Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Frozen Grape Snowmen

One of the simplest and most refreshing healthy summer snacks are frozen grapes.  But recently I tried a new twist on frozen grapes, grape snowmen.  It couldn't be easier!

First, place fresh, clean grapes on a toothpick:

  Add three to give the grapes a "snowman" look:

Freeze for several hours on a tray in your freezer.  Once frozen, you can eat them as is, or wait until the warm air causes a bit of frost on your grapes and use your finger to draw a snowman!:

Please make sure any kiddos that try this snack are older, so the frozen grapes don't present a choking hazard!

Life is sweet,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sesame Ginger Chicken Burgers

Are you looking for a different type of burger for your grill this weekend?  These chicken burgers might be right up your alley! 

They are a spin on Asian barbecue, with lots of rich and bold flavors. If you assemble the mixture in the morning during breakfast time, the flavors of the burger come alive as they marinate within the ground chicken. The result? Burger heaven.

Sesame Ginger Chicken Burgers

1 pound ground chicken
¼ cup minced chives (or use very finely minced green onions)
½ cup panko or regular breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Sliced dill pickles (optional)
Radish or carrot slices (optional)
Fresh cilantro (optional)
Hamburger Buns (preferably whole wheat)

Place the ground chicken in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the chives, panko, garlic, sesame oil, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, pepper and sesame seeds. Add the mixture to the chicken and mix well (hands work best, just wash them well after you are done!).

If the mixture seems too “wet,” add a few more tablespoons of panko/breadcrumbs.

Form into 6 patties.  May be made up to a day in advance to allow flavors to marinate.

Grill over medium high heat, about 5-6 minutes a side.  Serve with any toppings you wish.

Serves 6.

The whole family loved these, including the two Sweet Pea boys. A definite "make-again."

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Vegetable Salad with Fresh Basil and Balsamic Drizzle

This is my new go-to salad for a quick and delicious side dish.  In fact, if your weekend plans include a potluck, grill out or picnic, you must try this salad.

The best part of this crisp and fresh salad is that it takes less than 10 minutes to make.  Really.

A mere 10 minutes until you're able to enjoy this:

Summer Vegetable Salad with Fresh Basil and Balsamic Drizzle

2 cups fresh corn (about 4 ears of corn), uncooked
1 medium zucchini, diced
2-3 roma tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze

In a medium bowl, combine the corn, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Toss well to combine.

Serve and drizzle with a touch of balsamic.

Serves 4, but can easily be doubled for a larger group.

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pickled Radishes

As the only female in our home, there aren’t a whole lot of pink things floating around the house. Pink isn’t even one of my favorite colors (despite the fact that G insists that as a girl, I am required to have pink or purple as my favorite color), in fact, it is noticeably absent in most rooms, especially when compared to my friends with daughters.

Even in cooking, aside from artificially dyed foods, pink is rare.  Other than certain fish and meat, pink is not a common food color.  But it was with delight that I made pink pickles last week.  Let me explain...

One of my good friends has a sweet little girl.  Her older brother is good friends with R, and recently she tagged along with her big brother for a play date.  I was in heaven:  I was able to do all sorts of girlie-girl play, stickers, coloring (my boys like to draw, but coloring, not so much) and the like.

Inspired by having a girl with which to create in the kitchen, I had her help me make something new:  pink pickles.  Not actually cucumbers, these pickles are made out of radishes.

We cleaned up some radishes, sliced them and added them to a jar I had on hand, and mixed them with the simple pickling recipe below.  Oh.  my.  goodness.  These pickled radishes exceeded any expectation of good.  They are crazy good.

I know, it's a tough sell:  picked radishes=crazy good?  It's true.  I dare you to try them!

Pickled Pink Radishes

2 bunches radishes
½ cup rice vinegar
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
⅓ cup white sugar

Rinse and dry the radishes.  Slice them into quarter-inch slices.  Place them into a jar or bowl.

In a microwave safe dish or glass pyrex measuring cup, pour the vinegar and water together.  Microwave on high for 1 minute.  Add the salt and sugar, and stir until they are dissolved.  Pour over the radishes.

Stir.  Cover and refrigerate, at least one hour, or until they begin to turn pink.

Eat.  Oooh and ahhh.  Repeat.

Makes about 2-3 cups pickled radish.

Will keep in your refrigerator for 3-4 weeks, but ours were gone in mere days.

Something pink!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where's the "pause" button?

(Today, a break in the normal food routine to pause and share something that has been on my heart a lot this last week)

An Open Letter to R and G:

My sweet, sweet boys,

Ok.  You boys are usually great listeners, but I need you to listen to me a little better on this:

please, please stop growing up so fast.

G, last week you went to your last preschool class.  Ever.  The sweet, protective, innocent walls of your preschool opened up so you may march forth to kindergarten.  You couldn't be more ready, but I am not.

I love the preschool years.  All the questions, "whys?" and milestones of learning.  Learning life skills like making friends, pouring drinks, using scissors and taking turns.  These lessons are tender and your curious mind loved learning each one.

Soon you will take a bus, drive to R's school and discover all sorts of new things; many will be wonderful and exciting, some will not.  It is the "not" that I don't relish.

Boys, if you could see my perspective, you would look back on the last several years and feel a little shell-shocked by two truths:

*how fast the years pass
*how time seems to be going ever faster

Just look at you, R!  You are about to reach the "half-way-through-elementary-school point."  Your world is growing ever-bigger and I feel a strain between wanting so much to hold on tight, and knowing, deep down, that you will thrive with each new level of independence.  You need to grow, spread and seek...

So boys, if there was a "pause" button, it would be pressed.  You both are still so sweet in so many ways.  You get along and play so well together.  You still have wonder in your eyes. 

I hope I can breathe in and focus on the look of wonder in your eyes and call upon it when, one day too soon, you'll be all grown up and far from anything little anymore.

I love you forever,

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Meatless Monday: Thai Veggie Peanut Wraps

This recipe is from one of my favorite (sadly former) food bloggers, Rookie Cookie.  If you love her recipes as much as I do, you'll be happy to know she is working away on a new cookbook.  You can read about her progress on The Family Flavor:  Practical Recipes for the Simple and Delicious.

These Thai Veggie Wraps are a quick, simple and delicious dinner.  If tofu isn't your thing, you can try tempeh or use, in a pinch, veggie burgers as a substitute.  The real star of this recipe is the peanut sauce, which is a perfect blend of savory with a touch of sweetness.

Click here for the recipe.

I know, I usually type out the grocery list here.  But it's a busy day and honestly, I am amazed I was able to sit down and type up this post.  So...a little tough love, I know you can do it yourself!

Life is sweet,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Grilled Chicken, Corn & Avocado Salad with Chipotle Ranch Dressing

We ate dinner on the back patio last night. It's a beautiful thing to leave the confines of our kitchen and house and eat amongst nature.  Bring on al fresco dining season!

This salad stirs up images of outdoor dining, even if the weather doesn't cooperate.  Grilled chicken, fresh corn, tomatoes and avocado, all tied together with the creamy and zesty Chipotle Ranch Dressing recipe I shared in my last post:

Grilled Chicken, Corn & Avocado Salad with Chipotle Ranch Dressing

1/2 pound chicken breasts, grilled and sliced
6 ounces spring greens or other lettuce
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/8s (we used roma tomatoes)
1 cup reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 avocado
1 lime
Homemade Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through and no longer pink inside.  (Alternatively this salad is a great use for leftover grilled or even rotisserie chicken).

Divide the greens among 4 bowls.  Sprinkle each salad with the corn and tomato.  Add the shredded cheese to each bowl.

Slice the avocado and sprinkle with a bit of lime juice to keep it from browning too quickly.  Place the avocado on top of each salad.  

Drizzle with the Chipotle Ranch Dressing.

Serves 4.

Ahh...a great salad for dining al fresco!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Homemade Ranch and Chipotle Ranch Dressing

One of the easiest ways to save money, reduce the "gunk" in your food, avoid gluten (yes, many store-bought ranch mix packs contain gluten) and save yourself an extra trip to the grocery store, is to have a recipe or two up your sleeve to use in a pinch.

We already use our Homemade Taco Mix regularly.  But now with the season of salads upon us, we've been whipping up both regular Ranch Dressing and Chipotle Ranch Dressing too!

Here is the easy recipe, all you do is add chipotle pepper powder and paprika to the base Ranch Dressing mix to spice it up a bit.  Mix with Greek Yogurt and you have a super-healthy dressing that is just as rich and creamy as the original.

Homemade Ranch Dressing (with Chipotle Ranch Dressing* option)

1 tablespoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon dried dill weed
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¾  teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup non-fat or low fat Greek Yogurt

Combine all ingredients except yogurt and stir well.  Add to the yogurt and mix well.  Tastes best if allowed to sit 1 hour before using.

*To make Chipotle Ranch Dressing:  add 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper powder and 1/4 teaspoon paprika to the mix.

Makes 1 cup dressing.

The finished product on a wonderful summer salad.

Side note:  Dry mix (everything but the yogurt) can be mixed and stored in a sealed container for future use.  Additionally, you can make a double, triple or quadruple batch and store it in a container.  To use with the yogurt, use a scant 2 tablespoons of the mix per 1 cup of yogurt.

Life is sweet,

Monday, May 14, 2012

My, how you've grown!

Back in early March, the boys and I spent some time planting vegetable seeds Weeks of gently misting the dirt with water and providing enough sunlight has produced:

Real, live vegetable plants!

Two weeks ago I started hardening these little plants to prepare them for the big planting day.  You see, seeds grown indoors have it easy...no big temperature variances, no wind, no pests (other than the occasional poke and prod from young, curious fingers), no real weather changes.

To harden seedlings, begin about two weeks prior to planting and give them short exposures to the elements.  Don't put the coddled plants outside when it is 90 degrees and brutally hot or in the 40s and raining.  Pick times of the day, as much as possible, that are similar to your indoor conditions.

Slowly lengthen the amount of time your seeds are outside and give them more exposure to the elements, until you are finally ready to:

Plant the plants in your garden.  They look so small and slight in our garden, but I know before long they'll look like our sweet pea plants:

These plants have literally dozens of pea pods growing and swelling with tender sweet peas inside.  I can't wait to start harvesting them soon and using them in our kitchen.

Speaking of our kitchen, here's our meals for the week:

Grilled Portabella Burgers, Sweet Potato Fries, Green Beans
Summer Rolls, Asian Quinoa
BBQ Chicken Quesadillas, Mango, 5-minute Corn Salad (recipe coming soon)
Lemon Dill Couscous with Cashews
Gnocchi with Zucchini and Roasted Peppers in a Goat Cheese Sauce

Have a sweet week,

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meatless Monday: Northstar Burgers

These burgers rock.

Even avowed carnivores love the taste, and perhaps the look, of these black bean and rice veggie burgers.  While they aren't the exact same as a Northstar Cafe Burger (that recipe is the most closely guarded secret of Columbus), it is my best attempt at mimicking the best veggie burger in town.

Here's this week's Meatless Monday recipe and here is your grocery list:

1 onion
3 cloves garlic
fresh beets (or buy jarred/canned)

jarred/canned beets (or buy fresh)
brown rice
1 -15oz can black beans -OR- 1 3/4 cups cooked black beans

olive oil/vegetable oil
soy sauce
balsamic vinegar
dried parsley
dried thyme

Lastly, Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!  Enjoy your day and know that YOU are very special to your sweet peas.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lemony Almond Israeli Couscous

This recipe flat-out surprised me.

When I create recipes, I often have a goal in mind.  It might be "a busy night dinner," or "a fun dish the boys will love," but there is often a driving goal.

My goal for this recipe?  Something *I* would love.  I'd been wanting to play around with some yummy flavors and Israeli Couscous, and when I found whole wheat Israeli Couscous, I picked it up for me, me, me.

Little did I know that both the boys would gobble up this recipe.  Not sure why, maybe it was the unique and fun texture of the larger couscous.  Perhaps it was that they were learning about Israel in Sunday School so they loved having something with "Israeli" in the title.  I'm not going to over think it though, because bottom line:  they ate it!

Lemony Almond Isreaeli Couscous

Couscous Mixture:
1 cup uncooked Israeli Couscous
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red bell pepper, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups green beans (either use frozen or already steamed green beans)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice (about the amount from one medium lemon)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

Optional Toppings:
feta cheese
steamed or sauteed shrimp

Cook the Israeli Couscous according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add the pepper and garlic.  Cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the green beans and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until the peppers and green beans reach your desired consistency (tender, but not mushy is a good bet).  Remove from heat and place in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients of the dressing in a bowl or lidded container.  Stir or shake well to combine.

Add the couscous to the green bean mixture, and top with the dressing.  Toss well and sprinkle with the almonds and feta and/or shrimp if using.

Serves 4-6.

Life is sweet (and full of surprises),

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Easy Breezy Carolina Sweet Tea

My man is from the South.  He's taught me lots of great Southern culinary lessons like how to fry okra, what good grits taste like and perhaps one of the most often repeated recipes in our home:

How to make a crazy good glass of sweet tea.

Being a mom (aka, always looking for ways to streamline things), I've come up with a way to make sweet tea in about 9 minutes flat.  No special tools needed, no special skills, just easy peasy lemon squeezy, extra breezy sweet tea.

Easy Breezy Carolina Sweet Tea

3-4 cups water
4-6 black tea bags (Luzianne and Lipton are the two we use)
1/2 - 1 cup white sugar, to your taste

First, boil the water in a microwave safe container, about 5 minutes. Remove the water from the microwave and add the tea bags.  I usually use 4-5, but if you want the tea stronger, add 1 extra tea bag.  Let steep 3-4 minutes, or longer if you desire.

Remove the tea bags and add the sugar, stirring until it dissolves (since the water is still very hot, the sugar will dissolve quickly).

Add some ice to cool the tea down before pouring it into a pitcher (this is especially important if you are using a glass pitcher):

Now pour into a pitcher and add about 4 cups ice:

 Pour into a glass (are you thirsty yet?):

Once you know how easy it is to make Sweet Tea, you can alter the method to your heart's content.  Here are some of my favorite variations:

*Decaffeinated Sweet Tea:  Save your tea bags after they steep for your first batch of sweet tea, and make some decaf for your kiddos to enjoy.  Once tea bags have steeped 1 minute, 95 of their caffeine has been removed.  Or, duh, use decaffeinated tea bags.

*Sweet Green (or White) Tea:  Simply use green tea (or white tea) bags instead of the black tea.

*Herbed Sweet Tea:  Add a few sprigs of rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme or basil to your tea as it steeps. 

*Agave Sweet Tea:  Use agave syrup instead of sugar.

Life is Sweet,

Monday, May 7, 2012

Never, ever say "never"

Growing up my dad ran a lot.  He began in high school, running Cross Country.

When I was young I remember many races, but it was the Columbus Marathon that he ran to qualify for the Boston Marathon, that stands out the most.  I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but my dad is a kick-booty runner.

I remember my dad encouraging me to try running.  My response?

"I will only run if someone bad is chasing me."

A couple years ago, something funny happened:  I started running.  For exercise and, get this, for fun.  Yes, me, the non-runner.  The mom to a baby and a toddler...started running.

Why running?  With a toddler and a baby, time to myself was, shall I say, limited?  But I knew how good I felt (and how important it was to my sanity) when I got in some exercise, and running allowed me to fit in a quicker endorphin rush during my busy mommy days.

Last fall my dad and I ran a 5 mile race together.  Afterwards, my dad challenged me:

"What will you do next?"

On a whim, over the winter, I began looking at half-marathon training schedules.  Between the crazy mild weather that afforded lots of outdoor running and perhaps a little bit of naivete, I signed up for the Capital City Half Marathon.

Get this:  On Saturday I ran 13.1 miles, and no one bad was chasing me.

SPH, R and G after I crossed the finish line.  Tears of joy and relief were fast flowing.

I share this story not to brag, but to encourage.  When I began running, I could run for about 3-4 minutes straight.  A mile was not even possible.  I am no super-athlete.

But Saturday's race taught me a couple things:

1.  Never, ever, ever say "never."  Or "impossible."
2.  Runner's high is real.  I have hardly stopped smiling since crossing the finish line.
3.  I love a good challenge.
4.  As a mom to young children, *you* are important and you have to take care of yourself.

So I ask you:  what have you wanted to do that you think you can't?  Try.  Just put one foot in front of the other and you might be surprised where you end up!

Enjoying a little post-race bubbly, a definite race bonus.

And so it's a new week and I'm enjoying the training schedule demands for the week:  rest, no running, just take it easy.

Peas and Love,

Friday, May 4, 2012

Top Ten Cinco de Mayo (or anytime you feel like Mexican food) Recipes

Want an easy way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with your family this year?  Here's my Top Ten Family-Favorite Mexican Dishes.

1.  Mini-Cornbread Taco Bites:  The ultimate appetizer/fun dinner/kid-friendly anytime dish.  Customize these cute little taco bites to fit your family's tastes. 

2.  Sunshine Salsa:  Make this salsa with any type of tomato you please, it doesn't require yellow tomatoes...but they do make the salsa look super sunshine-y, don't you think?

3.  Enchilada Rotini:  Basically, a deconstructed taco, served over pasta with enchilada sauce.  A Sweet Pea family favorite.

4.  Chipotle Taquitos:  Oh how I love these.  Great as an appetizer or as a lunch or light dinner.  Delicious and healthy.

 5.  O-live Olive and Chicken Enchiladas:  R's favorite enchiladas.  If you have an olive-lover, they'll flip for these.

6.  Apple Nachos:  Ok, I admit, these are not traditional Mexican fare.  But they're darn good fun with kids, and a fun twist on a Cinco de Mayo dish.

7.  Taco Lasagna with Cilantro-Lime Cream:  A family-friendly winner.  Bonus:  use the leftovers as an easy lunch.

8.  Slow Cooker Vegetarian (or Chicken) Taco Soup:  May on your calendar may not scream "soup weather" to you, but this dish is so easy and a year-round favorite.

9.  Taqueria Asada Tacos:  Make these with either beef, chicken, pork or (my favorite) mushrooms.  An authentic Mexican taco!

10.  Sweet Potato Enchiladas:  Last, but *definitely* not least.  My favorite enchilada recipe, and amazingly, kids love these too.  A real crowd pleaser.

Pick one (or several!) of these healthy, delicious and fun recipes for your Cinco de Mayo or anytime Mexican meal and you're family will be shouting, "ole!"

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Quinoa with Sauteed Kale and Goat Cheese

Quinoa?  Kale?  Bell Peppers?  Greek Yogurt? 

Ladies and Gentleman, this is one powerful one-dish meal.  Tons of healthy fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, all pleasantly combined with a bit of delicious herbed goat cheese.

Inspired by a great recipe I found on one of my favorite blogs, A Pug in the Kitchen, this recipe was instant love in my bowl.

Quinoa with Sauteed Kale and Goat Cheese

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion
1/2 cup sliced bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
2 cups (packed) chopped kale, stems removed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek Yogurt
5 oz herbed goat cheese (I used Trader Joe's Chevre Fine Herb Goat Cheese)

Cook the quinoa:  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the quinoa (rinse in a colander first) and reduce to a simmer and cover.  Simmer 10-15 minutes and then remove from the heat, uncover and let stand for a minute or two so the quinoa absorbs any excess water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and saute 2-3 minutes.  Add the kale and salt and stir well.  Add the 1/2 cup water and let simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the kale is wilted and the excess water is evaporated.

Add the quinoa to a large bowl and combine with the sauteed kale mixture.

Add the Greek Yogurt and goat cheese.  Stir well to combine.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

This is a great alternative to a pasta salad for a light dinner or lunch.  Loaded with complex carbohydrates and protein, it has loads of great nutrition for such an easy dish!

Life is sweet,