Balsamic Vinaigrette

Balsamic Vinaigrette

This has been our current favorite for salads for quite a while. We may drift off to something else for a bit, but we always come back to this one. Partly because it’s so easy to make. Even if we’ve already sat down for dinner and I realize we’re out. It literally takes about a minute to make. And it’s delicious.

I use an empty jam jar that is on the small side. I put 2 spoonfuls of Dijon mustard in first. Then I fill the jar about a third of the way with balsamic vinegar. Then olive oil until the jar is about 2/3 of the way full. Big pinch of salt and pepper. Shake and you’re done. It lasts right in your pantry for at least a week. The olive oil will solidify in the fridge. Which is fine, you will just need to let it warm up to room temperature if you want to go that route. We leave it in the pantry until it’s used up.

What I love about making your own dressing is how much you can play around with the amounts. If this is too tangy for you, decrease the balsamic vinegar/increase the olive oil. You can also add sugar 1/2 tsp at a time or use maple syrup for the sweetener. Dip a piece of lettuce in and taste as you go.

Cucumber Salad

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Over the years I feel like I’ve gotten the hang of dinner.  I’ve come a long way from the 5 pm, “What’s for dinner?”  With my answer, “I don’t know, what do you feel like?”  It’s no wonder we ate a lot of cereal for dinner when we first got married.  And DiGiorno Pizza, lol!  I do have fond memories of eating at the coffee table watching Friends.  Just the two of us.  Nowadays, we’re a family of 5.  And the baby stage is long behind us.  So while I’ve gotten the hang of planning meals, making the grocery list, and making dinner nightly, sometimes the veggies on the side were just plain boring.  Frozen peas anyone?

My friend Lois gave me this recipe.  I decreased the sugar of course!  And used half sugar/half coconut palm sugar.  (My kids like to make cinnamon-sugar toast for breakfast sometimes.  I mixed the coconut palm sugar into the sugar canister in an effort to feel better about this breakfast choice.)  This cucumber salad is tangy thanks to the vinegar and it goes really well with all kinds of teriyaki, Szechuan, stir-fry, or most types of asian dishes.

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Super quick and easy too!  Chop 4 cucumbers.  We have pretty small cucumbers here, so you may need less if yours are bigger.

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Mix up the sauce in a medium sized bowl.  Just rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce, and sugar.  That’s it.

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The original recipe called for 1/4 cup of sugar.  I did about a 1/8 cup.  Half Demerara sugar and half coconut palm sugar.

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Add the cucumbers and it’s all set.  You can make it ahead of time to let the flavors meld.

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Cucumber Salad

  • 3-4 medium cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup white or rice vinegar
  • 2-3 T sweet chili sauce
  • 1/8-1/4 cup sugar
  1. Slice the cucumbers in half, lengthwise.  Chop into half moon shapes, about 1/4 inch
  2. Mix together in a medium bowl the rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce, and sugar mixture (if you are using part or all coconut palm sugar.)
  3. Add the cucumbers to the vinegar mixture, stir, let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Healthier Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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I should probably begin by saying that I normally don’t like oatmeal raisin cookies. In the past, if I was offered one the only reason I would have taken it would be if I thought they were chocolate chip cookies with oatmeal. And then I’d take a bite and realize I’d been ripped off.  Back in the day if a dessert didn’t have chocolate in it, I was not on board.  My how things have changed! Living in Italy is mostly to blame. Those Italians make delicious concoctions out of almonds. And pistachios. For realz as my California friends like to say.  These cookies have neither almonds or pistachios.  But they do have toasted pecans.

My second confession about these cookies; I almost always make them with dried cherries. But we still call them Oatmeal Raisin. Huh?  The first time I subbed in cherries I realized I was out of raisins after I started baking and I had already hopped on my bike once because I didn’t have enough oats.  Two trips to the store during one batch of cookies?  Not going to happen.  Obviously, I should have made sure I had all the ingredients prior to starting.  Unfortunately, that’s not how I roll.

So I know I said I don’t like oatmeal raisin cookies, but these?  Are delicious!  I still don’t care for oatmeal raisin in general, but these are an exception.  Maybe it’s the the pecans?

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These cookies were adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s version.  I cut the sugar in half, traded part of the sugar for coconut palm sugar, and changed the flour to part almond, part whole spelt.  If you don’t have almond flour you can use all whole spelt, whole wheat, or even all-purpose.  I haven’t tried it with buckwheat flour.  Yet.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  You’re going to toast the pecans first.  I used to not like nuts in my cookies either.  Perhaps I’ve finally grown up?

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cup pecans
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup whole spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 1/2 cups raisins (or dried cherries)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Toast the pecans in the oven for 5 minutes.  Allow to cool a bit before coarsely chopping.
  3. While the pecans are toasting, cream (beat) the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl/bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the eggs one at at time and the vanilla, beating after each addition.
  4. In another mixing bowl add the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Give it a stir with a whisk to break up any clumps.  Or you can sift it.
  5. In batches add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.  Mix until combined.
  6. Using a small scoop, drop about a tablespoon or so of dough onto your parchment lined baking sheet.  Press down just a bit to flatten the cookie.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until lightly golden.  Cool on a rack.  If you like your cookies chewier, cool on the baking sheet.

 

Power Balls

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This is one of those great after school snacks that comes together quickly, is full of healthy ingredients, but feels like a treat for the kids.  My husband loves this one too!

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Pour 1/3 cup honey, 1/2 cup peanut butter, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract into a medium bowl.  Stir well.  If you don’t have the natural peanut butter that is a bit soft, microwave your peanut butter for 30 seconds, then add the honey and vanilla to it.

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Pour the dry ingredients into a separate bowl.

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Stir to combine.

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Pour the dry ingredients into the honey and peanut butter mixture.  Mix well.

Here you can go two routes.  The first:  roll into balls and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Or the less sticky route…

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes or overnight.  Then roll into balls.  Store in the fridge.

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Power Balls

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup flaxmeal
  • 2T chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup millet (rinsed)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 2T mini chocolate chips
  • pinch of salt
  1. Pour honey, peanut butter, and  vanilla extract into a medium bowl. Stir well. If you don’t have the natural peanut butter that is a bit soft, microwave your peanut butter for 30 seconds, then add the honey and vanilla to it.
  2. Put the dry ingredients (oatmeal-pinch of salt) in separate mixing bowl.   Stir.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the honey peanut butter mixture and mix well.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes-24 hours.  Then roll into balls and serve.  Or roll into balls immediately, then refrigerate for 15 minutes and serve.  Store these in the fridge.  They keep for several days.

Storing Celery

I’m not sure if it’s an overseas thing, but whenever I buy celery it was going from crisp and delish to soft and bendy in a matter of days.  So I turned to google.  I tried a couple of popular methods for storage to make it last longer.  This is the one that worked best for me.

Wash, cut, and dry the celery.  Make sure the celery is completely dry.

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Then wrap with a paper towel, followed by an outer layer of aluminum foil.  The celery stays fresh for a couple of weeks this way.  That’s it!

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Pomegranates: freeing the seeds without the mess

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I’ve been enjoying pomegranates for years, but only recently learned to score the skin.  I’ve used the ‘close my eyes and just cut through the pomegranate and hope I don’t stain the counter or my shirt’ method.  I’ve used the ‘underwater’ method, where the seeds sink, the rest floats, and all juice is contained.  But scoring the pomegranate is my favorite.  If you score the skin (i.e. cut part of the way through it), you can then pull apart the two sides without breaking open any of the seeds.  Or arils as they are also called.  Who actually calls them this is beyond me.  I’m sticking with seeds.    IMG_6126

No juice=no stains!

UnknownWhat is your preferred method to seed a pomegranate?  I attempted the whacking method for all of .5 seconds before I determined that wasn’t for me.

Smoked Almonds

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This has quickly become a new favorite snack for my husband and me.  And it’s ridiculously simple and fast to make.  My husband has a big jar of these in his office, I often take a little bag of these on the go for a long day out or eat them right out of the pantry.  Out of my 3 children, only one goes for these.  But if 3/5 like something, that’s a win, right?

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You’ll need some olive oil and smoked sea salt.

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Start with raw almonds, I use anywhere from 1-3 cups.  Use 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of smoked salt per cup of almonds.  Toss well.

IMG_6124Spread the coated almonds on a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake at 375 F for about 11-13 minutes.  Take a peek at the 11 minute mark so you don’t burn them!

IMG_6132Allow to cool thoroughly on the baking sheet before eating or storing.  Enjoy!  I use an empty glass honey jar to store these.

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Smoked Almonds:

  • 1-3 cups raw almonds
  • 1-3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 T- 1 1/2 T smoked sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Measure out almonds, place in a bowl.
  3. Add olive oil and smoked sea salt, toss well.
  4. Put almonds on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 F for 11-13 minutes
  6. Cool before eating or storing.

Adapted from Giada’s Feel Good Food

Note:  These are high in sodium, enjoy in moderation!