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.

Liebster Blog Award

Maple Avenue Juice nominated me for this blog award, which was great because I didn’t know about her blog until she nominated me, so now I have a new blog buddie who posts some pretty awesome juice recipes. Check her out.

liebster award

So, the Liebster Blog Award is actually not an award, but rather a good way to build community, connect with other bloggers and generate attention for newer bloggers. Here are the rules:

▪   Acknowledge the nominating blogger
▪   Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you
▪   List 11 random facts about yourself
▪   List some bloggers with fewer than 200 followers that you really feel deserve a little blogging love!
▪   Let all of the bloggers know you have nominated them. You cannot nominate the blogger that nominated you!
▪   Post 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated to answer

Questions from Maple Avenue Juice:

  1. What was the last meal you had?
    I just ate some left-over quinoa, black bean, avocado and tomato salad. It’s one of my favorite dishes.
  2. What are 2 or 3 your favorite non-fiction health/wellness books?
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  3. What is a post on your blog that you are really proud of?
    Apparently my “One Pan Wonder” blog is kind of huge on Pinterest – who knows why – it’s definitely not my best recipe. The one I’m probably most proud of is my crock pot rib recipe, because let’s be honest – cooking perfect fall-off-the-bones ribs makes you feel like a badass.
  4. Who/What inspires you most on your ‘healthy living’ journey?
    The idea of a long, healthy life inspires me. There are so many places I want to see, so much traveling I want to do, so many experiences I want to have – all of those things are dependent on my health, so I take it very seriously.
  5. What is your favorite kitchen appliance?
    My blender. I have a Breville Hemisphere, which I highly recommend.
  6. Name your top 5 favorite fruits and/or vegetables?
    1. Beets (duh) 2. Kale 3. Cucumbers 4. Avocadoes 5. Tomatoes (obviously I prefer veggies to fruit)
  7. Where do you feel the most relaxed/still/at ease?
    The beach.
  8. What is your favorite holiday and why?
    I love Christmas because it’s the one time of the year I get to see my whole, huge family all in one place. That changes as you get older, and I don’t always get to see them every year, but when I do it’s magic.
  9. What is the most funny/silly/embarrassing thing you’ve said or done?
    One time I did “stand up comedy” on a tour bus in Mexico. Tequila and Mexican cowboys were involved, so…yeah.
  10. What is your favorite workout/physical activity/exercise routine?
    I love yoga, but can’t live without lifting weights and my elliptical.
  11. What is your main ‘healthy living’ goal for 2014?
    I’m going to Hawaii in November, and my goal is to climb the Haiku Stairs (aka “stairway to heaven“) in Oahu. It’s technically illegal, so who knows if I’ll get to – but I’m exercising in preparation for doing it – just in case.

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I have two pugs named Winston and Clementine. Very few people realize they are named after Winston and Clementine Churchill, who also had a pug named “Mr. Pug”
  2. I’ve known my husband for 25 years – we met when I was 3 and he was 5.
  3. I have a large scar on my left hand from cutting it while creating a robot when I was 9. Best believe I finished that robot when I got home from the hospital with over a dozen stitches.
  4. Although I love being a professional writer, I hate sitting still. My days are a struggle as I force myself to sit down to do the one thing I love to do when there’s just so much pacing to be done.
  5. Growing up I wanted to be an actress and sometimes still do, but am mostly glad I can go into Target without makeup on and no one knows who I am.
  6. I keep my friends forever – I have some friends I’ve had since (literally) the day I was born, some still from elementary, high school and college. Once I find someone I like, I cling on like a barnacle.
  7. I love to travel, but I consistently get home sick after four days. The only exception was when my husband and I went to Napa and there was just too much wine for anyone to want to go home.
  8. I am using this blog as a way to procrastinate on a very important writing project I have yet to begin.
  9. I love cooking for me and my husband, but cooking for any more than two people gives me major anxiety.
  10. My Meyers-Briggs personality type is INTJ, which is the rarest personality type for women – less than 1% of women fall into that type. (According to my husband, that actually qualifies it as a personality disorder, not a personality type…)
  11. I minored in Psychology in undergrad and if I had all the time and money in the world, I’d go back and finish a BS, MS and PhD in it.

OK! Now to nominate. So, I’m a really horrible community blogger and I really only read one other food blog very consistently, and that is Whisks and Words. Dana, no pressure! If you’d like to, please accept this award and answer the following questions:

  1. What brought you to cooking?
  2. What brought you to writing?
  3. When was it clear to you that you wanted to merge your two passions?
  4. What has been your best moment in food writing?
  5. What’s your best advice for others in the food writing “industry”?
  6. What is, hands down, your favorite thing to eat?
  7. What is, hands down, your favorite thing to COOK (I know that for me these are two very different things)?
  8. You were recently interviewing folks about food documentary “fall out” – what’s your personal philosophy on food, food safety and ethics?
  9. What can you never pass up at the farmers market?
  10. If calories were no issue, I would binge on ___________?
  11. Your favorite quote about food, cooking or eating.

Thanks again to Maple Avenue Juice for the shout out!

Green Goddess

The winter gets me down. I’m not a cold weather, snow loving kind of gal. I exist in a tiny percentage of people who actually don’t mind the swamp-like humidity of the south. I thrive in that. When the air gets dry and cold, my sinuses dry up, my nose starts bleeding and I get never-ending headaches. I also can’t sleep at night (or during the day) and, without exaggerating all that much, pretty much lose all of my ability to function. I also, believe this or not, lose my appetite. While most people seem to go into hibernate, stuff-your-face mode in the winter, I can barely think about food without just getting exhausted. These are dark times.

But. I have a solution.

Green Goddess Juice at I Heart Beets

Green Goddess Juice

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of fresh pineapple, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mango (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder – vanilla flavored
  • 3 large kale leaves, stems removed
  • 1 tsp fish oil (flavored is best here)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 3/4-1 cup water

Method:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a blender. Use as much or as little water as you need to make it blend properly. This takes some experience and knowledge of your blender. I use a Breville Hemisphere blender – it’s on par with the Vitamix and is less than 1/2 of the cost. (you can watch an excellent review of it via America’s Test Kitchen on YouTube) It has a smoothie and a “liquify” option. I blend on the smoothie setting for 30 seconds, then on the liquify option for one minute. And there you have it – juice.

What’s great about this juice is that it’s covering a lot of bases for those of us who can’t seem to stomach the idea of solid food. It’s got iron, potassium, protein, complex carbs, vitamin C, Vitamin D (via the fish oil, which is what we are all lacking in the winter and need so desperately) and a whole host of other nutritious stuff. When I make this in the morning, I don’t even need coffee. *gasp* right??

Now, I’m a firm believer in equipping your kitchen with the right tools. I don’t believe in unitaskers or novelty kitchen items, ie, the “butter cutter” – because……you can’t just cut butter with a knife???

butter cutter

So what I’m saying is, if you don’t have a quality blender, buy one. I suffered through too many years of trying to make smoothies and juices in a sub-par blender. My mom and dad got me the Breville this year for my birthday when my rinky-dink “blender” finally offed itself by wrapping its rubber stopper around its own blades in the middle of blending a protein shake (it knew its time was coming to an end one way or another – for this, I respect it for going out on its own terms).

I would never shell out the $450 or $700 for a Vitamix and I would never recommend anyone else do it either, so whenever I’m looking for a good, quality, long-lasting piece of equipment for my kitchen, I always reference America’s Test Kitchen first – they have dozens of chefs who are doing the testing, breaking, and upfront buying for you.  Although the Breville was still a $200 investment (thanks, mom and dad!), I firmly believe it’s worth it in the long run to avoid the hassle, frustration, breaking, replacing and everything else that comes with an inferior product. Plus, it’s winter – I can barely remember what day of the week it is and whether or not I fed my dogs yet today, let alone deal with a crappy blender.

EDIT AND UPDATE: It should be noted that the kale here came from a US Certified Organic Farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Mattawoman Creek Farms. Kale is one of the “dirty dozen” – 12+ fresh produce items that contain the highest amounts of chemical pesticide and herbicide residue. Buying these 12 items as certified organic from the grocery store is a good idea. Or if you buy your produce locally, just ask your farmer what their growing methods are to ensure you’re not reversing the good effects of the produce with the negative effects of chemicals. For those who don’t want to splurge on local or  organic produce, get your priorities straight, then take a look at the “clean 15” list of traditionally grown produce that suffers the least chemical compromise.

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

Dried strawberries

It’s strawberry season in Hampton Roads, and that is major. We love our strawberries around here. Every city in the region that has farms has pick-your-own strawberry fields and it’s a tradition for kids and adults alike to pick strawberries on field trips or on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend when Virginia Beach hosts the Strawberry Festival.

Last week I got an email from a farm saying that they had so many berries in their field that they were going to be offering pick your own berries for $1.25/lb. That is unheard of. You would never ever find berries that cheap in the grocery store. So after sharing it with the Buy Fresh Buy Local Facebook fans, I got in the car and headed to the farm, which thankfully, is only about 10 minutes from my house. Yeah, it was a week day. Yeah, I had a lot of work to do, but sometimes you just have to get up and go pick strawberries. All that work will be there for you when you get back, I promise.

If you’ve never picked strawberries, it’s very easy – they are literally low hanging fruit. When they’re ripe, they get so heavy they just sort of dangle below the leaves and pretty white flowers of their plant. And they pop right off their stems and get tossed right into your strawberry carrying device. The only issue is that if you have a bad back like I do, you may be in a bit of pain the next day (like I was), but that’s why you bring your kids – to do the hard work of bending over and finding the ripest strawberries. When picking, look for deep, red berries. Before plucking them off the plant, lift them up and make sure the underside isn’t white or green (unripe) or that it hasn’t been noshed on by any bugs.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

So what to do with 10 lbs of berries once you get them home? Most people I know make strawberry bread, pie, muffins, etc etc. We all know how I feel about baking, so I do one of (or all of) three different thing:

1. Eat them. Duh.

2. Freeze them. Rinse and dry the berries, cut off the caps and then halve each berry and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for several hours, then put the berries into a freezer ziploc bag. Pull out what you need, when you need it. I freeze pounds and pounds of berries like this every year to use in my smoothies all year long.

3. Dry them. Dried berries are sort of like craisins – tart, but still a little sweet. Perfect in salads, on yogurt or oatmeal, granola, etc. Wash and dry the berries, cut off the caps and halve each berry. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 210 degrees for 3 hours. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge OR you could freeze these also and just thaw them as you need them. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ll keep in the fridge….you’ve probably got about a week?

Dried Strawberries

Dried Strawberries

Strawberries are pretty amazing little fruits. One cup of berries has only 49 calories and almost 150% of your daily Vitamin C. They also have fiber and protein and good amounts of folates and potassium as well as manganese.

So get out there and pick some today. Or, make your kids do it. Also, can I borrow your kids for an afternoon?

Kefir

A few weeks ago I saw an interesting item come up on my online local food co-op, Coastal Farms. Jen Vaughan, of Vaughan Farms Produce, had posted that she had some extra kefir grains, and was selling them, along with a mason jar and some instructions on what to do with them.  I was intrigued, so I did a little research and it turns out that kefir grains are not actually grains, but rather a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. Yummy! When brewed, they ferment (just like beer or wine) and create an active probiotic culture (just like yogurt). Kefir is probably most well known as a yogurt type of product or kefir milk, but it turns out you can also brew kefir into “kefir water” which is sort of a sparkling-like fermented beverage. The fizziness of it comes from the fermentation and can be adjusted based on how much air is allowed in during the process. The whole process and product is very similar to Kombucha, which is probably a little more well recognized.

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

I ordered my first batch and got to brewing! Jen had a few great suggestions for recipes to give the water flavor. Plain kefir water isn’t exactly delicious, so it’s recommended that you mix it with flavorings, which can range from green tea to juice to vanilla extract, depending on how you want it to taste. For my first batch I did a green tea flavoring, then I followed that with a cream soda style flavor and now I am on to a citrusy grapefruit juice. The process is simple:

1. Dissolve 1/4 cup of raw, brown sugar (I’m using raw demerara sugar) in 1 quart of distilled water (or spring or mineral water, according to the interwebs) in a container with a lid (I used the 1 quart mason jar Jen provided). Make sure the water is room temp and not hot – that will kill the grains. Drop in a raisin or two (they will be your ‘tell’) and a lemon slice if you have one (helps with the Ph). Put in three tablespoons of kefir grains. Put the container with the lid just set on top – not screwed on, in a warm place out of direct sunlight. For me, this was on top of my fridge.

2. When the raisins have floated to the top of the water, usually 2-3 days, the water is done “brewing.” Remove the lemon slice and raisins, then strain the water through a fine sieve. Here’s the trick – kefir doesn’t like metal – you have to use glass or plastic or in my case, I just put a paper towel on my metal sieve and strain it that way. Cheesecloth would also work, if I could find it anywhere, ever. Put your kefir grains back into your mason jar or container and start again with 1 quart of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, raisins, lemon, etc – the grains can pretty much be brewed indefinitely.

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

 

3. Take your strained kefir water and add your preferred flavorings. Here is what I’ve tried:

  • 1 part very strongly brewed green tea to 1 part kefir water.
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract and an extra 1/4 cup raw sugar (creates a cream soda style water)
  • 1 part grapefruit juice to 1 part kefir water, one sliced lemon, one sliced lime

Once you’ve added your flavors, put it through a second fermentation – so put it back in another container with a lid just resting on top in a warm place out of sunlight for about 2 more days. At this point, if you’ve added things (like lemon and lime slices) strain it again and then bottle it up and put it in the fridge. The water will last as long as whatever you’ve brewed it with would. So however long you’d leave a pitcher of brewed tea in your fridge is how long you can leave the kefir water brew in there and it will be fine. Keep repeating the process with your other fermenting batch and you can have indefinite kefir water!

my first taste!

my first taste!

There are innumerable ways to prepare and brew your kefir water and also tons of sites online where you can purchase the grains. I found this site particularly helpful: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq

I have noticed that since I’ve been drinking the water every day, my stomach issues have decreased some. It’s like I’m drinking my probiotic pills (which I also continue to take) and it certainly can’t hurt to get as much good bacteria going as possible. If you suffer from any kind of intestinal issues, or even if you don’t – I would really recommend giving this a try. The fizziness is nice without being too much (I hate soda and carbonated beverages, but this is the perfect amount of fizz for me), and the flexibility of flavorings is really nice. And because the grains basically feed on the sugar in the brewing process, the overall sugar content of kefir water is much, much lower than you would imagine based on how much you put in at the beginning. According to CulturesforHealth.com “approximately 20% of the sugar you start with will remain following a 48- hour culturing process and almost all that sugar will have been converted to fructose from its original glucose-fructose state.  Therefore if you use our recommend ratio of 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water, the finished kefir will contain approximately 1.4% fructose.” That’s pretty low – much lower than fruit juice, juice cocktails and certainly less than soda.

So give something different a try! Love the good bacteria!

strained kefir grains

strained kefir grains

Pantry Raid IV: better bulgur

Bulgur sounds gross, and I get that. But it’s really not. Bulgur is parboiled cracked wheat berries. It’s a super whole grain with a wonderful nutty taste. It also has a great texture that I can only describe as “toothsome.” It isn’t hard, but even after being soaked, it has tooth –  like very good al dente pasta. Just one cup of bulgur has over 25 grams of fiber and over 17 grams of protein. And incidentally, I had a huge bag of it in my cabinet that I needed to start working on getting rid of.

Bulgar, like quinoa, is a great base for salads. This bugar salad recipe came from Everyday Food, and it’s really light and delicious and keeps well. Make it at the beginning of the week, measure it out into individual containers and then grab them for a healthy lunch on the go. This recipe makes a lot – like most grains, just one cup, once cooked, makes a huge amount of food and because it is high in fiber and protein, you don’t need to eat much to get full. I made this salad for dinner with a yummy marinated salmon and still had enough left over for lunch several days that week. This salad also incorporates chick peas (or Garbanzo beans – whichever name you prefer). Chick peas are also full of protein, so you really can’t go wrong here. Leave out the feta for a (still delicious) Vegan side dish.

Bulgur and Chick Pea Salad

bulgar with salmon close

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta (2 ounces)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine bulgur with boiling water. Cover and let stand 20 minutes; drain and return to bowl. Rinse and drain chickpeas, then add to bowl with lemon zest and juice, olive oil, dill, and feta; season with salt and pepper.

For the salmon, I combined a little olive oil, a dash of white wine vinegar, the juice of half of a lemon, some dill, salt and pepper and put the salmon into some tin foil, made a pouch, poured the marinade over the salmon, wrapped it up really good and baked at 375 for about 15 minutes. It was perfect together and it would be a crime to eat this meal without a glass of good Chardonnay. So don’t let the name throw you off, replace that pasta side dish with a healthier bulgur alternative.

If you eat this without a glass of Chardonnay, you are committing a crime against food.

If you eat this without a glass of Chardonnay, you are committing a crime against food.

The possibilities here are endless – Greek bulgar salad with grilled chicken, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes and kalamata olives; bulgar and lentil salad with grapefruit vinaigrette, breakfast bulgar with maple syrup and baked apples . . . OK, I’m starting to sound like a bulgur growing Bubba from Forrest Gump. You get the picture.

Pantry Raid – Part II

One of the things that had created an abundance of random odds and ends in my cabinets was the detox diet I did back in the late summer/early fall. My diet was extremely restricted and so I purchased a lot of things that were on the “OK” list that I would otherwise not eat like raw nuts, strange beans and wild rice. I had two boxes of wild rice and a can of Aduki beans that I just had no idea what to do with, but I found a recipe for wild rice and aduki bean stuffed acorn squash on Pinterest. Seriously, if you look long and hard enough, you will find the exact recipe you need. The recipe was from a vegan site, so I made a few changes to it to fit with what I had on hand, and it turned out pretty good. With a side of raw kale salad marinated in a home-made vinaigrette, this little vegetarian meal packed a serious healthy punch. Plus, it’s so protein packed, I could only eat half of it.

Wild Rice and Aduki Bean Stuffed Acorn Squash

Wild rice stuffed acorn squash

Ingredients:

  • 2 acorn squash, sliced lengthwise, seeds scooped out
  • Olive Oil
  • Wild Rice
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can Aduki beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbs Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbs honey (or Agave)
  • Pepper and Salt to taste
  • Cranberry sauce (canned or homemade)

Method:

  1. Rub the acorn squash down, inside and out, with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place an a baking sheet and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for an hour, or until tender. 
  2. Meanwhile, cook the wild rice according to its directions, enough to make two cups.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and sautee until soft. Add in Aduki beans, soy sauce, honey and season with salt and pepper. Combine and keep warm over medium low heat.
  4. Remove squash from oven when done, and scoop out the squash, leaving about 1/2” of squash in the shell. Chop the squash and mix it into the bean mixture and add the rice. Combine well over low heat until warmed through.
  5. Load each squash half with the mixture and top with cranberry sauce. Serve immediately.

 

I still have one box of wild rice left that I’m not sure what to do with, but at least those beans aren’t staring at me anymore.

What random item do you have in your cabinet that you’re just not sure what to do with?

Foodie Friday Freestyle

We usually stay in on Friday nights. We are exciting like that. But one of my favorite things to do on Friday nights is “freestyle” a few small plates with things we have around the house. It’s like iron chef or chopped or something. You can only use things you have in your basket….three to five courses….except without someone berating the hell out of whatever you come up with. So, if it pleases the judge panel….

1. Smoked salmon with fresh dilled cream cheese on pita crackers.

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2. Baked turnip “chips”

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3. Balsamic glazed chicken thighs with quinoa and roasted Okinawa purple sweet potatoes.

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For the record, always cook with chicken thighs. Chicken breasts dry out more easily, are inconsistent in thickness (which makes them hard to cook) and don’t have as much flavor as dark meat. You know when you have delicious Mongolian BBQ and you think “I can never make chicken taste like this at home”? That’s because it’s chicken thighs. Oh, they are also usually cheaper.

Usually my Friday freestyle foods aren’t recipes. I just make it up as I go along. I likely won’t make another dish exactly like any of them again since they are usually about an unusual combination of things I have at that moment. But it’s exciting and different. Unlike our average Friday nights.