Food

WIAW Oats, Kale, and Chipotle

My first WIAW! I love looking at everyone’s mid-week eats and decided to join in the fun.  Being the literal person that I am, I took “What I Ate Wednesday” to mean to photograph and post everything consumed today, Wednesday. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t even have a foot out the door this morning and I noticed WIAW posts popping up. Apparently most people post what they ate last Wednesday, or what they ate the previous day, or any other day they choose. Maybe this is why it’s not called “What I Ate ON Wednesday”. 😦 Ah, the omission of one little word. For me, this revelation means that today’s entry is being posted later than most.
WIAW Title Nine Lunch Bag

4 out of my 5 (or 6) meals are generally eaten at work, which means presentation lacks while function wins. I am still on the hunt for the perfect clean eating cooler or bento box. Until then, I bring all my eats in glass (or a few plastic) containers and baggies, and haul them in a tote bag. We visited the Title Nine store in Madison over the weekend, and they packaged my purchase in this cheerful little bag which has now become my temporary lunch tote.

Meal 1: Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats

WIAW Overnight Oats

Overnight oats are so easy! I prefer my oats warm, especially when your furnace goes out on one of the coldest nights of the year; you really don’t want cold oats. I mix it up the night before, put in the fridge, and when I get to work I microwave for 30 seconds to take the chill off. This particular combo was so tasty! I also prefer my oats pretty thick, so if you like yours a bit more watery, wait until morning to see how it looks and add more almond milk as needed. For me, this is the perfect ratio for thick & creamy oats. Here’s my little “recipe”:

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Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 1 T Dried Tart Cherries
  • 1 T Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams

Directions

  1. Mix oats, almond milk, and cherries in a covered container and place in fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, microwave container for 30 seconds (or eat cold, if you are into that).
  3. Top with chocolate peanut butter.

Serves 1
288 calories, 42 carbs, 12 fat, 9 protein

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I also added some fresh sliced strawberries to today’s oats.

Meal 2: Alouette Spreadable Italian Herb Cheese Portion with Crunchmaster Crackers

WIAW Crunchmaster Crackers from Costco

These are the new competition to Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges. They come in foil-wrapped 40-calorie portions which makes it easy to throw in a lunch bag. Very smooth and easy to spread. These Crunchmaster Multigrain Crackers are my current favorite cracker. We buy a big box at Costco. They are gluten-free, but do contain soy from the tamari (soy sauce) they use to flavor it with.

Meal 3: Raw Kale Salad with Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds & Poppyseed Dressing, Topped with Sliced Cucumbers, Hard-Boiled Eggs & Baby Carrots

WIAW Kale Salad

WIAW Eggs and Carrots

This bagged Sweet Kale Salad by Eat Smart is pretty good! It contains raw finely chopped broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and chicory with a packet of dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds for a topping. It also comes with a poppyseed dressing which is quite good and works well with the greens. I topped my salad with some cucumbers for a watery crunch, and two hard-boiled eggs for protein. I also had some baby carrots (regular carrots are preferred, but these were actually cheaper that week).

Meal 4: Chobani Apple Cinnamon Greek Yogurt & Earnest Eats Superfood Trail Mix Bar

WIAW Chobani and Earnest Eats

My favorite Chobani flavor. It was my favorite last year, and still is today. I also wanted something chewy, and these bars from Earnest Eats get the job done.

WIAW Starbucks Americano

On my way home from work, I stopped for an Americano at Starbucks for my evening winter commute. This was my first coffee of the day! Surprisingly, I did not miss the early morning jolt, but I have to admit that this afternoon cup tasted wonderful and made the scenery of frozen cornfields seem less wicked.

Meal 5: Chipotle Bowl with Brown Rice, Barbacoa, Fajita Vegetables, Tomato Salsa & Green Tomatillo Salsa

WIAW Chipotle Bowl

Normally I’d have a salad at Chipotle, but I had a salad for lunch and wanted something warmer so I went with the bowl topped with lots of Tabasco. I can never finish a whole bowl myself, so I saved half of this and will have it for a snack or lunch tomorrow.

Maybe next week I’ll have to do “What I Ate On Tuesday, But Blogged About On Wednesday” to join in the fun a little earlier. 😉

What was your favorite food of the day? Do you feel that keeping a visual food diary helps to keep you accountable on your nutrition goals? Do you eat most of your meals at work?

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Top 15 Healthy Foods From Costco

Back in those dark days before we became Costco members, I associated this warehouse store with over-processed frozen convenience foods and gallon jugs of mayo. I heard stories from co-workers who bought large containers of ranch dressing, and despite their best efforts to dunk everything they consumed into it, most of the dressing ended up in the trash as the expiration date came too quickly. I saw egg rolls and pizzas and other high-calorie, low-nutrient frozen ready-to-go meals in the freezers of people I knew. As a family of two who prefers clean eating, Costco never seemed right for us. Then one Christmas we received a Costco membership as a gift and my perspective changed; big time.

There are many healthy, nutritious foods at Costco that are in reasonably sized containers that a small family (remember, there are just two of us!) can eat without waste. I created this shopping list for those who’ve never been to Costco and are curious if a membership would be worth it to them, or for current members who are looking to add a few new healthy items to their cart this week.

Without further ado, here are my personal top 15 healthy food picks from Costco.

Almond Butter

Our Costco membership pays for itself in the savings on almond butter alone. Not kidding. These jars of MaraNatha are larger than the ones at most grocers (26 oz. vs. 16 oz.), and cost less. We probably go through one jar a month in our house.

MaraNatha Almond Butter from Costco

Blueberries

While all of their fresh fruit options are good, I find that we purchase blueberries most often. A carton will usually last us 5 days. They also sell frozen blueberries in a giant bag for a really, really good price that we keep in the freezer for when the fresh berries run out.

Costco Fresh Blueberries

Ground Turkey

Convenient 4-packs make it easy to pop a few in the freezer if you don’t plan to cook it all at once. I love my turkey meatloaf muffins, and we use turkey in casseroles or pasta sauce over spaghetti squash.

Costco Ground Turkey

Eggs

From hard-boiled to egg-in-a-cup concoctions, I love having a few dozen eggs in the fridge. Ever since we had to give up our backyard hens, I’ve missed having fresh eggs. While not as good as the straight-from-the-coop that we’d like, these eggs are a good replacement.

Costco Organic Brown Eggs

Greek Yogurt

Yes, Costco sells the Fage Total 0% yogurt that is a staple in most healthy kitchens, but lately I’ve been digging the flavor of this Jalapeno Greek Yogurt Dip. I hesitated to add it to my list as the protein is very low for greek yogurt (1 gram) then their website lists 3g, which makes me wonder. It also has canola oil, but overall is pretty decent. If that is not for you, buy the Fage and mix in your own spices and diced peppers, but for convenience sake this makes it into my cart. Carrots and sugar snap peas are delightful dipped in this stuff. It’s like crack; you’ve been warned.

Costco Jalapeno Greek Yogurt

Medjool Dates

Sometimes a girl just has to have something sweet! Lately I’ve been into making homemade Larabars and these dates are the sweet foundation to my tasty bars. A friend recently told me about how she enjoys a date topped with almond butter, and how she also made brownies that were fruit-sweetened with dates. The ideas to use these are endless.

Medjool Dates from Costco

Bananas

We end up freezing most of these for smoothies, but we also eat them for snacks or on top of oatmeal.

Dole Bananas

Coconut Oil

Yes! Awesome price on this, and is divine in baked goods or regular cooking. I recently browned some chuck roast in coconut oil for a Sunday slow cooker recipe. You can also use it on your skin and hair. Check out 47 Uses For Coconut Oil for more ideas.

Coconut Oil

Spinach

A huge 1 lb. container of Earthbound Farm organic spinach from Costco is often the same price as the small bag that you’d find in your typical grocer. I love how the container has a resealable lid, making it easy to grab handfuls of spinach for green monsters. This container also seems to keep the greens fresher for longer, when compared to a traditional plastic bag.

Earthbound Farm Organic Spinach

Brussels Sprouts

The veggie options are Costco are really good! It is hard to pick a favorite, but lately we’ve been enjoying their brussels sprouts as a second favorite to spinach. I love to quarter these are roast them as a side dish for just about any meal.

Brussels Sprouts

Avocados

A whole bag of perfect avocados? I’ve never had problems with these. Unlike supermarket avocados that are sold loose (and subjected to much handling and squeezing) these are virtually untouched by other shoppers. They make take a few days to ripen on the kitchen counter, but are well worth it for perfect, unblemished, non-stringy avocados.

Costco Avocados

Salmon

Costco always has fresh salmon for sale, but I am a bit weirded out with fresh salmon (you know, the whole possibility of worms thing). I prefer it frozen, that way I also don’t feel obligated to eat 2 lbs. of salmon in one sitting. While Costco sells several varieties of frozen salmon (salmon burgers, marinated salmon, and another plain variety) the wild caught sockeye is the one I grab. Each filet is individually wrapped and portioned, making it easy to grab what you need to thaw for dinner.

Costco Sockeye Salmon

Vegetable Broth

The price on this amazes me for 6 cartons (that’s 24 cups!). Veggie broth is the perfect base for nearly any soup, or to de-glaze a pan, or to add to cooked veggies. A great pantry staple!

Pacific Vegetable Broth

Almond Milk

Costco is now carrying 6-packs of the unsweetened vanilla almond milk that is a staple in nearly every healthy living blogger’s (HLB) kitchen. We use this in smoothies, baked goods, and overnight oats. I love how they are the regular-sized cartons, and are shelf stable so our fridge doesn’t get overloaded at once. The jury is out on just how healthy (or unhealthy) almond milk really is, but it tastes good, is gentle on my stomach and I will continue to use it since I stay away from soy milk.

Almond Milk

Vitamin D3

Although not a food, this is a good buy in my book. Living up north, and spending most of my days inside of a cubicle, I don’t get a lot of sun. Taking these makes me feel so good, and we hardly ever get sick in our house. This is Vitamin D3 from cholecalciferol, which is the one you want (unless you are vegan).

Kirkland Vitamin D3

I didn’t bother to list prices with each item, as I have found that prices often change with the season and could vary by region. I can vouch that we pay significantly less for all these items than we would at the typical grocery store. These are all items that we use frequently so they rarely go to waste (okay, sometimes I can’t keep up with all that spinach!).

Costco does have its share of unhealthy eats, and unfortunately I see lots of people pushing carts filled with junk food (like those pizzas with the obnoxious amount of pepperoni on them, or boxes of frozen microwave cheeseburgers). Just like any grocery store, it is your choice what you decide to put in your cart, and ultimately in your body. Despite this, there are plenty of food and nutritional items for those who are into clean eating and healthy eating. A lot of these items also work with a gluten-free or Paleo lifestyle.

My one complaint is that I wish Costco’s “food court” had healthier options. The only thing they offer is a Chicken Caesar Salad (which you could leave the dressing off). Everything else is either churros, pizza, fried chicken rolls, or ice cream. It would be nice to have some healthier options, especially since the food court is popular with families with children.

Well there you have it, my go-to clean eating shopping list for Costco. While these are my current top 15, there are plenty of other things that could have rounded my list up to a top 20, or even top 30. 🙂 Ground bison, raw nuts, kale salad, and other healthy foods that we enjoy from Costco; what are yours?

I am not a registered dietician or nutritionist. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my opinion. You should always do your own research when it comes to exercise and nutrition or consult a doctor. 🙂
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Panera Hidden Menu Review

Last week, I stumbled upon Panera’s Hidden Menu. This is their new off-the-menu – menu – that can only be found online. From first glance, it appears that the items are all gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and paleo. Haven’t confirmed this, but it is probably a good bet.

The options looked very healthy, and I’m all for having fun with my food. I am not a big fan of Panera’s regular menu, but they I like their creativity with this campaign and it proved to be a great marketing strategy to get me through the door.

My first trip was during lunch and I ordered the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad which was described as all-natural, antibiotic-free chicken, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, apple-wood smoked bacon, diced eggs, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. The girl at the cash register said I was her first person to order off this “secret” menu and she was excited to hear what I thought of the food. Unfortunately when I got my food, it was not the Power Mediterranean Salad. The salad that I received had chicken and spinach, but also had sliced almonds, feta and other ingredients. I explained that it was not what I ordered but the salad-maker seemed convinced that it was correct. I took my salad to whom I assumed was the manager and explained my situation, showed him my receipt (which was rung in correctly, as far as I could tell) and showed him my phone with the photo of what I should have received. He quickly corrected it and said it was a new thing. Normally I wouldn’t “complain” and would just eat it, but I was really wanting to try the item I ordered and decided to speak up to get what I want. While I was waiting for salad #2, I saw him fumbling around trying to find the laminated card that showed how to make it. The other employees seemed a bit confused about the whole matter and it was about 10 minutes of wasted time on my 30 minute lunch break. When I finally received the salad, it was tasty and looked very similar to the photograph.

Here is the photograph from the Panera Blog:

Panera Hidden Menu Power Med Chicken Salad

Here is what I got (the second time):

Actual Med Chicken Salad from Panera Hidden Menu

Pretty close, appearance-wise. Overall I enjoyed it, but Panera you need to do something about your hard-boiled eggs! They are so tiny and flavorless with a spongy texture, not fresh-boiled tasting at all. Another nearby restaurant makes up a beautiful cobb salad that has good hard-boiled eggs, so I know it can be done in the fast food service industry.

My second trip was over the weekend for Sunday breakfast. I am at home on the weekends, so we went to a different Panera location that is closer to our home and ordered the Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak which is described as two all-natural eggs, seared top sirloin, sliced avocado & tomatoes. Again, the cashier said I was the first person to order off the menu. Same as the last cashier, she seemed excited that someone was ordering an item from this menu. Mr. Nine noticed a small QR code placed on the front of the cash register that said “Hidden Menu”. I completely overlooked it amongst the display of cookies, gift cards, and other things that clutter the POP display. Indeed, the menu is hidden! Once again, the “cook” was unknowing of how to prepare my meal. A cashier (manager?) walked over to help him get started, showing him the laminated sheet with the steps. It took awhile, and there was a heavy sigh as the cook had to go into the back to get an avocado, and then cut it for my order, but it was made with the correct ingredients. They say you eat with your eyes first, and sadly this bowl was not very visually appealing! It looked nothing like the photo online, and my “seared top sirloin” was more like cold roast beef deli meat. Eh.

Here is the tempting food photography that Panera lures you in with:

Panera Hidden Menu Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with SteakHere is what I received:

Actual Power Breakfast Bowl from Panera Hidden Menu

Even my camera was a little scared of this concoction, as proved by the blurry photo. 😉 The whole dish was served cold (except for the eggs, which never stay warm for long). The flavor was okay, for what it was, but it was ridiculously hard to eat! I want all Panera employees and management to sit down and try to eat this bowl with the fork and spoon provided. There is a lot of cutting required (of the egg, tomato, and lunch meat) and it is impossible to cut it into bites with just a fork and spoon inside of the bowl. I thought about getting up to ask for a knife (do they even have knives?) but it would still prove difficult to cut inside of a bowl because of its concave shape. It took awhile to cut and eat, but there wasn’t much food here so it was a good thing that I got to make each bite last a little longer. Would I order this again? Probably not anytime soon, but it has inspired me to create my own version at home!

The Panera hidden / secret menu is a cute and novel idea, but needs some work. Employees need to be better educated on how to make these dishes, and some further thought needs to go into some things like the hard-boiled eggs, the “steak”, and how easy it is to eat. I may go back another time (Hummus Chicken Bowl, anyone?) because they say that to see change you must vote with your wallet and I applaud them for creating healthier items that cater to the gluten-free and dairy-free crowds. Maybe if I vote a third time, it will help them realize there is an interest and work on improving and expanding.

If you have dietary restrictions, or are just looking for a lower-calorie, healthier fast food option, do give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Week’s Eats

In a rut and looking for some dinner ideas? Here is what I’ve been making this past week.

Hot Garlic Shrimp and Asparagus

Hot Garlic Shrimp and Asparagus from Eating Bird Food

My Notes: Flavorful and quick! We only used 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and that was plenty. I’d think that the 1-2 teaspoons the recipe calls for might be too much for most people. You can always start out with less and add more! I added some red and green bell pepper, plus baby spinach, to increase the veggie-ness.

Elana's Pantry Chocolate Chip Scones

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Scones

Chocolate Chip Scones from The Almond Flour Cookbook

My Notes: Makes 12 (not 16). I wouldn’t call these scones as they lack the classic scone texture, but they taste like excellent pillowy cake-like chocolate chip cookies. Try them! I’ve made these twice in one week – once with dark chocolate chips and once with Enjoy Life! chocolate chips.

Clean Eating Apple Grilled Cheese

Apple Grilled Cheese with Grainy Mustard from Clean Eating

My Notes: Added smoked turkey for more protein, and ate with sliced honeycrisp apple and salt & pepper pop chips! Simple, super fast lunch!

Cauliflower Crust Pizza Closeup

Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Veggies

Cauliflower Crust Pizza from Janetha at Meals & Moves

My Notes: Made a much smaller pizza than expected. Used up some veggies on hand (bell peppers and mushrooms). Baked on parchment-lined baking sheet, flipping before adding toppings. Not as crispy as I like my crusts, but nice and “bread-like”. Interesting concept, would try again with some changes, but good base recipe if you want to try working with cauliflower dough.

Tandoor Chef Pizza

Tandoor Chef Roasted Eggplant Naan Pizza

Okay, this isn’t homemade, but it’s out of this world! My local co-op had this on sale for $2.24 and it is worth every penny. The eggplant gets crispy, has a slight spice to it, and the naan crust is fantastic. The only downside is that these pizzas are small and soooo good that I can easily eat a whole one myself, and I do.

Clean Eating Shepherds Pie

Shepherd’s Pie with Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potato Crust from Clean Eating

My Notes: Liked this more than I thought I would! Good for a cold autumn night. Leftovers were equally as tasty.

All of the above are easy to make and QUICK. I work full-time and don’t have a lot of time and energy to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Most of the recipes I make are quick and require few ingredients.

What are you cooking up this week?

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Spicy Stuffed Peppers

Here is the recipe that I mentioned yesterday: Spicy Stuffed Peppers!

Paleo Gluten-Free Stuffed Bell Peppers

I wanted something inexpensive, simple, and tasty that could be a one-dish oven meal and these peppers did not disappoint. The subtle kick from a sriracha-laced glaze and crushed red pepper-spiked filling gave these peppers a dose of flavor. Shredded raw cauliflower takes the place of rice and cheese, while sneaking in extra nutrients. Nobody would ever guess that cauliflower is inside!

RECIPE

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Spicy Stuffed Peppers

This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and paleo-friendly.

Ingredients

  • 6 bell peppers (any color, I used half green and half red)
  • 1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 cups cauliflower, shredded (see note below)
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce*

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut tops off bell peppers, discarding membranes and seeds. Place peppers cut-side up in a 11″ x 7″ baking dish. Save tops for another use.
  3. In a large skillet, brown ground beef and onions over medium heat until meat is cooked throughout and no longer pink, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes through shredded cauliflower, stirring until combined and most of liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Turn off heat.
  4. Fill prepared peppers with ground beef mixture.
  5. In a small bowl, combine tomato sauce, sriracha, and worcestershire. Spread tomato sauce mixture over the tops of the peppers, completely covering the beef filling.
  6. Bake uncovered, in a 350 degree oven, for 1 hour.

Serves 6.

Notes:

*Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is gluten-free and was reformulated a few years ago to also be soy-free, but check label if soy is a concern to you, or simply omit.

I use 93% lean ground beef so there is little fat leftover in the skillet. If you find that you have a lot of grease after browning, feel free to drain it before adding the garlic and other ingredients.

How to Shred Cauliflower: Wash and cut cauliflower into small chunks. Attach the shredding disc and stem to your food processor. Drop cauliflower chunks into food processor shoot, pressing down with the tamper. Alternatively, you could also use a cheese grater held over a large bowl. I prefer the food processor because it shreds in perfect small pieces quick and easy. You want the cauliflower to look something like this.

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Gluten-Free Peppers

Step 3: Fill Prepared Peppers with Beef Mixture

Healthy Stuffed Bell Peppers

Step 4: Top with Sriracha-Tomato Sauce

My beautiful friend Dana inspired this recipe, when she recently mentioned that she wanted to make stuffed peppers. Her family has gluten, soy, and dairy restrictions, which is why I wanted to make something that fit that profile. Coupling that with recent concerns of arsenic in rice products, some are also limiting their consumption of rice, while others omit it for the Paleo diet. I decided that cauliflower was a good, healthy substitute to alleviate concerns from all of the above.

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Sunday in the Kitchen

Today was our town’s big 10k. I’ve run this race every year since I’ve been a runner (3 years) and this was the first year that I had to gracefully bow out. I’m still struggling with running injury-free, and while things are definitely a lot better than they were a year ago, I have to practice patience and learn not to push myself. I could have run, but I didn’t want to end up not being able to run the rest of fall, and then I’d miss out on all these windy, chilly, fabulous fall days.

Instead, today I stayed in and spent most of the day in the kitchen.

Mr. Nine took care of breakfast, delivering a warm heaping plate of scrambled eggs, toasted Ezekiel bread, bacon (!), apple-maple chicken sausage, and coffee to my warm place on the couch. I love having breakfast underneath a big blanket sitting in our living room. It is the only meal I’ll eat away from the table. For some reason eating lunch and dinner on the couch is a big no-no to me, but breakfast is okay. Probably because I am too lazy to move to the dining room that early in the morning.

After breakfast we walked down to the 10k race with cow bell in hand to cheer on some of our friends. Seeing those lead runners trailing the pace car was amazing!

Seeing the race actually made me relieved that I wasn’t running. I could just walk back home, not worry about splits, and instead spend the day at home being domestic. Hey, I did run a 5k yesterday so I’m not being totally lazy. 🙂

I started off by baking up a batch of Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins.

Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins in Pan

Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins Close-Up

These were good, although a little eggy, but since they lacked sweetener they were very mild. I secretly wanted to sprinkle on a bit of Truvia to make it a little sweet. 🙂

Next up was a throw-it-together pasta.

Gluten-Free Pasta Toss

I didn’t follow a recipe, but here is what I did:

  • Cooked a box of Ancient Grains Quinoa Pasta (Rotelle).
  • Removed the casings from a package of  Smart Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage, crumbled and browned.
  • Removed the cooked chicken and set aside, and in the same pan, cooked up a container of mushrooms.
  • Stirred in a few handfuls of fresh spinach until wilted.
  • Added a handful of multi-colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half.
  • Seasoned with some spices (crushed red pepper, oregano, salt)
  • Added the chicken back to the pan.
  • Added the cooked, drained pasta to pan.
  • Poured in 1/4 jar of Newman’s Own Marinara Sauce.

That’s it! Super easy, yet healthy and tasty. This batch will last us for a few work lunches this week.

Next up were the Paleo Pumpkin Bars.

Paleo Pumpkin Bars

Paleo Pumpkin Bars Detail View

This is the second time I’ve made these in a week, they are so good! A note on these: I found that these need to be cooked approximately twice as long as the recipe states. I bake mine for 45 minutes, which could be that I use canned pumpkin. These definitely have a coconut flavor from both the coconut flour and oil, but I really like that.

I also experimented with dinner and made stuffed bell peppers with cauliflower “rice”. We really liked them, and I wrote down the recipe because I am planning on keeping this one around. I’ll post the recipe for that tomorrow.

No workouts today, but a lot of running… the dishwasher. 😉 We did have a last-minute trip to visit family due to an unexpected circumstance, so our day was full as it was. Dinner for tomorrow is already planned out, so I should have time to get a workout in after work.

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Homemade Pumpkin Cream Cheese

The last few days have been a tease with temps in the upper 70’s with abundant sunshine, a rare treat for an Upper Midwest late October. All good things come to an end, and this morning I woke up to a damp and chilly house, with outside temperatures back in the 30’s.

After pulling on a fleece and filling my mug with hot coffee, I toasted a bagel for breakfast. We were in Madison last weekend and rode our bikes to Bagels Forever and purchased a half-dozen. I don’t eat bagels often because I try to limit that sort of thing, but when I do, they have to be Bagels Forever!  These are the best bagels, with a nice chewy texture. At 240 calories they are not horrible, and the ingredient list is simple.

I usually top my bagels with almond butter, but when I opened the fridge, I spotted a tub of 1/3 less fat cream cheese sitting right next to a container of leftover pumpkin puree. Coincidence? I think not!

On a chilly fall morning, what would be better than a creamy pumpkin topping on a warm toasted bagel? I grabbed a few ingredients and mixed them together and was pleased with the outcome.

Homemade Pumpkin Cream Cheese

RECIPE

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Simple Whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese

DIY pumpkin cream cheese made with pantry staples. Recipe yields just enough for topping two bagels.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Stir together all of the ingredients until blended and light and fluffy.

Serves 1-2.

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The pumpkin really changes the texture of the normally firm cream cheese, making it soft and dreamy.

After breakfast, I wanted to get in a quick trip to the market for groceries. I got in my car and pulled out of the driveway, only to turn around a block later when I realized that I was driving on the rim. Flat tire. Mr. Nine got out the air compressor and inflated it enough to be able to drive a mile to the tire shop. To patch a flat is $15.50, however my tire was deemed unrepairable, costing a cool $135.

I was walking around the house feeling a little bummed, when a friend stopped by and dropped off a package.

Fingerless Mitts Wrapped Up

About a month ago, I had given her a bag of yarn and knitting needles that I wasn’t going to use. While I admire those who knit and think it is a charming, splendid hobby, I could just never get into it and only produced in a few scarves. I knew that she knitted and is a creative soul, so I figured that maybe she could get some use out of it.

When I opened up the package that she brought over, I saw that it was a pair of fingerless mitts that she created with some of the yarn! 🙂

Fingerless Mitts Top

Aren’t they beautiful?

Fingerless Mitts Bottom

This kind gesture definitely turned my day around, making the flat tire seem not as bad. She had no idea that I was having tire issues or feeling bummed, but her timing was just right.  We don’t always realize it, but kind acts like this go far in bringing a smile to others, often when they need it most.

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Difference Between Blanched and Unblanched Almond Flour

This year I began baking with almond flour. Most recipes will call for non-specific regular “almond flour” while others specify “blanched almond flour”. This intrigued me, was there really a difference? My local grocery store only sells Bob’s Red Mill and that has been what I’ve been buying and using and have found it to work well but I had nothing to compare it to. I was surprised to read that Elana, from Elana’s Pantry and author of the book The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, does not recommend Bob’s Red Mill (see what she says here) and instead favors Honeyville Farms.

Several years ago Mr. Nine & I had the pleasure of visiting Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie, Oregon. I love his vision of the company, their products and facility! His almond flour has been working fine in my recipes, but it is really expensive so I decided to look into alternatives.

A family member recommended Trader Joe’s for having the best prices on almond flour and indeed they do! Too good to be true? I decided to grab a bag at TJ’s this weekend, and ordered a bag from Honeyville online to compare all three.

Almond Flour Brands

Here we have Honeyville Farms, Trader Joe’s and Bob’s Red Mill (in the container, unfortunately I do not have the original bag). Let’s take a look at all three compared side by side.

Almond Flour Comparison

Honeyville Farms Blanched Almond Flour – $6 lb.*
view on Honeyville Farm’s website

Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour From Blanched Whole Almonds – $10.99 lb.
view on Bob’s Red Mill website

Trader Joe’s Nuts Just Almond Meal – $3.99 lb.
view on Trader Joe’s website 

* Based upon purchase price of $29.99 for a 5 lb. bag since 5 lbs. is the minimum purchase. Please note that I did not include the cost of shipping or sales tax, if applicable. Prices will also vary depending on where you live and shop. I’ve seen Bob’s Red Mill for as high as $12.99 at Super Target down the road!

Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal Flour Blanched

Shown above is Bob’s Red Mill. A nice light golden color (obviously blanched, even though that word doesn’t stand out on the product packaging) and is a fine texture. The packaging describes this as a meal/flour.

Honeyville Farms Blanched Almond Flour

This is Honeyville Farm’s almond flour. Very similar to Bob’s, just a touch lighter in color and is ground just ever so slightly finer. It would be hard for me to tell the difference if I was not directly comparing the two. I did notice that Honeyville was more fragrant in smell (a fresher almond aroma).

Trader Joe's Almond Meal

Trader Joe’s almond meal is darker in color and you can see the pieces of skin. This is a tell-tale sign that it is not blanched.

It is important to know that almond meal is not the same as almond flour. Almond meal is simply ground up whole almonds with their skins, while almond flour is blanched and processed into a finely ground flour. Trader Joe’s says “meal” right on the bag, and you tell an immediate difference by color.

I’ve used both Bob’s and Honeyville in baking and both perform as well as I’d expect. I’ve yet to try Trader Joe’s in a baking application (just bought it this past weekend), but I think it would be better suited for applications as breading chicken, or mixed into something where you wouldn’t mind the little pieces of almond skin. It might also work in a recipe where flour is not one of the main ingredients, or where the end result has a dense texture.

To me, Bob’s and Honeyville are virtually the same. Bob’s is easier for me to purchase since I can just go down to my local store and buy a bag. However, even with shipping ($4.49), Honeyville Farm’s almond flour is a heck of a lot cheaper. Depending on where you shop the savings could be 50%! The downfall to Honeyville is that you do have to buy it in bulk  (minimum 5 lbs.) but I will definitely use it up so I didn’t mind buying such a large bag.

In conclusion Honeyville Farms is the winner in my book because of price, color, freshness and how it performs. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Bob’s either, especially if you don’t plan on making a lot of recipes with it and don’t want to commit to a 5 lb. bag.

What brand of almond flour do you use? Have you tried Trader Joe’s Almond Meal in baking? How did it turn out? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for where to buy almond flour? Most stores like Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Super Target, Woodman’s, Whole Foods & Hy-Vee (to name a few) carry it in the gluten-free section or in the aisle with specialty flours and baking mixes. The most popular brand in my area is Bob’s Red Mill and it comes in a clear plastic 1 lb. bag. You can also order it online on websites like Honeyville (see link in post above) or King Arthur Flour. You could also make your own, but I’ll save that for another post. 😉

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , | 24 Comments

A Healthy Food Community is Growing

Living in a community plagued an abundance of fast food restaurants and more greasy bar food than one could imagine, it is refreshing to see some healthy and creative women in our community combating that.

Rural Girl Soups

Rural Girl Soup to Go

Rural Girl Salad to Go

Last month, I had the opportunity to sample some soups & salads at a special event from a new soup delivery business called Rural Girl Soups. The concept is a weekly soup service that will deliver soup to your front door. The owner, Gail, makes all the soups from scratch and her husband Joe makes the deliveries. You leave a cooler with ice on your front step, similar to an old-fashioned milk delivery service. Rural Girl also sells colorful salads, cookies and resells hand pies from Over The Top Sweets in Elgin, Illinois and Potter’s Crackers from Madison, Wisconsin. (I just wrote about Potter’s in my last blog post, I picked up a package of their Rhubarb Graham Crackers at the Dane County Farmer’s Market!)

Jo Cessna Natural Cook

Then there is Jo Cessna, a lady who is helping us eat healthier one dish at a time. She calls herself A Natural Cook, and focuses on clean eating principles. Jo makes appearances a local events (I first saw her at a Progressive Wine Tasting last year), and does workshops and private or small-group cooking lessons. She also sells recipe cards and has a blog with more good stuff!

It is refreshing to these smart, beautiful, entrepreneurial women leaving their mark to help this community get back to real food. I’m inspired by these women and I want to be part of this real food movement and help to inspire others.

I’ve been busy in my own kitchen trying lots of new recipes. Most of the recipes I have been trying have been Paleo-ish or at least clean eating and gluten-free.

Mustard Lime Chicken

Elana’s Pantry Mustard Lime Chicken on the grill with a side of cauliflower puree. This marinade rocks and is so simple! Lime juice, cilantro, dijon mustard, olive oil, chili powder, salt and pepper all mixed up in the Vitamix. I only had time to marinate it for 20 minutes (just long enough for the charcoal to get hot) and it was plenty of time! Loads of flavor here. The best part? I have a leftover breast that I plan on slicing up for a salad for lunch today!

Almond Cheddar Crackers

From the Almond Flour Cookbook, I made these Cheddar Cheese Crackers. They are made from almond flour, salt, baking soda, cheddar cheese, grapeseed oil and eggs. They were super easy to make (the oils from the cheese keep the dough nice and easy to form and roll), using parchment paper keeps things clean and pre-scoring them made it a cinch to snap after baking. I had to increase my bake time by 10 minutes to get them golden brown. They taste very similar to Cheez-Its only much better for you. I used a sharp cheddar from Wisconsin that I grated fresh (way better than the pre-shredded cheese!) and the flavor was great. The only thing I am not thrilled about is the texture which is a bit soft. It kind of reminds me of eating a stale cracker that has softened. 😦 I still like them enough to eat them, but wish they were crisper. This recipe makes A LOT of crackers so I may smash some and use it as a “breading” for baked chicken!

Paleo Breakfast Cake

Paleo Breakfast Bread. Wow. Super simple and quick to make! These contain only almond butter, eggs, honey, vanilla extract, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. The recipe also calls for stevia, but I left that out as I find it too bitter in baked goods. I mixed it in my Kitchen-Aid and then into the oven it went for 15 minutes (quick!). This “cake” has a mild sweetness and is really addicting!

Paleo Breakfast Cake

Moist, not overly sweet with a beautiful nuttiness. I usually wait for a cake to cool before cutting it, but I cut into this within minutes of it coming out of the oven. It tastes great warm, and sliced up fine. It also tastes good room temp. I had to stop myself from eating the whole pan.

I am in a baking mood this week, but a friend reminded me to focus more on eating vegetables and other healthy, clean, natural foods, and not just making Paleo-fied desserts and treats. I don’t always get into the baking mood though, so I am just enjoying it while I’m on a roll. However I will have to pay extra attention to adding more veggies into next week’s meal plan because I wholeheartedly agree with her (right after I make these Primal Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies). 😉

I almost forgot, I won Tales from an Average Runner’s Cryocup Giveaway! Mr. Nine made a ice massager from a Dixie Cup filled with water, but this looks better and more durable. I’ll let you know how it works once I get to try it.

Do you have any real food activists in your community? How are they making positive changes? Any tips on baking crackers that stay crispy?

Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Craving Quiche

Spent a fun-filled weekend in Madison.

Giraffe at Henry Vilas Zoo

Went to the zoo.

Pier on Lake Mendota

Walked along the Lake Mendota.

Stones Throw Madison

Did some bargain shopping ($10 clearance Lole top!).

Hopalicious and New Glarus

Stocked the fridge with some fave Wisconsin brews and my favorite preserves from the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

Potter's Crackers

And a few more Farmers’ Market finds like Stella’s Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread and these Rhubarb Graham Crackers from Potter’s Crackers.

There was also lots of eating, wandering around, a trip to Olbrich Botanical Gardens and we even went over to Sundance to see the film Salmon Fishing in Yemen.

Today I stayed home and got caught up on things like laundry and mowing the lawn. After attending to the fun domestic stuff, I took a little trip to Barnes & Noble and treated myself to a new cookbook. After a week of eating out (between my Door County and Madison travels) I wanted to jumpstart some healthy eating and be inspired with some new recipes.

The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook

I’ve been making many of Elana’s recipes from her website and thought it was time that I bought her book. While in Madison, I had some of the best quiche ever from La Baguette. Authentic French bakery, the quiche and pastries taste just like I remember from Paris. Swoon. While the quiche was sinful, it was also most likely made with butter and heavy cream (that is why it tastes so darn good!). I was happy to see a healthier version of quiche in the cookbook and decided that I’d make it for dinner tonight.

Quiche Crust

Here is the Savory Pie Crust (I did a sloppy job pressing it in the pan) made with just almond flour, baking soda, salt, green oniongrape seed oil and water. I did have to bake it about 12 minutes longer than the recipe stated, but it came out perfectly golden and made the house smell like almond cookies.

While the crust was cooling, I cooked the onion, broccoli, mushroomssun-dried tomatoes and garlic. I let the veggie mixture cool and went to water some plants in the garden. A half hour later and I was ready to prepare the quiche. I whisked 3 eggs and gently stirred in goat cheese & salt. I folded in the veggies and poured it into the prepared crust. Baked for 35 minutes and then let it sit for another half hour (while I did some more gardening).

Savory Quiche

The completed Savory Vegetable Quiche cooling on the table.

Quiche Closeup

Sliced and plated, ready to eat. Mr. Nine added lots of hot sauce to his, and admittedly the quiche was rather bland. I decided to forgo the hot sauce and just enjoy the mild veggie flavors. The crust was a bit crumbly, like a graham cracker crust. Next time I’d add another egg or two (my egg to veggie ratio seemed off, but I just eyeballed my measurements) but this was a good “healthy quiche” recipe. Of course it wasn’t as indulgent and creamy as La Baguette, but I won’t have to spend an extra hour (or two, or three) in the gym because of it. 😉

As I am writing this blog post, I smelled something burning. My Peanut Butter Chocolate Protein Bars! It wasn’t quite ready at 25 minutes, so I left it in for a few more but forgot to set the timer. 😦 I hope they are not too ruined… they look okay, but do smell a little overdone. I have no idea how long they’ve been in there… but longer than they should have been. Boo. I really wanted these to snack on this week and do not feel like making another batch tonight.

It is amazing how you can sit down at the computer for “just a few minutes” blogging, reading emails, catching up on Facebook and suddenly a huge chunk of time is gone.

Do you ever lose track of time while on the computer? Do you ever set a timer for yourself to limit your online time? What is your favorite quiche recipe? Rich and indulgent or light and healthy?

Update: The Peanut Butter Chocolate Protein Bars ended up being edible. A little on the dry side, but not burnt. They were probably in there 10-15 minutes longer than they were suppose to so that says a lot to how fool-proof this recipe is. 🙂

Categories: Food, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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