Sunflower Strawberry Salad

It’s still verrrry much spring where I live. Like the local strawberries just started to come out and it’s mid-June! BUT that’s ok because I can enjoy Carolina strawberries in early spring and local strawberries in late spring…winning!

I never really liked fruit in my lettuce salads for some reason…that is until lately. Now, I’m all in! I have a great winter mandarin salad, this spring strawberry salad, and summer…maybe I’ll load it up with blueberries? We will see!

Usually the main attraction of a salad, for me, is the dressing. I mean, isn’t that why most of us eat a salad? Because, we like the dressing? Well, in this salad, the dressing takes a back seat (although it is delicious) to the amazing crunchy, salty, sweet flavors that hit every bite! I use a simple lemon vinaigrette dressing that’s not too tangy and not too sweet. I make my dressings to taste so these may not be the exact measurements BUT make yours to what you like!

I buy a big box of spring mix each week and it usually stays good for about 5-7 days

Salad Ingredients:

  • Spring mix or spinach (2 cups per salad for a large salad)
  • Feta cheese (1 tablespoon per salad…more or less based on your taste)
  • Sunflower seeds (1 tablespoon per salad)
  • Spring onions (1-3 teaspoons)
  • Strawberries, sliced (1/4 cup per salad)

Dressing ingredients:

  • 1 whole lemon juiced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (you can use 1 small clove minced too)
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1/3 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (or apple cider)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (more if you like a sweeter dressing)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Honestly, this salad isn’t hard to make because many of the ingredients are grab-n-go!

Grab a wide bowl. This isn’t super necessary but honestly, it makes it look prettier! Throw the lettuce in the bowl and then layer the ingredients. I like strawberries, feta, sunflower seeds, then onions personally but, go on…do yo thing!

For the dressing, I use the Pampered Chef manual food processor. This thing is a kitchen staple in my house! I don’t have an electric food processor because, well I don’t need it with this bad boy! Toss all the ingredients in the food processor and chop away! It comes out rich and smooth and delicious!!!!

Refreshing, crisp, and delicious! (also quick and cheap!)

This entire salad provides nutrients from the lettuce to the fixin’s to the dressing. It is seriously a nutrient power house! There aren’t many other foods that you can get TONS of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in just one bowl. Let’s just go over some of the nutrition highlights of this bad boy!

Power-Packed Lineup!

  • Spring Mix: tons of Vitamin A, C, K, and folate (a B vitamin). Some iron (although some of it does get lost during digestion), fiber (much of that insoluble to keep everything “moving”). **If you are on a blood thinner and watching vitamin K you can eat iceberg lettuce as a LOW vitamin K food**
  • Feta Cheese: look, honestly theres such a small amount you aren’t getting much but a tiny bit of protein and calcium BUT it tastes great! Even if you are watching your sodium intake you shouldn’t worry too much because again, a small amount (190 mg-ish)
  • Sunflower Seeds: loaded with heart healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein! Also a good source of iron and potassium makes this a crunchy little firecracker!
  • Spring Onions: although, like feta, the amount you are using isn’t huge, the little boost of immune-boosting antioxidants in the entire onion family are something to keep on your radar! Plus…fiber!
  • Strawberries: do you know that strawberries have more vitamin C per serving than an orange…fun fact! In just one serving of strawberries you get WELL over 100% of your daily vitamin C. Along with that you have fiber and a LOAD of antioxidants in this yummy little gem!
  • The dressing is also loaded with amazing nutrients from the ingredients in it so even just a few teaspoons on the salad gives you flavor and nutrition!
Enjoy my friends! I know we did!

Christmas Quinoa

In the mountains of Western Pennsylvania it gets cold. I mean, really cold. This past weekend was no exception. It was cold, blustery, snowy, and icy. Did I mention that the day before was sunny and 70? At any rate, it’s good weather (the cold stuff) to have the church Thanksgiving dinner because it gets you in the mood for the warmth and comfort Thanksgiving brings. It is one of my very favorite holidays where friends and family can gather, talk, eat a meal, and enjoy one another. The time spent with loved ones is a treasure to be held and cared for. Do me a favor, don’t talk politics or other controversial topics…just be in the moment and enjoy the company of those around you.

At any rate, our church’s Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful time of feasting, fun, and fellowship. Many bring a covered dish and the church provides turkey, ham, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. This year I decided to bring quinoa salad. I have a few favorite quinoa recipes in my holster and this may be one of the best! It is fresh and light while bringing in some holiday flavors.

img_0012

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a whole grain packed with nutrients. It is best known for having tons of protein and even more than that it is a complete protein meaning it has all of the amino acids (what makes up protein) that you need! Cool huh?! Besides protein, quinoa also contains fiber, iron, omega-3’s, and many vitamins and minerals. It’s fairly flavorless unless toasted which helps it to pair well with most food. Because it is gluten free, you can substitute quinoa for pasta, barley, bulgur, or farro in other dishes.

This ancient grain is one of my favorites to make and as a bonus, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to cook. Warm or cold quinoa can be eaten warm with a meal or as a cold salad. Like this recipe, it goes well with fruit or can be part of a tangy or savory side dish.

One of the most important steps to this dish is super simple but adds so much flavor. Toasting the quinoa. I was told by a seasoned chef that you can toast any grain to bring out a nutty, more flavorful version of that grain. There are a few things you should know about toasting any grain; first you need to warm the pan over medium high heat. After the pan is warm simply add the grain, in our case quinoa. The grain will warm up and start to smell nutty. Quinoa will let you know when it’s toasting by hearing “pops”. Simply let it pop for a minute and then add broth or water (see instructions on the back), turn the heat on high, and allow the water to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the quinoa cook and soak in all of the liquid which takes about 15-20 minutes.

img_0010 img_0008

The rest of the recipe is chopping, mixing, and pouring. Easy peasy and tastes amazing!

img_0018

Christmas Quinoa (keen-wah)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red quinoa (if you can’t find red, white is fine)
  • 5 stalks celery chopped (cut up the leaves as well)
  • 8 green onions chopped (if you can’t find them use 1/2 red onion)
  • 1 cup parsley finely chopped (flat leaf or curly)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped dried cranberries

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing (use this on everything…it’s sooo good!)

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup canola or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 2 lemons

img_0006

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk together and set aside until the quinoa salad is ready. This marries all of the flavors together. Yum!
  2. Toast the quinoa. Place a large pan over medium high heat until the pan is warm (not hot). Place quinoa in warmed pan and wait until the quinoa starts popping. Stir continuously until the quinoa pops for a minute or it starts to smell nutty. Do not leave the quinoa during this point or you will burn it!
  3. Once the quinoa is popping and nutty add 4 cups of water, turn the heat to high, and allow the quinoa to boil. Once it starts boiling turn down the heat and let the quinoa simmer for 15-20 minutes until the quinoa soaks up the water. (follow the package directions minus the toasting and letting the water boil before putting the quinoa into it)
  4. Let the quinoa cool for a few minutes and then place in a large bowl. Add the celery, onions, parsley, walnuts, and cranberries.
  5. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss lightly until the dressing is distributed evenly.
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

img_0021    img_0022

NOTES:

  • This is definitely a good make ahead dish. You can make it ahead the day before and the flavors will marry and become irresistible!
  • You can make this salad with any number of grains including (but not limited to) brown rice, wild rice, barley, bulgur, wheat berries, and farro.
  • Nut allergy? Not to worry! Try sunflower seeds or shelled pumpkin seeds instead for an added crunch.
  • Like a little more dressing? Just double the batch and save excess for salads later on!

FOOD ALERTS: Contains nuts. Gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free.

Try it. Let me know how you like it or if you did something to make it your own!

Layered Taco Dip

Football season has officially begun. That means baseball playoff time is about to start and hockey season is on its way. My husband and I enjoy fun game-day food and this 6+ layered taco dip is no exception. Don’t get scared it seems like a lot of ingredients when it’s 6 layers but believe me, it takes about 15 minutes to throw together. The layers are super easy and packed with tons of nutrients like heart healthy fats, protein, fiber, calcium, and a whole lot of vitamins.

img_8551

Here’s the deal, not everything that is low in calories is healthy and not everything that is higher in calories is unhealthy. Calories are not the measure of health. This recipe does not use fat free anything except the salsa, tomatoes, and lettuce that are naturally fat free. 🙂 The recipe uses real ingredients that provide your body essential nutrients it needs to improve your health.

I first took the cream cheese out of the frig and let it warm up a bit just so it was easier to incorporate into the Greek yogurt and taco seasoning. I added a touch of sour cream but you certainly don’t have to because the Greek yogurt does the job. Mixing in the taco seasoning, I whipped all of those ingredients together.

img_8554

The vegetarian refried beans went down into the dish first. It is a nice firm base and one of those power houses to this dish with tons of fiber and protein. I chose vegetarian because it has no saturated fat.

img_8553

The Greek yogurt mixture went on top of the beans. Salsa came next and is packed with lycopene, vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals. You can certainly use homemade salsa but I used canned for this recipe. Shredded romaine lettuce is one of the stars of the show and I put this on top of the salsa. It’s crunchy with a bold color, mild flavor, and a great source of vitamin A. Next came shredded cheddar cheese. If you wanted to lower the saturated fat in the recipe you can certainly leave it out. I personally don’t think it added much to the dish except a fun yellow color and a little bit of protein. After the cheese you can use your imagination. I used tomatoes, minced black olives, and avocado. You’ll see in the picture that half of it had all three and the other half didn’t have tomatoes or olives. My taste vs my husbands.

This is a fun dish that you can get creative with. If you wanted to go vegan you could omit the Greek yogurt and cream cheese and just use silken tofu with the taco seasoning likewise omitting the cheddar cheese and use dairy alternatives. If you wanted to add more veggies consider adding scallions, peppers, shredded carrots, or shredded zucchini. Go wild! Instead of refried beans you could do crushed black beans or hummus. Make as many layers as you want and try your own layered dip!

img_8555

Layered Taco Dip
Ingredients:
1, 16 oz can vegetarian refried beans
8 oz package of 1/3 fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
5 oz container of 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 packet of taco seasoning (without trans fats)
1/3 cup sour cream
8 oz jarred salsa (you can also use pico de gallo or  homemade salsa)
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tomato or 2-3 small tomatoes diced
2-3 tablespoons black olives (I used minced but use whatever you like)
1/2 diced avocado (if you are keeping this dip out all day mix the diced avocado with lime juice

Directions:
1. Spread refried beans on the bottom of a square or rectangle glass dish.
2. Mix cream cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, and taco seasoning in a medium bowl and spread over refried beans.
3. Place salsa over the yogurt mixture and sprinkle lettuce over the salsa.
4. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese evenly over the lettuce.
5. Add the toppings.

img_8557

Serve immediately with flour, corn, whole grain, or your choice of tortilla chips. You can also keep this refrigerated until service. Remember to keep it on ice during your party!

This recipe is gluten free (check taco seasoning), nut free, egg free

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip

I’m a sucker for warm dips. From buffalo chicken, to crab, and spinach artichoke dip. There’s nothing better to eat on a brisk football Saturday or Sunday than a savory warm dip! I watch the Food Network a lot…by a lot I mean some of the cooks/chefs are no longer guests in my house but members of the family (Guy, I’m talking about you!). I’m inspired by their passion for food and cooking as well as their funny personalities. Lately I have been watching Nancy Fuller who has a show called “Farm House Rules”. Many of her dishes are high fat, calorie, salt, sugar, etc but the reason I like her is the love she puts into her food. The other day she was making spinach dip and it inspired me. I wanted to make a rendition of warm spinach and artichoke dip that is packed with nutrients, has a little less calories, and a little less fat but still tastes amazing!

When I’m creating recipes I take ideas from many different sources. Whether it is just general knowledge of food science and nutrition or it is various recipes that I have read I tend to tie all of that together and viola, a new recipe. I sent my husband to the store for these ingredients and let him run wild on the brands. I don’t usually have a specific brand that I’m attached to because I’m a budget shopper and try to select the least expensive yet healthiest option.

IMG_8513

Missing from the photo is chopped frozen kale.

In any rate I heated a medium pot over medium-high heat, added oil, garlic, and onions. I sauteed these until the unions were soft and began literally throwing in the other ingredients. It was pretty simple and took me about 10 minutes overall. I made it in a pot but you could also make it in a slow cooker for game day and keep in on warm the entire day stirring it once in a while. Notice my shortcut garlic and short cut onions. Those are staples in my house (check out my blog on kitchen short cuts).

Nutrition Lesson: Unlike a typical spinach artichoke dip I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese…an actual French cheese), and part skim mozzarella cheese. I do not like fat free options unless it’s yogurt or milk. Especially when something should have fat (sour cream is literally cream [fat] that has been soured) it probably needs that fat to be that product…follow me? All cheese needs fat to keep it together including cream cheese. If you completely take out an essential ingredient like fat you have to add other things to it. There’s way too many food additives in what we eat so my tip is either use an alternative ingredient (like Greek yogurt) or use the real deal and just eat less.

Back to the recipe. I enjoyed playing with this recipe. It was the first time I’ve made it and it turned out pretty good! The only changes I would make would be to add even more veggies including artichokes (probably 1 1/2-2 cans), cooked cauliflower, shredded carrots, and shredded zucchini. I think they would be fantastic additions to this and boost those antioxidants!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup diced onion (add more if you like)
8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1, 14 oz can artichoke hearts in brine, chopped (save the brine)
8 oz chopped frozen kale (defrosted and drained)
10 oz chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat canola oil over medium high heat in pot. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is tender. Lower heat to medium – low heat and add cream cheese, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add chopped artichoke hearts and the brine and mix. Place kale and spinach in the cheese mixture and mix. Sprinkle nutmeg, pepper, and salt and mix. Allow dip to cook until ingredients marry (about 5 minutes). Place in serving dish, slow cooker, or keep warm on the stove until service.

NOTE: this is definitely a make ahead dip! Make it ahead and keep refrigerated until the party. Take it out and place into a small slow cooker. Serve with whole grain tortilla chips (corn, wheat, mix of grains). Nutmeg may seem weird but it adds another dimension of flavor!

Dietary restrictions: this recipe is gluten free (get GF tortilla chips), vegetarian, nut free, and soy free

IMG_8514

Final thoughts: Eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun. This recipe isn’t the lowest in calories but it is better than the original and also provides some nutrients through the veggies, probiotics with the yogurt, and and protein with the cheese. Enjoy!

Challenge: even if you don’t make “healthier” versions of your game-day favorites, just simply eating smaller portions. This will help your overall health!

Healthy Kitchen Shortcuts

I have 3 kids, 4 and under. Don’t be alarmed, two of those are twins. My goal as a wife-mom-dietitian is to provide the best food I can for my family. That means making healthy, homemade meals in between diapers, spit up, and toddler problems.

Cooking dinner tonight I came up with this blog post. You can read about me in my bio section but I like to get as fresh and as local as possible. But let’s get real, sometimes we are looking for healthy AND quick. Taking shortcuts has been my go-to since having children.

Here are the 5 quick and healthy items I keep in my kitchen always:

  1. Minced garlic. Yep, I buy the garlic in the glass container and I LOVE IT! Almost everything I cook has garlic in it. Any time I need a clover or two I get in my refrigerator, grab a spoon and boom, it’s done! Fresh garlic is delicious but when I need a time saver (which is daily at this point) I go with it!
  2. Diced frozen onions. Similar to the garlic, I could grow my own onions, dice, and freeze them and someday I will. But right now I need diced onions without having onion juice all over my hands when the babies are screaming. Frozen diced onions it is! This only works if you’re cooking, if you are making a dish that isn’t cooked (summer salsa, salads, etc) then use fresh onions.
  3. Frozen veggies of all types. When I’m making vegetable soup in the winter I buy frozen. If I have any fresh then of course they go in the pot but frozen is so much better than fresh in the winter. All year long I keep frozen broccoli and cauliflower bulk bags in my freezer. Corn isn’t a veggie but that’s also a staple frozen food that we keep on hand.
  4. Lemon and lime juice concentrate. There’s nothing better than fresh lemons or limes but in a pinch, concentrate can be a recipe saver. You can use the concentrate in any recipe that calls for lemon or lime juice so it works well in fish and chicken dishes, salsa, sauces, and tea.
  5. Quick grains like quinoa, farro, and brown minute rice. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and farro (pronounced fare-oh) are whole grains packed with fiber, protein, and nutrients. All three of these power packed grains cook completely in about 15 minutes unlike regular brown rice or other grains that may take about an hour to cook. To flavor these up toast them in a dry pan first and then cook with vegetable or chicken broth or stock.

I’ve learned, after having twins, that sometimes shortcuts are A-OK and you have to be A-OK with the shortcuts. Cooking healthy doesn’t have to mean preparing a gourmet meal, using tons of ingredients or ingredients that you have to find at a specialty food store, or spending hours in the kitchen.

Final thoughts: We unfortunately do not live on a cooking show set where there are tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs/spices, and any ingredient we so desire. Sometimes we need shortcuts to make our lives easier especially when cooking for our family day in and day out. Use some shortcuts to make your life simpler!

Challenge – if you are overwhelmed with cooking and menu planning for your family, figure out which shortcuts would work best for you and run with it! Share your shortcuts with us!