Maple-Banana Smoothie with Oats and Walnuts

maple smoothie on counterThe snow is melting, the sun has a promise of warmth, but the wind is still chilly and the nights are cold.  The sap is running in the sugar maple trees.  In celebration of maple syrup season, I made a delicious smoothie today, sweetened with pure maple syrup from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  My brother and his wife live up there, and gave us this syrup made by a friend of theirs.  It is so flavorful and pure, I feel like I am walking in the fresh north woods when I taste it.  I love using pure maple syrup as a sweetener.  It is a welcome alternative to refined sugar, and it contains minerals and antioxidants as well.  Maple syrup has gained popularity in many recipes, and I am enjoying experimenting with it. The smoothie I made this morning is full of soothing, creamy, rich nutrition with banana, yogurt, oats, and walnuts.  maple smoothie ingredients 3To me, it is the perfect combination of sweet and nourishing.  Goodness knows I needed a boost of energy this morning, and this smoothie has enough protein from the yogurt, oats, and walnuts to provide lasting energy.  My sweet son has been quite sick this week, and I have needed all the energy I could get to help take care of him. Fortunately, he is feeling much better.  I am sharing this recipe, because I hope this smoothie will help you face whatever lies ahead with strength and some enjoyment thrown in along the way.  That’s where the maple syrup comes in. It is such a lovely, natural treat. “When made in small quantities–that is, quickly from the first run of sap and properly treated–it has a wild delicacy of flavor that no other sweet can match. What you smell in freshly cut maple-wood, or taste in the blossoms of the tree, is in it. It is then, indeed, the distilled essence of the tree.” –John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons, 1886. I love the phrase “wild delicacy.”  Those two words seem to be opposites, and yet together, they describe some of the best things in life. Have a wonderful weekend! I am sharing this recipe with the many talented bloggers at Angie’s The Novice Gardener site for Fiesta Friday, hosted today by Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mila at Milkandbun. maple smoothie ingredients 2maple smoothie on porch 3maple smoothie on porch 4

Maple-Banana Smoothie with Oats and Walnuts

  • Servings: 1
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Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons of raw walnuts
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 banana, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk, almond milk, or soymilk
  • 2-3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions: Place the oats and walnuts in a blender or food processor.  Blend until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  You may need to scrape the sides and stir the mixture a bit between blending.  Then add the yogurt (Greek yogurt is great too), banana, milk, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Blend again until smooth.  If this is too thick, you can add a couple ice cubes and blend again.  If you prefer it on the thicker side (like I do), simply pour into a glass and sip with a straw and/or spoon.  Enjoy! 

Lemon Drop Cookies

lemon cookies 1These cookies are moist and subtly sweet with that uplifting zing that lemons give.  Sometimes I wonder, when I crave lemons, why lemons are so appealing when their juice alone is quite bitter and sour.  But many of us love lemon-flavored food and drinks.  There is something so bright and cleansing about lemon juice.  When I was a young girl, I had a picture in my room of a basket of pretty lemons, and it said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  I have heard that quoted countless times since then, and other similar quotes as well.  And yet, there is a lot to it.  Lemon juice alone is not so easy to drink (except for maybe a few, like my husband), but when mixed with enough sugar, the resulting drink is one of the most refreshing I have ever tasted.  The bittersweet quality gives lemonade more complexity and substance than a syrupy-sweet drink.  The same goes for these cookies.  They are sweet, but with a hint of powerful flavor from the lemon juice and rind.  lone lemonWhen difficult things happen to us, it is human nature to be drawn into sadness of it.  We often feel like we are the only ones to experience such a difficulty.  It is hard to take the high road and keep a philosophical viewpoint.  Maybe that’s why symbols of making good out of bad are so powerful: lemonade out of lemons; the phoenix rising from the flames. Lemons are a beautiful, bright yellow color, and to me, symbolize the beautiful complexity and bittersweet aspect of life.  lemon and grater 2This cookie recipe is easy and fairly quick to make.  The cream cheese and bit of butter keep the cookies moist, and the sugar and lemon flavors balance each other nicely.  Because the weather forecasters are calling for above-freezing temperatures next week, I took a couple of the photos in the snow and ice, since we may not have it much longer! With it being Friday, I am celebrating Fiesta Friday with the talented bloggers at The Novice Gardener, co-hosted this week by Caroline at Caroline’s Cooking and Elaine at Foodbod. I hope you all have a great weekend!  cookie batterlemon cookie closeuplemon cookies 8lemon cookies on porch

Lemon Drop Cookies

  • Servings: about 36 cookies
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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of cream cheese, also at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • the grated rind of a lemon
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, eggs, lemon rind, and sugar until smooth (you may use an electric mixer if you prefer, but it is not necessary if you stir vigorously!).  Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and stir well until completely combined.

Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Bake in your preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden/brown and firm to the touch.  Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Repeat until all the batter is used.  Store the cookies in the refrigerator between layers of wax paper.  Enjoy!

 

Cabin Fever Cookies and Evergreens

cookies on plate 1As I was driving the kids to school this morning, I noticed a beautiful evergreen tree.  It was standing, majestic, among a bunch of trees whose leaves had long since fallen.  The deep, velvety green color caught my eye.  I have driven this stretch of road thousands of times, but have never noticed the beauty of this particular tree.  The rich, emerald green stood out against a backdrop of bleakness–white snow, brown branches of deciduous trees, and a gray-pink winter dawn sky.  This month has been so unusually cold and at times, difficult.evergreens I have done my fair share of complaining about the weather.  But to see that evergreen radiating green beauty amidst the stark whites, grays, and browns of a cold winter morning, I was reminded that acts of kindness and moments of beauty stand out more against a backdrop of bleakness.  This is not a new revelation.  I am not the first person to notice this. But the fact that I was so struck by this evergreen tells me I needed to be reminded of this.  It made me think of the shiny, tiny dime we found sparkling on the backseat of the car.  Lilac-scented soap and colorful flowers from caring souls. Clean, warm blankets.  A friend checking to make sure my mom had made it home safely from our kids’ band concert when the roads were covered with ice.  A smile from a stranger at the grocery store.  These are some of my evergreens from this winter.  I made these cookies for my family to brighten their day too. I’m sharing the recipe below, because they really are wonderful.  cookies and bananaI based the cookies on my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, and then added a mashed banana to the dough.  I finished by spreading a dollop of creamy Nutella on the cooled cookies.  The cookies are moist, delicious, and even somewhat nutritious (with the peanuts and bananas).cookie doughraw cookiescookies and dishescookies on plate 3 walking in the woods

Cabin Fever Cookies

  • Servings: about 36 cookies
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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 and 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ripe banana
  • Nutella for the tops of the cookies

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large mixing bowl, vigorously stir the softened butter and peanut butter until smooth.  Add 1/2 cup of the flour, and then add the sugars, egg, baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla.  Stir well to combine.  Stir in the remaining flour.  In a small bowl, mash the banana with a fork.  Add that to the dough, and stir again to thoroughly combine.  Shape the dough into approximately one-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between. Bake in your 375 degree oven for 7-9 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and lightly brown on the bottom.  Cool the cookies on a wire rack.  When they are cool, gently spread a bit of Nutella on the tops, if desired.  Enjoy!

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches and Colorful Slaw

pulled chicken sandwich 2slaw with lemon and cabbage 6There is great value in meals that can be made ahead of time.  Sometimes the hour before dinner can be the most busy and full time of the day.  In our house, there are often multiple things going on at that time, including kids doing homework, unpacking lunchboxes, frantically searching for clean soccer and/or basketball clothes, shin guards and the appropriate shoes for the practice immediately following dinner, and lots of other things not even worth mentioning! Some evenings, it is a huge relief to know that the main part of the dinner is already simmering away in the crockpot while we tend to all the other issues at hand.  And some meals taste better the longer they simmer, allowing the flavors to blend and strengthen. That is the case with these pulled chicken sandwiches. With just a few simple ingredients and a crockpot, the chicken becomes tender and mouth-wateringly flavorful.  The recipe below is formed from a conglomeration of a few different recipes for pulled chicken and sloppy joes, based on the combination I feel tastes best while maintaining simplicity.  Because there is a fair amount of ketchup in this recipe, I like to get the highest-quality of ketchup I can find, and as always, that goes for the chicken as well.  This recipe is really easy to throw together a few hours ahead of time, and is perfect for when you have a little pocket of time in the afternoon and know it will be a busy evening.  I like to make a delicious, colorful coleslaw to serve with these sandwiches.  This coleslaw can be made with either red or green cabbage, but I chose red cabbage yesterday.  Cabbage is really good for us–it has lots of fiber and vitamins K, C, and A.  Plus, red cabbage (which can actually also be purple, but is still called red cabbage) contains an extra concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, giving it extra antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (See this link for more information on the health benefits of cabbage).  Red (also colored purple) cabbage is so beautiful. I really enjoyed taking photos of this salad.  The dressing is mildly tangy, bringing out the flavors of the vegetables without overpowering.  I often think of coleslaw as a summer salad, but it works well in the winter too.  Cabbage, carrots, and apples keep well over the winter, and goodness knows we all need a burst of color and crunch in the midst of winter.  This evening, my husband and I had leftover slaw on a bed of dark, leafy greens, topped with shelled, roasted pumpkin seeds.  That was so tasty!  I could feel the vitamins and minerals flowing into my body.  I cannot write this post without mentioning how utterly cold it is here in Michigan!  Today (and probably tomorrow too) my kids are home because their schools are closed due to dangerously cold wind chill temperatures. While we normally enjoy skiing or just being out in the snow, it is even too cold for that. I feel like we need healthy food now more than ever! Whether we are cozied up at home or facing a busy evening driving to and from obligations, a good, nourishing dinner helps us meet whatever life has in store for us.  I will be taking this dinner over to Angie’s at The Novice Gardener, for Fiesta Friday. This week’s fiesta is hosted by Tina at Mademoiselle Gourmande  and Juju at Cooking with Aunt Juju. With the cabin fever going on here, I especially look forward to checking out what everyone else has posted and look forward to communicating with all of you!  Stay warm and have a great weekend! red cabbagechicken mixturepulled chicken 1red cabbage choppedslaw with lemon and cabbagechicken and slaw

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of onion (red or yellow), finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 8 hamburger buns

Directions:

Place the onion in your crockpot.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil to the pan and swirl to coat the pan.  Add the garlic and chicken to the pan and cook, about 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  (Chicken does not need to be completely cooked–it will finish cooking in the crockpot). Transfer the chicken and little pieces of garlic to the crockpot and place on top of onions.  In a small bowl, combine the next 5 ingredients and pour over the chicken.  Cover and cook on low heat for about 4-5 hours, or until the chicken is tender and sauce thickens a bit.  Remove the chicken from the crockpot and shred it with two forks.  Then put it back in the crockpot.  Ladle the chicken and sauce mixture onto each bun and cover with bun tops.  Enjoy!

Colorful Slaw

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and sliced into thin strips
  • 1 apple, cored and finely chopped
  • 2 cups of finely chopped red, green, or napa cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • a pinch (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) of salt

Directions:

Wash and prepare the carrot and apple, and put the chopped pieces in a large bowl.  Wash the cabbage and peel off the outer layers of skin.  Cut the cabbage in half, and then finely chop.  Add the cabbage to the bowl with the carrot and apple.  In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, apricot preserves, lemon juice, and salt.  Adjust the amount of salt and lemon juice to your taste.  Pour this mixture over the salad and stir well to coat evenly.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lasagna

lasagna on plate 6Many souls have been cared for with lasagna and its many layers of warm, comforting goodness.  Lasagna allows the maker to be creative, with all the variations that are available.  I enjoy vegetarian lasagna as much as I enjoy the version with meat sauce that I am posting today.  This version of lasagna has served me so well over the years that I wanted to share it with all of you.  I started making it when I was first married, and over the years I have made additions and subtractions and adjustments, all the while creating bonds with family and friends through this meal.  When a friend or relative has a baby, has surgery, or loses a loved one, this is the dish I like to take over to help out.  It can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen until it is needed, and then all it needs is baking time.  And while it is baking, it fills the house with the most divine smell.  I also like to make this lasagna when I am having guests for dinner, because I can do a lot of the work before they arrive, allowing me to be more relaxed while the meal is baking away in the oven.  Though this lasagna cannot be considered a quick meal to prepare, it is a wonderful treat on that afternoon/evening when you have the time and it is cold and blustery outside.  flowersFor some reason, I love to give this meal away.  One of the first times I made this lasagna was when my then-new husband was in the army and he invited a new friend over to our apartment for dinner.  He and his friend finished the whole tray in one sitting (I ate some too of course, but not nearly as much as they did).  His friend, far from home, was so happy to have a home-cooked meal, and I felt like we had made a friend for life after that dinner.  I remember another time when my husband and I were renting an apartment on the main floor of an old house and our neighbor (who became a good friend) lived upstairs.  I had just pulled a tray of lasagna out of the oven and it was cooling when she walked by our door and started up the stairs to her place.  She looked like she had had a long day at work, so I quickly cut a piece of lasagna and handed her a plate of it to take up.  She smiled.  Layers of warm, comforting food make people smile, and that feels good.  This meal tastes great with a green salad.  I like to use lean ground beef in the sauce, though Italian sausage tastes good and ground turkey is even more lean. The quality of the tomatoes makes a difference to me, so I get the highest quality of tomatoes I can find.  That goes for the meat too. The recipe is based on a lasagna recipe I found in my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, though I have made several changes to it over the years. I am pretty sure there is a crowd gathering at Angie’s blog The Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday, hosted this week by the talented bloggers Suzanne at apuginthekitchen and Sue at birgerbird, so I am going to take this dish over there to share.   noodles and onionsmeat saucefillingready to bakelasagna on plate 5DSC_0330lasagna on plate 6

Lasagna

  • Servings: about 8
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Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound ground beef, Italian sausage, or ground turkey
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • about 12 ounces of tomatoes with their juices (a little less if you prefer)
  • 8 ounces of tomato sauce
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1-2 teaspoons of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 6 lasagna noodles
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh flat-leaf parsley, washed, finely chopped, and patted dry
  • 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese

Directions:

For the sauce, cook the meat, onion, and garlic in a large saucepan over medium to medium-high heat until the meat is browned and the onion is tender.  Drain the fat.  Add the undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, basil, oregano, and salt.  Stir well and bring to a boil, breaking the tomatoes into small pieces with your spoon; then cover and gently simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then.  Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water as the package directs.  Drain and rinse the noodles and let them cool, spread out on a paper-towel lined tray or plate.  For the filling, in a medium-sized bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, beaten egg, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

When the meat sauce is done, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Layer half of the cooked noodles in a 12 by 7 1/2 by 2 inch baking dish (a traditional lasagna dish).  Then spread with half of the ricotta filling.  Top with half of the meat sauce and half of the mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the layers.  Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or till heated through and cheese is melted.  Let it stand for about 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with a green salad.

To make ahead of time, prepare as above, except after assembling the layers, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  When you are ready to bake it, remove the covering and cover freshly with foil, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes.  Uncover and continue baking for about 20 minutes more, or until heated through and cheese is melted.  Enjoy!

This recipe is based on a lasagna recipe found in The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Tenth Ring Bound edition.

Green Infusion Soup with Potatoes and Miso

green soup in bowlI was at the grocery store several times this week, and I noticed something:  I kept gravitating toward green things–deep, dark green spinach, Swiss chard and kale, crunchy celery, bright, leafy parsley, even pistachios.  I took this as a sign that my body is craving the many nutrients found in green foods.  Though I love green smoothies, I was also craving something warm and cozy.  In the last week, we have gotten at least 18 inches of snow and endured very cold temperatures, so soup sounded comforting.  I have always loved putting leafy greens in soups, but yesterday, I decided to focus most of the soup on green foods.  I also had some miso paste in the refrigerator that has been calling out to be used, so I decided to create a soup with the green vegetables and the miso paste, and add some potatoes to make the soup more filling, therefore hopefully satisfying my eaters who have hearty appetites.  Miso is made from fermented soybeans (and in the paste I have, it also contains brown rice), and is often used in Japanese cooking.  I love the tangy, rich flavor of miso, in addition to all the health benefits.  Miso is full of minerals, protein, and antioxidants, and because it is a fermented food, it also has probiotics, which are good for our digestion.  I probably don’t need to go into the health benefits of green foods–we all know they are loaded with nutrients.  If you are not a big potato fan, you could also substitute soba or some other kind of thin noodle for the potatoes and sill reap the benefits of this tasty and nutrient-infusing soup. I am going to bring a bowl of this healthy and delicious stuff to Angie’s Fiesta Friday potluck at the Novice Gardener, hosted by Sonal from Simply Vegetarian 777 and Josette from The Brook Cook. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!green veggies 1greens and potatoesgreens and pistachiosgreen soup in potgreen soup on cutting board 2

Green Infusion Soup with Potatoes and Miso

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into small cubes
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons of chives, finely chopped
  • 3 cups of dark, leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard, and/or kale)
  • 4-5 tablespoons dark miso paste
  • about 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped (more if desired)
  • about 1/3 cup shelled pistachios (optional)

Directions:

Wash and chop the potatoes, celery, chives, and parsley.  In a large pot, bring the 6 cups of vegetable broth to a boil.  Gently tip in the potatoes and celery.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer the potatoes and celery for about 15-20 minutes, or until they are fork-tender.  Add the chives.  Gradually add the miso paste, one tablespoon at a time, stirring to dissolve the paste in the broth after each addition.  Go by your own tastes–you may want more or less miso, but 4-5 tablespoons is a good estimate.  Then add the greens, cooking until they just begin to wilt.  After you add the miso and greens, do not bring the soup back to a boil; just gently heat.  Ladle the soup into bowls, and add the parsley and optional pistachios to garnish.  Enjoy!

Rich, Chocolate Brownies with Powdered Sugar and Cinnamon

brownie on plate 4Chocolate in the heart of wintertime.  There is something special, yet completely crucial about having chocolate in the bleak mid-winter.  It is an inexpensive luxury that we should not live without.  My mouth is watering as I go over the photos for this post.  I think I will have to make another batch of these brownies very soon.  This may be old news to some of you, but to me it was a pleasant surprise–making brownies from scratch is not that difficult or time-consuming!  I am not someone to shy away from cooking and baking from scratch–I love to do it when I have the time, and I often make the time–but for some reason, I always made brownies from a box mix.  I guess I imagined making brownies from scratch took forever, or that I needed a double boiler to melt the chocolate, or that it made a huge mess.  But really, this recipe is not that much more time-consuming than using a mix, it doesn’t make a huge mess, and this way, you know exactly what is in your brownies–just the basic ingredients many of us have on hand, plus that magic ingredient–chocolate. brownies in panNo food cheers me up like chocolate does, and this time of year, many of us can use a bit of extra cheer!  Though I have made some changes, the recipe I am using is adapted from Susan Branch’s “From the Heart of the Home: Autumn,” an inspiring cookbook my cousin gave me years ago.  I feel that making a special batch of brownies is a treat we can offer to those we love, and a way we can treat ourselves too.  I am taking this pan of brownies over to Angie’s blog, The Novice Gardener, where part 2 of a very special celebration is taking place.  She has been coordinating Fiesta Friday for one whole year, and the connections she has fostered through this link party are incredible.  The bloggers who take part in this are kind, supportive, and not least of all, talented.  I love to look at their photos and read their posts.  This week’s celebration is co-hosted by Nancy from Feasting with Friends, and Selma, from Selma’s Table. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. egg and chocolatemelting chocolatebrownie batterbrownies in pan 3brownie on plate 3brownie on plate 2

Rich, Chocolate Brownies with Powdered Sugar and Cinnamon

  • Servings: 12 brownies
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Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces (2 squares) of unsweetened chocolate (baker’s chocolate)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • powdered sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle on the top

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with butter.  In a large saucepan, gently melt the chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring often.  Stir the rest of the ingredients into the pan, in the order they appear above, until everything is well combined.  With a wooden spoon or a spatula, scrape the batter into the baking pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes in your preheated oven.  Allow the brownies to cool, and sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  Enjoy!

Baked Parmesan Crisps with Chives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

hands holding plate of crispsWe all need easy, quick, recipes we can turn to when time is tight, but we still want something fun and festive.  For me, this Parmesan crisp recipe is one of those I look to when I need a quick, yet delicious appetizer or snack.  These crisps are so easy to make, and they taste so good! The savory Parmesan cheese, the rich flavor of the sun-dried tomatoes, and the lively chives and black pepper all come together to form an appetizer bursting with flavor.  And if you are staying away from carbohydrates or gluten, this is a snack you can munch on without worries.  My daughter originally found the basic recipe for these crisps on the back of a Parmesan cheese package, and being major cheese-lovers, we tried it.  We have since created our own variations, with the sun-dried tomatoes and chives version being my favorite.  However, my son is not crazy about the sun-dried tomatoes or the chives, so I like to make a few of the crisps with just the Parmesan cheese and a hint of black pepper for those who prefer a more basic approach.  I am taking this appetizer over to Angie’s blog The Novice Gardener, where there is a big celebration going on.  Though I am relatively new to the Fiesta Friday link parties, she has been successfully coordinating these events for a full year.  I have come across some wonderful food blogs, and have met really interesting and kind bloggers from all over this country and world through this process.  The one-year celebration is graciously hosted by Hilda from Along the Grapevine and Julianna from Foodie on Board.  I hope you all have a fabulous weekend filled with fresh air, good food and good company!parmesan crisps on sheetcrisps on sheet 2hands holding crisps 3hand holding crispparmesan crisps on plate both hands

Baked Parmesan Crisps with Chives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

  • Servings: 32 crisps
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 6 teaspoons of chives, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wash, pat dry, and finely chop the chives.  Chop the sun-dried tomatoes.  Shred the Parmesan cheese to make 2 cups, or if using pre-shredded cheese, measure 2 cups into a bowl.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a tablespoon, spoon the Parmesan cheese onto the baking sheet a tablespoon at a time, creating about 8 mounds of Parmesan cheese per baking sheet (place the mounds evenly on the baking sheet, allowing the cheese room to spread as it bakes).  Place small pieces of sun-dried tomatoes on each cheese mound, and then sprinkle with chives and a bit of black pepper.  Bake in your preheated oven for 6 to eight minutes.  Allow the crisps to cool for a couple of minutes, then gently move them to a serving plate.  Continue until all the cheese is used.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Spiced Pear Bread

pear bread on porchIt is an ongoing goal and challenge to use food wisely.  When I see a piece of fruit in the fruit bowl getting a little too ripe, I feel like I need to do something with it.  Of course, this is a good problem to have–too much food–much better than the opposite problem–but I want to continually learn to use the food I have in ways that taste delicious and give us good energy.  Sometimes it is hard to plan or predict how much food to buy at a time–who knew my kids would go through a big bag of pretzels in two days, yet ignore the pears?  I guess I should have known!  Anyway, this spiced pear bread is a tasty way to use a very ripe pear–the juicier the pear, the moister the bread.  And it is a more nourishing snack than a plate full of pretzels! (Pretzels have their place too, but variety is a good thing).  The cinnamon, cloves, and orange rind add to this bread’s subtle, sweet flavor, and it tastes great just sliced on its own or with a little butter or cream cheese on it.  Add a steaming cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and it’s even better.  I based this recipe on one I found in my Dr. Cookie Cookbook by Marvin Wayne and Stephen Yarnall, though I made some changes.  Isn’t that the beauty of recipes, that they are always evolving with the years and with the people who use them.  I am taking this bread over to Angie’s blog at The Novice Gardener for the Fiesta Friday link party.  I always find inspiring ideas there! Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. chopped pears and orangepear bread overviewpear bread and orangesunrise on porch

Spiced Pear Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf, or 12 slices
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  •  1/4 cup honey
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce–if your pear is very juicy, lean towards 2 tablespoons, if not so juicy, use 3
  • 1 teaspoon orange rind (you may also you lemon rind)
  • 1 cup finely chopped unpeeled pear (about one pear)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, and set aside.  In another mixing bowl, vigorously stir the eggs, brown sugar, and oil until smooth.  (You can use an electric mixer if you want, but I did not find it necessary as long as I stirred it really well).  Add the honey, applesauce, orange or lemon rind, and stir well again.  Then, gently stir the flour mixture and the pear into the batter until just combined.  Scrape the combined batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake in your oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. It’s okay if the crust cracks a little.  Cool the bread in the loaf pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out of the pan onto the wire rack and cool completely.  Enjoy!

Slow-Cooked Chicken and Tomato Sauce with Rice

chicken meal with gobletChicken and rice are great comfort foods, especially when cooked slowly with rich, saucy tomatoes.  This is a meal that my husband and son enjoy very much on a cold, snowy evening.  And we are definitely having some cold, snowy evenings these days.  Right now we have enough snow to cross country ski, so I was very grateful and excited to get the chance to get out on my skis yesterday afternoon.  The snow was piled up on every little branch, and I was the first person on the trail since the previous night’s snowfall, so the only tracks in sight were from rabbits.  Fresh snow is so pristine and cleansing.  Breathing in all that cold air and looking at the clean, white snow and the white-blue sky soothed my overactive mind.  There is something so silent about snow. snowy pines The woods were hushed, as the snow absorbed all sounds, including the internal sounds from my mind.  It is easy to get overstimulated and stressed out in the this world we live in, but I left the woods a more peaceful person than I was when I entered them.  Simple, nourishing food is also good for the mind, body, and soul. With the help of a crock pot, this meal cooks and builds flavors for a few hours on its own, once the prep work is done. One of the many things I like about this recipe is that it is intentionally simple.  I made it as basic as I could, because sometimes that I what I have time for, or what my kids like best.  You can cook the rice while you are preparing the chicken and sauce, or cook it a few minutes before mealtime, whichever works best.  Add a green salad or a green vegetable, and you’ve got a healthy, complete meal that tastes good and warms up those you love.  And that too is good for the soul.  chopped onions and garlicchicken and tomato meal 1Nick in the snow

Slow-Cooked Chicken and Tomato Sauce with Rice

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes (I really like organic San Marzano tomatoes because they have a great flavor)
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • about 2 cups cooked rice (I start out with 1 cup of uncooked rice, but it expands to about 2 cups when cooked)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Swirl the oil to coat the pan, and add the chicken.  Cook chicken for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally, until lightly browned.  Place chicken in your crock pot.  Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the pan.  Saute for about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, scraping the brown bits from the pan, and stirring.  Add the tomatoes, breaking the tomatoes into small pieces with your spoon.  Turn off the heat and pour the tomato mixture over the chicken in the crock pot.  Cover and cook on low for about 5 hours.  When you are about to serve the meal, test and season to taste with salt.  Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey to taste, and stir to combine.  Serve the chicken and tomato sauce over cooked rice.  You may add the cooked rice to the crock pot before serving if you wish.  Enjoy!