Monthly Archives: May, 2012

Homemade Granola using Agave Nectar

I keep trying different recipes of homemade granola.  My husband really likes when the boys and I make it but prefers a bit of variety rather than making the same one time and time again.  I saw a recipe that looked interesting and did my own adaptations to it.  I think it turned out tty good, though the other recipe using maple syrup was better.  The egg white in the recipe was unique from others I had seen.  It supposedly makes the granola crunchier, though I think that it was probably equally as crunchy as any other batch we have made.  I also used a different mix of dried fruit for this one – apples, plums, apricots, and mango.  I think next time I plan to use a different mixture of dried fruit and perhaps eliminate the ginger to see how that changes the flavor.

Homemade Granola using Agave Nectar

Recipe adapted from writes4food.com

2 c. multigrain cereal (see note below)
2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 c. raw sunflower seeds
1 c. almond slices
1/2 c. unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 egg whites +2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 c. agave nectar (see note below)
2 c. dried fruit of your choice

Instructions:

Combine first 9 ingredients (cereal through ginger) in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine egg whites and water and mix.  Add in the vanilla and agave nectar and whisk briskly until well combined and slightly frothy. 
Pour egg mixture over dry ingredients and stir well.
Spread ingredients out on a baking sheet or jelly roll pan covered with parchment paper (for easier clean up).  I actually use my pizza pans because they are a good size and have slightly raised edges.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, stir and bake additional 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 200 degrees, stir and bake for an additional 15-25 minutes, stirring once, until mixture is evenly golden brown and crunchy.
Let cool and then gently stir in the dried fruit.  Store in an air tight contain or Ziploc baggie.

Food for Thought: For the multi-grain cereal, I use one that I can get at Trader Joe’s.  I like the variety it adds.  However, if you are unable to find one, simply substitute rolled oats.  For the agave nectar, it usually is found at the grocery store next to the honey.  If you don’t have it or can’t find it, honey would be a sensible substitute.

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Mexican Quinoa Casserole

I don’t do many casseroles especially when the weather is warmer but this one was delicious, simple to make, and full of healthy fresh ingredients.  I plan to make it again.  We served it with some homemade tortilla chips (I sliced up tortillas, sprayed them with cooking spray, topped with sea salt, and baked for 5-10 minutes at 425 until crispy).

Mexican Quinoa Casserole
Recipe adapted from Quinoa 365

Taco Seasoning:
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
pinch cayenne pepper

Casserole:
1/2 c. quinoa
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 yellow, red, or orange pepper, diced (I used yellow)
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 lb. ground beef
3/4 c. prepared salsa
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c. sliced black olives

Instructions:

Combine taco seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside for later use.
Cook the quinoa to package directions.  (If it doesn’t specify amount of water for that measurment of quinoa, use 1 c. water)
In a greased 2 qt. casserole dish, spread the zucchini, pepper, and carrots.  Sprinkle vegetables with 1 tsp. taco seasoning.

In a medium skillet, brown ground beef until no longer pink.  Add beans, quinoa, and remaining taco seasoning and stir.  Spread beef mixture on top of the vegetables.

Pour salsa over evenly over the top.  Sprinkle with cheese and olives on top.

(If freezer cooking, freeze now.  Thaw in the fridge and cook following instructions below).

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and vegetables are tender crisp.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Husband Rating: 5 out of 10

Food for Thought: This meal could easily be adapted to be vegetarian by omitting the beef and adding an additional can of black beans.  The beef could also be subbed out for chicken or ground turkey.  I also plan to maybe add a few more vegetables, maybe an additional pepper next time, because the veggies turned out so tasty.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

It was my birthday.  We had used up the remaining white flour for pizza dough the previous day.  I wanted to make a cake and only had whole wheat flour on hand and no time to run to the store to get any other ingredients.  So, after a quick Internet search, found the recipe below.  It turned out amazing!  The cake was chocolate-y, moist, and light.  And, we even were eating cake leftovers three days later and it was still incredibly moist!  I think I may have found a new permanent cake recipe! 

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

Cake recipe adapted from www.100daysofrealfood.com

Cake Ingredients:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. baking cocoa
4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. water
2 eggs
2/3 c. oil
2 Tbsp. vanilla
butter for greasing pans

Frosting Ingredients:
6 Tbsp. butter
3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. baking cocoa
2 tsp. vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325.  Grease two round 9-in. cake pans very well.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. 

In a separate bowl, combine water, eggs, oil, and vanilla.

Make a well or hole in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients.  Mix well.

Pour batter into cake pans.

Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, to make the frosting, in a medium bowl melt butter.  Let cool slightly before adding other frosting ingredients.  Whisk well until thoroughly combined and without lumps. 

After cakes cool, frost them.  The frosting is enough to cover the outside and put a layer in between the two cakes.

If you have leftovers, simply cover to store.  We left ours sitting out on the counter.

Husband Rating: I never got one, but does it matter?  It’s chocolate!  (However, he did eat several pieces of it so I think it was probably a hit.)

Food for Thought:  I do think a dark chocolate frosting would be divine on this cake.  I didn’t have ingredients for that at the time.  Next time… I could always go for more chocolate cake!  🙂

Chicken Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust

This pizza was a bit of an experiment, well, mainly the crust.  I ran out of white flour and so decided to sub in whole wheat flour instead.  Then, realizing that whole wheat flour is a bit heavier, added some additional water to the recipe.  It tasted good but still needs a bit of work as far as texture is concerned.  I would recommend spraying the pizza pan with cooking spray or rubbing olive oil over your hands before spreading the dough on the pan. 

The toppings of the pizza themselves were delicious too and a great departure from the usual red sauce we have most other times.

Chicken Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust
Pizza Crust:
2 c. white flour
3 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. dry active yeast
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
3+ Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 1/4 c. water, room temperature
Pizza Toppings:
2-4 Tbsp. prepared pesto
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1-2 chicken breasts
1/2 to 1 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. fresh mozzarella, sliced
Instructions:
Combine flours, yeast, salt, and sugar and stir.  Add water and 2 Tbsp. olive oil.  Stir until well combined and let sit for 5 minutes to let the flour fully hydrate.
Stir additional 3-5 minutes until dough is tacky, not sticky.  If it is too sticky, add additional olive oil.  I would also consider mixing by hand, rather than with a spoon at this point.  Rub olive oil over your hands to prevent sticking.
Divide the pizza dough into two balls.  Spray a freezer bag with cooking spray and place one ball inside to freeze and use at a later time.  (simply thaw and roll out dough as you would if fresh when ready to use the extra crust). 
Spread dough over a pizza pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray or coated with olive oil.
To prepare the pizza toppings, cook the chicken breasts seasoning to taste with garlic, salt, and pepper until juices run clear and cooked through.  Shred the chicken and set aside.
Spread prepared pesto over pizza dough.  Add chicken and bell peppers.  Top with Parmesan cheese and fresh mozzarella.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the pizza for 15-18 minutes or until golden on top.
Husband Rating: 7 out of 10
Food for Thought: I am still working on the pizza dough and will report back as I make improvements; however, I won’t change the toppings combination.  More to come on this recipe…

Spicy Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

This recipe, adapted from Cooking Light magazine, turned out delicious.  I didn’t like the corn tortillas that it called for and wished I had instead done flour.  However, the rub on the pork was amazing and the salsa was delicious.  It is a great, summery meal.

Spicy Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine, September 2011
Pork:
1 chipotle chili, canned in adobo sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pork tenderloin
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Salsa:
4 one-inch thick slices pineapple
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp. red onion, thinly sliced and chopped
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt
8 tortillas
Instructions:

Mince chipotle chili and combine with the olive oil.  Rub even over the pork tenderloin.

Combine oregano, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Rub over the tenderloin and let it sit for 30-45 minutes.

Heat grill to high heat.

Grill pork tenderloin 8-10 minutes per side until cooked through (until approx. 145 degrees).  Remove from heat, keep warm, and let sit 5 minutes before chopping roughly.

To prepare salsa, grill pineapple for 5 minutes per side on medium heat. (It is helpful to spray the cold grill with cooking spray to prevent sticking).

Chop pineapple into medium chunks and combine with cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and salt.

Serve pork and salsa over tortillas.

Husband Rating: 8 out of 10

Food for Thought:   When we realized we didn’t like the corn tortillas, we at our pork and salsa over the corn and black beans I had on the side and scooped it up with tortilla chips.  It tasted great this way.  It also would be good shredded and served with traditional taco toppings (lettuce, cheese, sour cream, salsa) if you prefer.  If you would like a little more heat in the salsa, finely chop some jalapeno and add it to the mixture.

Homemade Mac-N-Cheese (with hidden veggies!)

This recipe is a great way to sneak in some veggies.  The base of the cheese sauce is a Butternut Squash “Bechamel”.  I have to admit that it is fun to use fancy cooking terms like bechamel like it’s nothing!  I honestly didn’t even know what a bechamel sauce was until earlier this year (a simple Italian white sauce that is often the base for other sauces).  This turned out delicious and the boys loved it.  The batch made enough for two meals for our family.  I baked one up right away and froze the rest.

Homemade Mac-N-Cheese

Adapted from Cooking Light, September 2011

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 5-6 cups)
2 c. chicken broth
2 1/4 c. milk
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. fat-free plain Greek yogurt
2 1/4 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
1 1/2 c. Romano cheese
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
2 c. turkey ham, cubed
1 pound uncooked noodles (I used medium shells, but anything that holds the cheese sauce works – spirals, elbows, etc.)
cooking spray
2 tsp. olive oil
1 c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until squash is tender, about 25 minutes.

Place hot squash mixture in a blender.  Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt.  Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape) and secure the lid on the blender.  Place a towel over the lid to catch any splatters.  Blend until smooth.  (You may need to do this in two batches depending on blender size; I did.)

Pour squash mixture into a bowl and stir in the Gruyere, Romano, and half of the Parmesan cheese.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain the pasta and add to the cheese mixture.  Stir in the ham at the same time and then spread evenly in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add panko and cook until golden brown (about 2-4 minutes).  Add in remaining Parmesan cheese and spread evenly over the pasta.

Bake uncovered at 375 for 25 minutes or until bubbly.  (If freezing, cover with tin foil and place in freezer before baking.  On serving day, simply thaw in fridge and bake as above or bake frozen covered for about 30 minutes before uncovering and baking additional 25-35 minutes until bubbly, hot, and golden on top).

Food for Thought: Another way to spice up this dish would be to dice up some red pepper into it or put some frozen peas in it.   I also thought that instead of ham, a few cans of tuna (drained) would be tasty. 

Steamed Sugar Snap Peas

My two-year-old ate these Sugar Snap Peas like candy!  I couldn’t keep them on his plate.  I love finding vegetable dishes that he just loves.

Steamed Sugar Snap Peas

Recipe from Cooking Light Magazine, April 2012 issue

3 c. fresh sugar snap peas
2 tsp. dried tarragon (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)
1 Tbsp. butter
salt/freshly ground black pepper to taste

Steam peas 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Combine peas, tarragon, butter, salt, and pepper.  Toss well.  Serve warm.

Grilled Tomato Basil Pizza

This is one of the those meals that you can pretty much adapt to anything you like.  We grill up individual pizzas often and adapt them to whatever toppings someone wants, or quite frankly, whatever is available in the fridge on a particular night.  This is also a great entertaining meal – have people build their own with fun toppings and different creations.  We are able to fit about 8 pizzas on our grill at one time so it goes rather quickly when feeding a larger crowd.  I unfortunately don’t have very specific measurements for this recipe so know that most are ballpark figures and that you should adapt it to your own taste preferences.

Grilled Tomato Basil Pizza

4 Pita bread rounds, not the pocket kind (we use whole wheat pitas)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. sliced cherry tomatoes
1/2 c. basil, chopped
1-2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

On each pita bread, drizzle olive oil and spread around.  Top each with desired amount of tomatoes, basil, and cheese.

Heat grill to medium-low heat.

Place pizzas on grill and turn heat down to low.  Grill for approximately 10-12 minutes or until cheese is melted and pizza is hot through.  Watch the pizzas carefully – if you cook them on too warm of a heat, they are burnt on the bottom and not hot on top.  A low temperature and patience is key to these pizzas.

Husband Rating: I forgot to ask… TBD

Food for Thought:  We use the pita bread to make all sorts of pizzas in the summer – pepperoni and green pepper, Hawaiian pizza, etc.  It works the same way as the Tomato Basil Pizza.  Simply top the pizzas as you want and cook them on low heat.  It may take a bit longer for you to cook them with more toppings but they turn out delicious and the kids love having their very own pizza, especially if we let them put the toppings on themselves!

These also work in the oven as well if it is winter or you don’t have a grill.  Simply bake them at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes or until hot through.  Again, an easy way to make individual pizzas that the kids love – great for toddler lunches!

Tex-Mex Flank Steak Meal

My husband has to travel to Phoenix for work and always loves to go to this same hole in the wall Tex-Mex place when he is there.  He says their food is the best.  So, needless to say, I was pretty excited when he said this dinner turned out better than anything he could have gotten at that restaurant!  The meal consisted of a marinated flank steak with an avocado sauce, roasted tomatoes and bell peppers, and cilantro-lime rice.  It was outstanding and probably enhanced by the fact we ate after the kids went to bed.  Somehow a meal without tears, fighting, food all over the floor and in small children’s hair is so much nicer!   (An added bonus – minus the time to marinate the meat, this meal took us less than a half an hour to put together, my kind of meal!)

Flank Steak Marinade

1/4 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. g/f soy sauce
2 green onions,chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 lb. flank steak

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or freezer bag.  Marinate for 4-24 hours in the fridge.

Heat a skillet to high heat.  Add entire contents of bag to skillet.  Cook meat 2-4 minutes per side, browning on all sides but leaving meat medium to medium rare in the middle (cook to your liking).

Remove from heat, cover with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting.  Slice thinly and serve over rice, topped with Avocado Sauce.

Avocado Sauce

2 ripe avocados
1/4 c. cilantro, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. lime juice
salt/pepper to taste

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, mash avocado with a fork until fairly smooth (think consistency of mashed baby food).  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Serve over flank steak.

Roasted Tomatoes and Bell Peppers

1 each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 c. cherry tomatoes
olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a baking dish with tin foil (for easy clean-up).  Lay vegetables out on the pan in a single layer.  Drizzle with olive oil and stir the veggies to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake veggies in the oven 20-30 minutes or until they are tender and just browned on the bottom side.  Do not stir while baking.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

1 c. brown rice
1/4 c. cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
1-2 Tbsp. lime juice

Cook brown rice according to package directions.  When it is finished stir in cilantro, butter, and 1 Tbsp. lime juice.  Taste and add additional lime juice to your taste preferences.

Husband Rating: 10 out of 10 (a first for the Wilfs!)

Food for Thought: This meal was great as is but I do think it probably could be adapted to the grill.  Simply grill the meat until medium and cook the vegetables in a grilling pan or on kabob skewers.  Yum!

Grilled Veggies

One of our favorite things to do on the grill is to cook up our veggies.  There isn’t a real formula to it as we seem to change it every time.  However, tonight’s veggies turned out great so I thought I would photograph them and document it for future reference.

Grilled Veggies
4-6 medium red potatoes
2 green zucchinis, julienne-cut
1 yellow squash, julienne-cut
olive oil
salt/pepper
Instructions:
Wash and cut potatoes into wedges (leave the skin on).  Place the potato wedges in a bowl of cold water to soak for 20-30 minutes.  *This is a tip I learned from a recent Cooking Light.  Soaking the potatoes draws out the starch and helps them cook up crispier.  This is also a great way to make sure your potatoes are crispy when baking in the oven.
Place zucchini and squash into a zipper bag and add about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Seal the bag and shake to coat all the veggies.
In a separate bag, do the same with the potato wedges.
Heat the grill to high or medium-high heat.  Using a grilling skillet, place the potatoes in the pan and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Give the pan a shake to stir and then add the veggies.  Cook for another 15-20 minutes, stirring or shaking every 7-10 minutes until potatoes are golden and slightly crispy and the veggies are tender and just on the verge of charring.
(I have a picture below of the grilling pan we use.  We just got it at the grocery store for about $8 and use it all the time!  I highly recommend having one in your kitchen.)
Husband Rating: 9 out of 10
Food for Thought: The other veggies we do on a regular basis using the same basic formula are bell peppers and red onion.  When we make that, I tend to sit and just eat straight from the serving bowl as if the peppers were candy.  It’s amazing.  Next time we make it I will take a picture for you to see how lovely and delicious they turn out!
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