Sweet and Savory Salad: Massaged Kale with Farro

I don’t know about you guys, but when the summer temps start creeping up into the 90s, the last thing I want for lunch is a hot meal.

I find myself turning to salads a lot more, and sometimes even just a snack plate. Just a couple of days ago for lunch I had 2 rice cakes with peanut butter, some sharp cheddar cheese, and some homemade pickles. Weird combo? Yes, but snack-lunch is the best lunch!

But when I’m feeling a little bit more civilized and don’t want a random collection of snacks to make up my meal, I do enjoy a good, hearty salad as a meal option, for lunch or dinner. This latest creation was a huge hit, and was inspired by a Saturday trip to the farmer’s market here in town.

I came home with a huge bundle of kale, with absolutely no plans what to do with it, so it was time to get creative. I ended up deciding to make a massaged kale salad, but I knew I wanted to include some delicious grains in there to make it a little bit heartier, so that it could be a full meal instead of just a side dish if we wanted.

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The first question you may be asking yourself is “what the heck are you doing massaging your kale?” But trust me, it helps this coarse, bitter green turn into a softer, sweeter version of itself in just 5 minutes of massaging. All you have to do is drizzle a little bit of olive oil, a dash of salt, and some lemon juice to really bring out those sweet notes in the kale, and get your hands in there. Massage it like you love it, and it will love you back. ūüėČ

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After about 5 minutes, my kale was softer, brighter, and ready for the rest of the salad. And this is where you get introduced to my creation:

Sweet and Savory Kale and Farro Salad

Forgive me for the lack of stellar food pictures — I am not usually patient enough to wait for the right lighting, nor do I have any kind of know-how when it comes to food photography. So please let the recipe speak for itself, and give this a try!

Ingredients:

1 bunch of kale

3 cups cooked farro (more on this below)

3/4 C chopped cashews

3/4 C dried cranberries

3/4 C crumbled feta

And for the Lemon Vinaigrette: (Adapted from this vinaigrette recipe)

1/4 C Apple Cider Vinegar

1/4 C Olive Oil

Juice from 1-1.5 lemons (start with one, add to taste)

1.5 tsp honey

Instructions:

With your kale already massaged (as described above with olive oil, salt, and lemon juice), place kale in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Prepare farro (I prepared about 1.5 C dry faro to produce the 3 C cooked grain). Add farro, cranberries, pecans, and feta to kale, stir to evenly distribute salad toppings. Mix together ingredients for vinaigrette, whisk or shake in a mason jar, and pour amount desired over salad. (I ended up using almost all of it because I made a massive salad). Serve immediately.

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This dish is also great to make ahead if you are going to a potluck or preparing lunches for the week — many greens will not last once already dressed, but kale is hearty enough to stay structured for a few days in the fridge even with dressing already added. The flavors might have even been better the next day with this one — letting the farro soak up the other flavors made for a very tasty grain!

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With this recipe, I ended up making a massive salad. It was enough to be had as a side dish (for 2) at two separate dinners, and lunch for 1 as well. And at one of those dinners, Will had seconds of the salad so it actually made 6+ servings! (I add the + because we had pretty large servings — can’t get enough kale, so with smaller serving sizes, it could feed a larger dinner party as a side no problem).

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So now, why farro? 

You might be asking yourself why I decided to use farro, the reason is quite simple. I wanted to add something to this salad that would make it hearty enough to be a meal on it’s own, and farro is a wonderfully hearty, nutritious ancient grain.

Not only does it have a wonderfully nutty flavor and provide a satisfying chewiness, but it is also packed with protein, B vitamins, and zinc. There are several different ways to prepare this grain, and it all depends on what type you have bought (whole, pearled, or semi-pearled).

I won’t go into all of those here, but if you do give farro a try (and I recommend you do!), a quick Google search will help you out. I used the “whole” variety, but you could use any for this salad.

Readers: Do you tend to eat more salads in the warmer months? Have you ever tried massaging your kale? Do you enjoy cooking with farro or other ancient grains?

Homemade Almond Milk

When Will told me recently that he wanted to try making our own almond milk, I kind of rolled my eyes (in the nicest way possible). All I could picture was us turning¬†into a couple of hippies who live off the land (is there land to live off of in Boston?) and who buy nothing that has been touched by a factory or processing plant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the image made me giggle a little bit.

I have heard of people making their own almond milk, mostly through my friends who have done Whole 30 because most store bought brands contain a bunch of, well, preservatives. Not quite what you’re looking for when trying to get back to whole, natural foods. Anyway, I always figured that it would be a difficult, time consuming process — that and the fact that I’m just plain lazy when it comes to anything involving the kitchen. Can I buy it? Ok then.

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But when I came home the other day to some almonds soaking in the fridge, and then later watched Will going through the process, I realized two things: 1. It’s actually pretty darn easy. 2. It takes about five minutes of your time. So I had no excuses left.

After doing a little research and realizing that it’s not as ambitious an undertaking as I originally thought, I came around to the idea. See, most store bought brands of almond milk contain, among other preservatives, Carageenans, which have been shown in some studies to cause intestinal inflammation, and has also been shown, in high doses, to possibly be a carcinogen. So I guess¬†¬†it could be a good idea to make our own, no?

If there are any drawbacks to making your own almond milk, they are not many. I’m not lying when I say that it only takes a few minutes of your time — 5 -10 minutes every few days really isn’t that bad, right? I guess the only other thing I can think of is that when you make your own, it doesn’t last very long (those darn preservatives are there for a reason when you buy it!). If you use a lot of almond milk, you will have to make it a couple of times per week, as it will only last for 3-5 days in the fridge. That’s not a problem in this household, as we go through it like wildfire, but if you only use it once every few days, I wouldn’t go making a big batch that will just go bad before you can use it. That just defeats the purpose, no?

Anyway, on to the recipe!

We watched this video and then altered the recipe a tiny bit to suit our taste.

Homemade Almond Milk –¬†adapted from¬†this recipe from Clean and Delicious with Dani Spies¬†

Equipment needed:

1 large bowl

1 large mason jar — or something to hold the final product

Cheese cloth or a paint strainer bag (see picture below recipe)

1 Fine mesh strainer — if using cheese cloth

Ingredients

1 cup almonds – soaked overnight in water (or at least 8 hours, up to 2 days)

3-4 cups water – depending on consistency desired

1 Medjool Date – pitted

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Strain the liquid from the soaked almonds and rinse them. In a high powered blender, add the almonds, water (desired amount), date, and vanilla extract. Blend at high speed for about two minutes, until it forms a white, frothy liquid.  If using a paint strainer bag (what we used), spread the bag open over the large bowl. Slowly pour the almond mixture through the bag so that the liquid can drain into the bowl. After all of the liquid mixture has been poured, you will have the ground almond meal remaining in the bag. Close the bag around the almond meal, and lightly squeeze to extract remaining liquid into the bowl.

If using cheese cloth and a strainer, line the strainer with cheese cloth over the large bowl. Follow the same process as above, slowly pouring almond mixture over cheese cloth, and carefully squeezing out remaining liquid at the end.

Pour your almond milk from the bowl into your mason jar or other sealable container, and refrigerate for up to 3-5 days. Enjoy!

almondmilk4Almond milk in action. 

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Notes:

  • Don’t throw out the leftover almond meal after straining the liquid! This can be used in smoothies, in oatmeal, or even in delicious paleo recipes like almond flour pancakes. Think outside the box here! Just store it in the fridge, and try to use it within a few days I’d say.
  • We did a first run using the cheese cloth/strainer method, and found it to be far too messy for our liking. Will found the paint strainer bags for a great price (something like $1.99 per bag), after finding out it’s the same material that people use to make “nut bags” (tee hee– get your mind out of the gutter!) that are sold for $10 for this exact purpose. ¬†It was a clean and easy process using that and there was no need to dirty our strainer, making clean up even easier. Not to mention that the bag is easily washed out can be reused again and again.

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don’t you call me a¬†nut bag.. why I¬†oughtta…¬†

  • We made our second batch with 1 C almonds and 4 C water. I thought it was fine, but Will found it a little watery, so we will probably do the next batch with about 3 C water instead. Play around with it a bit to find your desired consistency.

So there you have it, I think I’m converted. All aboard the hippy train! ūüėČ

Readers: Have you ever tried making your own almond milk? What’s your favorite recipe to¬†use almond meal/almond flour?¬†

 

 

 

Hydrate Yourself – Homemade Flavored Water

I’m not usually one for flavored drinks, unless, of course, they’re of the adult variety. During the day and at work, I generally stick to water (besides coffee of course). Occasionally a lemon slice will make it’s way into my glass, but besides that it’s rare to find me with a glass of lemonade, iced tea, and practically never soda or juice. Boring, I know, but I don’t really ever even want flavored drinks any more. Occasionally if I’m feeling very dehydrated or under the weather, I’ll drink a Naked juice, usually the Green Monster flavor. And yes, on a hot summer day, lemonade can really hit the spot. But for me, 98% of the time, ice cold water is where it’s at.

But then the other day I was walking around the grocery store, and must have been dehydrated at the time. A bottle of Bai5 Brasilia Blueberry caught my eye. I read the ingredient list, and it truly wasn’t bad. I usually try to avoid sugar alcohols in food because they are not easy for your body to digest. But this was sweetened with the sugar alcohol erythritol, which is generally digested and tolerated a lot better than other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol. I picked it up along with it’s pear flavored counter part (I mean, a sale is a sale, ya know?) and off I went. ¬†The blueberry flavor was actually very good (the pear — not so much), but as good as it was, it still had a hint of that “fake” sugar flavor.

bai5Blueberry РYum, Pear РMeh. 

Then later on that week when we ended up with some fresh organic blueberries from the farmer’s market, I had an idea. Why didn’t I make my own blueberry flavored water, without that fake sugar? Without any sugar at all, actually.

And thus was born, Blueberry Raspberry Basil Water. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it’s not sweet, and it was made completely from ingredients that were already in my kitchen. Win!

IMG_4001¬†I started off with some fresh basil from our basil plant, and muddled that in the bottom of a mason jar. I didn’t totally pulverize the leaves, just kind of bruised them up a little bit.

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Next, I added in the blueberries, and muddled those lightly as well. Again, I didn’t want to totally crush the blueberries, just open them up enough that their juices would be able to mingle with the water over time.

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Next came frozen raspberries. I wish I had fresh ones, but this was all I had and I really wanted raspberry flavor, so in they went with a little bit of muddling.  I figured it would be good enough, but I definitely recommend fresh seasonal fruit over frozen!

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I then filled the mason jar up with ice, filled it to the top with water, and stirred it all together for a few minutes. Then it went into the fridge, where I let it sit overnight without touching it.

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I’m sure you could let it sit for just a couple hours and it would be good, but giving the flavors the whole night to blossom made for a delicious, crisp, light flavored water for today. ¬†And the basil added just enough extra flavor ¬†to keep it interesting. (The inspiration for this was definitely the amazing blueberry basil lemonade that I had at Sweetgreen last week!)

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I loved this so much, and can’t wait to try more flavors with other fresh fruit and herbs that we pick up this summer! Fresh, healthy, delicious hydration, with bonus points for using local organic fruit. Next time I would love to incorporate lavender or mint, although I’m not sure what I’ll pair them with.

What’s your favorite way to keep hydrated in the summer? Do you tend to prefer plain water or flavored drinks? Have you ever made your own flavored water and what are your favorite ingredients to use?

Adventures In The Kitchen

Happy Halloween everyone! What’s everyone dressing up as this year? Unfortunately, I’m working late tonight so will not be dressing up or handing out candies to the kiddos. Ah, well. I guess that’s less candy for me to eat! Also, I just want to thank everyone for the well wishes during the storm a couple of days ago! Thankfully, Boston didn’t get hit nearly as badly as they were predicting, so the worst we got here was no power for several hours. My thoughts go out to those who got it much worse than us though; New Jersey and New York both had a very rough Monday, and I hope everyone’s on a path to recovery after Sandy!

Anyhoo.. On to today’s post, which has nothing to do with Halloween. Or storms.

I’m not much of a cook.

I can bake one hell of a pie, and endless batches of cookies and brownies that always leave people asking for more.

But put me in the kitchen and ask me to make dinner? Not so much.

Every once in a while though, I create something that comes together wonderfully (although it’s usually by accident). It just so happens that this happened twice a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I must share!

The first was an accidental dinner that really only came about because I came home from work late, with few groceries to choose from and little patience for cooking anything fancy. I was tired and starving, and I wanted food, fast.  This is what lead to the preliminary portion of the accidental dinner: seasoned ground beef, roasted sweet potato pieces, and roasted broccoli. The first night, I threw these three components in a bowl together, and it was a surprisingly good flavor combination.

The next night, however, is when it got even better. Again, I got home tired, lazy, and starving, but wanted to do something a little bit different instead of eating exactly the same thing again. So I took out my beef/sweet potato/broccoli combo leftover from the previous night,  threw it between two small whole wheat tortillas, sprinkled some asiago/romano cheese in the mix, and baked it into an absolutely delicious (yet kind of strange) quesadilla.

Mexican food it was not, but the flavor was excellent! If you ever have these three main ingredients on hand, I highly recommend whipping this up. Especially when topped with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, the “quesadilla” was a delicious and filling dinner, that took me about 10 minutes to make! (about 40 minutes, if you count the initial veggie roasting, beef browning time).

My next accidental kitchen adventure came from wanting to use up some cashew butter that I had bought at the Boston Local Food Festival. I loved the cashew butter, but realized that I didn’t really enjoy it as a spread, so I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to eat it.¬† This is how Cashew Coconut Date bars were born.

Ingredients:

3/4 C Cashew Butter

1/2 C Chopped Dates

2 Tbs shredded unsweetened coconut (+ 1 Tbs reserved)

2 tsp honey

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Few drops of water

Pinch of salt (1/8-1/4 tsp, to taste)

2 Tbs Raw Almond Slivers

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients except 1 Tbs of coconut and almond slivers in medium sized bowl. Mix well, including a few drops of water to aid in mixing. You¬† might need to mix by hand in order to make sure that all ingredients are incorporated evenly; I didn’t use a food processor because I wanted to keep the consistency of the chopped dates. Form into a square, about 1/2 in thick; sprinkle remaining coconut and almond slivers on top. Refrigerate to set, and cut into 4-5 “Lara Bar” sized bars.

I’m telling you, these are so good. They tasted suspiciously like Butternut Donuts from Dunkin Donuts, although not as sweet. I’m not sure how that’s possible from something with a cashew-butter base, but hey, I’m not complaining!

Do you ever make things accidentally in the kitchen? Are you more of a cook or a baker (or both)? What’s the best thing you’ve ever made my accident?

Pumpkin Oat Breakfast Cookies

I have to apologize, because I know that around this time of year, it’s like Jack the Pumpkin King threw up all over blog land.

If a vegetable could give you nightmares…it would be this guy.¬†

There are pumpkin smoothies (YUM!), pumpkin cakes, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cheesecake… pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin!!!

But you know me, I just had to get in on the action. I have been using pumpkin a lot lately, mostly in yogurt bowls, oatmeal, and in smoothies, but I’ve also been working on a little somethin’ somethin’ for ya!

I first made this recipe last week, and while it wasn’t an epic fail, they were just blah.

So I put my thinking cap on, made a few additions, one subtraction, and voila!

Pumpkin Oat Breakfast Cookies 

I began with 1 C of oat flour, but wanted them slightly more dense, so I upped it to 1.5 C. This is a personal preference! 

I have to add a little disclaimer here: I call them breakfast cookies because they are not too sweet and are excellent for a breakfast on the go. However, they are not just for breakfast! I’ve been eating them mostly as an afternoon snack; they’re nutritious, tasty, and with fiber and protein from the oats and pumpkin, they’ll get you through that afternoon snack food crave-fest.

This last time I made them, I couldn’t decide exactly how I wanted them, so I ended up splitting up the batter into thirds. One third were kept with just raisins, one third with chocolate chips and raisins, and the rest were made with raisins and chopped pecans.

My favorite? The ones with chocolate chips of course!

I must admit, they are also ridiculously good with a dollop of almond butter on top (or sandwiched in between, as I’ve been doing). What? A little almond-butter-pumpkin-cookie sandwich is a totally normal idea.

I keep mine refrigerated, although they don’t last very long in my house so I’m not sure how long they’ll keep for; 3-4 days I would imagine. Just pop one in the microwave for about 10 seconds to warm it up, but I think they’re great cold too!

I also have to add one thing: Whether you make these cookies or not, one thing I recommend buying is the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you (you poor, poor soul), I’m sure you can find¬† pumpkin butter elsewhere but I can’t vouch for how good it will be! It is pretty darn sweet so you never need very much, but about 3/4 Tbs mixed in to my breakfast yogurt bowls has made for breakfast-heaven lately.

And last but certainly not least, if you don’t have the pumpkin butter, you can still make the cookies. I would just add in another banana or a small amount of brown sugar to sweeten them just a touch.

Happy Weekend everyone! I’ll be spending my weekend eating pumpkin things, doing some writing, and studying for my upcoming CSCS exam.¬† I’m not gonna lie, I’ll probably also consume some pumpkin beers somewhere in there. Fun stuff, huh?

Do any of you have any big plans this weekend? Do you tend to fall onto the pumpkin-craze bandwagon each fall? What’s your favorite recipe to add pumpkin to? Do you use Trader Joes pumpkin butter?

Stadium Workout and a Smoothie

I’ll get to the workout and recipe in a second, but I just want to start off with a little update on my angry muscles:

After being off for 5 days straight, I woke up Tuesday morning feeling pretty good and thought I would stay out of the weight room but do some lighter work at the stadium.  When I got there though, my legs felt like they were stuck in cement and I had zero energy.

Long story short: I still felt like poo. I was clearly not as rested as I thought, and it definitely was not a great way to start out my day.

Tuesday, however, was a different story. I decided to still stay away from my legs besides biking to/from work, and just did a quick (20 min) upper body day including:

Neutral Grip Pullups

Cross-Body Corner Barbell Press

Single Arm Corner Barbell Press

Bent Over DB Rows

Standing Barbell Overhead Press

And you know what? I felt GREAT! I think it was smart of me to stick with a shorter, lower volume upper body day, but at least it got me back in the weight room and finally feeling good again. I still haven’t done a heavy leg day yet this week, and it’s not looking like today will be the day. I think giving my legs a little bit more rest is exactly what I need, and I’m already looking forward to some killer squat sets next week.

Yay for happy muscles!

But just because I haven’t been going hard this week doesn’t mean you cant! Since I haven’t posted a workout in a while, here’s a stadium/stair workout that will work your entire body in a relatively short time. I have designed this for stadium reps, but you can also find a long set of stairs or even a steep hill to sprint up instead.

For the side steps, alternate your lead foot for each column. For the sprints, go all out! Rest for 1 minute in between sets. Repeat 2x if you complete this on a hill or on a smaller set of stairs. 

Now lets get on to my favorite part of this post: a new smoothie recipe!

If you ask my coworkers, I’ve been playing around with smoothie recipes for the past couple of weeks. This particular one started as an epic fail on Tuesday, but a little tweaking here and there has turned it into a new favorite!

Mint Chocolate is one of my¬†absolute favorite flavor combinations, and is almost always my go-to when it comes to ice cream. So I figured, why not try it as a smoothie? As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good.

Give it a try and tell me what you think!

I know whole milk makes a lot of people shy away, but I think in this case it adds a great creaminess to offset the strong flavor from the cocoa powder. ¬†Also, if you don’t want a strong chocolate flavor, stick with 1 Tbs of cocoa powder. The extra 1/2 Tbs really kicks it up a notch. And on that note, ¬†I might just have to make another one right now…

Happy Friday everyone!

Do you like mint-chocolate as a flavor combination? What’s your favorite smoothie flavor? Do you enjoy doing hill/stair/stadium workouts? Anyone have any awesome plans for the weekend?¬†

Fun Foods Friday – Party Edition

I know I’m a couple weeks late on the 4th of July, but it is mid-summer which means that most of us are going to BBQs, pool parties, picnics, etc. more often than not. So I thought today I’d bring you one (or two actually) of my favorite recipes to make when I’m invited to a cookout/party.

They’re both easy, tasty, and asked for repeatedly every time I make them.

Homemade Pita Chips and White Bean Dip! Say it with me: Yummmmm.

The pita chips are my own recipe, and the White Bean Dip is actually from Giada DeLaurentiis. Enjoy!


Garlic Parmesan Pita Chips

Ingredients:

2 Bags 8″ Pitas – (4 Pitas each) I usually buy 1 bag of regular and 1 whole wheat, but it’s up to you!

1/3 C Olive Oil – You’re going to want to use a high quality EVOO, it will make a difference.

2 Cloves Garlic, crushed

Salt/Pepper – To Taste

2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut each pita in half horizontally (split it into its 2 separate pieces) and then into 1/8ths. My pieces rarely end up perfect triangles though, you can really cut them as big or small as you want, or in whatever funky shapes you want. Mix olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and parmesan (and whatever spices you decide to throw in) in a medium sized bowl. I like to let the mixture sit for at least a half hour before dressing the chips, to let the garlic really infuse the EVOO a little bit. In a large bowl, place about ¬†1/4 of the pita pieces. Drizzle a portion of the olive oil mixture over top, (you won’t need a ton), and then hand toss until all chips are lightly coated. Spread pita pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet (I like to put them “rough” side up), and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and/or a little bit more parmesan if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, and repeat the process with the rest of the chips/oil until all are complete!¬†

They are really very easy, and cool fast. My only tip is to make sure that you cook them enough — if they are undercooked they tend to get chewy and taste stale. It may take you a couple of batches to figure out the exact right time for your oven and the right color to take them out at!

Of course, you can try so many different flavor combinations. I didn’t add the parmesan until the last time I made them, but I loved it so much I’m going to keep doing it. Herbs such as rosemary or oregano would also be a delicious addition! I personally prefer these to the store bought ones because they taste “real”. Besides, making up your own flavor combinations is way more fun, and they really aren’t that much work.

And to pair with the pita chips, a perfect ¬†summer dip is White Bean Dip. If you’ve never tried it, you may be skeptical like I was. But it’s a very light dip with citrus and garlic flavors, perfect for a casual summer cookout!

I followed this recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis, from her book Everyday Italian. The recipe is also very easy, and pairs perfectly with the pita chips. She says that this is the italian version of hummus, so I’ll take her word for it. Either way, it’s a great little way to mix it up instead of the usual guac or hummus (although I do love both like crazy), and it also seems like it’d be a great sandwich spread if you have leftovers! ¬†She also has her own recipe for pita chips on here, and although I haven’t tried her version, I’m sure they’re delicious as well.

Assemble the ingredients (click the link above for the recipe page from The Food Network), throw in a food processor (I used a magic bullet and it worked perfectly), and you’re good to go!

Now dig in!

Enjoy your weekend everyone! Do you make homemade pita chips? What’s your favorite chip dip?