Think Fresh: Spring Clean

No sweeter words ring through Sexy Husband’s ears than when I say, “Love! Let’s do some spring cleaning this weekend!” Seriously. It’s therapy to him, he’s the cleanest most organized man alive. Or perhaps it’s pure shock when I suggest such a thing because I’m a little bit oblivious. I like it clean. I like it tidy. But I also don’t seem to notice things like the laundry basket overflowing, and honestly I don’t even know WHERE he takes the recycling to. But it’s true, there is something therapeutic about reordering closets, removing clutter, examining processes and finding ways to move through our very full lives smoothly and with as little tripping up as possible.

This week, however, we thought we’d do a little INSIDE spring cleaning. We had a weekend of total indulgence. Sexy Husband wanted pub food for date night, and while I initially thought…ugh, I happily dove into the pulled pork and caramelized onion poutine and peanut buster parfaits of the evening. It tasted great. For 3 minutes. The over indulgence coupled with the realization that my jeans aren’t doing up quite as easily led to a conversation where we decided it was time to refocus on the food we put in our bodies and how much control we have over our health. Here we have all this knowledge and all these resources and even a little bit of talent when it comes to kitcheny things…there really is no excuse for tight jeans and gut rot. So we’re spring cleaning. Our insides.

The plan is simple. One week of ultra clean eating, mostly fruits and vegetables and protein in the form of nuts, seeds and beans. Another week of adding in a few organic animal based proteins, fish or dairy, and then onto a long term (re)commitment to general clean eating. Treats are treats.

I’m only 3 days in but am feeling great(probably because I’m still drinking coffee). (ok, and yesterday I drank a beer). And obviously not everyone is interested in or inclined to eat healthy all the time. But whatever little adjustments you can do, cutting out sugar, not drinking pop, packing a lunch…do it! It’s spring. Time for new habits!

Think Fresh: Infused Vodka

home-infused vodka

Ok, this turned out better than I’d even hoped!! I noticed in Bon Appetit a month or two ago a comment on infusing your own vodka. I thought that sounded like a fun idea and happened to have 2 almost full bottles of vodka in the freezer for some random reason. I think they were left over from IronSister’s Dirty Martini lingerie shower a looooong time ago. So two weeks ago I pulled them out and poured them into jars and added several blood oranges(pith completely removed to avoid bitterness) to one jar, several sour cherries to another, and a whole bunch of blackberries to a jar of vanilla vodka. I left them in the fridge for 2 weeks, shaking them up from time to time.

With Sexy Husband’s line of work, we have no end of musicians around. I was looking for a particular kind of guest for the vodka sampling occasion. The type of guest who isn’t burdened at my demands to sample my various cocktail creations at 5:30pm.  And I had my dreams come true when a good friend, who I will call Rockstar Scotty, joined us for dinner. We came up with the following combinations. I highly recommend them all!

Creamy Cherry – sour cherry vodka with old fashioned cream soda (I used 1 oz of vodka per drink because we obviously had to have a few)

Bloody Fizz – blood orange vodka with mango soda

Black Vanilla – blackberry infused vanilla vodka with a splash of blueberry juice

I served these all over ice, in martini glasses. Rockstar Scotty liked the Black Vanilla best, Sexy Husband and I both thought the Creamy Cherry was pretty amazing. All were great and a lot of fun!

I’m definitely going to try some other ones: watermelon and nectarine seem like a good place to start. I also have some lychees that might make for some nice drinks. If you get creative and infuse your own booze, let me know what combos you try!

Creamy Cherry

Think Fresh: Salsa

Picky Princess eating fruit salsa and crackers

I cannot BELIEVE it! There’s this big yellow ball glowing in the sky and the world feels…warm! Amazing! Summer is upon us and I’m desperately hoping for long sunny days and all the fun they bring with them! Summer food is my favorite. Winter comforty food is great, fresh green veggies of early spring, also wonderful, fall smells of cinnamon and pumpkin pie, always sensual. But summer food: summer food seems to be alive! We eat a lot of raw food in the summer and my food processor is busy busy busy chopping up vegetables and fruit for salsas! I put salsa on bbq’d meat, on crackers or tortilla chips, on salads, on anything! Here are three variations to try this summer. The process is the same for all of them, chop up ingredients nice and small and stir together. I usually use a food processor, but be careful to pulse slowly and stop before everything combines into mush. Usually the flavors blend together nicely after sitting for a while. Which is perfect. Make your salsa early in the day and you’ll be ready for supper that much faster!

1. Every day go-to Salsa: 4 tomatoes, half a sweet onion, little bit of hot pepper, handful of cilantro, dash of sea salt, juice of 1 lime.

2. Tex Mex salsa: 4 tomatoes, 1/2 cup corn kernels, 1/2 can black beans, 1 avocado, handful of cilantro, dash of sea salt, juice of 1 lime.

3. Fruit salsa: 2 nectarines, handful of ripe strawberries, 1/4 of a purple onion, handful of fresh mint, juice of 1 lime.

These are my favorites but there really are no limits! Try a melon salsa! Salsa is a great way to top salad instead of salad dressing, a great condiment for bbq’d chicken, and a great way to eat lots of fruits and veggies.

Think Fresh: Portobello Mushrooms

portobello salad

Wow! How did 2 weeks of no blogging sneak past me? I’ll tell you how: cookbook production! The cookbook is coming along at a snails pace but you must know that there is love in every recipe and every microscopic text change.

The girls and I have been walking to the park(in our rain gear, don’t get me started) every day before dinner and one things is clear: it’s bbq season. The smell of bbq’d meat fills the air, competing with the perfumey May Day trees. It means summer must be close. We love to bbq(we as in all of us right?). We bbq all sorts of things, not much of which is meat. We do the odd chicken breast, some sausages and maybe even a steak once or twice a summer. But we do a lot of bbq’d veggies, bbq pizzas and my all time favorite, bbq portobellos. These giant meaty mushrooms are delicious grilled and give the satisfaction of bbqing without the meat. There are many great ways to eat portobellos, like a burger is probably my favorite way. But here’s an easy little recipe for a light dinner, that is filling and satisfying. Enjoy!

Portobello Salad

Drizzle portobellos(1 per person) with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. Grill until softened and juices release. Carefully, without spilling the juices, transfer to a baking sheet and slice. Prepare salad: pile up any greens you like, add some thinly sliced pears and some shaved parmesan. Top with mushroom slices and pour juices over as the dressing. So easy, so delicious!

Think Fresh: Raw

Arugula Pesto

The raw food movement is a big deal. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’m also sure you’ve thought the exact same thing as me: that’s for crazy vegan hippies who like to eat dirt. But you know, there are some incredible benefits of incorporating more raw food into your diet and it really is not all that difficult! You don’t have to be a raw-foodist to eat a little(or a lot) more raw food and reap the benefits.

Benefits(in a nutshell)(literally) – Healthy fresh food, raw nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, sprouted grains, have enzymes that are alive. Putting living food into your body allows your body to reap the benefits of these enzymes dramatically increasing the nutritional intake. Once food is heated to a certain point, the enzyme dies. So eating steamed broccoli is still healthy for you because there are still vitamins and minerals, but the enzyme is no longer living.

Obviously the easiest way to eat more raw food, is to eat more fruits and vegetables in general, and cook less of them. You don’t need to overcook or even cook most vegetables to enjoy them. Here are some ways you can eat more raw without going all hardcore:

Make some healthy dip and eat crudites(raw veggies)

When making stir frys or one dish meals, saute the veggies you don’t like raw(mushrooms and onions maybe), but top with other veggies you don’t mind raw, finely chopped(celery, carrots, spinach etc).

Commit to one raw meal a day. We usually do this at lunch, and honestly it seems to come with having kids. Lunch at our house is things like, sliced fruit, nuts(not roasted or they’re not raw), veggies, crackers(which you can buy or make raw), and cheese(which we always buy raw). So I don’t have to think too hard about getting raw lunches in.

PESTO! I know you’ve all heard me rant about my love for pesto. If you want some other great pesto ideas, check out THIS post. But for dinner tonight I tried something new and it was really delicious and super easy! Give it a try!

Arugula Pesto

In a food processor, place 4 cups of arugula, 1/2 cup crumbled feta, 1 garlic clove, juice of half a lemon, 3 tbs olive oil, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup walnut pieces. Pulse to combine and until finely chopped. I then placed it over rice pasta, stirred to combine and it was a completely raw pasta sauce, that was warm because of the pasta, but not cooked enough to kill the enzymes. So healthy and so delicious!

The bottom line is this: like all things health related, it can seem completely overwhelming to live a healthy life and follow all the rules we hear about. Realistically our lives are an accumulation of all the little decisions and choices we make. So you don’t have to do radical things to greatly improve your health. Start with something little. Make little decisions that will benefit you as often as you can. Have an extra glass of water. Eat your carrots raw. Eat one donut instead of two. One day you will see that all your healthy choices have added up to a healthy life. Yay You!

Think Fresh: Pavlova

pavlova with vanilla whipped cream and berries

Pavlova is such a beautiful, colorful dessert. It is light and airy and completely versatile. It seems like the ultimate springtime dessert. I made a couple of pavlovas for Easter Dinner this year. It just seemed right with the sun finally out, and the slightest hue of green starting to emerge.

I wouldn’t exactly call pavlova healthy, as it has a fair bit of sugar in it. However it is low in fat and sweet enough that a little goes a long way.

Follow the basic pavlova recipe below and then add any toppings you like. I like it with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries on top, or you can top it with whipped cream and any fruit! Another favorite is to make lemon meringue pie filling, and fold in some whipped cream, layer that on top of the pavlova for a lemon meringue type dessert. You can also add a bit of cocoa to the basic recipe and top the chocolate meringe with whipped cream and chopped hazelnuts. mmm, so many options! Let me know if you try a great combination!

I’m going to give some credit to Martha Stewart for this basic pavlova recipe. It’s the recipe I use from my head for pavlova but I’m pretty sure that a million years ago when I first made it, I probably got it from Martha.

Vanilla Pavlova

1 serves about 8

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 200. In a standing mixer, beat 4 egg whites, 1 tsp white vinegar, 1/2 tsp cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Mix on medium until very frothy. Very slowly add 1/2 cup superfine sugar. Beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and very slowly add 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar. Beat on medium-high until very stiff glossy peaks form, 5 more minutes. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla. Using a spatula, plop meringue onto parchment and form into about a 9 inch circle, making a bit of a divot in the middle for the filling. Bake for 2hrs. Meringue should be marshmallowy in the centre but dry to touch and easily lift off parchment. Turn off oven and crack door open. Let cool in the oven. Whip cream and add toppings right before serving(or up to 1 hr ahead). Enjoy!

Think Fresh: Greek Yogurt

romano cracked pepper dip

Greek yogurt is one of my fridge staples. I use it in lots of baking instead of butter or oil. I use it for making sauces and dips. And I use it instead of icecream as dessert for my kids! There are lots of great organic varieties out there. Greek yogurt can be significantly higher in fat than regular yogurt(up to 10% milk fat), which is fine for my micro-eating children, and there are some incredible brands that are made with skim milk, 0% milk fat!

Yogurt is a tricky thing because it’s often touted as health food, and then is often filled with sugar, or worse, sugar replacements, such as splenda or aspartame, and thickening agents to give it a creamier texture. Stay away from these. I feel strongly about our dairy being organic, exclusively, but if you are not too concerned about it, just make sure you find yogurt that is sweetened with fruit. Or better yet, buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with pureed fruit, or a bit of honey or maple syrup.

Greek yogurt is different from regular yogurt, in that it is strained, through cheese cloth, to give it that incredible thick and creamy texture. So creamy that it feels like a treat! All yogurt is full of probiotics that are imperative for our keeping our digestive systems healthy.

So here are a few ideas for getting more yogurt into your diet!

1. Stir in a bit of skim greek style yogurt into tomato sauces, or pasta dishes, making for a rose, or cream sauce, with a fraction of the fat of adding butter and cream.

2. Make healthy, kid friendly sundaes, by freezing greek yogurt, even plain, and topping with fruit that has been lightly simmered with a touch of honey. My kids love lemon yogurt with blackberry sauce.

3. Use greek yogurt, to replace mayo or sour cream in dips and spreads. I made the following recipe for some friends last night. We dipped cauliflower into this and it was a big hit! Easiest appy ever!

Romano Cracked Pepper Dip

1 cup plain greek yogurt

1/2 cup finely shredded romano cheese

freshly cracked pepper and sea salt to taste.

Combine and serve with crudites!

Think Fresh: Sugar Free

We don’t eat a lot of sugar around here. Not for the calories, not for weight loss, but for the sheer reality that sugar is dangerous to our bodies, creates an environment for bad things to grow inside us, messes with our natural cellular functions, and stresses our immune system. I can completely tell in my body too when sugar is more present. If I eat poorly, I feel every painful detoxifying second in the Bikram Yoga hot room I practice regularly in. If I don’t have sugar in my system, I feel great! To be honest, when we don’t eat sugar, I don’t miss it or even notice it. But it has a way of creeping back into our lives. It is just EVERYWHERE, and it can easily become a habit for me, to have it around. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the odd dessert or special treat. But when it becomes that I am consuming some amount of sugar, every day, it’s too much. Let’s be honest, it’s not a treat if you have ice cream every day. So every once in a while I feel the urge to eliminate sugar completely from our lives, just for a week or two to get back on track. I like to think of it as spring cleaning for the body!

That’s where we’re at this week. Sexy Husband and I are off sugar for a couple of weeks. Thankfully we eat healthy enough that it’s not too dramatic(although he is a chocoholic so it’s a bit more painful for him;). HOWEVER, life is meant to be enjoyed and there are so many amazing and natural sweet things out there that are sweet simply because they were made to be that way, not because they’ve been chemically manufactured for sweetness.

Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and fruit, are all great sugar alternatives. Once you get used to the more natural taste of sweet, refined sugar can seem too cloying.

So here’s an idea. I made this as a little pre-class snack for one of my bff’s who is pregnant with baby number 2, baby number 1 just turned 1 and she’s a full time university student(so she’s busy and needs healthy snacks!) So simple, took 2 minutes to prep:

Slice one pear into paper thin slices. Divide between two bowls. Pour 1/4 cup of whipping cream into a standing mixer. Add 1 tbs of maple syrup and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Beat until whip cream is lightly whipped. Place a couple of spoonfuls of spiced whipped cream on the pears and serve. So yummy!

The bottom line is this: I have kids, we like sweet things. I’m not going to pretend that eating ultra healthy things that taste like dirt are satisfying. But there are many ways to make small changes, decreasing the amount of sugar we eat. Hopefully I can give you some ideas this week!

Think Fresh: Winter Salad

Sauteed Mushroom Salad

I am full of inspiration for salad all summer long. I could eat it three times a day and I never seem to run out of creative combinations for fresh summery greens. In the winter, however, I don’t want to eat salad. I do, because it’s healthy, but I just do. not. want. to.  But I’m kind of tired, this week, of the same roasted veggies I’ve been eating, or the same raw chopped veggies. I also had the dark and heavy realization this week that it is a LONG time until summer(this always hits me at some point, usually the first week of January). So I thought I would combine some of the comfort of warm roasted food, with the health of piles of raw spinach. This salad was delicious, flavorful and felt a bit gourmet. I will proudly serve it to guests later this week!

If you are needing some winter salad inspiration, give this one a try. The great thing about it is that you don’t have to have a dressing. The garlic/olive oil/cherry tomatoes/mushrooms have enough flavor, and the balsamic drenched sourdough croutons are hearty enough, that nothing more is required. Enjoy!

Sauteed Mushroom Salad

Makes enough for 2 as an entree or 4 as a side.

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and 1 tsp of coarse sea salt and a pinch of chili flakes. Add 2 cups of halved small white button mushrooms and 1 cup of cherry tomatoes. Saute until golden(as we’ve all learned from Julia Child, don’t crowd the mushrooms if you want them to really brown).

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, put 2 cups of coarsely torn sourdough bread. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a bit more sea salt. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, stirring once.

On a large bed of spinach, dump mushroom mixture and hot croutons. Garnish with shredded parm and serve! The combo of cold spinach and hot mushrooms is delicious!

 

Think Fresh: Sushi

Mmmmm Sushi! We love sushi with a capital L-O-V-E. Foodie Baby and Picky Princess can out-sashimi Sexy Husband any day. I’m a vegetable only sushi kind of girl, which I know isn’t technically real sushi, but nevertheless, sushi is an easy, healthy, vegetarian(my way) meal. I have some friends who lived in Nashville for a while and they said they could both binge on great sushi in Nashville for $12. That’s pretty incredible. I think of it as a pretty cheap night out because we can feed our family of 4 sushi lovers for under $40.

BUT…Sushi is a really fun and easy thing to make at home! It seems intimidating and involved, but it’s really not and I am going to show you how. It is so delicious fresh, you can fill it with all sorts of things, and you will definitely impress your guests. This is also a really easy meal to have your kids help you with!

Here is your step by step how to:

make the rice

1. Make the Rice – I use a rice cooker, but of course you can do it in a pot. In these pictures, I used white sushi rice. You can buy brown sushi rice which also tastes great. You cannot use regular rice because it doesn’t stick. I did just see a recipe for quinoa sushi somewhere, so give that a try too! You want to make the rice and then put it in a bowl so that it cools down enough that you can touch it without burning your fingers.

prep the veg

2. Prep the vegetables – thinly slice long pieces of cucumber, red pepper, and avocado, or any other things you’d like to put in the middle. Shredded carrots are nice in vegetarian rolls as well. Set aside.

set it up

3. Set it up. Place a bamboo sushi roller(super cheap from almost any grocery or kitchen store) on the counter and place one sheet of seaweed on the roller. With your hands sprinkle some rice on the sushi wrapper and press it down. You want to not make it very thick but you do want to cover most of the seaweed. If you make it too thick, the pieces are hard to eat in one bite. I like to leave a little spare space of seaweed at the end because it makes it easier to seal. At the bottom of the sushi roll, line up the vegetables. Using the roller, tightly roll up the seaweed. Set aside the roll. Repeat with all your ingredients.

rolls

4. Once you have rolls, use a serrated knife and GENTLY saw back and forth through the sushi. Each roll should be cut into about 10 pieces. This makes them bite-size. Place them on a platter. You can eat the ugly end pieces as a snack.

voila

Tip: Usually I make 2 cups of sushi rice. This equals about 10 rolls which is a LOT, but usually I make it as a snack for a group of people. Yesterday I made 1.5 cups of sushi rice and it was about 6 rolls which was an entire dinner for the 4 of us.

There you have it. How to Make Sushi!

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