Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top 12 Healthy, Real-Food Recipes of 2012

With 2012 quickly waning, it's the time of the year when we're all given to reflection and looking back upon the year.  And so it is that I've been thinking about the year in review for Sweet Peas and Pumpkins, too.

I only share recipes on this blog that I've made and given a big thumbs' up.  But each year there are some that are my absolute favorites. 

Here's the best of 2012, in no particular order:

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce and Lime:  An easy weekday dinner that will transport you South of the Border.  Smokey chipotle and bright citrus combine to give your palate a little party.

Peanutty Stirfry: Make it with tofu and it's vegetarian and vegan, but any lean protein will do.  Super easy stir-fry with delicious, kid-friendly flavors.

Homemade Ranch and Chipotle Ranch Dressing Mix:  I can't tell you how many times this homemade mix has come in handy, for dressing, for seasoning, for recipes, and thanks to the suggestion of my friend Liz, on popcorn!

Apple Cinnamon Vegan Baked Oatmeal:  A great make-ahead breakfast for busy mornings, loaded with lots of fiber and nutrition, without loads of added sugar.

Chana Masala: Think of this as Indian Chili--spiced chickpeas with rice make it a great cold-weather dinner.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins with Strawberries:  A sweet, yet healthful treat.  Your kids will never know there is so much nutrition hidden inside!

Make-It-Your Own Asian Noodle and Vegetable Salad:  A great summer salad to make ahead for picnics, potlucks or a light supper.  Tastes great no matter what time of the year!

Quinoa and Curried Chickpea Salad:  One of my all-time favorite recipes.  Love making this up on Sunday, perfect for lunches the following week.

Homemade Pumpkins Spice Smoothie:  Vegetables for breakfast never tasted so delicious or healthful.  

The Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers:  Soy-free, bean-free veggie burgers, that my kids inhale as I smile with glee as they eat a load of veg.

Homemade Pad Thai:  The ultimate take-out, fake-out.

Greens and Ham Rolls:  Pizza dough rolled up with ham and kale, baked and ready for your kids' lunchbox or for a fun snack.

And two bonus recipes (I just couldn't narrow it down to just 12!!):

Baked Sweet Potato Chips:  Baked in your oven, crispy and tasty.

Homemade Mole Sauce:  My most recent savory recipe, make a big batch and use it to flavor up anything from potatoes to steak and in between.

It's hard not to include several others, 2012 was a great year of kitchen cooking!

Life is sweet,

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Coconut Macaroons (Gluten-Free)

I've had an ongoing coconut craving for the last several months.  Over the summer I loved making my Coconut Pops but now, I'm hooked on these Coconut Macaroons...which I've created into a Gluten-Free recipe for all my GF friends and family.

Whether you're GF or not, these cookies have a lot going for them:  they're super simple, fairly healthful as far as cookies go, and they look so perfect for little balls of snow!

Gluten-Free Coconut Macaroons

4 egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons corn starch
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until they are just a bit foamy, but not frothy and stiff like a meringue.  As the whites are being whipped, add the almond (or vanilla) extract.

In a medium bowl, mix the salt, coconut, sugar and corn starch.

Add the coconut mixture to the egg whites and combine.

Put the mixture in the freezer for 5 minutes, to help "set."

Place a scant tablespoon onto a baking sheet lined with a Silpat liner, or *greased* parchment or foil.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges of the coconut are slightly browned.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

If desired, melt the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe dish, cooking on high for 30 seconds, stirring, repeating until all the chocolate is melted.

Using a spoon or fork, drizzle the tops with chocolate and let cool.

Makes 3 dozen macaroons.

Merry Christmas!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade Mole (rhymes with Ole!) Sauce

Years ago when we lived in DC, SPH took me to an authentic Mexican restaurant that featured different types of Mole Sauce.  I remember reading what I thought was a sauce named after a little blind rodent that my cat used to bring me as a present as a child.  Yuck!

Thankfully SPH quickly schooled me in Mole:  a rich, complex and vibrant sauce traditionally made out of peppers, nuts and fragrant spices.  Ladies and gentleman, this sauce is the furthest thing from "yuck."

I can't tell you how long I've tried to work on a homemade version of Mole (with plenty of fails!).  I found a great recipe from Eating Well magazine and then worked to tweak it.  Serve it over meats, on top of enchiladas, or really anything, since anything tastes good with this on top!

Homemade Mole Sauce

1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 corn tortilla, torn into pieces
1 cinnamon stick
4 dried chiles (such as Ancho, New Mexican, Poblano), stems and seeds removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chocolate chips
1/4 cup diced tomato
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds, corn tortilla and cinnamon stick and toast until the nuts begin to brown, stirring every minute or so.  You will begin to smell the nuts and cinnamon more noticeably as they brown.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Add the oil to the pan and saute the peppers, onion and garlic for a few minutes, or until the onions begin to brown a bit.  Add the chocolate chips, tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute, then add the nut mixture.  Stir well:

Finally, add the broth and bring to a boil.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen all the bits of browned goodness:

Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Remove from the pan and puree in a blender (be careful since it is hot!).

Serve over grilled meat or enchiladas:

Makes about 4 cups Mole Sauce.

Life is sweet,

Monday, December 17, 2012

Got Kids? Get Batteries (before Christmas morning)!

The Sweet Pea family is back from our annual trip to Santa Brunch in Maryland.  What, pray tell, is Santa Brunch?  Basically, our annual Christmas gathering with some of SPH's family.  SPH's two sisters always come with their families and since there are four boys cousins, ages 5, 6, 7 and 8, there is a lot of cousin fun and lots, and lots of toys.

And if you're holiday gift giving includes toys or anything electronic, you know that when you're makin' your list and checkin' it twice, you better include...batteries.
Is there anything more frustrating for a kid than a brand-new, super-cool electronic toy or gadget, and then realizing you don't have the batteries to play with it??

Thankfully Giant Fudge doesn't require batteries:

(yes, the boys wear matching PJs, courtesy of their KK.  I am quite sure this tradition won't be around in 10 years or so)

But I digress...if you've got toys, then you chances are you need batteries, and have I got a special deal from the good folks at Proctor and Gamble to share with you!

Check out Proctor and Gamble's Duracell Battery page for some great deals on all their Duracell Batteries.

If you click through this link you'll find some pretty cool deals, including:

15% off on a first-time order from a new customer, using promo code: A9Z-MN5-KY3-ISA

Free Shipping on orders over $25

Free Samples with every order.

I'll be loading up my Duracell Rechargeable Batteries before Christmas Eve, which have lasted us through many, many Christmases (and saved us serious dollars!).

Be sure to check out Duracell's 15 Minute Recharger, which is good for folks like me who inevitably forget to charge the right number of batteries!  Hey, with only 15 minutes until the batteries are charged, even the most impatient kid can wait, right?

So bottom line:  Got kids?  Then get batteries!

As for Santa Brunch, I noticed Pop had a big old stash of Duracell Batteries in his closet, which came in handy for more than a couple toys handed out by "Santa."

Did you know that Santa can play the Autoharp?  Check out the Sweet Pea Extended Family Singers:

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Easy Roasted Fennel with Parmesan

Fennel is underrated.  The sweet, anise-y flavor is a great addition to a salad, but recently I've been roasting it to intensify it's sweetness, and I'm hooked.

Roasting any vegetable is super easy, and almost always results in a winner side dish (my personal exception:  broccoli).  Try this dish as a fun and simple way to enjoy a new veg, the underrated fennel.

Easy Roasted Fennel with Parmesan

2 small or 1 large head of fennel
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon)
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (preferably freshly grated)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the bottom root end and the top fronds of the fennel, reserving the fronds.  Rinse, pat dry and slice into 1/4 inch slices.

Arrange in an oven safe dish.  Sprinkle with the olive oil and toss in the dish to coat each piece.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper:

Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir the fennel around in the pan to ensure even roasting:

Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the fennel is tender. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and reserved fronds and serve immediately:

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Life is sweet,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Each Halloween R shares his Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties with me.  But this year, there were almost none!  Needing perhaps to satisfy my chocolate-mint craving, I created this cookie recipe for Christmas this year.

I've been making dough over the last week and freezing it for baking later this week.  I did a trial run of these cookies over the weekend, and they were an overwhelming crowd favorite.

If you love the creaminess of chocolate, paired with refreshing mint, these cookies could be your new favorite!

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
(makes 5 dozen cookies)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6-8 drops peppermint essential oil (or 1 teaspoon peppermint extract)
1 cup chocolate chips
10 peppermint candy rounds, or 2 regular size candy canes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir well to combine.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until creamy and smooth.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix again.

Add the peppermint (I love using peppermint essential oil, such as DoTerra Oils, but you can use extract too) and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

Drop 1 tablespoon of dough onto cookie sheets.  Bake 12 minutes.

While the cookies bake, melt the chocolate.  Pour the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minute and stir.  Repeat until the chocolate is melted (if you the chocolate cools while you are waiting for additional cookies to bake, cook on high for 30 seconds to remelt).

Also, while the cookies bake, crush the peppermints or candy canes.  I keep the candy in the wrapper, and wrap in a towel and bang it will the bottom of sauce pan until crushed.

Once the cookies are done baking, allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Drizzle the cookies with a bit of melted chocolate:

While the chocolate is still warm and not "set," sprinkle with a bit of peppermint candy:


Life is sweet (and so are these cookies!),

Friday, December 7, 2012

Weekly Healthy Meal Plan: Advent

I love advent.  I love anticipation.  And any season that is a celebration of something big "to come," well, that's right up my alley.  As the boys take turns opening the doors on our Advent Calendar, I'm struck with how very close we are to Christmas and how taking this year s...l...o...w has really enhanced our joy.

Our tree is not yet decorated.  The Christmas cards?  Still on my desk, waiting to be sent.  We've done a fair amount, but not too much, and this has made this season so much enjoyable.  After all, what's more important?  A fully decorated tree, or a relaxed, less-stressed mom?

I think I could get the hang of this "slow down" style...

In the spirit of less-stress, here are some more easy meals for your Healthy Weekly Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Greek Quinoa, Hummus, Clementines

Southwest Grilled Shrimp with an Avocado Mash
, Mango

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken, Sauteed Green Beans, Oven Roasted Potatoes, Apple Slices

Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli and Bacon, Pineapple

Seven Bean Soup, Bread, Blackberries

Taqueria Style Tacos, Refried Beans, Kiwi
Life is sweet,

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mediterranean Hummus and Feta Appetizer Pizza

Here's a great party appetizer or even a fun dinner that's creative, fun and healthy too!  My cousin Jill made this for a girl's night (ok, girl's afternoon), and it was so yummy I had to share it with you.

Mediterranean Hummus and Feta Appetizer Pizza

1 pre-cooked pizza crust (here's a recipe for whole wheat dough)
1/2 cup hummus (here's an easy homemade recipe)
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
1/2 cup red onion, sliced
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
a pinch of fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the pre-cooked pizza crust for 5-6 minutes, just to create a crispy base for your appetizer pizza.  (If using homemade dough, cook the pizza crust for 10 minutes or until it is browned slightly and crispy).

Spread the hummus on top of the pizza, much like you would marinara sauce on a traditional pizza.

Top with the grape tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion, artichoke hearts, and feta.  Sprinkle the pepper and oregano on top.

Cut into squares and serve as an appetizer, or a light dinner.

Serves 8-10 as an appetizer, 4-6 as a light dinner.

Perhaps the best thing about this is that you can really customize it to your tastes and preferences!

Life is sweet,

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sesame Ginger Quinoa Summer Rolls

Sure, it's not the summer right now, but anytime is a great time for this super fresh, clean and flavorful recipe.  I found a similar recipe on Pinterest, and get this--instead of just pinning it, I actually made the recipe (I am notorious for pinning things and never viewing them again)!

I took the original recipe and tweaked it just a bit.  I love the fresh Asian flavors of this recipe, all rolled up in a healthy rice-paper roll.  If you haven't used rice paper rounds before, don't let them intimidate you, they're actually quite easy to use.

Oh, and the bonus:  use gluten-free soy sauce and this recipe is easily made gluten free!

Sesame Ginger Quinoa Summer Rolls

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped shallot or red onion
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
8 - 10 inch rice paper rounds

Cook the quinoa and water according to package instructions. 

Meanwhile, chop the spinach, cilantro, shallot/red onion and combine in a medium bowl.  Add the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger, and toss well to combine.

Add the cooked quinoa to the sesame ginger mixture, stir well and let cool slightly.

Pour about 1 inch of hot water into a pie pan.  Gently submerge one rice paper.  Allow it to become slightly soft (takes only about 5 seconds).

Place the rice paper round on a large plate.  Place about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of the quinoa mixture to one side of the round.  Gently roll up the roll like a burrito, first folding in the sides and then rolling up the middle, much like you would a sleeping bag.

Place seam side down on a plate, and cover with a barely damp paper towel.  Repeat with the other rolls (if you have leftover quinoa, it makes a lovely side salad!).

Once ready to serve, slice each roll in half and enjoy!  Even R and G gobbled up these rolls, which floored me.

Serves 4 as a side or light meal.

Life is sweet,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Harvest

It's the little things...after a gorgeous afternoon, I harvested this from our garden, what might be the last of the autumn vegetables:

Gorgeous, isn't it?  To this gardener/home chef it is a sight to behold.  Home grown organic Swiss Chard, harvested in my December.

Now, what to make?  Thinking I might cook up some garlic, add a little lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and serve it over pasta with whatever I have on hand.

Life is sweet,

Friday, November 30, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan: Let December Begin!

I can hardly believe that it is still November!  Sure, December begins in less than 10 hours, but with Thanksgiving so early this year, I keep having this conversation with myself:

"I need to finish decorating for Christmas...oh yeah, it is still only November."

"Should I start addressing the Christmas cards?  No, it's not even December yet!"

"What cookies should I bake?  None's November."

I have been trying to stay low key, but when the calendar turns over to December tomorrow, I think it is time to get into gear.

What to do when the Christmas season is upon us?  Keep the cooking simple, since we're all so over-extended this time of the year!

Here's next week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Slow Cooker Italian Bean and Artichoke Soup, Crusty Bread, Tossed Salad

Asian Tuna Noodles, (when you boil the noodles for this dish, boil extra for the Chicken Tetrazini later this week--it will save you time!), Pomegranate Seeds

Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini*, Clementine and Apple Slices, sprinkled with coconut

*This is a great recipe to use frozen leftover turkey, if you happen to have any in your freezer!

Slow Cooker Pork Loin with Apple and Sage,  Quinoa with Almonds, Green Beans

Seared Flounder with a Blood Orange Drizzle, Sauteed Greens, Roasted Potatoes

Rainbow Quinoa, Tortilla Chips, Guacamole 

Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homemade Pad Thai

I've been working on a good Pad Thai recipe for years.  Trouble is, when I was young, though I don't really remember it, I lived in Thailand so my flavor expectations are high.  My mom cooked in our Thai kitchen and in my opinion, has one heck of a good palate for Asian food, particularly Thai.

So here's the challenge for living up to high Pad Thai expectations:  real, authentic, Thai style Pad Thai is complex, and often uses ingredients such as tamarind paste, palm sugar, garlic chives and sweet radish...not exactly items in the typical pantry or fridge.

But I think I've found a simple flavor combination that mimics much of what I love about Pad Thai:  the salty, yet somewhat sweet, full flavors of noodles, vegetables and herbs in a tangy sauce.

I think this Pad Thai rocks, yet doesn't require anything too hard to find at your local well-stocked grocery store.

Homemade Pad Thai

12 ounces thick rice noodles
boiling water
2 tablespoons fish sauce*
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 cup broccoli, cut into very small florets
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 - 15 ounce can baby corn, drained
1 cup bean sprouts
3 green onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound shrimp, chicken or any protein you choose (optional)
1 egg (optional)
crushed peanuts (optional)
fresh chopped cilantro

Prepare the noodles:  Place the noodles in a large bowl.  Pour enough boiling water over the noodles to cover them.  Let the noodles sit for about 10 minutes, or until they have softened, but are not yet al dente or cooked as full as you would cook pasta (you need to have them less than fully softened, so they can finish in the stir-fry pan without falling apart).  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce:  mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, lime zest, lime juice and red pepper flakes in a jar with a lid.  Close tightly and shake well.

Next, in a large skillet or stir-fry pan, add the oil and heat to medium high.  Add the tofu and brown, cooking 2-3 minutes and flipping to brown the other sides.  Once cooked, remove from heat.

Add the broccoli, carrots, baby corn, bean sprouts, green onions and garlic to the pan.  Stir-fry for 3-5 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly tender.  Reduce the heat to medium, if necessary.  Remove from the pan.

**If using another protein, add a touch more oil and cook now in the pan and remove from the pan.  If using the egg, cook now in the pan, but do not remove from the pan.**

Add the tofu, vegetables and noodles to the pan.  Shake the sauce and pour over everything.  Stir-fry for another minute or two or until all the ingredients have been incorporated with the sauce and the items are all heated through.

Top with crushed peanuts and cilantro, if using.

Serves 4.

*If you want to keep this recipe vegan, use additional soy sauce in lieu of the fish sauce.  Fish sauce is very pungent, but tastes deliciously tangy in recipes!

Life is sweet,

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan: Post-Turkey Round-Up

 Hope your Thanksgiving was full of food and fun and lots of friends and family.  Ours was delicious:

And the fact that the weather was sunny and in the 60s didn't hurt either!

Have you used any of the Turkey Leftover Makeover Ideas?  We sure have, but we're also ready for something different this week!  Here are some healthy recipes for your week!

Meatless Monday:  Black Bean and Avocado Tostadas, Diced Mango

Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers
, Sweet Potato Fries, Pear


Slow Cooker Corned Beef, Bread, Apple Slices

Easy Tofu and Veggie Stir-fry, Brown Rice, Kiwi

Homemade Pizza, Mixed Green Salad, Pineapple

Fresh Lemon and Herb Tuna Salad, Naan, Clementines

Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend!

Life is sweet,