Why I celebrate Valentine’s (and a wheat-free Valentine’s day menu!)

  When I was a little girl we lived across the country from my grandma.  Yet each year at Valentine’s we received a little box from her with the same, predictable items in it:  tiny stuffed animal for each of us girls, a small box of chocolates, and her traditional, heart-shaped, pink-icing, double-layered lemony cookies.  I knew what was in that box each year, and each time it arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to open it.

Fast forward to my college/career single days, and I still liked Valentines.  My grandma had passed away, so now it meant watching chick flicks and eating raw cookie dough with my friends and waiting until February 15 when all the chocolate went on sale.

Now I have kids.  And they love cookies.  And I love to make our traditional cookies which have next to no nutrition benefits but are oh-so-good for my soul, because they remind me of the love I have received in the past and make for special memories with my kids now.

We will make those cookies tomorrow, together, as we laugh and talk about whatever is on our hearts.  I will make heart-shaped salmon-salad sandwiches for lunch, because my girls love everything hearts right now.  We will have a “treasure hunt” and find a box of chocolates.  And then we will close the day with our traditional “spaghetti” and meatballs dinner.

Last night my hubby and I celebrated at a little Italian restaurant back in the Houston suburbs that we found nearly ten years ago when we first moved here.  It reminds of of Tarentelli’s in New Jersey, where we celebrated our first Valentine’s together.  Today we also ate out,  so I’m looking forward to balancing out the high-carb, high-fat outings and traditional cookies with some protein and fiber tomorrow night.

We don’t typically follow a gluten-free diet, but  I have fallen in love with my Veggetti slicer and  I can’t wait to substitute the long curls of zucchini for traditional spaghetti.  We are cleaning out the freezer, and I have a package of venison and a package of wild pig that I can grind up for the meatballs.

So, my wheat-free, lower-carb plan for tomorrow:

  • zucchini spirals sauteed in olive oil
  • homemade meatballs and spaghetti sauce
  • green beans with olive oil, tarragon, and salt
  • salad of course!
  • fondue-style fresh fruit dipped in chocolate sauce (chocolate chips melted with cream)
  • rose bouquet centerpiece
  • background music (Luigi Boccherini or Yo Yo Ma)

I love simple traditions that tell my family how much they matter.  I love the reminder that comes each year to do something sweet for loved ones.  I love keeping it simple but fun, so that we can look forward to it year after year.

  
Happy healthy Valentines to you and yours!

 

 

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My easiest (square) pumpkin pie

I love pumpkin pie, but I have never been a fan of, or  fast at making pie crusts.  Enter the press-in crust.  Put it in a square pan.  Voila!  Quick and easy pumpkin pie that anyone can make, and because it is cut into squares instead of wedges the crust is less likely to break off, making for a prettier piece served.

Crust:

1 cup almond flour (whole wheat flour works great too)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup coconut oil

Blend dry ingredients.  Melt butter and coconut oil, then mix into dry ingredients.  Press into a 9×9 pan.  Place pan in oven, then start pre-heating it to 450.  Bake while oven is preheating for 15 minutes while prepping the filling.

Filling:

1 can pumpkin puree

3 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

if desired:  pecan pieces, instant coffee granules, or chocolate chips can be added for a fun, unique flavor

Mix together.  Pour over hot crust.  Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce to 350 and bake for 40 minutes more, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Serve cool with a dollop of real whip cream.

cookies for kids

Milk and cookies.  It’s the iconic afternoon snack for American children, and for me personally, it brings memories of sitting around the kitchen counter, chattering about the school day with friends and family while munching a little bit of deliciousness.

Life has changed though, and fewer kids come home to a mom holding a platter of fresh-baked cookies and a listening ear.  I think we need to bring that tradition back.  Both the cookies and the listening ear.

But we are also fighting a childhood obesity epidemic.  A toxic culture where kids eat too much sugar and fat, too little fiber and healthy nutrients.  So where is the balance?

For generally healthy kids, I like the 80/20 guideline; 80% of foods are for nutrition, and 20% are fun.  I think this recipe fits that guideline, and my kids love them!   They also love making them.  Nutritious cookies plus quality time seems like a recipe for happy healthy kids to me!

1/2 cup salt-free butter

1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups whole grain white wheat

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Blend butter, coconut oil, and sugars until creamy.  Mix in eggs, milk, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix flour, salt, and baking soda.  Slowly add flour mixture and blend well.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.  Drop rounded spoonfuls on parchment paper.  Bake 9-11 minutes or until light brown.  Makes 40 cookies.

For chocolate peppermint cookies, add a couple drops of peppermint extract, 1/4 cup cocoa, and 1/4 cup sugar.

granola krispies

Who doesn’t remember homemade Rice Krispies treats? Ahh, one of the favorite no-bake treats of childhood. As I was trying to think of easy camping foods and treats that had a good amount of fiber and protein but were easy to prepare, I threw together a combination of leftover granola, some trail mix, and of course, the fixings for Rice Krispies treats. The whole family approved of this recipe.

3 tbsps butter, melted
2 tbsps almond butter
4 cups Kraft mini marshmallows (they seem to melt down the best)

2 cups Rice Krispies
2 cups granola
2 cups trail mix (I like a blend of pumpkin seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips)

Mix last 3 ingredients in a large bowl
blend first 3 ingredients in a microwaveable bowl. Nuke for 30 seconds. Stir. If marshmallows still hold their shape, microwave again for another 30 seconds. Stir into a homogenous mixture. Pour over dry ingredients and fold together.

Place in a 13 x 9 inch pan and press down. Allow to cool before cutting.

Five-spice chicken noodle soup

Sometimes I throw together a few leftovers and it turns out better than expected.  This was one of those meals.  Initially I had planned on chicken tortilla soup, but I had forgotten to soak the black beans.  Monday I changed plans and we had steak and rice and steamed veggies because I didn’t feel like stir-frying meat and veggies for Asian stir-fry in the midst of the pre-dinner kid crazies.

Does anyone else find themselves re-inventing the menu at 5:30pm?

That left me with an extra bag of stir-fry veggies, fewer regular mixed veggies, as well as some chicken meat and broth that was ready to soup making.  Oh yeah, and leftover spaghetti noodles in the freezer from last week.

So here is last night’s soup, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.    Now back to my teething toddler who just wants to be held and cuddled…

1.5 cups cooked, diced chicken meat

1 quart chicken broth

1 bag stir-fry veggies, any kind

1 -2 cups cooked noodles (you could also use rice)

1 tsp Chinese 5-spice blend

1 tsp garlic

1 handful fresh spinach

2 tbsps chopped cilantro

Mix meat, broth, garlic, spices, and frozen veggies in a large pot.  Bring to a simmer.  Add noodles, spinach, and cilantro.  Take off heat.  Serve with Sriracha chili sauce on the side.

Smooth and creamy almond milk

I’ve posted an almond milk recipe before and liked the flavor of the original version, but found that it separated and wasn’t as creamy white as many of the store-bought varieties.  Hey, I’m a texture gal.

Then I started looking at the ingredients in my favorite brands, and experimenting.  My latest concoction has a few more ingredients, but I think it is well worth it!

1 tbsp almond butter

1 tbsp baby rice cereal or tapioca

1 capsule soy lecithin (I cut the capsule with kitchen shears and squeeze out the goo)

1 cup hot water, 1.5 liters room temperature water

sweetener or other flavorings to taste (I like a teaspoon of evaporated cane juice or vanilla)

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boil 1 cup of water, and mix with the almond butter and soy lecithin.  Lecithin is an emulsifier, which prevents separation of the water and almond oil.  See how nice and smooth it looks, but not quite white and creamy enough yet…

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So now for the texture.  You have two options to get that white, creamy texture in storebought almond milk.

1) add tapioca to the hot water/almond butter/soy lecithin mix, mix well, then allow to cool before blending until frothy.

2)  Allow almond butter mixture to cool, then add water and baby rice cereal to blender.  Blend until frothy.

Some of the almond particles will settle eventually, but I store mine in glass jars so I can shake it up before drinking.  Now I think I’ll try some almond milk hot cocoa. 🙂

Chicken soup; my favorite four recipes

Add tablespoons of biscuit dough to the traditional soup for chicken and dumplings

It is cold and flu season, and there is nothing better than a bowl of chicken soup when you are sneezing and sniffling; or just coming inside after some chilly weather.  Scientific studies actually show that eating chicken soup can help cure a cold faster too!

If you have never made chicken soup from scratch, it is surprisingly easy.  Yes, it takes a few hours to cook, but very little hands-on time and oh so easy on the budget.  It is very worth the little effort!  I like to make a big batch of the “basic soup” and then add fixings for a variety of ethnic flavors, depending on what I’m craving that day.

Basic Broth

I like to make my own broth because of the cost-savings, the great flavor, and the quality ingredients.  Really, does my one year-old need extra sodium and MSG?  Neither do the rest of us.  The broths and stocks in the grocery store that don’t have these unnecessary extras come with a high price tag, and since I’m buying the meat anyway, why not use those bones to make a delicious broth?

3lbs* chicken bone-in breasts

3lbs* chicken thighs with the bone

1 stalk celery, chopped

½ onion, chopped

½ cup carrot, chopped

2 quarts water

Place all ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Allow to cool enough to handle without burning.  Use tongs to put meat pieces in a bowl, then strain broth and save it.  I put it in quart jars, about 2 cups each.  Shred the chicken meat and place in jars with the broth, and throw out the bones and cooked veggies.  If the jars are only filled 2/3 of the way up, you can freeze them like this without cracking.

* organic meat is the best, regular meat without additives or preservatives is next best, but even the meat with “up to 15% saline solution added” will work

 

Traditional Chicken Soup

1 quart basic broth

1 tbsp herbs de provence

1 tsp minced garlic

1 10oz bag mixed vegetables, whatever you like

2 cups rice or noodles (I use leftovers)

Salt and pepper

Mix in a pot and simmer for 20 minutes.  For chicken and dumplings (pictured above) I added tablespoonfuls of biscuit dough and baby spinach as the soup was simmering.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 quart basic broth

1 can (or 2 cups) black beans

½ cup salsa

1-2 tsps cumin

1 can corn

2-3 tbsps cilantro

1-2 tsps minced garlic

Mix and simmer for 20 minutes.  Serve with shredded cheese, yogurt/sour cream, fresh cilantro, and tortilla chips.

Fake Pho

1 quart basic broth

Cooked noodles; rice noodles are the most authentic, but I often use leftover whole-wheat thin spaghetti

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp each minced ginger and garlic

2 tbsps cilantro

2 tbsps fresh basil

Jalepeno, salt, and Sriracha hot chili sauce to taste

If you haven’t tried pho for a cold, I highly recommend it!  For this recipe, combine the first four ingredients and bring to a simmer, then serve with the herbs, salt and “spicy stuff” on the side.  This is also delicious with baby spinach or bok choy simmered in it.

Whole-grain Pumpkin Spice Belgian Waffles

2 ¼ cups whole-grain white wheat flour

4 tsps baking powder

2 tbsps sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Blend in a large bowl and set aside.

 

Whip 2 eggs until light and fluffy

Add:

¼ cup oil

1/3 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup coconut milk (the thick stuff from a can is the best if you can find it)

Add half of the dry ingredients, then alternate adding 1 cup milk and the remaining dry ingredients.

Follow directions for your waffle iron; we love the Belgian-style thick and fluffy waffles, but I’m sure this would work in regular waffle irons as well.  Makes about 6 large waffles, 4 squares each.

 

Serve with coconut cream, maple syrup, flax seed, and/or chopped nuts.

Saturday morning waffles

Overnight Oats for Breakfast

Breakfast. Don’t we all want something quick, healthy, easy to clean up, and ideally it tastes good too? We do a fair amount of oatmeal in our home. In the winter I like it hot, and in the summer we eat granola. When I stumbled on a recipe for bircher muesli I had to try it! I’m a huge fan of soaking grains, especially for my little ones who may not be chewing their granola fully and not getting all the nutrients available.
The strawberry sauce was amazing, but without the chia seeds I couldn’t get the oats into a texture I liked. My daughter ate it, my son only took a bite. He’s fairly sensitive to weird textures.  With the chia seeds it was better, but still not quite what I wanted.
Then I saw this recipe on a friend’s Facebook page, so I gave it a whirl. I am loving it. The acid from the yogurt and fruit give the oats just the right texture, and I love the fact that my kids are getting probiotics from the yogurt as well as all the minerals from the oats.  I’ve been adding a tablespoon of chia seeds, and using whatever fruit or homemade jam we have around.  The pictures and instructions on The Yummy Life cover it all, so head over here if you want to try this fabulously quick and healthy breakfast.

Crockpot Venison Roast

We’ve been moving.  And it’s been busy.  So I’ve been using the crockpot, and developed a new recipe for those tough old venison roasts that I usually let sit in the freezer for over 6 months because I’m not quite sure what I want to do with them.  This would also work with the  cheap beef roast.

2 lbs roast (raw)

1lb carrots, peels and chopped

1/2 bag frozen onions, diced

1 tbsp Montreal Steak Seasoning

1 1/2 cups water

1 tbsp garlic, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Place it all in a crockpot, drizzling the olive oil and vinegar over the roast.  Set on low for 8 hours while unpacking, then enjoy with a bagged salad for a quick and easy and healthy meal