Category Archives: Nutrition and recipes

Tie-Dyed White Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

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For my daughter’s 10th birthday, she asked for “a white cake with colorful swirls and chocolate icing with green and pink decorations.” Very specific, and I aim to deliver what people ask for. Not only do I deliver, I like to over-deliver by taking the idea a bit further.

I have a basic white cake recipe that I love to make – it is so simple but so delicious. Super-moist but light, dense enough to stand up to a thick buttercream but airy enough to layer without getting too heavy. I’ve tweaked it over the years ’til I’m happy with the results every time I make it.

I took my basic recipe below and doubled it, creating four layers (two 10 inch and two 9 inch) with a different colored swirl inside each. Then I assembled and frosted it with my chocolate buttercream frosting. My daughter and I tinted a bit of the Caramel Buttercream I had left over from the chocolate cupcakes I made for the party (I like for people to have options, and I also like to stuff my guests uncomfortably full – that’s my love language) and used it to add decorations, along with roughly 2 pounds of sprinkles (I exaggerate, but that kid is seriously pretty heavy-handed with the edible glitter).

The reactions when I cut into the cake were great – nobody knew what the inside looked like until the first piece was served. The kids all went “WHOA” and one usually-hard-to-impress girl exclaimed, “that is friggin’ COOL!” Validation achieved. 😉

Let me know how yours turns out. The color combinations are endless and you can swirl together as many as you like.

TIE-DYED WHITE CAKE:

** This recipe makes one two-layer round cake (9 and/or 10 inch pan). You can double the recipe like I did if you’d like to build more layers! **

Ingredients:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened (NOT melted – it makes a big textural difference, trust me) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups cake/pastry flour (lends a much lighter texture than all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it’s fresh – old baking powder yields less rise)
6 (3/4 cup) egg whites
3/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Gel food coloring and a few small bowls to divide and tint cake batter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of two round pans (I used one 9 inch and one 10 inch and made two batches for the layers). Line bottoms of pans with parchment or waxed paper. (I cut circles of parchment paper to fit in the bottoms of my pans. This step will really help you avoid the stuck-to-the-pan blues that often result in torn cake.)

Using your stand mixer or an electric hand beater, cream butter and sugar together on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In another bowl (sorry, I’m really making a mess of your kitchen) whisk together the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.

Add 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the mixing bowl and beat for a couple of minutes, then add 1/4 of the milk mixture and beat ’til incorporated. Repeat this process until all dry and wet ingredients are incorporated into the butter/sugar mixture. You’ll probably need to stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets combined thoroughly.

We’re gonna dirty up more of your dishes now. Depending on how many colors you want to make, evenly divide the prepared batter into separate bowls. Using a toothpick or the tines of a fork, dip a tiny amount of the gel food coloring into each bowl and mix thoroughly into batter. Repeat as needed to reach the desired intensity for each hue.

To make the swirls: You’ll need small scoops, measuring cups or spoons for each color (more dishes to wash, hooray!). I use 1/4 cup scoops for mine. Using your scoop/cup/spoon, place a dollop of one of the colors of batter in the center of each pan. Give it a minute to spread out a bit, then scoop a different color and pour it directly on top of the dollop already in the pan. Don’t mix them together! Let the batter spread a bit before adding the next dollop, again to the center. Keep repeating this process until you have concentric rings in each pan, like a bulls-eye dartboard. Don’t mix them together, although you can use a spoon to lightly push the edge of each new dollop out so the mixture continues to spread to the edges of the pan. It’ll look like this when the pans are full:

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Bake cakes about 22 to 25 minutes on the middle rack of your oven (or until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean). I turn/rotate them halfway through to ensure even baking.

Cool in pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto rack (I like to put the rack upside down across the top of the pan and hold them together as I quickly flip the pan so that it drops easily onto the rack), remove the parchment/waxed paper and let the cakes cool completely on the rack before frosting.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened (NOT melted – you need the structural integrity of soft butter to make this frosting set up right)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pound confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk (I use Horizon 2% chocolate milk just to pump up the cocoa flavor a bit more)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method:

Add cocoa powder to bowl of stand mixer or large bowl that you can use your electric hand mixer in. Whisk powder thoroughly to remove any lumps.

Using your stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat softened butter into the cocoa powder at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes – you want the mixture to be really creamy and fluffy. (I use the paddle attachment in my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the best results.)

Reduce speed to medium and add 1 cup of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the milk, then crank the speed back up to high for a minute or two until well-combined. Repeat this process, slowly incorporating the sugar and milk until it’s all combined with the butter (you’ll need to frequently stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and beater with a spatula). Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for another two minutes.

** If frosting is too dry/hard, add a little more more milk – a tablespoon at a time – until it reaches the right consistency. If it’s too wet/soupy, add a bit more confectioner’s sugar – again, a tablespoon at a time – until the texture is right.

To assemble cake: using a spatula, spread a thin layer on the underside of the bottom layer of cake to “glue” it to the cake board or plate, then lay a nice thick layer of frosting over the entire bottom layer. Frost the underside of the next layer so it’ll stick to the bottom layer better, then set it in place and frost it entirely too. You can then smooth out the frosting, add a thicker coat to hide the “seams” of the separate layers and/or put additional frosting into a decorating bag with a piping tip to embellish your cake. (My daughter chose the large star tip to outline the layers and to write her first initial on top of the cake before dousing it liberally with sprinkles and colored sugar.)

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Let me know how yours turns out! I’d love to see pictures. (I really need to start taking more “process” pictures of my own recipes! I always forget or take sloppy ones.)

Peppermint Sugar Cookies 

  
Every Christmas, my domestic side kicks into high gear and I make a ton of treats for friends, family & neighbors. I have a few old standards that I turn out each year (like my salted caramels), but this time I added a new treat to the mix: peppermint sugar cookies.

Like most of the things I make, it’s an easy recipe that tastes fancier than it really is. I used the basic sugar cookie recipe that I’ve been baking for years & just tweaked it a bit. The result: soft, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with flecks of peppermint in every bite.

I’m including a recipe for a minty royal icing if you want to add a glaze to dress them up a bit. It’s not necessary and I skip it if I’m baking multiple batches (I’ve baked 30 dozen so far this year), but it does add some eye appeal and you can even sprinkle on a little more crushed peppermint before the icing hardens if you want to make them extra-fancy.

This recipe makes 5 dozen small cookies; if you keep them bite-sized then each cookie contains about 85 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 12.5 grams of carbs & 1 gram of protein. 

Peppermint Sugar Cookies 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened (not melted – that will change the texture)
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract 
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (or 4-5 crushed candy canes) – I use a food processor or put them in a plastic bag & beat ’em up with a rolling pin
  • 1/4 cup Andes peppermint crunch baking chips  (if you can’t find them, just double the amount of crushed peppermint) 

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350F & line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set out cooling racks if you have them (the air circulation makes a difference in the texture of the finished product). 

Cream together butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg and extracts and mix until combined. A cup at a time, add the flour until just combined, then gently fold in crushed peppermints and baking chips until they’re incorporated into the dough. Don’t over mix! 

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and evenly space apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (I can fit 15 – 5 rows, 3 columns – on each sheet).

  
Bake cookies for 10 minutes. They’ll still be light – browned edges mean they’re overcooked.  

Cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then move cookies to your cooling racks until completely cool.

  
Minty Royal Icing & Crunch Topping (optional):

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies (or red sugar sprinkles  if you’re tired of crushing mints at this point) 

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk sugar, water & extract together. Dip tops of cookies in icing or brush on tops of cookies with a pastry or basting brush, then sprinkle each cookie with a bit of crushed peppermint or sugar sprinkles & let the topping harden.

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That’s it! These cookies taste great with my peppermint cocoa, by the way. But that’s a post for another day! 

  

Stuffed Energy Dates – a natural, Paleo alternative to energy gels

Since going Paleo, I’ve started experimenting with natural race fuel – the chemical-laden Gu and Chomps just taste weird to me now and upset my stomach. I’ve carried dried fruit, made my own gels using fruit, chia seeds and sweet potatoes, and I’ve messed around with the recipe I’m about to share now – medjool dates stuffed with coconut oil and cocoa powder. It’s my absolute favorite way to fuel before, during and after a race, training run or workout.

Dates contain easily digestible simple sugars plus fiber that helps stabilize blood sugar. The high levels of potassium help keep your electrolytes balanced and the magnesium is a natural anti-inflammatory. Iron and B-complex vitamins help boost energy. Dates also contain calcium, Vitamin K and phenols (antioxidant compounds that protect cells against damaging free radicals). So much nutrition in such a small package!

I use the coconut oil because of the MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Coconut oil is metabolized like a carbohydrate – The fatty acids are sent directly to the liver for conversion into energy and not into body tissues as fat. The cocoa powder is rich in potassium and contains energy-boosting caffeine and theobromine (which is also a mood booster). Potassium chloride AKA salt substitute helps strike a better electrolyte balance than sea salt (although for training sessions shorter than 3 hours, you don’t really need the extra potassium anyway, as long as you replenish post-workout).

Okay, so now you know why. Let’s talk about how!

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

What you will need to make a dozen of these little energy bombs:

12 large medjool dates (fresh are softer and easier to work with than dried)

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Potassium chloride (sold as “salt substitute” in your grocery)

The process:

Using a sharp knife, carefully slit each date without cutting completely in half and remove the pit in each, then spread the halves apart so they fold open like sticky little books.

dates2dates3

Next, mix the 1/4 cup of coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder until it forms a brownie-batter like consistency. You can use less cocoa if you like. I won’t micromanage your taste buds.

dates4dates5

Use a teaspoon to measure out the amount you’ll put in each date. You may use a bit more or less depending on the size of each date.  Spread cocoa/oil mixture inside each half and then sprinkle with the salt substitute.

dates6dates7

Smush the halves of each date back together and pinch the edges slightly to seal. Now it’s time to wrap them!  I use Glad Press’n’Seal, although foil works well too. I wrap these as shown below (more info later on why, beyond easy wrapper removal):

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the run

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the rundates9

After wrapping each date individually, they’re ready to go into a baggie and then into your fuel carrying system. I can fit 6 dates into a snack-sized bag, which goes into my SPI belt. It’ll hold more, but this is usually all I need.

dates10dates11

These are great for pre- and mid-run, but for fast post-run fuel (or for when I need a little change in flavor and a bit of protein), I like to stuff them with cashew butter or almond butter instead. Same concept, less mixing.

dates14dates15

To tell them apart in my bag without having to inspect them, I wrap the ones filled with nut butter like candies, twisting the long ends of each. I usually mark a C or A on the wrapper depending on which nut butter I use, but it’s easier to feel the difference in wrapper than it is to read the writing when running.

dates16

There you have it! Natural, portable energy that can be consumed on the run, on the bench in a derby bout or between sets in the gym. Nothing fake and you can control what goes into your fitness nutrition.

For the sake of comparison, here are the nutrition facts for my recipe vs. Gu. Since it is not an exact 1:1 ratio on carbs, you may have to play around a bit with how frequently you consume these as opposed to how frequently you’d use Gu. As I become fat-adapted, I notice I need fewer and at longer intervals than I did when I was weaning myself off of the carb-heavy diet I used to consume.

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates

Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

I hope you enjoy these – please let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback and I’d love to know what works (and doesn’t work) for you. My next post will be about some of the other options I’ve tried – I’ll include the recipes for the homemade gel and sweet potato puree I like to use.

Stuffed Energy Dates – a natural, Paleo alternative to energy gels

Since going Paleo, I’ve started experimenting with natural race fuel – the chemical-laden Gu and Chomps just taste weird to me now and upset my stomach. I’ve carried dried fruit, made my own gels using fruit, chia seeds and sweet potatoes, and I’ve messed around with the recipe I’m about to share now – medjool dates stuffed with coconut oil and cocoa powder. It’s my absolute favorite way to fuel before, during and after a race, training run or workout.

Dates contain easily digestible simple sugars plus fiber that helps stabilize blood sugar. The high levels of potassium help keep your electrolytes balanced and the magnesium is a natural anti-inflammatory. Iron and B-complex vitamins help boost energy. Dates also contain calcium, Vitamin K and phenols (antioxidant compounds that protect cells against damaging free radicals). So much nutrition in such a small package!

I use the coconut oil because of the MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Coconut oil is metabolized like a carbohydrate – The fatty acids are sent directly to the liver for conversion into energy and not into body tissues as fat. The cocoa powder is rich in potassium and contains energy-boosting caffeine and theobromine (which is also a mood booster). Potassium chloride AKA salt substitute helps strike a better electrolyte balance than sea salt (although for training sessions shorter than 3 hours, you don’t really need the extra potassium anyway, as long as you replenish post-workout).

Okay, so now you know why. Let’s talk about how!

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

What you will need to make a dozen of these little energy bombs:

12 large medjool dates (fresh are softer and easier to work with than dried)

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Potassium chloride (sold as “salt substitute” in your grocery)

The process:

Using a sharp knife, carefully slit each date without cutting completely in half and remove the pit in each, then spread the halves apart so they fold open like sticky little books.

dates2dates3

Next, mix the 1/4 cup of coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder until it forms a brownie-batter like consistency. You can use less cocoa if you like. I won’t micromanage your taste buds.

dates4dates5

Use a teaspoon to measure out the amount you’ll put in each date. You may use a bit more or less depending on the size of each date.  Spread cocoa/oil mixture inside each half and then sprinkle with the salt substitute.

dates6dates7

Smush the halves of each date back together and pinch the edges slightly to seal. Now it’s time to wrap them!  I use Glad Press’n’Seal, although foil works well too. I wrap these as shown below (more info later on why, beyond easy wrapper removal):

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the run

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the rundates9

After wrapping each date individually, they’re ready to go into a baggie and then into your fuel carrying system. I can fit 6 dates into a snack-sized bag, which goes into my SPI belt. It’ll hold more, but this is usually all I need.

dates10dates11

These are great for pre- and mid-run, but for fast post-run fuel (or for when I need a little change in flavor and a bit of protein), I like to stuff them with cashew butter or almond butter instead. Same concept, less mixing.

dates14dates15

To tell them apart in my bag without having to inspect them, I wrap the ones filled with nut butter like candies, twisting the long ends of each. I usually mark a C or A on the wrapper depending on which nut butter I use, but it’s easier to feel the difference in wrapper than it is to read the writing when running.

dates16

There you have it! Natural, portable energy that can be consumed on the run, on the bench in a derby bout or between sets in the gym. Nothing fake and you can control what goes into your fitness nutrition.

For the sake of comparison, here are the nutrition facts for my recipe vs. Gu. Since it is not an exact 1:1 ratio on carbs, you may have to play around a bit with how frequently you consume these as opposed to how frequently you’d use Gu. As I become fat-adapted, I notice I need fewer and at longer intervals than I did when I was weaning myself off of the carb-heavy diet I used to consume.

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates


Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

I hope you enjoy these – please let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback and I’d love to know what works (and doesn’t work) for you. My next post will be about some of the other options I’ve tried – I’ll include the recipes for the homemade gel and sweet potato puree I like to use.

Homemade salted caramels

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I’ve never grown out of the “I made something for you” phase of childhood – it’s still my favorite way to give gifts. Whether it’s layered soap bars or layered dessert bars, I derive so much pleasure from putting effort & love into handmade presents.

This Christmas, I spent a lot of time making treats to give to neighbors, church friends & family. The biggest hit was probably the salted caramels. They are super easy to make – it’s like culinary alchemy – and they store well in the fridge. They can be used in other recipes, melted into coffee or just devoured on their own.

I do recommend measuring your ingredients before you begin – the process relies on quickness. You won’t need a candy thermometer, but a candy mold makes it easy to portion them out.

ingredients:
1 cup of sugar
6 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
Sea salt to taste

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method:

Measure your ingredients & keep close by. I also recommend greasing your molds now by spraying lightly with cooking spray or brushing with oil (I use coconut oil & a pastry brush).

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Place sugar in a dry saucepan over medium-high heat and continuously whisk or stir with a spatula as it melts (this helps prevent burning).

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As soon as your sugar is liquid, light brown & just about to bubble, stop stirring.

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Add the butter & whisk until melted. It’ll foam up a bit, so watch your fingers!

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Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in the cream ’til smooth.

Now it’s time to pour the liquid into molds – I transfer my liquid into a measuring cup first for easier pouring.

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I use a silicone Wilton brownie bites mold & I fill each cavity about half full. (The liquid can also be transferred to a jar if you prefer to use it as a caramel sauce.)

Lightly dust the top of each caramel with sea salt.

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Place mold in fridge or freezer until caramels are firm enough to unmold. After unmolding, they can be individually wrapped in wax paper squares or pieces of Saran Wrap Press’n’Seal.

That’s it! Minimal effort for rich, soft, buttery caramels that kick the pants off of those pale processed Kraft cubes.

Please try them and let me know what you think! And if I ever bring you a bag of them, know that they are basically little chewy squares of my love for you. 😀

Vegetti Adventures: My Love Affair with a Spiralizer

I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets, particularly those of the “As Seen On TV” persuasion. So when my dear friend Trigger Mortis told me about her Vegetti, I was intrigued (and remained so even after realizing it wasn’t a saucy euphemism).

I picked one up at CVS and gleefully began spiralizing everything in the crisper, experimenting with simple sauces and herbs from our garden. So far, these recipes have all been hits – even my picky, pasta-loving progeny has tasted them (that alone is worth the 14 bucks).

A few tips:
• This thing’s basically a giant pencil sharpener, so long, thin vegetables fit best in it. Sweet potatoes in particular are easier to spiralize if they’re skinny.
• When peeling your vegetables, leave a few inches at the top unpeeled so you’ll be able to grip without slipping.
• You’ll have a couple of inches of pointy veggie nub left, since it’s pretty much impossible to spiralize the entire vegetable. I’ve been saving mine to cube and roast for vegetable soup or dog food.
• The “noodles” can be boiled, but I vastly prefer a quick sauté in olive oil or coconut oil to preserve nutrients – plus the caramelization adds depth of flavor.
• Each of these recipes makes two small servings or one “stop judging me, I just ran 5 miles” serving.

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

Saute 1 spiralized sweet potato for 5-8 minutes, then stir in:

1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
Dash of sriracha

Top with chopped Thai basil and/or garnish with a lime wedge.

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Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

Preheat oven to 475 & grease 2 ramekins or muffin cups. Spiralize 1 russet potato, season with salt and pepper and divide mixture between ramekins, pressing spiralized potatoes into the bottom and sides to form little nests.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, then turn heat down to 400 & remove cups from oven. Carefully crack 1 egg into each cup and return to oven to bake for 5 minutes or until whites set.

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The potato nests were really fun to make, so I also made zucchini nests with cherry tomato “eggs” from our garden. One is raw and vegan; the other is baked and filled with herbed ricotta. The raw recipe works great with cucumber, too.

Zucchini Nests

vegannest

Raw Zucchini Nests with Cherry Tomato Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiralize 1 zucchini and marinate the noodles in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and golden balsamic vinegar for a few minutes to soften, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange noodles in a nest and top with raw tomatoes and fresh oregano.

 

vegricottanest

Baked Zucchini Nest with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preheat oven to 400 and grease a ramekin or muffin cup. Spiralize 1 zucchini and mix 1 beaten egg into the noodles, then arrange in ramekin/cup to form a nest. On a separate pan or cookie sheet, toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast zucchini nest and tomatoes for 12-15 minutes.

Mix together 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese and 1 teaspoon chopped oregano. Top nest with ricotta and tomatoes.

••••••••••••••••

Lastly, a trio of post-workout snacks. I find myself craving the zucchini after every run now.

Clockwise from top left: Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans, Cucumber Salad & Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint

Clockwise from top left: Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans, Cucumber Salad & Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans
Spiralize 1 sweet potato and sauté for 5-8 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cooked salmon and 1/4 black beans & season with cayenne.

Cucumber Salad
Spiralize 1 cucumber. Season with cracked black pepper, stir in 1 tablespoon of golden balsamic vinegar & top with 1 tablespoon of feta cheese.

Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint
Spiralize 1 zucchini and sauté with 1 chopped clove of garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of ricotta cheese & 1 tablespoon chopped mint. Trust me on the mint! It pairs beautifully with zucchini.

••••••••••••

I’ll post another round after this week’s experiments. Let me know if you try any of these, tell me what you liked & share your own recipes with me!

Midnight Mile

As 2013 drew to a close, I kissed my sleeping husband, deactivated my Facebook account and hit the trail for a midnight mile (1.11 miles actually, which was unintentional but pleasantly significant to my pattern-loving brain).

It was 39 degrees and crystal-clear – the sky a canopy of constellations.  I ran without music, listening to my breath and my feet and the fountains in the neighborhood lake. I was the only one on the trail, the only one who saw the Christmas lights reflecting off the water’s surface in kaleidoscopic swirls as 2014 came racing in. I love that feeling – knowing I’m experiencing a bit of magic that nobody else will ever see.

When I was done, I laid in the grass and looked up at the stars, thanking the universe and the power behind it for a blessed old year and offering up my promises and goals for the new year.  I stopped referring to them as resolutions last year, but I remain resolute in the best sense of the word – unwavering and determined.

Here’s what I plan to do in the new year.

  • Reevaluate and reorganize how I spend my free time: I deactivated my Facebook account for a temporary and as-yet-undetermined amount of time. Without that massive time suck (which is, admittedly, my favorite place on the internet), I can accomplish my other goals more quickly and completely.
  • Publish my first book: I’ve been creating/testing recipes for the nutrition-conscious and for athletes with dietary restrictions for a few years now. I’d love to share them in a beautiful book full of well-photographed dishes interspersed with colorful anecdotes and pictures of my derby and running adventures.  I plan to include a companion booklet full of advice for new athletes (particularly Fresh Meat, as I feel that there are not enough off-skates resources out there for the budding derby athlete), some basic sport-specific starter workout programs and a training log.
  • Start a YouTube Channel: with the help of a filmmaker friend, I’ll soon have my own YouTube cooking show. You’ll get simple, healthy recipes prepared in typical Pyro style – light on grace and poise but heavy on clumsiness and sass. Tune in to see if I drop a knife on my bare foot or just spill the sauce all over my dogs!
  • Run my third – and possibly fourth and fifth – half marathon, while training for my first full 26.2.  The upcoming half is Cowtown and I’m running for ALZ Stars to raise money for Alzheimer’s Association.  If you’d like for the name of one of your relatives to be honored/commemorated, please email me or comment below – the names of my grandmother and grandfather will be written on my race shirt, as well as the names of friends’ loved ones who are battling or have battled the disease. (If you’d like to make a donation, no amount is too small – and I will match it and add your name to my “gets a free cookbook” list)
  • Settle into a church home and find volunteer opportunities within the organization: this is potentially happening already, and I am as excited about this as I was about falling in love with my husband. I have a big crush on a church that feeds hundreds of local families from its gardens and mobile food bank, hosts a 5K to benefit youth mission trips and has a dynamic children’s Sunday school program and a passionate, enthusiastic minister. We’re obviously still in the honeymoon stage – but then again, I still feel that way about my husband 5 years after finding him. Sometimes you just know.
  • Be the best mother, wife, sister, aunt and daughter I can be: this sounds like one of those vague resolutions I dread, but I have a very specific set of subgoals that will help me fulfill this promise to myself and to my family. Some hinge upon each other, like retiring from derby (that one was checked off early thanks to herniated discs and nerve damage) so I’l be free to attend my daughter’s soccer games and other activities. Some have already been stated above.  Most are listed only in my head and in my heart, and they are referred to multiple times a day.

I’m incredibly excited about the Year of the Green Wood Horse – 14’s my lucky number. :-)  I hope this is a wonderful, fulfilling year for you all.

Stuffed Apples and Banana Sorbet with Caramel Swirl

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a recipe (or anything, really), so today you get a dynamic duo.  Well, a terrific trio, technically.  We’ve been iced in for several days now in what Dallasites are calling Icepocalypse 2013, so I’ve been even more domestic than usual. (Mostly because the kitchen is the warmest room in this little old house.)

My dear friend Glo mentioned baked apples yesterday, which of course sparked a craving that I couldn’t shake ’til it was satisfied. I wanted to make a healthier version than the traditional recipes that call for sugar and butter, but a Google search yielded some disappointing results (since when are flavored protein powders, sugar-free artificially flavored syrups and packaged cereals clean?), so I threw together this recipe with the clean-eating  staples in my pantry.

Since the apples looked too virtuous on their own, I figured the perfect accompaniment would be a scoop of decadent ice cream.  Of course we have none in the house, so I tossed some bananas in the freezer for a sorbet. What I really was pining for was a scoop of Blue Bell’s Pecan Pralines and Cream – mostly for the caramel ribbon swirled throughout. I am a sucker for anything with caramel!  I didn’t have any cream and didn’t want to use a ton of butter, but I did have coconut milk, coconut palm sugar, raw honey and a basic understanding of how to make caramel – so I figured I could get pretty close to the favor profile I was looking for without a ton of calories.

If you have never made sorbet with frozen bananas, you are missing out on something special. I added a bit of Greek yogurt to enhance the creaminess, but it’s not necessary to achieve the right texture if you want to keep your dessert vegan. Maple syrup can be used instead of honey for the caramel, too.

The verdict: my husband proclaimed it to be “spectacular” and I not-so-humbly agree.

Blogs with 58 how-to pictures before the actual recipe drive me crazy (I know how to pour water without a visual aid, Pioneer Woman), so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Here’s the end result:

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A few quick notes about these recipes:

The apple recipe makes 2 servings, and can easily be increased to feed more faces. The sorbet made about 4 scoops, so we had half with our apples  last night and we’ll have the other half with whatever I make tonight.

Throw the sliced bananas in the freezer an hour or two before you start the apples so they’ll be frozen in time for everything to come out together.

The caramel sauce makes a bit more than a cup, so use a bit for this and save the rest for homemade salted caramel mochas. I made the caramel while the apples baked but next time I’ll make and chill it ahead of time so it’s easier to make thick swirls through the sorbet.  (Completely blending the two together will result in a delightful dulce de leche flavored sorbet that begs for a light sprinkle of crunchy sea salt.)

Stuffed Apples:

Ingredients:

2 apples (I used Pink Lady, of course)

2 tablespoons old fashioned oats

2 tablespoons almond butter

1 dried date, chopped (for sweetness/moisture – you could use a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey here instead if you like)

1 tablespoon dried cranberries, chopped

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 cup of water

Optional topping:

1 tablespoon chopped pecans, divided

2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a paring knife, melon baller or other apple coring tool, remove cores from apples. (if I can save any apple flesh from the core, I chop it finely and add it to the filling).

In a mixing bowl, combine oats, almond butter, dates, cranberries, cinnamon and cloves.  Mix well to combine, moistening with a bit of water if it’s too thick to stir.

Pack wells of apples firmly with filling. Combine pecans and coconut oil and sprinkle on top each apple. Place apples in a baking dish, pour the water into bottom of dish and cover loosely with foil.  Place in oven for 20ish minutes, then remove foil and bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes. Apple skins will be wrinkled and a knife should slide through its flesh easily when poked with a paring knife.

While your apples bake, whip up that sorbet.

Banana Sorbet 

Ingredients:

2 bananas – peeled, sliced and frozen for 1-2 hours

2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or you can scrape some seeds out of a vanilla bean, which I prefer)

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend ’til creamy, stopping the machine a few times to scrape mixture down sides of container and make sure all chunks are smoothing out. Spoon into glass dish and pop in the freezer to firm up while you mix up the caramel sauce.

Coconut Milk Caramel Sauce 

Ingredients:

1 can (or 14 oz) coconut milk (full fat works better than light for texture)

1/4 cup raw honey (or maple syrup)

1/4 cup coconut palm sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

Whisk first 3 ingredients together in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, then turn down heat so it doesn’t bubble over. Let it boil low uncovered at a low roll until it thickens and darkens, stirring frequently.  It’ll take about 15-20 minutes for your caramel to reduce to a little over a cup of dark amber goo. Remove from heat and add salt, stirring ’til smooth. Place in fridge to cool off a bit before adding to sorbet.

To assemble ice cream: swirl a generous vein of caramel through sorbet – if you really wanna get fancy, throw a teaspoon or two of chopped pecans in to further pay homage to the famous Blue Bell flavor.  Serve alongside apple, or split apple in half and top each side with a scoop of sorbet.

Try it and let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback.

Breakfast Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Your mom was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Especially if you’re up before the crack of dawn and have some heavy mileage (be it actual or metaphorical) to cover later.

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I’ve recently become an early bird, thanks to dogs who like to cuddle at 5am and 5Ks that begin before the sun has fully risen.  It’s a pleasantly strange departure from my old nocturnal habits (ingrained in my DNA, nurtured by generations of night owls and vital to a late-night derby schedule).  As much as I loved late (and sometimes large) dinners after derby practice, I always felt sluggish in the morning – not very hungry, sometimes even a bit nauseated at the mention of food.  I assumed I just wasn’t a breakfast person.

Then I started front-loading my day – eating more of my daily calories in the morning than in the evening. My metabolism has perked up again and I have a lot more energy, which makes me more productive in general and enhances that Energizer Bunny-esque charm that people either love or loathe (it’s okay to feel both).  I’m not ravenous in the evening when I eat well for breakfast and lunch, so I don’t eat everything in the house before passing out.  Oh, and I sleep better on a less-full stomach. Victories abound.

So I may be a morning person and even a breakfast person now, but I still can’t handle anything greasy or sweet upon rising.  I need something simple, nourishing and toeing the line between sweet and savory. Easily digestible carbs and very lean protein are what I generally aim for in breakfast recipes, like the Savory Oatmeal I’ve been making a lot lately (I could write an entire cookbook chapter on savory oat risotto recipes. I love it that much). I was craving Breakfast Quinoa this morning though, so I made a big batch to portion out for the week.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love quinoa. It’s really easy to make, it’s versatile and it keeps well in the fridge.  I’m also pretty crazy about roasted sweet potatoes, so I combined the two for this recipe and added a maple yogurt drizzle to make it faaaaaancy.

Enough with the rambling, pink lady.  They just Googled for a quinoa recipe, not your life story. Speaking of recipes, this one makes 4 reasonable servings or 2 “I just ran 8 miles so SHUT UP” servings. It takes about 20 minutes to make.

Breakfast Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained (I like rainbow quinoa, for obvious reasons)

1 cup water

1 cup milk of your choice (I used almond) *

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste – I don’t know your life, man, you season how you like)

1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized cubes

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil

* you can omit the milk and increase the water to equal two cups if you like – milk makes the quinoa creamier but isn’t crucial for good texture/flavor

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a baking sheet (metal or foil-lined will give your taters crisper edges), toss cubed potatoes in coconut oil to coat. Roast in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until tender (obviously, smaller pieces will roast faster, and you’ll want to check them frequently and give them a flip/shake halfway through to make sure they’re getting evenly browned).

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While the potatoes roast, bring water and milk* to a boil. Add quinoa, stir and return to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir in cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice if you’re feeling festive) and remove from heat and let stand uncovered for a few minutes to thicken a bit more before fluffing with a fork.

To serve, spoon quinoa into a bowl and top with a portion of sweet potatoes. You can make it fancier with a teaspoon or two of chopped pecans, or try a yogurt drizzle.  I was using Brown Cow Maple Yogurt on mine, but found that this homemade version is even nicer:

Maple Yogurt Drizzle (single serving)

1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt

1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Dash of vanilla extract

Whisk all 3 ingredients together with a fork and drizzle over the top of your potatoes.  Simple, delicious and just the right amount of creamy sweetness to make a virtuous breakfast taste indulgent.

Please try this recipe and let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback.

Oat Risotto with Poached Egg

Steel cut oats have long been a staple in my diet – oatmeal is low on the glycemic index and full of soluble fiber, which helps keep me full & pleasant to be around. I roll them into my Energy Balls, I make them with cinnamon and fruit for breakfast & I add a bit to my smoothies, but lately I’ve been experimenting with savory versions.

Steel cut oats are really easy to cook risotto-style. The nutty texture has the same chewy mouth-feel as rice and the neutral flavor can be seasoned in endless ways. After trying a few variations, I found bliss in this combination: oat risotto studded with sautéed red peppers and edamame, topped with a poached egg.

This recipe serves four, but the proportions are easy to reduce.

Ingredients:

1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
2-3 dashes soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
4 medium eggs
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Directions:

In a large pot, bring water and broth to a boil. (You can omit the broth and just use 3 cups of lightly salted water, but I love the umami notes that a quality broth brings to this dish). Add the oats, reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the oats get too thick, just add a little water & keep stirring.

While your oats are cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sautée garlic, peppers & edamame ’til tender & lightly browned (about 10 minutes).

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When oats are nearly done, add the soy sauce & sautéed veggie mixture and stir well to combine. Now it’s time to poach those eggs.

A note on poaching eggs: I prefer to poach multiple eggs in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover the eggs (crack them gently & slip them into the water), cooked slowly over medium-low heat. When I’m in a hurry, though, 1 minute in a teacup with 1/4 water in the microwave makes for a surprisingly well-poached single egg. PLEASE put a saucer over the top of the teacup if you microwave yours. I’ve created some pretty impressive eggsplosions when I forgot to cover mine.

Once eggs are poached, it’s time to plate. Spoon half a cup of oat risotto on each plate, top with an egg & season to taste with salt, pepper and sriracha. Dig in.

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Try it and let me know what you think! You’ll never look at oatmeal the same way again.