Thursday, July 31, 2014

No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars

This was truly a grand and exciting experiment. I honestly have been so excited to share these with you because they turned out so incredible. They are delicious and so incredibly easy to make and once you have purchased the ingredients you can make a ton of them for really really cheap! 

Plus, the very best part about them, is that I feel great feeding them to my family. Granola bars that you buy from the store will always have preservatives in them - and some of them have A LOT of them. Not to mention that most of them are chuck full of sugar and if your family eats them like my family does, they can munch their way through an entire box in an afternoon. 

I found a super simple recipe for chewy granola bars and really wanted to try it. I was a little afraid of the "work" that it was going to take, so I set aside an afternoon where I didn't have any plans.  Little did I realize how simple these were going to be. The hardest part was deciding what to put in them - because sadly I couldn't fit Everything in. 

Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars
Makes 24 bars (9″x13″ pan)


2 ½ cups Rice Krispies (if you want to make these healthier, you can use plain puffed rice cereal)
1 ¾ cups quick oats (regular rolled oats work too - I used Steel Cut Oats)
¼ cup wheat germ (or ground flax seed, wheat bran, or additional oats)
½ cup additional mix-in ingredients, optional (i.e. shredded coconut, chopped nuts, raisins or other dried fruit, sesame or sunflower seeds, etc.)

½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar 
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup chocolate chips

Watch this mixture carefully. The first time around I wasn't paying attention and burned the sugar - so I had to start over again. Wasted ingredients don't make for a lot of savings - plus the failed process just makes me mad.


Combine first 4 dry ingredients in a bowl.
In a saucepan, mix the honey, brown sugar and salt. Over medium-low heat, stir until the mixture comes to a complete boil for 30-60 seconds.
Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla until smooth.

Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well.
Let cool for 5-10 minutes before mixing in the chocolate chips.

 Press into a greased 9×13 pan and let cool before cutting into bars.
These freeze well!!

I actually just put the bars right into the fridge so they would "set" and I could cut them sooner. It worked out beautifully because the extra coolness allowed me to handle them and get them wrapped without the chocolate chips melting all over my fingers.

 These are going to be a staple at our house from now on!  I am already planning on making ones with coconut and dried cherries (my favorite) and my kids went bonkers for the sunflower seeds in them.

All that is left is to train them that the granola bars live in the freezer now, instead of a box in the pantry.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Light and Creamy Cucumber Salad with Dill

We are in the middle of a cucumber boom right now.  They are coming out of the garden like a flash mob! I was thinking about classic cucumber salad, but wasn't feeling very happy about the sour cream and mayonnaise that the traditional recipe calls for. I decided to try it with just substituting greek yogurt for both and I am very pleased with the end result. It was Quite as creamy as the original, but I think the trade-off for such a healthy switch is definitely worth it. 

Here’s what you’ll need to make it yourself {serves about 6}

2 Large Cucumbers
1 cup of Plain Greek Yogurt
1/2 of a medium sized red onion
about a 1/4 cup fresh chopped dill
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
about a teaspoon each of sugar, salt and fresh black pepper

Slice your cucumber and red onion as thin as possible…If you have one,  put the cucumber down the tube of your food processor with the slicing blade and it does the work for you.  I don't have one, and I probably wouldn't want to clean it anyway, so I just use a cutting board and knife and try and get it as even as I can. 

Then I’ll slice the red onion. 

 In a small mixing bowl add your sugar, then the vinegar and mix together until it dissolves. Now add in the yogurt, garlic and dill, mix well. - I had some left over chives from making ranch dressing, so I added those too.  Don't worry if you don't have them. 

 Add your cucumbers and onions to your serving bowl and pour the dressing over top, toss together and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate no more than an hour before serving so it wont get soggy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Simple Strawberry Smoothie

For as incredibly simple and wonderful as they are, I find myself almost never making smoothies. It is strange, because Creating a Smoothie is almost the easiest thing you can do in the kitchen. 

I think it is because I don't have one of the Fancy blenders. You know, one of the ones that cost hundreds of dollars and can grind up phones and rocks and stuff. I just have a regular old kitchen blender (that I actually got as a hand me down when my mom got one of the Ferrari Blenders - that grind rocks)

So here is a simple classic recipe, for my simple classic blender. You can add ANY fruit you want, but we had some strawberries that were needing to be used. If you want to be a flavor scientist you can experiment with flavors of yogurt today, but since this is a simple, classic recipe, we are going to stick with vanilla. 

makes 2 servings

 8 strawberries, hulled
 1/2 cup skim milk
 1/2 cup plain yogurt
 3 tablespoons white sugar ( you should try and leave this out - it isn't great for you, but sometimes - it needs it)
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract ( this is the super secret ingredient to making it taste Amazing!)
 6 cubes ice, crushed

Monday, July 28, 2014

Basic Stir Fry Sauces

One of the greatest things about creating a stir fry is that you don't really have to HAVE anything to make one. There are the ultimate "anything goes" dinner.  We recently got back from a little weekend away and I needed to make something to use up all the odds and ends we were left with from vacation food. 

So I emptied the fridge (which was really just full of stuff I emptied from the cooler) and put it all out on the counter. The only problem that I run into when making a stir fry is that I get stuck when it comes to the sauce.  I'll be honest with you, I have really screwed up the sauce before and completely killed dinner. I have made almost all the mistakes you can make - I have made it too spicy, and way to bland, I have made it with so much vinegar it bites you back and one time I even made it way too "fishy" - that was a disaster no one wanted to eat. 

So I gathered a little collection of basic stir fry sauces. You can still make up your own and be super creative, but for those of you who are like me and your creativity isn't always edible - here is a starting point. 

Lemon Stir-Fry Sauce – Great with seafood stir fries, such as shrimp and/or scallops, as well as chicken.
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
• • •
Lemon Stir-Fry Sauce II – nice with chicken and seafood.
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 -3 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
Optional: red pepper flakes
• • •
Soy Sesame Stir-Fry Sauce – good all-round Asian sauce, suitable for all proteins.
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 tsp. rice wine vinegar
4 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
2 tsp. sugar
• • •
Basic Stir-Fry Sauce – good all-round sauce.
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup rice wine or rice vinegar
3 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
• • •
Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce – great with chicken and pork.
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider or rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
• • •
Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce II – great with chicken, pork, beef and shrimp.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
• • •
Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce III – great with chicken, pork, beef and shrimp.
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup pineapple juice (or addition 1/4 cup water)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
• • •
Hot and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce – good all-round sauce.
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. chile paste (sambal oleek)
• • •
Thai Stir-Fry Sauce – great with chicken or shrimp.
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
3 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/3 to 1/2 tsp. dried crushed chili
2 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
• • •
Peanut Stir-Fry Sauce – perfect for noodles or chicken.
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tsp. granulated sugar (less if not using natural peanut butter)
4 tsp. natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp. water
2 teaspoons Asian chili garlic paste
Combine all ingredients and heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds.
• • •
Orange Stir-Fry Sauce – nice with chicken and pork.
3/4 orange juice
1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
2 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp. Oyster sauce
1 Tbsp. Rice vinegar
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Finely grated orange zest
• • •
Orange Stir-Fry Sauce II – nice with chicken and pork.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tsp. brown sugar
1 green onion, finely chopped
• • •
Spicy Orange Stir-Fry Sauce – great with chicken!
3/4 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
Large pinch of dried crushed red pepper, or to taste
• • •
Orange Sesame Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce – nice with chicken.
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar or rice wine
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 fresh red chili, finely chopped or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or 1/2 tsp. sambal oleek)
• • •
Spicy Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce – great all-round spicy stir fry sauce.
3-4 Tbsp. sodium-reduced soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice wine or rice vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp.sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. green onion, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh minced ginger
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. chili paste (sambal oleek or chili paste sauce with garlic)
• • •

  1. Some of these sauces already have cornstarch added but if they don’t, you can use this to thicken any sauce that you think is too thin. Simply combine 1 Tbsp. cornstarch with 3 Tbsp. water and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add a bit, stir and cook until sauce thickens. Add more as necessary.
  2. Consider using low-sodium chicken broth and soy sauce to avoid an overly-salty finished dish.
  3. Each of these sauces makes 1/2 – 1 cup of stir fry sauce. You may not need it all, depending on the amount of meat, noodles and/or vegetables you are stir frying. Add as necessary to make it as saucy as you like and thicken with the thickener above, if desired. Of course, you can also double the sauce if you’re making a lot of stir fry.
  4. Some of these sauces already contain things like minced garlic, ginger, onion or chilis (or other heat) but if they don’t, be sure to consider adding some into your stir fry.
  5. Everyone’s tastes are different so you will likely want to tweak the sauces to your tastes. If you print out the list, you can simply make notes as you go to develop your perfect sauce.

Once you have chosen your sauce, all that is left is to throw everything together.  We chopped up the veggies so they were in a uniform size, since we were dealing with leftovers some were in big pieces and some were smaller. Making everything roughly the same size ensures that things will cook evenly and you won't end up with some crunchy and some mushy. 

 Then we tossed it all into the electric skillet. I needed to use the biggest pan that I have so that the pan could stay nice and hot and so that I would have room to stir everything around without it flying out of the pan.

 Dinner turned out amazing, all the vacation leftovers got used up and best of all - everyone got full bellies.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Simplest Peanut Noodles Ever

I think one of the greatest feelings in the kitchen is when you find a recipe that is super simple, can be made without having to buy special ingredients, has amazing flavor and satisfies your family. That is a really tall order than few dishes can live up to, it is really hard to please Everybody!  But this peanut noodle recipe really hits the target for our family. Everyone loves it, I always have the ingredients on hand (who doesn't own a giant jar of peanut butter?) And with the peanut butter added, I don't have to add an additional protein. I just heat up a bag of frozen veggies and we are ready to be in the time it takes to boil spaghetti!

Easy Peanut Noodles Recipe

2 cups broccoli florets
8 oz linguine or spaghetti

for the sauce
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil. Substitute with canola oil.
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Crushed red chili flakes, as much as you like

2 tablespoons chopped green onion or cilantro or parsley for garnish

1. In a large pot, bring plenty of salted water to a boil.

2. While water is coming to a boil, work on the sauce. Place all sauce ingredients (peanut butter through red chili flakes) in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of water, and whisk everything together till a sauce forms. Set aside.

This is the first time I have made peanut sauce this way, and I was pretty sure it wasn't going to work. But I added all the ingredients to my glass mixing bowl and just gently whisked. It took a minute but it came together really well no special steps were necessary. 

When your pasta is done cooking, drain it in a large colander.

 Pour the peanut sauce all over the pasta and toss well. Taste the pasta, if it needs more salt, add soy sauce half a tablespoon at a time, tossing and tasting as you go.

Garnish with chopped green onions, cilantro or parsley. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fluffy Zucchini Muffins

Something I find really strange about zucchini is that it is so plentiful in the summer that you can often find people just giving the stuff away. You'll find it on your porch when you come back home from running errands if you aren't careful. But in the winter time buying a tiny zucchini at the grocery store can cost you an arm and a leg. I find this unbalance of supply and demand quite the paradox. I really love zucchini and it kills me to not be able to buy it in the winter months. So I am going to get all I can while the getting is good. And right now, It is Very good. 
My sister is gone on vacation for a week, so she had to have someone go out and pick the garden. I lucked out double and my mom and dad went out and picked the garden and then brought the yumminess to me. It doesn't get much better than that! Fresh picked garden produce delivered right to your door, if you can manage to have someone do it for you, I HIGHLY recommend it. 

The chocolate zucchini bread was a wild success around here. (As you can imagine any sweet bread with chocolate and chocolate chips added to it might be!) But I was wanting to make something a little lighter. While I think the dense texture of the Chocolate Zucchini Bread was delicious and fit the style of the bread perfectly, I really didn't think it would go well as a muffin. So I set out to make a light fluffy zucchini muffin, with a great muffin texture and a spice flavor. 

Fresh Zucchini Muffins
Makes about 12 muffins

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small to medium-size zucc’s)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. baking powder
Cinnamon and sugar for topping (optional - it will crisp the tops of your muffins)
1. Preheat oven to 375. In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. In medium bowl, combine grated zucchini, eggs, vanilla, and oil. Stir well to combine, then gently stir into flour mixture. Be careful not to overwork this—it will lead to dense muffins!
3. Fill lined muffin tins about 3/4 of the way up with the batter and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on each. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.

I only put cinnamon sugar as a topping on one pan of muffins (and I tripled the recipe and made three). I don't think it needed the "extra" sugar for taste and I didn't like the way that it made the tops of the muffins extra crispy. 

The ones without the sugar on top turned out a lovely golden and had that great muffin top texture to everyone secretly (or not so secretly) has as their favorite. 

I had some larger zucchinis and some smaller ones. I used the larger ones to bake, because I really like to cook with the smaller tender ones. If you end up in the same situation as me, and you are using large zucchinis to bake, feel free to cut them and then use a spoon to scrape out of the seeds. Like you would a large winter squash. The seeds don't end up grating well and then don't "blend" well into the muffin batter - they just stay seeds.

 I am extremely happy with how these muffins turned out. My 5 year old helped measure the ingredients and bake them. I was nervous that after seeing the zucchini go into the muffins that he wouldn't be too excited about eating them. But I was wrong, he ate them right out of the oven, then for "dessert" last night and again for breakfast this morning. He has even requested that every Tuesday from now on be Muffin Day. That sounds good to me!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Strawberry and Lime Parfait

Believe it or not, this was a request from my 11-year old. He professed a love for fruit and yogurt parfaits over the weekend and said how excited he was for school to start so he could have them again.  Way To Go, School Lunch!! You are succeeding in helping my children to love healthy food. 

These couldn't be easier to make, and honestly, I feel a little bit bad that he had to ask me to make them (because we didn't have a box of granola and that required a trip to the store) Now that I know how much he enjoys them (and they were quite a hit with everyone else too - I will try and make sure we have the supplies) 

All you need is some fruit, granola and a bit of yogurt. We sat down together and decided what might be a flavor combination that we wanted to try and we decided on lime and strawberries.  We were leaning a bit towards the raspberries, but the store was completely out of them and so that was decided for us. 

As we were eating the whole family got talking about how they would make their perfect parfait. Some said they would like to add bananas to their strawberries and perhaps some banana cream pie yogurt. There were lots of requests for vanilla yogurt and some for blueberries. That is the beauty of making something like this. There are almost limitless possibilities as to what you can add to make it something you like. (unless the store is out of the berries that you wanted to buy)