In fact many vitamins and nutrients are not naturally absorbed by our bodies in pill or liquid form, such a calcium, which can only be absorbed if we are taking in the proper amount of Vitamin D through diet and outdoor exercise. I could go on here, but the point is – eat to be healthy, supplement if you must, but understand that food is always the best medicine when taken correctly.

In addition to being chock full of those Omegas, sardines are full of calcium – they are actually one of the highest non-dairy calcium foods around (because of their soft, edible bones, but don’t let that scare you away – I promise you do not notice the bones.) Sardines contain loads of protein, vitamin D and are sustainable (they’re not over-fished) and for those concerned about their fish intake – sardines have a lowest amount of mercury of just about any fish you can buy because they are at the bottom of the food chain. The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury level.

So here’s a great introductory recipe to sardines – Jeremy and I made this for breakfast on Sunday and it kept us full for HOURS. We didn’t eat again until 3pm that afternoon. And just one more note – sardines equal anchovies. Anchovies are smelly, oily and fishy. This doesn’t keep me from loving them, but if it keeps you from loving them, do not be scared of sardines – they are nothing alike except that they both come in a tin. Sardines are actually much more mild, like tuna.

Fisherman’s Breakfast

Fishermen's Breakfast

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 small red potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tin of sardines
  • 4 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • toast or bread

fisherman breakfast ingredients

Method:

  1. Preheat Oven to 500 degrees. Place an ovenproof dish into the oven for 5 minutes to pre-heat.
  2. Combine the diced potatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper in a small bowl, then from the an open tin of sardines, pour a teaspoon or so of the oil the sardines are packed in into the bowl. Mix to combine.
  3. Remove the dish from the oven, carefully, spray with nonstick cooking spray or oil and spread the potato shallot mixture into the bottom of the dish. Top the mixture with the sardines from the tin. Place back into the oven for 6 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from oven and gently crack and pour all four eggs on top of the mixture. Season with more salt and pepper. Put back in the oven for 6-7 minutes until the white are set, but yolks are still a bit jiggly.
  5. Remove dish from oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes to let the eggs set. Serve with bread or toast and extra pepper.serve with crusty bread or toast

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