Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “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

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!

An Anniversary and an Announcement!

I can’t even believe it, but Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness is ONE YEAR OLD today! Holy cow!

One year ago today, I decided, partially on a whim, to start a food blog. My life wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so I figured, why not do something I want, then? Something that’s entirely in my control.

Looking back, a year doesn’t seem that long. But then when I look at where I was a year ago compared to where I am today, it seems like an eternity. A year ago, I was out of work, so I was serving at a Cuban restaurant full-time. While I loved my coworkers and the atmosphere and even some of the customers, overall I hated the job. I was unhappy. And I remember sitting in front of the heating vent in my old house, watching the Food Network, which inspired my very first post.

Today, a year later, I am working full-time (at my old job, in political polling), I’ve moved out of the house I grew up in and I am looking into moving again.

Hurricane Sandy happened, and I learned to truly be thankful for what I have and to count my blessings. We were incredibly lucky–we only lost power for a few days and a few (recovered) pieces of siding off our chimney. Walking out your door and seeing the extent of the destruction right in front of you, seeing beaches you grew up on decimated, is an unimaginably eye-opening experience. It’s easy to forget the fragility in life.

So, clearly, some major life changed have happened this year, and this blog was one of them. So here’s to 2013 at LLPF–it can only get even better!

*********

But now, on that note, I have a big birthday announcement to make! I’m taking on a new project here at the blog, and I figured there’s no better time to announce that than on the first anniversary!

Starting next month, I am going to undertake a 31-recipe challenge. Over the month of February, I will cook each and every dish on this list (thank you, Buzzfeed!) I will not make any more than *minor* substitutions. That is, even though I don’t like beets, I will make and try the beet salad. Even though I rarely eat fish and have never, ever prepared it, I will make miso-glazed cod. Because, when all is said and done, I might just discover that I enjoyed it!

I’m doing this for several reasons:
1. These recipes look damn delicious.
2. Accountability and a constant content source–I have been far too intermittent with this blog at times, between all the other things going on in my life (work, moving, Sandy, repeatedly involving myself in theater productions [sorrynotsorry]), but this will give me a) a consistent flow of recipes and experiences to blog about and b) accountability. I said I’m going to do this, and I will!
3. An opportunity to expand my horizons, both in the kitchen and at the table–There are plenty of things in here I have never, ever cooked before (braised short ribs, most desserts, soup) and things I never eat/don’t like/haven’t tried. But by cooking all of these recipes, as is, I will be learning new things in the kitchen and trying new foods or rediscovering old foods I didn’t think I liked. And if I still don’t like it in the end, so be it. But I may discover I like things I didn’t before.

So, there you have it. I know the list says “31 Things to Cook in January,” but I’m waiting to start until February because, well, it’s already 10 days into January, so that’s valuable time lost. Also, I’m starting tech week for a play this weekend (yeah, yeah, another one!) so my cooking time will be pretty much minimal.

I hope you’re all as excited for this as I am! I can’t wait to start!

Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (And Chocolate Truffles!)

I’ve been away quite a while, so I wanted to make sure I got all of my holiday wishes in there. With a new year, hopefully, comes an opportunity to blog again, now that my life is somewhat settling into order.

Lots of things happened since we last met.  Biggest of all is I moved. Now that I’m settled into the new digs, I have a new (and unfortunately much smaller) kitchen, but I’m learning to work with it. (For now, anyway–I’ll be moving again in a few months.)

New kitchen

I also received an awesomely nerdy, foodie Christmas gift that I’m so excited to share with you! (If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may already know what this is!)

Dorothy Wizard of Oz apron

For those who don’t know, I’m a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan, and when I saw this apron in a local shop, I *had* to have it. So there it was, waiting for me on Christmas morning, thanks to Kevin’s brother! Now I can pretend I’m on my way to Oz AND stop ruining my good t-shirts!

Anyhow…back to the food: what did you guess I’d be making with that big batch of chocolate ganache I showed you last week? If you guessed I’d make it into truffles, good for you! Or, you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and already saw what I made. If not, then 1) you should follow me and 2) let me know what you guessed, because I’d love new ideas!

I did indeed make a big batch of Christmas truffles (I gave them away as gifts because Kevin has a huge family), but you could make these any time of the year, and add any flavors or toppings you want.

For my Christmas truffles, I just made a basic chocolate truffle and rolled them in crushed peppermint, cocoa powder and cinnamon (think spicy Mexican hot chocolate), but you could totally add different extracts–or booze–to infuse a new flavor in, and you can roll them in just about anything you want: colored sugar, powdered sugar, spices, nuts, espresso, etc.

(P.S. Some flavor infusion ideas/substitutions: mint extract, coffee extract or strong espresso, Kahlua, rum or rum extract, Bailey’s, raspberry liquor, orange liquor, mint or cinnamon schnapps)

*NOTE: This recipe yields roughly 100 truffles (give or take depending on the size you make them.) I tripled and adapted an original recipe I had found on allrecipes.com (I had a LOT of family to feed!) If you feel like that’s a *tad* too many truffles, go ahead and halve it, third it, whatever.

Truffles

Basic chocolate truffles (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

36 ounces of good chocolate*
1 cup heavy cream
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

1. Add cream and 1/3 to 1/2 the chocolate to a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the chocolate in gradually, stirring until smooth. **Watch this carefully, as it can burn quickly.**

2. Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and the salt.

3. Transfer ganache to a medium bowl and refrigerate 1-2 hours (or more if necessary–you want it solid, but scoopable.) Stir halfway through, if possible.

4. Once ganache is cooled, scoop out small sections and roll into a ball. Roll in desired topping and refrigerate again to re-solidify.

Don’t fret if they’re not perfectly spherical. The perfectionist in me wanted perfect, round, restaurant-quality truffles, but the realist in me (the half that was already getting frazzled and realized it was the day before Christmas Eve) wanted as stress-free of an experience as possible. And you know what? Not stressing over making them perfect was the best decision I ever made. Because it simply wasn’t going to happen, and I would’ve made myself crazy. Besides, imperfection is beautiful!

*Note: I used Ghirardelli chocolate, half bittersweet and half semi-sweet. You can use all bittersweet or all semi-sweet or another ratio based on your palate. You may need to add sugar to taste, as well. I also used a combination of chocolate chips and chopped up chocolate bars to ensure an even consistency.

My chocolate mix: 50-50 Ghirardelli semi-sweet and bittersweet

Chopped chocolate

Chocolate ganache

Truffle assemble line--ganache, peppermint, baking sheet with finished truffles

If you want to roll your truffles in peppermint, you’ll need to make a peppermint powder, basically. This could be done the old-fashioned way withe a mallet or rolling pin and a zip-top bag, but I found a Magic Bullet (or food processor) works much more efficiently. Throw in some whole peppermint candies (or broken up candy canes), whir for a few seconds and, voila! Peppermint powder.

Peppermint powder-making

By the way, if you have extra of this, keep it. It mixes nicely into hot cocoa or coffee, or you can use it in place of sprinkles on ice cream and other desserts! YUM!

And there you have it! These make great gifts, or a decadent treat for any occasion. And even though these are super easy to make, there’s an elegance and sophistication associated with truffles, so everyone will think you’re simply amazing for making these from scratch! (No one has to know how insanely simple it was!)

If you want to give these as gifts, like I did, find a pretty little box, some fun tissue paper and some festive mini paper cupcake (or candy) cups. I got boxes at the dollar store that were shiny and Christmasy, along with sparkly tissue paper. (Just make sure if you’re using something sparkly that there’s either tissue or paper cups between the truffles and the sparkles, or else you’ll end up eating glitter.)

Or, of course, you know, you could always NOT give these away and keep these rich little gems for yourself. (I’m in full support of that option!)

So, again, I hope everyone had a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’ll see you around more in 2013!

WIAW: What I Ate…in Disney World!!

I’m officially back from Disney World and back into real life (wah.) BUT I have lots and lots of yummy Disney treats to share with you now! (YAY!)

I ate a LOT while I was in WDW, so I’m starting off with the best of all: Disney sweets and treats.

I’m not even going to pretend that I ate healthily while on vacation. I did at times (you’ll see that later), but for the most part I enjoyed myself, right down to the very food I ate. This is pretty evident when you realize that I have about a dozen pictures just of sweets and snacks. And I didn’t even photograph nearly everything I ate, just some of the highlights. (Also, there were times, like when I went to afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden Tea Room, that I didn’t feel it was appropriate to keep snapping photo after photo–but don’t worry, it does make an appearance below!)

So, without any further ado, I give you WIAW: Disney Sweets and Treats…

1-Dark-chocolate covered caramel with sea salt from Karamell-Küche in Epcot’s Germany pavilion. See the size of that thing? That’s ALL caramel, covered with *just* enough chocolate. Even I, with my mountain of a sweet tooth, could barely finish the thing!
2-Red velvet cupcake from Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary Resort. This cupcake was recommended to me almost as soon as I walked in the door–how could I say no? But I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, that looks an awful lot like buttercream frosting. But Alex, being the huge red velvet fan you are, you must know you need cream cheese frosting!” Totally agree. Good thing it’s filled with it. 😉 Yup. Heavenly. I ate the whole damn thing.
3-The classic, the quintessential Dole Whip float. So famous that this was my first one ever. Pineapple soft-serve with pineapple juice. Super refreshing!
4-Carrot cake cookie sandwich (two large carrot cake rounds filled with cream cheese frosting) and coffee in Hollywood Studios. Breakfast of champions.

1-Coffee ice cream in a sprinkle- and chocolate-dipped homemade waffle cone from Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney. Awesome bus-riding snack!
2-School bread from Epcot’s Norway pavilion: a savory-sweet bread filled with sweet custard and topped with icing and coconut. I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, unfortunately.
3-Told you afternoon tea would make an appearance. This wasn’t even my dessert, it was Kevin’s, but it was too pretty not to share: pastry filled with vanilla bean mousse…in the shape of a swan! Adorable 🙂
4-And of course, a classic: the Mickey Premium Bar! Your basic vanilla ice cream-dark chocolate shell combo, but the mouse makes it special! He’s posing in front of another classic fave: Space Mountain!

1-Venturing into the treat, away from the sweet momentarily. Chips with chipotle salsa and queso dip from La Cava de Tequila in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion. Salty, cheesy, spicy–YUM!
2-What’s a tequila bar without some margaritas?! Aguacate Margarita (Avocado Margarita.) Oddly, tasted banana-y, which was a little weird. Don’t worry, there was extensive menu to taste from! 😉
3-Back to the sweet (cause it’s me): Maple Crème Brûlée from Le Cellier in Epcot’s Canada pavilion. I had this the last time I was in Disney–2 years ago–and have been thinking about it ever since. Hands down the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.
4-More frozen treats–frozen banana covered in chocolate and peanuts. I had two of these, they were that good. And SO simple–I’m totally making these at home. Also the breakfast of champions.

So, this is the last week of Jen’s awesome WIAW theme of “Summer Staples.” Does Disney food count as a summer staple? I sure think so!

Well, there ya have it, folks. Installment 1 of what I ate in Walt Disney World. Are you drooling yet? If not, no worries–there’s more where that came from!

Am I the only person in the world who can’t make kale chips?

It’s no secret that I don’t bake. I’m just not good at it. I mean, last Christmas I had a pretty successful cookie-making run, but that was not without help. (In the form of both human and Kitchenaid stand mixer.) But overall, I’m not a baker. I can cook on the stove top, but once that oven turns on, it’s hit or miss for me.

Which is probably why, even though everyone and their mother are making kale chips, I managed to burn them.

Yup. Not even five minutes in the oven and I burned ’em. Just in case anyone needed further proof that I can’t bake.

Now, here’s where you, my lovely readers, come in. I’m going to tell you what I did, and hopefully someone out there will be able to tell me where I went wrong. Because seriously, if kale chips are so hot right now, there must be a reason, and I want in on the secret, dammit!

I am not going to return to burying myself in a bag of potato chips. I will make successful, tasty kale chips!

So, here’s how it went down:

I took roughly half to 3/4 of a bunch of kale, cut off the stems and tore the leaves (leaving the center stems behind.) I laid them out on paper-towel lined baking sheets to dry and covered with more paper towels. After they dried, I tossed them with olive oil, salt and black pepper, then laid them back out on the baking sheets (sans paper towels), sprinkled with a little more salt and pepper, and into the oven they went (Preheated to 375F.) One sheet was on the middle rack, one on the top rack. Five minutes in, both racks were starting to burn.

Before:

After:

Womp.

I was all excited about these, too. When I went to Sickle’s Market with Kevin a couple weeks ago, I saw a big, green bunch of kale sitting there, and I had to have it. I have had kale chips on my radar for quite some time, since they’re popping up on just about every healthy eating blog. I was super-stoked to get such a yummy-looking bunch of kale and share my own chip recipe with you all. (If I was successful, I was even going to try my hand at kale chip nachos!)

Alas…this happened. Though it may be a lot funnier than if I had succeeded, it still bums me out. Plus, my house reeked of burnt kale. The night before a showing. That wasn’t so good.

So, tell me…where did I go wrong??

WIAW: Summer Weekend Eats

Phew! It’s been a very writing-intensive couple of days for me. Between banking articles for work and banking posts for the blog while I’m on vacation, my fingers have been getting quite the typing workout!

So thank goodness What I Ate Wednesday is photo-diary format! (Not that I WON’T write cause, hey, I’m a writer, but at least I get a little bit of a break!)

Now, this month’s WIAW theme is “Summer staples.” (Thanks Jen!) I think a couple of my eats below (see mango, ice cream and shandy) DEFINITELY qualify as summer staples!

I will let you know, though: these are technically weekend eats from two weekends ago, not this past weekend. I got so busy last week (Wednesday in particular) with vacation errands, work and details (like making centerpieces) for my dad’s wedding that I didn’t get a chance to post my summer weekend eats, so I’m sharing them with you all this week!

Saturday:

Breakfast:  McCann’s Irish oatmeal with a teaspoonful of strawberry Chobani and a chopped peach, topped with ground cinnamon and ginger. Mmmm. It was actually kind of a late breakfast, and I ate while watching this really cool guy place second in his prelim heat with Nikki. She was significantly less interested than I was.

[side note]: Is everyone else as sad as I am that the Olympics are over??

Lunch/snack: A cut-up mango and the rest of the strawberry Chobani from breakfast.

Dinner: This one’s got a little bit of story. Kevin and I had decided to cook a good dinner that night, since we were both off and had the time. Then, about 10 minutes after I watched Pistorius race, my power went out for, like, 4-5 hours. So that sort of killed the cooking dinner plan–neither of us wanted to cook in a place with no AC, plus it’s much harder to ignite the stove and we were trying to keep the fridge closed as much as possible. So we decided to go out to dinner.

A few days earlier, I had been cleaning out my room and came across an Olive Garden gift card I got for Christmas. It seemed like a good a time as any to use it.

Is Olive Garden the pinnacle of Italian cuisine? Not in the least. Is it particularly healthy? Not really. Is it fairly quick and cheap and relatively tasty? Yup, especially with a gift card.

So, to Olive Garden we went. We split salad, bread sticks and bruschetta and then I got the shrimp mezzaluna: sautéed shrimp with half-moon shaped cheese ravioli. What you see above are the leftovers, since I didn’t take pictures in the restaurant. And you know what? It was actually pretty good. (I’m soooo gonna get flamed for that.)

Sunday:

Breakfast: Blueberry Chobani with the last of my Bear Naked Fit Triple Berry Crunch granola and a Rook iced coffee at my desk. (Yeah, sometimes I have to work weekends…the life of a Web admin.)

Lunch: Vanilla ice cream at the beach. Seriously. I popped over to the boardwalk after work (I know you’re jealous, it’s ok). I planned on stopping at this Korean taco stand that opened there this summer and is supposed to be really tasty, but it was 90 bajillion degrees and there was a “new” ice cream shop. I say “new” because it was really just a new location for a shop the next town down the boardwalk that’s pretty famous for its ice cream. So of course I had to stop in. And I was feeling like some simple, good, pure ice cream, so I got vanilla, which is pretty uncharacteristic for me. (My usual orders typically involve cookie dough, gummy bears and/or chocolate.) And it was damn tasty ice cream.

Dinner: Possibly my new favorite summer beer, Saranac Shandy (seriously, this stuff’s possibly even better than Leinenkugel’s Shandy, my long-time summer favorite) with some suspiciously brown Pad See Yu.

I felt really sick from the stuff a few hours later, so it doesn’t deserve a picture. (I sometimes react negatively to large amounts of MSG.)

Well, that’s it! I’m focusing my energy on vacation now, because when I leave my office in the next five minutes, I’m officially on vacation! And I’m going to DISNEY WORLD tomorrow! I’m entirely too excited.

OH…before I go–Happy 100th birthday to the one and only Julia Child! Bon apetit!

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.

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