Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “healthy snack”

Healthy, mayo-less chicken salad

So, remember that whirlwind month I mentioned jumping into the last time I stopped by? Well, it was even MORE of a whirlwind than I could have anticipated. Not only was I rehearsing nearly seven days a week for a production of Spamalot (which went great, by the way!), I was also apartment-hunting, which in and of itself could be a full-time job. The good news? Kevin and I found an apartment (part of a house, really) and we’ve been renting since the first of the month, and we’ve been officially(ish) moved in for a week! (I say “ish” because we’re still missing some basics like a microwave, dishes and a kitchen table. All in due time.)

We did manage to buy a beautiful set of nonstick, oven-safe Cuisinart pots and pans, though. I love them. (I may or may not have hugged the box in Bed, Bath and Beyond. Or not.) My grandmother also gifted me her old Cuisinart food processor. It’s older than I am but in nearly perfect condition, and that means that I FINALLY have a food processor! Homemade hummus, I’m looking at you! And my first kitchen purchase? A slow-cooker. Yup. Finally. Ah, all the glorious things I can make in there…

Yet somehow, amidst all the madness, I managed to finally perfect something I’ve been contemplating for ages–a delicious, but healthy, mayonnaise-free chicken salad.

chx salad 1

Wait…did you just say mayo-less chicken salad? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Well, no. And it’s just as delicious as the mayo-y kind!

My substitute? A combo of creamy, thick Greek yogurt and guacamole. Yup. I didn’t want to use all yogurt for fear of the chicken salad tasting too tangy and yogurt-y. I didn’t want to use all guac, either, for fear of it being too thin and the flavor too overpowering. But together, they create magic.

Now, I took a lot of shortcuts here, but you can obviously start from scratch. I used Wholly Guacamole’s Salsa Guac, but of course you can make your own guacamole to start. I also used a store-bought roasted chicken and frozen pre-grilled chicken strips, but of course you can use any fresh or leftover chicken you have on hand.

I chopped up apples and celery into my chicken salad and added a heaping handful of broccoli slaw, as well. But play with it! I used what I had on hand, but other great additions are: raisins, Craisins or any dried berry; chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans; chopped pickles; chopped cucumber, carrots, broccoli or any crunch veggie; avocado; grapes…really, the additions are endless–go to town!

Making the chicken salad is as simple as could be, and this is, quite literally, a totally guilt-free chicken salad. None of that gloppy mayo mess you’re used to.

Mix chopped chicken with one part Greek yogurt and one part guacamole, add whatever your heart desires, mix and serve alone, on lettuce, or on 100% whole-grain bread topped with mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomato, cheese…whatever you like. Enjoy! (And have seconds…harm here!)

Chicken salad sandwich 3

Mayo-less Chicken Salad (serves 1-2)

1-2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp prepared guacamole (Wholly Guacamole’s a great ready-made brand, or make your own)
1-2 c chopped chicken, skinless and boneless (leftover, freshly grilled, boiled, baked, roasted, etc.)
Optional add-ins: veggies, fruit, nuts, etc.
Salt, black pepper, dill to taste

1. Mix yogurt and guacamole together in a bowl to form a dressing. Add chicken and spices, stir to coat (there should be more dressing than necessary.) Taste, and add more herbs and spices if needed.

2. Add in any desired accompaniments (chopped nuts, veggies, apples, grapes, etc.) and stir to coat in the dressing and incorporate into the chicken. Taste and season again, if necessary.

3. Serve alone or atop a salad, or pile onto 100% whole-grain bread with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. (Or eat it plain!)

Chicken salad sandwich 2

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31-recipe challenge Day 18: Soup Round-up

As I’ve mentioned before, I had my wisdom teeth out on Friday, and so, in anticipation of that, I spent a lot of last week prepping most of the soups on the recipe list. I could also rename this post, “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

First, I made this vegan herbed carrot soup from 10th Kitchen. This soup is fantastic. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s so, so healthy. It’s helpful to have around when you can’t chew any real fruits or vegetables–it gets me my veggies! I’ve been eating the soup hot, but I’m sure it would be really refreshing cold, as well, like a carrot gazpacho.

Carrot soup

This soup is the first installment of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.” I actually forgot I even had an immersion blender until I moved, and in the process of packing up the kitchen came across a really old one that I assumed was broken. But we plugged the thing in and, I’ll be damned, it worked! That was a great day. Now I’ve checked one thing off my ever-growing list of kitchen gadgets. Plus, it saves me the inevitable burns from pouring hot soup contents into a blender and back again.

I also cooked up a batch of ginger-chicken soup from Bon Appétit. The recipe called for six quarts of water to three pounds of chicken, which all the commenters said was WAY too much. I halved the recipe to begin with, so I was only using about a pound and a half of chicken (once I removed the breast that cooked in the initial stock to use in my chicken pot pie), so I cut the water down to eight cups to result in a richer tasting broth. I also then added in some extra chicken stock I had left in the fridge at the end.

Chicken soup

With the extra concentration of the chicken flavor, the ginger was kind of lost; I probably should have added more ginger to counterbalance the extra stock. Nonetheless, in the end it made a good chicken soup, even if it tasted standard and not ginger-y. But I made a pretty decent broth (round one.)

Round two of cooking chicken stock from scratch was the base for alanabread’s creamy leek and garlic soup. This soup. Oh, what can I say about this soup? This soup is so good that I was licking the spoon as it cooked. Like cake batter. It was, however, very, VERY thick when I only used half the chicken stock I made. (The recipe was supposed to yield double the stock needed for the soup.) I ended up adding all the stock to get the right soup-like consistency. After only half the stock, it was more like a thin mashed potato puree than a soup. (A delicious potato puree, though. I’m totally considering remaking this one, but doctored into mashed potatoes rather than soup. That would be one killer side dish.)

Leek and garlic soup

What makes this soup so OMG is the two bulbs of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is sweet and aromatic, not spicy and pungent like in its raw form. And it smells amazing. I now highly recommend adding it to everything. Especially anything potato-based.

There’s just the tiniest amount of dairy in this soup, too; most of the creaminess comes from potato, with just 100 ml of light cream added at the end. And it’s heavenly. I think I found my new favorite soup. Also, see installment two of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

With options like this, my post-surgery soft diet is way less boring than run-of-the-mill canned soups and applesauce (and much healthier.) It’s making the whole recovery process much smoother. (No pun intended!)

31-Recipe Challenge Day 6: Chili and granola (but not together…)

Day 6 may be one of my most successful recipe challenge day yet (or at least my mom would think so…she gave a double-thumbs up to both these recipes. Consider them added to the bank!)

Vegetarian chili and granola is a strange combination, but trust me…I didn’t eat them together! I had actually intended to make the granola the day before, but after not one, but TWO separate grocery store trips, I came home to realize that the oats I swore I had at home were nowhere to be found. It’s pretty hard to make granola without oats. So I bought oats the next day, THEN I made granola. And it. is. awesome. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even halve this recipe–I had a feeling this one would be good, so I have a big container of it sitting in my cabinet now, just waiting to adorn all sorts of yogurt. (Or milk and strawberries, in place of cereal. Or just straight out of the container into my mouth. Also delicious.)

Granola

The great thing about the recipe from Dining With Dostoevsky (major props for the name, btw) was the room for adaptation. I followed largely to the T, as I said I would, with a few exceptions: for one, she used a honey-water solution, but mentioned that you could use pure maple syrup, as well. So, naturally, I had to take that invitation (I adore maple syrup). My final sweetener ratio ended up being 3/4 cup maple syrup and 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar (not light like the recipe called for, but it’s what I had.) And honestly, I could probably remake this with even less syrup/sugar and it would still be great.

I also got home and could not find my pumpkin seeds ANYWHERE. Seriously, they still haven’t turned up, even though Kevin was eating them the day before. (I think he ate them all.) Anyway, no big loss for me there…I don’t even really like pumpkin seeds. Worked for me. I also couldn’t find any “extra thick” rolled oats, so I used regular rolled oats. They worked fine.

Also…the recipe calls for cardamom, and I skipped it. (Gasp! I know…) Thing is, cardamom is, like, crazy expensive. It was $10-11 for a regular 1-2 ounce container, $13 if I wanted whole pods. Since cardamom has a unique flavor, I didn’t try substituting anything for it. The granola was still delicious, and the maple flavor came through a lot, though I imagine the cardamom would make it extra special.

*Sidebar: This challenge is making me poor. My grocery bills have been well over $100 a week, and that’s only including the bare minimum of basic groceries in addition to the ingredients. I should start a fundraising campaign so I can afford things like cardamom and duck fat. If anyone wants to send me money (or cardamom), I wouldn’t turn it away. I should create a Kickstart fund or something! *end sidebar

However, I kept everything else as-is–even the pistachios, and I don’t care for pistachios. But it all works well together. Of course, I could always do with adding another cup or eight of apricots!

While the granola baked, I made the vegetarian chili from Nutritionist in the Kitch. I’ve never made chili because it always seemed intimidating, but really the only moderately difficult part of this recipe was prepping and chopping all the vegetables. Once it’s on the stove, it more or less just does its own thing.

Chili ingredientsPrepping the chili ingredients…more cans than I realized, but also plenty of fresh veggies!

I found red quinoa, not white quinoa, at the supermarket, and I actually really loved the extra shade of red it added into the chili–red peppers, tomatoes, red kidney beans and now the red quinoa. Of course, I scraped all the seeds out of the jalapeño, but you could keep them in for more heat (we all know my stance on spicy food by now.)

Cooking veggiesShe included plain yogurt and scallions as toppings for the chili, but I love grated cheddar on my chili, so I added that instead. Add whatever you like!

Vegetarian chiliMy mom absolutely loved this one, though she claimed it needed meat. Somehow I think she’s an even bigger carnivore than Kevin (who also gave this the seal of approval. Pretty sure he agrees with the need for meat, though.) Personally, I think this chili has more than enough protein on its own already, with two types of beans and quinoa. But sure, you could add some ground beef if you want.

Two totally unrelated (but healthy!)  recipes, but two certified successes. It was a good night. I should listen to showtunes on Pandora while I cook more often–apparently they give me good vibes!

So. Much. Produce.

My fridge has been lacking in the produce lately, so I was very glad when I had a half day at work last week and Kevin and I could hit the farmer’s markets. He only needed to get corn for dinner that night, but I walked away with a far more impressive haul:

We made our rounds. We started at Sickle’s Market, a part garden center, part farmer’s market and part general store. It’s a year-round place, with the majority of the produce and groceries indoors, but the quality and selection is more akin to a good farmer’s market than a supermarket.

Anyway, everywhere I turned I found something else I had to have. It’s a miracle I only walked away with what I did.

I ended up walking away with a bunch of kale (meant to make kale chips, but that didn’t go quite as planned–more on that later), five nectarines, a quart of Jersey-fresh blueberries and half a watermelon. There was also an almond croissant in there that didn’t make it through the car ride home. (Don’t judge.)

We also hit a small, local produce stand, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, where I grabbed a couple of avocados so I could make more of this before leaving on vacation.

Over the weekend, I also got a goody bag of home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from a friend of mine. She’s been growing them in her yard and had more than she knew what to do with, so I gladly volunteered to take some of that pesky produce off her hands. Then I realized I don’t know what to do with five tomatoes and four cucumbers either. So I’ve been eating a lot of tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and drinking tons of cucumber-lemon water. I’m not complaining.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Kevin did get the fresh Jersey corn he was looking for–and it was delicious! It was so sweet it didn’t even need butter. Just boiled with some salt, and I could’ve eaten all six ears! Also, I forgot how much fun it can be to shuck corn. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Speaking of vacation, (I spoke of it somewhere, I’m sure…) I’m getting pretty stoked to go to Disney World in two days! (Yup, I’m a child. Whatever. Happiest place on Earth, man.) Anyway, I’ve been compiling a list of certain things I want to try to do while I’m down there this time around. It’s a little lopsided though:

Yup, my Things I want to eat list is far longer than my Things I want to do list, especially since some of the things I want to do a really food-related anyway. Really, though, is anyone even surprised? I’ll be lucky if they’re not rolling me out of the parks. The saddest part is there is literally, like, one healthy thing on that food list, and that’s the AK egg roll stand (really!) because I want to go there for their veggie spring rolls, Asian noodle salad and fruit salad.

What? I’m on vacation. Don’t judge.

Well, not quite yet. Right now, I’m still at work, eating avocado-black bean salsa and wishing I was already in sunny Florida. (New Jersey’s a bit cloudy today…)

Expect some fun, Disney-themed posts in the coming weeks!

Avocado-Black bean salsa

It’s August, which means there’s still a month or so of summer left (almost two, technically) and still plenty of grilling and barbecue opportunities. Also, it means we’re coming into the hottest days of the year, and hot, heavy food just doesn’t always sound so appealing. Sometimes, in the East Coast heat, I just want a cool and refreshing snack or light meal that will leave me satisfied but not weighed down. And that, folks, is how I got my avocado-black bean salsa.

I made this stuff on a whim one night after I bought ripe Haas avocados and some canned black beans. Served with some super-addictive Trader Joe’s plantain chips, I couldn’t put this stuff down! I ate it for dinner, a late-night snack AND lunch the next day!

It’s the perfect summer snack and an awesome side dish to bring to your next barbecue–a fun and nutritious way to mix it up from regular salsa or mayo-laden picnic salads.

Seriously, make this salsa and you’ll never want to stop! It will become a staple for your summer, for sure!

One thing I’d like to note: I always look for no salt added canned beans–they’re much more convenient than dried beans, but canned beans are notorious for their sodium content. Rienzi sells all sorts of no salt added beans, which I love, so my pantry’s stocked with black beans, cannellini (white) beans and chickpeas. I still rinse the beans, though, to get off any extra salt and to improve the texture (they’re still canned in liquid, so they are a little slimy otherwise.) By rinsing them, it also allows me to almost completely control the amount of salt that goes into my food.

Avocado-black bean salsa

2 small or 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
1-15.5 ounce can of no salt added black beans, rinsed (I buy Rienzi brand) or soaked and cooked black beans
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the first five ingredients together, being careful not to overly mash the avocado. Mix in lime juice, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, plantain chips or use as a topping for, well, anything you want! (This would go great over salad greens, steak, grilled chicken, burgers, you name it!)

This is so fast and so easy, and it brings a bounty of veggies and a healthy dose of protein and fiber to the party!

Happy August!

WIAW: Snacking spree! And some catching up

Clearly it’s been a while since I’ve had a What I Ate Wednesday post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping tabs on some fun finds! As always, thanks to Jen from Peas and Crayons for hosting.

During the rehearsal process for the show that kept me away from the blog, we had some hours-long days in the theater. Since I wasn’t really able to keep food cold and didn’t have a ton of time to sit down and eat, I had to rely on healthy, quick, nourishing snacks to get me by. Outside of rehearsal, I had very little free time, so I was also on the lookout for convenient grab-and-go foods and meals.

I used to keep a stash of frozen Lean Cuisines and the like at work, but I’ve been making a serious effort to cut artificial preservatives and sweeteners out of my life as much as possible. I’ve switched from Splenda to raw sugar in my coffee, switched to organic yogurt and Greek yogurt from Light n Fit, and have stopped buying Lean Cuisines. However, that doesn’t mean I have the time to always make everything from scratch, as much as I’d love to. So you can imagine my excitement when I found these in the freezer aisle at ShopRite:

No artificial preservatives and relatively low sodium for a packaged food. And ingredients I can recognize and pronounce! And even with sour cream as an ingredient, the whole (large) burrito still clocks in at under 500 calories! I used to buy a brand called Evol burrito, but the nutrition facts just didn’t stack up against Red’s, and the ingredient list was definitely longer and less recognizable.

The best part? It actually tastes good!

I also bought a vegetarian rice and beans version, but it lacked flavor compared to the chicken. As wrong as it may be to say, it tasted like it needed salt. Yes, I realize the contradiction–I love that the sodium is (relatively) low, and yet I complain about a lack of salt. But I guess we know how they kept it so low. It still had a spicy kick, but was missing the flavor punch it needed to round it out. But I’ll definitely buy the chicken again for those days I have no time to make lunch (or dinner.)

Now, on to snacktime! (What everyone’s really waiting for!)

I know June was technically WIAW’s “healthy snacking” month, but I missed a month, so I’m backtracking and making up for lost time. (That’s okay, right? I’m saying it is.)

This time around I found healthy snacks in an unusual place–TJ Maxx! I was on line to buy shoes and, while waiting, discovered shelves of unique and nutritious snacks. There were a lot of things to choose from, from chocolates to falafel chips, but I settled on two fun finds: dry roasted edamame and mango Chimes. I love regular steamed edamame, so I was intrigued to try it in dry, crunchy form–like soybean chips! In all honesty, they’re just okay. I can eat a small handful or two but then it gets to be too much. They’re great for an energy boost, though. As easy to eat as a bag of Goldfish crackers but packed with protein!

The mango Chimes, on the other hand, were a great find. They’re small, individually-wrapped (yay!) mango-flavored ginger chews. At first, they’re sweet and candy-like with a gummy candy chewiness (which I love–like ginger gummy bears!). But after a bit, the spicy ginger kicks you in the palate. And it’s INTENSE! I’ve learned to take a few small bites instead of just popping the whole thing in my mouth. I love all things ginger, though, so this is like a gingery, fruity, guilt-free(ish) gummy candy. Awesome.

A few other snack creations: a caramel popcorn cake topped with natural peanut butter and crushed peanuts for crunch–sweet, creamy, crunchy, salty. And again, protein!

I’ve also been trying to make my own salad dressing when I can. It’s even better when I can enjoy it with seasonal produce (like fresh raw green beans and homemade Italian vinaigrette.)

Also, I’ve been pretty much OBSESSED with this lately, especially the lime and raspberry lime flavors:

Okay, sometimes I drink the orange, too.  You know, when I have to. But this stuff is great! It’s so refreshing, with just a hint of natural flavor. I’m bad about drinking enough water, and this definitely gets me to drink more! Carbonated and fruity, it’s a hydrating, sugar- and calorie-free alternative to soda. (And all natural–no artificial sweeteners or anything.) Costco sells it by the case and I’ve been drinking it like, well, water.

And now? I was just noshing on some cottage cheese with this mixed in:

Never heard of cranberry apple butter? What? You don’t know what you’re missing. This isn’t actually butter at all, but rather a smooth cranberry fruit spread. (If you’ve ever had apple butter, think of that.) I bought it at Trader Joe’s a while back, so I don’t know if they still carry it or if it’s seasonal. Either way, if you see it, buy it! It’s super tart and tangy and is totally versatile. It goes great on toast, with or without peanut butter; in oatmeal; with cheese (especially brie or gorgonzola) and even on pork! Not a cranberry fan? Can’t find it? No problem, grab the mango one instead. You can thank me later.

I mixed it into some cottage cheese with raisins. I was going to post a picture until I realized how unappetizing light pink cottage cheese actually looks. But it tastes good! A few handfuls of almonds and a spoonful of Nutella rounded out my “dinner.” I wish I could say I ate this light and healthy all the time, but today in particular it’s because I’m going out for pizza and beer in a little while. Oh well, no one’s perfect (and it’s totally worth it!)

That being said, it’s pizza time! Happy WIAW, all!

I couldn’t think of a title for this post. OR, The food’s more important than the title anyway, so here’s a post about smoothies.

We all have those snacks and meals that we keep coming back to again and again because they’re basically perfect.  My latest greatest go-to is a smoothie.  Well, all kinds of smoothies, really. They’re versatile, quick, healthy and filling.  Really, it’s a perfect snack, breakfast or light meal.

You can put pretty much anything your heart desires into a smoothie, but I have some basics that I always keep on hand–frozen bananas, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt. (Vanilla or fruit-flavored works too, so does regular yogurt.  I’ll use whatever I have at the time, but I try to keep some plain Greek yogurt around when I can.)

Fresh fruit’s great, but it’s hard to find year-round.  Plus, frozen fruit eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, which streamlines the process (it’s all about efficiency, people!)  I like using frozen bananas especially, because they give an icy, creamy texture to smoothies.  I keep my freezer stocked whenever I buy bananas–inevitably, I never finish the bunch before they start to turn, so when it looks like they’re starting to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them in plastic bags. I also do this with leftover banana halves after I use them in cereal, oatmeal, etc. if I don’t want to finish them.

I’ve been so busy lately, running from work to rehearsal with little time for dinner in between.  So smoothies have become even more of a go-to for me lately. I whip one up and get some protein, carbs, fiber and vitamins all in one! Plus, it’s light enough that I can go dance and not feel weighed down.

You’d think I’d get sick of the same thing all the time, but that could only happen if I had the same thing all the time. Smoothies are so versatile, I mix it up each time. Two of my favorites: a chocolate power shake and a pb & j smoothie.

I use my bullet blender to make smoothies, which makes it even quicker! (And means less clean-up! Just one cup.)

Both of these use a base of plain Greek yogurt and frozen bananas. For the chocolate power shake, brew 6-8 oz. of strong coffee and let it cool (you can add ice to speed this along.) To the Greek yogurt and bananas, add about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (Hershey’s and Fox’s U-bet are my favorites), a tablespoon or two of natural almond butter (I use Trader Joes’ brand) and the cooled coffee.  Blend until smooth.

You get a great mix of protein from the yogurt and the almond butter, sugar and carbs from the chocolate and caffeine from the coffee.  This is the kind of smoothie I make when I need a real pick-me-up after a long day of work or before a grueling rehearsal or workout. The almond butter-chocolate-coffee combo may sound a little weird at first, but it’s sort of like an amaretto coffee. The almond butter actually has a very light flavor and doesn’t come through very strongly through the chocolate and the coffee.

The pb & j smoothie really tastes just like peanut butter and jelly! Start again with the Greek yogurt and banana base.  Add whatever fresh or frozen berries you like–my favorite are blueberries and strawberries. Add one to two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (again, I use TJ’s. I go for salted, but unsalted would work well, too) and blend with skim milk until smooth.

Antioxidants, vitamins and protein, and it tastes like childhood! With the protein from the yogurt and peanut butter, the fiber from the fruit and a little natural fat, this smoothie can really keep you satisfied for quite a while.

The best part about making smoothies at home? It’s so quick, easy and cheap! It saves a whole lot of money over going to those smoothie shops in the mall, plus you have complete control over what you put in it. Vegan? Try silken tofu and almond or soy milk. Or just fruit–frozen bananas puree into a soft-serve like consistency. Let your mind wander!

All this writing about smoothies has really gotten me craving one now.  I think there’s a nice fruit smoothie in my future! (Sometimes just a straight yogurt, fruit, juice combo is perfect, too!) Or maybe a bit of extra nut butter protein to power me through a late rehearsal tonight. I’ll never get sick of these things.

Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

My very first “What I Ate Wednesday” (Bridal Shower edition!)

Yesterday was a sick day for me, and I worked from home. So I expected to hit you with a double-whammy of recipe posts. But instead, I ended up sleeping most of the time I wasn’t working or feeling like I was dying, so, alas, no recipe posts. I’ll get them to you later this week. In the meantime, I’m jumping on the train of something I first saw on the Lean Green Bean blog: “What I Ate Wednesdays.” It’s just what it sounds like–every Wednesday, you chronicle what you ate for one day, one week, one trip, whatever. And today, I’m joining the WIAW club.

While I first saw this on the Lean Green Bean, it’s actually hosted by Jen over at Peas and Crayons, so a big thank you to her for hosting! (Check out lots of great WIAW posts here, too!) And so, on with my first What I Ate Wednesday. For my first post, I’m not just following any old day of eating–this is a WIAW Bridal Shower edition!

I attended a friend’s bridal shower on Sunday, and there was no lack of yummy homemade food and drinks. So, naturally, I had some of everything! But before I could get to that, I had to start of the day with a good breakfast. I really wanted cereal, but I was almost out of everything, so I ended up with a mixed bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat, Kashi GoLean Crunch (Honey Almond) and some muesli from the Wegman’s bulk bins. I topped that all off with some chopped strawberries and finished up with a glass of Simply Orange-Mango juice. (Even better than regular orange juice!)Then, the bridal shower! We had lots of little snacks and hors d’oeuvres, like pita chips and hummus, bruschetta, chips and such. There was also a little bar set up with both regular and grown-up (ahem, spiked) lemonade, wine and fun Italian sodas. Then, for lunch, a great spread of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese and cucumber and cream cheese), curry chicken salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad and a big Italian salad with grape tomatoes and mozzarella.Of course, some seconds were had. (And a few cocktails!)

Then there were the desserts! A tray of assorted Italian cookies (my favorite!), along with homemade funfetti-dipped strawberries (yes, you heard that right–funfetti strawberries! They were dipped in white chocolate with the funfetti sprinkles in it), colorful cupcakes with hearts and fruit. Unfortunately, the desserts were snatched up too quickly for me to get a picture! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate-covered strawberries, so I had to try one of the funfetti variety (even though I’m not a big funfetti fan.) I also had a cupcake–chocolate, how could I not??–and WAY too many cookies. (Lesson learned: don’t sit down right next to the cookie tray. Ever.)

All that eating really did me in, and I ended up having half a cup of coffee for dinner. No joke. I was pretty much full for the rest of the night.

Well, there you have it–my first foray into WIAW! Hopefully I’ll remember to keep this up! And keep your eyes peeled for that double-whammy of recipes coming sometime this week!

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take Two

OK, so my first attempt at The Great Leftover Challenge resulted in something that looked only slightly better than dog food. That wasn’t going to get me anywhere (or whet anyone’s appetites, for that matter), so it was time for take two!

By this time I was really running out of food. I still am. (Seriously, I’ve been awful about going to the grocery store.) But I had some fruits and veggies that had been sitting around for a little while and I wanted to use them up before they went bad. I also wanted something light, a departure from the heavy, meatloaf-laced semi-disaster that was my first attempt.

So, for my second try at the leftover challenge, I made “pantry” salad lettuce cups with homemade dressing. I’ve never made my own dressing before, but it’s so, so simple!

The dressing and the salad came only from things I’ve already opened/used, so it was truly a leftovers meal. I opened nothing new to make anything.

The dressing is super-quick and easy and takes about a minute to make. I thought, honestly, though, that it was a bit too acidic, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to what I think would make it work better:

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce (I always use the low-sodium kind)
1 1/2-2 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil, but a lighter oil would work better. I also only used 1 tbsp, but some extra may be necessary to cut down on the acidity.)
1 tsp lime juice (I used 1 1/2 but, like I said, it ended up too acidic.)
1 1/4 tsp whole grain mustard
Drizzle of agave nectar or honey

Whisk the vinegar, soy sauce and lime juice together in a bowl. Add the mustard and whisk in. Drizzle in the oil while whisking into the dressing to incorporate. Add some agave or honey to sweeten to taste.

Dressing

I poured this dressing over my “pantry” salad cups, which sounds like what it is: a salad made up of whatever I found in my fridge and pantry. This can be anything you want to add or have sitting around: fruit, vegetables, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc. My salad had the following:

Bibb lettuce cups
Shredded carrots
Diced Macintosh apple
Golden raisins
Craisins
Sliced almonds

Or, as a regular salad!

This is probably not the most creative thing that will come through the leftover challenge, but I was, admittedly, a bit creatively challenged this time–mainly just hungry. But if nothing else, it is still a good way to use up produce on the verge of going bad. Also, making my own dressing is so quick and easy that I’m going to start doing this more often. I love knowing exactly what’s going into my food, unlike a lot of the bottled dressings that are riddled with sugar and chemicals.

Danny’s Kitchen is hosting the Great Leftover Challenge and there are still two days left to participate! If you are creative with leftovers, check out his blog to enter the challenge!

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