Watermelon Mint Power Smoothie

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Watermelon-Smoothie copy

It’s getting hot in heeere, so take of all your clothes.  Or don’t, and cool off with a minty-fresh frozen drink instead 🙂

Heeere is here in Iowa, where it is not getting hot, but in fact, has been horrendously hot and humid all week.  The kind of hot where you just want to shower five times a day and you feel puffy and sweaty and gross no matter what, and you don’t feel like eating anything but ice cream and gallons of water.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Since this weather hit, I’ve been replacing meals with smoothies whenever possible.  I think smoothies are the best thing around during hot summer days, or illness, strenuous workout schedules or anything that might leave you dehydrated and short on electrolytes.  Smoothies are such an easy way to give yourself a ton of fluid, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein without feeling heavy.

This smoothie is particularly great in hot weather because the watermelon adds even more fluid to the mix than most fruits, and the mint is so refreshing.  It tastes amazing and gives you full servings of fruit, green veggies, healthy fats and protein, along with about a liter of fluid.  Everything you need for a sticky day!

Watermelon Mint Power Smoothie

  • 1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt or 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1 cup frozen watermelon chunks
  • 1 handful fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk or 1/4 of an avocado
  • 12 oz coconut water
  • 5-7 mint leaves or 1/4 t mint extract

Blend all ingredients in blender on high until mixture is smooth and no chunks remain.  Serve immediately.

Skinny Sparkling Mojitos

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mojitoHello!  It’s been a long time!  Things have been pretty hectic for me- we bought a house!  So, the last couple of months have been spent working on moving, packing, unpacking, cleaning the old house, and getting used to life in the new one.  I haven’t been able to do much cooking, unfortunately.  Now the things are more settled, I’m excited to get back in the kitchen and enjoy all the wonderful foods summer has to offer 🙂

One thing I love in summer is a light, refreshing cocktail to go with a laid-back dinner.  Think grilled burgers on the patio.  Wine, even white wine, always feels a bit heavy for me when it’s really hot.  And while I do love a good cocktail, many are loaded with sugar.  On top of having too many calories in combination with the metabolism-slowing effects of alcohol (yikes!), the mixture of sugar and alcohol makes me sick to my stomach.  No bueno!

Mojitos are one of my favorite summer drinks, so it was crucial for me to learn to make them with less sugar.  Enter flavored sparkling water- a blessing for those of us who don’t love sweet drinks!  I prefer the type that is totally unsweetened.  No sugar, no Splenda or Stevia.  Just the sparkling water and a little natural flavor.  There are several brands that you can find in any grocery store- Dasani, La Croix, etc. It gives me a nice break from plain water without any calories or weird chemicals. For my mojitos, I use lime-flavored water from whatever brand was on sale last.

If the totally unsweet drink just doesn’t work for you, you can definitely add some sugar or sweetener.  If I’m only adding a spoonful or so, I just sprinkle it on top of the finished drink and stir it a bit.  If you want more, it’s probably best to just go with a regular mojito recipe instead of this one.

Skinny Sparkling Mojitos

  • ice
  • 3 oz white rum
  • 10 mint leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1 lime
  • 1-12 oz can lime-flavored sparkling water
  • 2 t fine white sugar (optional)

Fill two glasses half way with ice. Pour 1.5 oz rum in each glass.  To each glass, add 1.5 oz rum and half of the mint leaves. Squeeze half of the lime into each glass.  Fill each glass to the top with the sparkling water.  Sprinkle each with 1 t sugar (optional).  Gently stir to distribute rum.  Serves 2.

Mom’s Grilled Potatoes

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grilled-potatoes

Mother’s day is next week!  To celebrate, I’m featuring one of my mom’s recipes.  She doesn’t love to cook, but she definitely has a few out of this world recipes in her arsenal.  I think every family has that one legendary recipe that everyone goes crazy for.  In mine, it’s my mom’s grilled potatoes.  They are the perfect comfort food- crispy, buttery, flavorful, and absolutely delectable.  No matter how many she makes, it’s never enough, and there are never, ever leftovers.

I have modified her recipe only very slightly- she cooks hers in a foil pan, but I use a cast iron skillet for maximum crispiness.  If you have a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, this is definitely the time to use it!  If you don’t, trust me, these are going to taste great no matter what you cook them in.  I also use shallots instead of onion- I just like their flavor more than onion.

These potatoes can be made in the oven, under the broiler too.  I’ve never made them that way but I would imagine the cooking time would be about the same.

We have eaten these as a side dish with just about every kind of entree.  They go with everything!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

M&Nwed4(110)

My mom and me! 

Mom’s Grilled Potatoes

  • 3 lbs potatoes, sliced into 1/4-1/8 inch thick slices
  • 1 small yellow onion or shallot, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 T butter, chopped into 1-inch cubes (may add more to taste)
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Place potatoes and onion in skillet and stir to combine.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place butter cubes on top of potato mixture, evenly distributing throughout the skillet.  Top with parsley.  Grill over high heat, stirring every 10 minutes, for 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender inside but crisp and golden on the outside.

Make Ahead Blueberry Kale Salad

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blueberrykalesalad

Kale salad is, hands down, my favorite veggie side dish for a time-crunched weeknight.  You can store it, dressing and all, in the fridge for at least a couple of days, it’s full of nutrients, and you can make it a million different ways so it never gets boring.

Go online and search for information on the health benefits of kale and you will find claims galore- it promotes weight loss, wards off cancer and heart disease, prevents diabetes, and even prevents wrinkles! More on that here.

You can buy pre-bagged kale salads at the grocery store in many different flavors and varieties.  I buy those a lot because they are so easy and allow me not to think too much after a long day at work, but they aren’t too friendly on the wallet.  Sometimes I think these pre-made salads make sense, even financially- it’s cheaper than buying all the ingredients to make something like it from scratch.  But, when I happened to have kale left over from another recipe and a pack of blueberries from Costco, I found this simple salad at www.natashaskitchen.com. It was as easy to mix up as any packaged one, and didn’t cost me a dime!

Toss in a little leftover roasted chicken or even shrimp to make this a fabulous brown-bag lunch.  I served mine with some barbecued chicken and my Browned Butter Skillet Cornbread.  This sweet and tangy salad was the perfect foil to spicy barbecue.

For this salad, you could buy the kale in bunches and clean it yourself, or you can buy pre-bagged, chopped kale.  I get mine at Aldi’s already chopped for like $2.  For the carrots, just use what you’ve got.  I had baby carrots that weren’t being eaten, so I chopped up some of those.  Regular carrots or even the bagged shredded carrots would work great as well.

 

Make Ahead Blueberry Kale Salad

  • 5 cups kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup craisins
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

In a large bowl, mix kale, carrots, craisins, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until well combined.  Cover with airtight lid and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.  Stir in blueberries just before serving.

2-Ingredient Black Bean Brownies

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blackbeanbrownies

I’m not much for “healthier” versions of desserts, for the most part.  Most of the time, I find them less satisfying and end up wishing I’d just eaten a little of the real thing.  There are a few exceptions to this, however.  Occasionally I run across a lightened up dessert recipe that is actually good in its own right- not necessarily because it tastes just like the original, but because I enjoy it for what it is.  Black bean brownies are one of those.

Black bean brownies have been around for a while.  I think I’ve been making these for at least 10 years and I have no idea where I got the recipe originally.  A lot of recipes for these that I’ve found online are from scratch.  Great, if you have that kind of time.  For me, if I’m craving black bean brownies, I probably am not going to be patient enough to make them the old fashioned way.

This recipe uses nothing but a can of black beans and a box of brownie mix.  No eggs, no butter.  You puree the beans very well in a food processor or blender, stir in the brownie mix, and bake as usual.  That’s all there is to it!  These brownies are moist and fudgy, and you can’t taste the black beans at all.  Really! The best part, in my opinion, is that the beans add fiber and protein, which make the brownies quite a bit more filling than regular brownies… so it’s harder for me to eat the whole pan 🙂

Just like regular brownies, these taste best if they are a bit underbaked.  I usually take them out of the oven about 5 minutes earlier than the brownie mix box says I should.

It’s best not to tell people what’s in these before they try them.  Just let them have one, then come clean and enjoy their reaction.

 

2-Ingredient Black Bean Brownies

  • 1- 14.5 oz. can black beans
  • 1 box brownie mix

Preheat oven to temperature designated on brownie mix.  Spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray.  Drain and rinse black beans very well.  Place beans in food processor or blender with about 1/4 cup water and process until beans are pureed.  Stir in brownie mix.  You may add more water as needed if mixture is too thick.  Spread brownie batter in prepared pan and bake as directed on brownie mix.  Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting and serving.

 

Green Coconut Mango Peach Smoothie

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GreenCoconutSmoothie copy

Happy spring, everyone! Here in the heartland, spring means crazy weather- shorts and t-shirts one day, down parkas the next.  With the weather come a plethora of springtime illnesses.  Allergies, viral infections, you name it, and you or someone you know have it.

At my workplace, we had an outbreak of norovirus last week.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a VERY unpleasant GI infection.  If you are familiar, you know VERY unpleasant is probably an understatement 🙂  When one of my co-workers was asking what she should do to feel better, this smoothie, full of protein, fruit, veggies and fluids, immediately came to mind.

I have the great fortune of working in a university research department with a metabolic kitchen, and a cook who has worked in that kitchen for something like 30 years.  His collection of research-based recipes is incredible- he has a recipe for just about every kind of ailment.  He told me about this smoothie recipe he had made for some research subjects using coconut milk.  Sounded yummy to me!

The research doctor in charge of the study with the delicious smoothies was Terry Wahls, who used a research-based diet to treat her own multiple sclerosis.  She was in a wheelchair to begin with, and now she walks without assistance!  I’m told that she is now testing the diet on subjects with multiple sclerosis and also on people with a variety of other autoimmune and neurological diseases.  I have read her book, The Wahls Protocol.  The diet is quite strict and I don’t think I would be able to follow it unless I were seriously ill myself.  However, I decided to incorporate some elements of it into my daily routine.  Eating more berries, dark leafy greens, and fewer refined carbs is probably a good idea for anyone.  Plus, any excuse to eat more coconut 😉

I started adding coconut milk to my regular smoothie recipe after hearing about the research kitchen recipe mostly because it just sounded really tasty.  However, science has shown that you do need to eat some fat with your vegetables to absorb the nutrients they provide.  More about that here.  If you aren’t a fan of coconut, avocado is a good smoothie additive as well, but not as convenient since cut avocados turn brown on you.  Also, my recipe is not paleo since I use Greek yogurt for protein, but it would be quite easy to adapt this to a paleo diet by either leaving out the yogurt or replacing it with a paleo protein supplement.

 

Green Coconut Smoothie

  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 1 peach, pitted
  • 1 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
  • 1.5 cups coconut water
  • 0.5 cup coconut milk
  • 1 handful fresh spinach
  • 1 t vanilla

Place all ingredients in blender.  Blend on high until smooth.  Serve immediately.  Makes about 1 liter.

 

Make-Ahead Breakfast: Overnight Oats in a Jar

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overnightoats

Breakfast- the most important meal of the day, and also the most difficult to fit into your day.  At least it is for those of us who hit snooze one too many times every. single. morning.  For years the problem for me was compounded by the fact that I worked 12-hour nursing shifts that started at 7 am.  Breakfast had to be quick, easy, filling, and nutritious enough to fuel me until 1 or 2 pm when (if) I finally got to eat something again.

I learned about overnight oats for the first time on www.grocerybudget101.com, and found them to be one of the most convenient and versatile breakfasts I’d ever encountered.  They only take a few minutes to make, require no cooking, and can be made days in advance.  There are lots of different recipes and flavors, so most people will find one they love.  And as long as you put them in a leak-proof container, you can throw them in your bag and tote them anywhere.

These are usually eaten cold, but they are just as delicious hot, if that’s what you prefer.  There are recipes out there that use all kinds of fruit, like bananas and peaches, but I personally stick to those that don’t brown, such as berries and cherries.  I do also sometimes like to make mine chocolate flavored- I just add a tablespoon or two of unsweetened cocoa powder to the mix.

These are great when you have a busy week at work ahead of you, and know you won’t have time in the morning.  I often make five servings at once so I have one for every day of my work week.

Overnight oats are an excellent thing to have on hand when you have houseguests- if they wake up in the morning before you, they can just grab a jar of the oats and a spoon and their breakfast is handled.  No hungry houseguests for you.  No awkward waiting around for you to wake up and make breakfast for them.  Win-win.

Overnight Oats in a Jar (Two Servings)

  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 T chia seeds
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 T maple syrup, brown sugar or white sugar
  • 1/4 t cinnamon (optional)
  • 2 cups fresh berries or cherries

In a large bowl, combine oats, almond milk, yogurt, chia seeds, vanilla, syrup, and cinnamon.  Divide oat mixture evenly among two pint-sized, leak-proof containers (canning jars work well).  Add 1 cup of fruit to each container.  Seal each container and place in refrigerator overnight before serving.

 

Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili

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whitechili-copyToday is National Chili Day!  There’s no better way to warm up on a cold Sunday than with a bowl of hot, spicy chili.  Chili is one of the best comfort foods, in my opinion, because there are a million different ways to make it and eat it, it can be very healthy.

I have been making this white chicken chili for so long, I don’t even remember where I got the recipe.  I don’t think it was supposed to be a slow cooker recipe, but at some point, like most of my old recipes, I just started making it in the slow cooker.  There are a lot of white chili recipes out there, but I’ve stuck with this one over the years because it is simpler and has fewer ingredients than a lot of the others I’ve found.

This is a great recipe to make for a crowd.  The ingredients aren’t expensive, it only takes a few minutes to make a whole bunch of it, and people love it!  It tastes great with all kinds of chili toppings too- a variety of cheeses, green onions, avocados, tortilla chips, sour cream, cilantro, or whatever else you can think of.

The last time I made this, I paired it with a batch of my Browned Butter Skillet Cornbread and a green salad.  Needless to say, we had a very happy household that night 🙂

 

Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili

  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, uncooked
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2- 4 oz cans green chile peppers
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 1.5 t cayenne pepper
  • 5-14.5 oz cans great northern beans, undrained

Place all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours or until chicken is cooked through.  When ready to serve, shred chicken with two forks and stir chili thoroughly.  Serve hot and garnish with desired toppings.

 

Breakfast Banana Split!

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BananaSplit

Dessert for breakfast? Love!  When you think about it, a lot of breakfast and brunch foods are pretty much dessert- donuts, pancakes with syrup, waffles, French toast, cinnamon rolls.  Here’s your chance to eat something that looks and tastes a lot like a dessert, but it’s all healthy!

This banana split is really just fruit, yogurt, peanut butter and granola, and takes only a couple of minutes to prepare.  The presentation is what makes it special.  Kids and houseguests will love it, and you won’t feel deprived if you swap the usual weekend brunch calorie bomb foods for this treat.  Extra points if you serve it in an actual banana split dish 🙂

On top of being beautiful and appetizing, there is an excellent balance of nutrients here- protein, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats.  It’s a perfect meal when you have a big day ahead of you.


Another great thing about this recipe is you can customize it.  Use whatever fruit, cereal and nut butter you like and have on hand.  Top it with nuts and a cherry if that makes you happy, or even sprinkles (or Fruity Pebbles) for kids!

 

Breakfast Banana Split

  • 1 Banana
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 1 T peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup fruit (berries, cherries, pineapple, and/or peaches work well)
  • 1/4 cup granola
  • 1/2 T honey or maple syrup*

Split banana in half lengthwise and place in bottom of bowl or banana split dish.  Top with yogurt, then peanut butter, then fruit, then granola, then drizzle with honey or maple syrup.

*Honey or maple syrup is optional.  I only use it when I use unsweetened, unflavored yogurt.  If I use sweetened yogurt, I omit.

 

Browned Butter Skillet Cornbread Makeover

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brownbuttercornbread

Cornbread is one of my favorite side dishes with barbecue, chili or fish.  Which, of course, means it’s not usually the healthiest thing to eat.  Loaded with flour, butter, honey and buttermilk, this fat and carb bomb is definitely not something we can eat every day and expect to fit into our clothes for long.

I recently ran across this browned butter skillet cornbread recipe from the New York Times and knew right away I could make it healthier without sacrificing the flavor or texture.  The browned butter, to be honest, tastes glorious!  It adds natural sweetness that isn’t present in most cornbread recipes, and by cooking it in a skillet, we get a great texture, too.  I swapped wheat flour for the white, subbed a mixture of milk and Greek yogurt for the buttermilk, and decreased the amount of maple syrup.  I also added extra egg because wheat flour creates a more dense texture, and egg helps counter that.

My husband raved all night about this cornbread, and says this is the only kind I can make from now on!  Normally we might have put some butter and/or honey on it, but this needed no adornments at all.  It was flavorful and the texture was perfect as is- not bad for a “diet” recipe 😉

 

Browned Butter Skillet Cornbread Makeover

  • 6 T butter
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 T baking powder
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place butter in 8 or 9 inch ovenproof skillet, and melt on stove over medium heat.  Swirl skillet to coat bottom and sides with butter.  Cook until butter turns a deep brown and is no longer foamy.

Pour browned butter into a large bowl, being sure to leave the bottom and sides of skillet coated with butter.  Whisk in the maple syrup, then whisk in the Greek yogurt and milk.  Ensure mixture is cool to the touch, then add eggs.  Whisk in cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Pour batter into the skillet.  Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center emerges clean, about 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool in skillet for about 10 minutes before serving.