Not Your Average Pasta Salad

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I’ve been exploring gluten free dishes and pastas to better support friends and family with gluten sensitivities. Simple is best and adding great flavor is what makes it great. Pasta is a simple dish that can be dressed up many different ways and for this dish I went Greek with a dash of North African flavor. I was also excited to use some produce from my own backyard. I have been growing sweet peppers, tomatoes and of course fresh herbs such as rosemary and green onion. This was easy to pair with baked chicken that I seasoned two ways (lemon rosemary and garlic and herb) for some variation this week. Check out the recipe below and be sure to share your thoughts.

Gluten Free Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup of dry gluten free elbow pasta

1 cup sliced tomato

1/2 cup sliced sweet peppers

1/4 cup green onion

2 tbsp. harissa

2 tbsp. chopped kalamata olives

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. fresh rosemary

1 tbsp. garlic infused olive oil

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. 
  2. Rinse vegetables and herbs. Slice tomato; cut peppers in half and remove seeds before slicing thinly. Chop rosemary.
  3. Boil pasta for 8-9 minutes. Chop whole olives or used canned, by straining liquid.
  4. Once boiled, add to a bowl, then add remaining ingredients.
  5. Mix well and enjoy.

Post Labor Day Cleanse

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After Labor Day indulgences, I decided to make a couple of juice blends to detox and cleanse my system. While beets are not at the top of most people’s favorite list, beet juice has some incredible cleansing properties. Beet juice is known to help lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, boost stamina and improve digestion among other benefits. Beets are loaded with potassium, fiber, vitamin C and nitrates which specifically aid with blood flow and pressure. Adding in a power partner like carrots which increase metabolism, boost the immune system, strengthens vision and improves skin and it’s a no brainer. While carrots are naturally sweet, I boosted the flavor of the mix with a couple of small apples, lemon and ginger.

I also made another juice blend of cucumber, celery and lemon juice. Celery is good for more than just soup and a ranch dressing companion. Juiced, it has antioxidant properties, minimizes oxidative stress, has anti- inflammatory properties and also helps lower blood pressure. Cucumber of course help promote weight loss with a boost to the metabolism, it hydrates the body as it’s mostly water, acts as a natural laxative and boost immunity.

These are two easy juice blends to get you back on track with a healthful diet and weight management routine. The best part is you don’t have to kill your budget to make it work. I made 32 ounces of the beet blend for about $4.25 and the same amount of the cucumber juice for about $2.75. Organic beets can be found at Trader Joe’s for about $1.69, organic gala apples $2.99/bag, organic celery about the same and organic carrots for $.89 a bag. Cucumbers are in season and I brought four for $1 at the farmer’s market. Ginger is also available at most stores or produce stands and since you only need a 1 inch to 2 inch piece, it shouldn’t cost more than $.50. Lemons can be found almost anywhere inexpensively. So if you have a mind to give it a try, check out the recipes below. Enjoy!

 

Beet and Carrot Juice

Ingredients:

1 lb. organic beets washed and peeled

2 lb. organic carrots washed and peeled

3 small organic apples

2 inch piece of peeled ginger

1 medium lemon peeled

 

Directions:

  1. Wash and peel carrots and beets.
  2. Rinse apples and peel ginger and lemon.
  3. Add to juicer alternating between beets and carrots to push all of the pulp through. Add ginger then lemon and juice.
  4. Store in airtight containers in refrigerator for up to three days.

 

Celery Cucumber Juice

Ingredients:

½ lb. organic celery

3 medium cucumbers

2 lemon peeled

1 inch piece of ginger (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Wash celery and cucumber well.
  2. Peel lemon and ginger.
  3. Juice celery and cucumbers first and then lemon and ginger.
  4. Store in airtight containers in refrigerator for up to three days.

Watermelon Cooler

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Seasonal fruit like watermelon are wonderful however I often struggle on how to use the whole fruit. There is no such thing as  a small watermelon when your a household of 2 or less. I got a sweet melon from @FrankFeketeFarm, a great local farmer and wanted to try using the melon in different ways. So to get the most out of my melon I cut up what would fit into a large container and decided to transform the rest into a refreshing beverage. This is something refreshing for kids and doesn’t have any added sugar. You can always add lemon or lime for lemonade or limeade for a more kid friendly drink. You can also add other fruits like pineapple or other melons and call it fruit punch. For adult beverages, a splash of tequila or vodka with a twist or lime is all your need.

Watermelon Basil Cooler

Ingredients:

6 cups of watermelon chunks (or as much as you have)

1/2 cup of basil

4 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Peel and chop watermelon into chunks. Add to a bowl to blend with a hand mixer or add to a blender. 
  2. Strain with a large mesh strainer into a pitcher by filling the strainer and pushing the liquid through with the back of a spoon to get as much liquid as possible. If it is a seedless watermelon, you can save the watermelon sauce and eat just like applesauce.
  3. Add basil and water and stir well. Let steep for 30-45 minutes and remove basil.
  4. Serve over ice and enjoy. Refrigerate and drink within 1 week.

Pico and Salsa

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As a big taco and bean bowl fan, both frequently find their way onto my menu since it can be prepared with practically any protein and veggies of choice. For my wild rice and black bean bowls this go round, I wanted some fresh mango pico de gallo. Since I made a large quantity, I knew I could also blend leftovers with a couple additional ingredients for salsa. The salsa of course is great with chips, but  is an easy way to get in extra servings of vegetables by dipping carrots, jicama sticks or broccoli for some added crunch packed with nutrients. Check out the recipes for both below.

Mango Pico de Gallo

Ingredients:

2 large mango

3 medium tomato

2 jalepeno diced

1 cup diced onion

1 juiced lime

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse all fruit and peppers well.
  2. Peel mango by cutting off each end and standing it up to cut away skin. Cut off mango around pitted center. (Think of cutting peach slices from around the core.) Dice mango small.
  3. Peel and dice onion. Slice jalepeno in half longwise and remove seeds if preferred before dicing.
  4. Add to a medium bowl. Dice tomato and add to bowl. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice over mixture. Mix well and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Enjoy. 

Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

1/2 large mango

2 large tomato

1 jalepeno diced

1/2 cup diced onion

3 tbsp. tomato paste

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste 

Directions:

  1. Rinse all fruit, herbs and peppers well.
  2. Peel mango by cutting off each end and standing it up to cut away skin. Cut off mango around pitted center. (Think of cutting peach slices from around the core.) 
  3. Peel and dice onion. Slice jalepeno in half longwise and remove seeds if preferred.
  4. Cut tomato into fourths and add all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth or fine.
  5. Enjoy.

Start Snacking

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We all snack during the day; some randomly and others intentionally. The body needs fuel throughout the day to help keep the metabolism fueled and burning fat. Snacking smart and intentionally is important for fueling a healthy metabolism.

While I stock up on varied fruits and vegetables for snacking, sometimes I want and need more. I’ve mentioned before my love of avocados; the best thing is to get them as small as possible for single servings and the teeny tiny avocados (actual name) from Trader Joe’s certainly makes the cut. One quick and easy snack is a mashed garlic avocado with the snap pea or lentil bean crisp. They are a wonderful option if you want a chip or crisp that has some nutrients. I am a huge fan of the wasabi ranch snap pea crisp and the onion and thyme lentil bean crisp. I’ll also like the mashed avocado with baby carrots. This is one to make right before eating to avoid browned avocado.

Another option is one of the many hummus options. While it can be brought, I decided to try my hand at making some at home. The hardest part to this was roasting a few cloves of garlic. The rest is just pulsing in the food processor or blender.

Check out the recipes below for two of my favorite snacks.

Roasted garlic and red pepper hummus
Serves 10

Ingredients:
1 14oz can of organic chickpeas
1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper
5 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (~2 lemons juiced)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a small pan with foil.
2. Pop off 5 cloves of garlic from the bulb and leaving skin on, add to the baking on. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. Open can and rinse chickpeas. Add to food processor.
4. Open a jar of roasted red bell pepper and add about a half cup. Juice lemon seeded side up.
5. Add garlic and oil top before pulsing until smooth. (2-3 minutes)
6. Season to taste. Enjoy!

Garlic mashed avocado
1 small avocado
1 clove grated garlic (1 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Cut avocado in half longwise. Remove pit.
2. Use a spoon to scoop out each half into a bowl or on a small plate. Mash gently.
3. Grate garlic directly in the mix mince it fine.
4. Mix well and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Enjoy.

 

Vegan Believin’

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Since I’ve dabbled in vegetarian meal options, I thought it was only fair to venture into the vegan arena. While similar, the primary difference is that vegan excludes any animal product or by-product including dairy, eggs and honey. While I like to explore different foods, flavors and textures, I don’t subscribe to really any diet beyond balance in all things. Plant-based proteins are important for maintaining overall health and balance; however there are other nutrients found in seafood and lean animal proteins that are not found in plants. In addition to the proteins (whatever the source), adding more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are always on my agenda.

I was inspired to do a Vegan dish with my trip to Trader Joe’s where they were sampling a vegan kale, cashew and basil pesto. I decided to make a quick orzo dish with the pesto, Roma tomatoes, roasted yellow peppers and grilled and marinated artichoke hearts. I picked up a small bag of cashews for some added texture. Let me just say, nothing is better than being surprised with a new delicious go to! And at about $3.60/serving, that’s hard to beat.

The only thing missing was a protein. So instead of adding beans to the dish, I decided to make my first red bean cake with a can of organic red beans ($.99), some fresh herbs, spices like coriander, smoked paprika and sautéed garlic and onion. I was beyond surprised at how good it was and totally forced samples on friends at lunch. 🙂 The only thing I would do differently is to add panko breadcrumbs to give more texture and shape as I had to handle them delicately with the spatula.

To give the red bean cake moisture for lunch, I made a quick garlic avocado aioli at work to go with my lunch which was basically smashed avocado, grated garlic, lots of lemon juice and salt and pepper. This also would be great as spread for a red bean sandwich with either arugula or a lettuce of choice. Check out the recipe below and certainly share your thoughts!

Orzo Pesto ingredients (makes 4)
1 1/4 cup of orzo
4 oz kale cashew basil pesto (1/2 container)
1 cup diced tomato (about 2)
1 cup chopped grilled and marinated artichoke hearts (or canned)
1/2 cup chopped roasted peppers
2 tbsp. fresh basil chopped
2 tbsp. chopped cashews
1tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Red bean cake ingredients (makes 4):
1 15.5 oz can of organic red beans
1/2 cup sautéed onions
1 tbsp. sautéed garlic
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup flour

Garlic Avocado Aioli:
1 small ripe avocado
1/2 of a lemon juiced
1 clove grated or 1 tsp. minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Peel and dice onion and add to a small skillet with 1/2 cup of water over medium heat. Mince garlic and add to skillet. Cook both for 5 minutes ubfik water evaporates and set aside.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil for orzo. While booking, open and rinse can of beans. Add to a medium-sized bowl and mash with a fork until no beans are whole. Rinse and dice cilantro.
3. Add orzo to boiling water and set timer for 8 minutes. Add cilantro and spices to bean mixture and mix well.
4. Rinse and dice tomato by cutting around the seeded core (save for salsa) and slice and dice each fourth of the tomato. Add to a large bowl.
5. Open jars of roasted peppers and artichoke hearts and chop the appropriate amount of each. Add to the bowl.
6. Rinse skillet from earlier and add olive oil over medium heat. While it heats, strain the orzo and add to the bowl of veggies.
7. Add flour to a plate or shallow dish. With gloved hands, form beans into balls (it will fall into patty) and coat lightly in flour before adding to hot oil. cook for 2 minutes per side as remove from heat.
8. Add pesto to orzo and tear basil to fold in. Chop or crush cashews (optional).

Aioli Directions:
1. Cut avocado in half. Scoop halves out into a bowl or small cup and mash with a fork.
2. Grate garlic and add. Cut lemon in half and squeeze over avocado seeded side up. Mix well.
3. Salt and pepper to taste.