Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice Snack Mix

Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix
You might be thinkin’…another snack mix with pretzels, rice cereal and nuts (yawn)? Well, I gotta tell you, this is no ordinary mix. It combines sugar and spice and everything nice, perfect for anyone that likes a little kick in the pants every now and again.

A word of caution though- once you try one bite, you will be snackin’ until there is no more, so you better round up some friends to share.

I shared mine with dear friends last weekend. Each year, we attend a Trivia Night fundraiser for our children’s school.  We’ve been a Trivia Night team since our oldest kids were in kindergarten. Over the nine years, our lives have changed. Some have moved, some have changed schools, and some have kids that've since graduated. Through it all, one thing remains the same: come heck or high water, we show up for Trivia Night once a year.

And boy do we show up. We may not be very talented in trivia but we are certainly keen on making spectacles of ourselves by dressing up according to that year’s theme.

This year’s theme was “The Oscars” so we each went as characters from movies nominated this year. One couple was James Bond and a bond girl from Skyfall, one gentleman went as Abe Lincoln (isn’t he a dead ringer!!) and my hubby and I went as characters from Brave. I think what clinched it for us was the couple dressed as an academy award winner with her Oscar!

We were bestowed the high honor of best-dressed table and awarded the Elvis bust trophy which we plan to proudly display in our homes (Elvis will take turns on each of our mantels throughout the year). 

The sweet and spicy snack mix was long gone before night’s end, but the memories of a great evening will last a lifetime (or until dementia sets in, whichever comes first). 

Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix (adapted from Cooking Light, Dec. '12)

  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. thyme, fresh (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (or less if you don't want as much spunk)
  • 1/2 cup pecans (Missouri Northern Pecan Growers, Nevada, MO)
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter (I used salted)
  • 1 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal squares (like Chex)
  • 3 cups tiny pretzels
  • 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup (Morris Maple Leaf Farm, Lake Odessa, MI)
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast pecans and almonds in a roasting pan for about 10 minutes or until nuts just begin to brown. Add butter and toss until melts.
  2. Gently stir in pretzels, cereal and syrup with nut mixture.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine sugar, thyme, salt, cinnamon and red pepper.
  4. Sprinkle sugar/seasoning mixture over pretzel and nut mixture, and toss to coat.
  5. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, stirring once, Cool completely, then let the snacking begin!
until next time...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Vegan Meal: Roasted Cauliflower, Garbanzo Beans and Olives

Garbanzo beans are a staple in the Cowie house. In fact, the pantry is stocked with several types of beans at all times. Some families run out for milk and bread when a storm ensues, we run to the store for beans (slight dramatization).

Garbanzos are just so dang versatile and healthy. They are high in protein and zinc so a perfect sub-in for meat but with a bonus. Being high in fiber, they help keep us feeling full long after the meal. Garbanzo beans are the main ingredient in the ever-popular hummus dip and in falafel. And garbanzo bean flour is often used as a gluten-free option with cooking and baking.

Personally I prefer to use canned garbanzo beans rather than dried- it’s a texture thing. When dried garbanzo beans are soaked and cooked, they still seem to have a crunch that just does not appeal to me. Same with roasting garbanzo beans. There are all kinds of recipes for a healthy, crunchy, high protein snack of roasted and seasoned garbanzos. I’ve tried several variations and keep coming back to the conclusion that I’d prefer my garbos a bit more on the mushy side.
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light Mar. 2010
This Roasted Cauliflower, Garbanzo Bean and Olive recipe actually calls for the garbanzo beans to be roasted along with the cauliflower, garlic and olives. If you like the crunch, add the beans to the roasting pan. If you prefer the softer texture of the beans, add after. Either way, this dish is delish! It could be served as a side dish or as a vegetarian meal when served with rice or naan bread.

Just one last note…when I worked as a Supermarket Dietitian, I came to realize that many people did not know that garbanzo beans are the same thing as chickpeas. We actually sold garbanzo beans in one isle and chickpeas in another (and for different prices)! Some say garbanzos, some say chickpeas…call them whatever you want and stock up.

Roasted Cauliflower, Garbanzo Beans and Olives

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup green Spanish olives, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • long-grain rice (we used Martin Rice from Bernie, MO)
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine cauliflower, olives and garlic in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with red pepper. Toss well to coat.
  3. Bake at 450 for about 20 minutes until cauliflower is golden, stirring after 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven, stir in beans, top with parsley and serve with prepared rice.
until next time...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Macaroni Party: Dried Fig, Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnut Mac

Macaroni and Cheese is the ultimate mac daddy of all comfort foods. (yeah, pun totally intended).  Carb-loaded pasta covered in melty-gooey cheese. What’s not to love?  With so many options and variations of Macaroni and Cheese, I got to thinking…wouldn’t it be fun to invite a bunch of friends over and ask them to bring their version of macaroni? 
And so that’s what we did. We encouraged our friends to think outside the blue cardboard box and bring their version of mac ‘n cheese to share.

The party was a blast! Everyone brought a totally different type of mac ‘n cheese: Buffalo Chicken Mac, Mac with Andouille Sausage and Red Sauce, a Ragu with Spinach, White Beans and Macaroni Noodles, and an original recipe mac with a Mexican flair that the couple named “the Macarena Macaroni”.

I made Dried Fig, Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnut Mac although I took the liberty to use rotini pasta rather than macaroni. I figured, it’s my party and I can change the noodles if I want to (while humming Leslie Gore’s song).

We even had a macaroni dessert that tasted like a bread pudding , drizzled with caramel sauce and topped with mixed berries, completely naughty but nice.  The Blood Orange Cosmo was inspired from a crafted cocktail served at the Macaroni Grill.  
Macaroni and Cheese is certainly not typically thought of as a “health food”.  But here are a few ways to make mac with more nutritional muscle:
  • Use whole wheat noodles. Trust me, with all the melted cheese, your tasters will not know the difference
  • Prepare your mac using part-skim cheeses and low-fat milk and skip the margarine to lessen the fat content.
  • Throw in some healthy mix-ins such as black olives, beans, chopped bell peppers, steamed broccoli, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and onions, spinach, etc. 
  • To “sneak in” even more veggies, a bit of cooked pureed butternut squash or canned pumpkin can be mixed in without affecting the taste.
My only regret is not thinking about making everyone macaroni necklaces to wear…perhaps an excuse to host a Macaroni party again.

Dried Fig, Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnut Mac (adapted from recipe in Family Circle Jan '12)

  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary (I purchased from Local Harvest Grocery, Kirkwood, MO)
  • 1 pound pasta (I used rotini)
  • 2 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. flour (I used stoneground whole wheat from Shirk's Country Market, Centertown, MO)
  • 2 logs goat cheese, 8 ounces total (Heartland Creamery, Newark, MO)
  • 1 cup dried figs, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (Hammons, Stockton, MO)
Cooking Directions
  1. Heat milk with rosemary in a small saucepan over low heat for about 20 minutes; discard rosemary.
  2. Meanwhile cook pasta according to box directions to al dente.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt butter, whisk in flour, and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in infused milk, bring to a low boil, then simmer for about 3 minutes. Stir in goat cheese.
  4. Combine pasta, sauce mixture, toasted walnuts and figs.
  5. Top with a few bits of goat cheese and serve.
until next time...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine 'Staches and Smooches Suckers

Valentine’s Day is in a few days and although there are some great valentine options for purchase, it's way too much fun to make our own. Over the years, my kids and I have enjoyed choosing which valentines to make and give to friends. Last year, we made iPod touch’s out of boxes of conversation candy with string and peanut butter cups for the ear buds. The year before foam fortune cookies, and the year before that, cell phones out of candy buttons. Sadly, I have no photos of any of them.    

This year the decision was to make ‘Staches and Smooches Suckers. These suckers are really simple to make and only take about 10 minutes to prepare. You do need a candy thermometer to get the hot candy mixture to a “soft crack”, or 275 degrees.

I followed this recipe, except instead of cherry flavored gelatin I added strawberry per my son’s request. It would be a ton of fun to try more unusual varieties (like apricot…or what about margarita flavor?...well, maybe not for kids)!  You definitely have to work quickly as the hot candy mixture starts to harden in just a few minutes.
Once the suckers were cooled, we covered each with tiny cellophane bags that I purchased from Michael’s.  We traced ‘staches and smooches onto brown and red foam, cut them out, popped a hole using a tiny hole punch and thread each onto the sucker sticks.

Happy Valentine's Day to you all!
until next time…  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Product Review: Lean Cuisine’s Chef’s Pick Culinary Collection

This past Sunday with the Super Bowl game in the evening, I knew we would be warming the couch more than usual and probably indulging on foods that we normally don’t eat. So before the pre-game festivities began, we made sure to get in some exercise and have a light but satisfying lunch.

This was the perfect opportunity to try one of Lean Cuisine’s Culinary Collection “Chef’s Pick” meals. 

The “Chef’s Pick” meals were created by acclaimed chefs and are inspired culinary creations reminiscent of those found in top end restaurants.

I chose the Ranchero Braised Beef with a side of chipotle mashed sweet potatoes while my teenage son tried the Steak Tips Portabello with a side of broccoli.

Both meals were quite tasty and the sauces flavorful. The Ranchero Braised Beef had the perfect amount of spiciness. My favorite aspect of the meal was the side of Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (I was tempted to lick the container clean but I restrained myself)!  Both meals were perfectly portioned for a healthy lunch. Sweet potatoes are the first ingredient in the Ranchero Beef meal and broccoli in the Steak Tips Portabello.  The meals contain a good amount of protein while keeping the fat content on the lower side.

One suggestion I would make to anyone having a Lean Cuisine meal is to have an additional serving of fruit AND vegetable with the meal (preferably sourced locally!) to really boost the nutrients and fiber without much of an increase in calories. As with most processed meals and snacks, the sodium content is on the higher side, so I would also encourage a big glass of water as the preferred beverage.

Although we seldom have frozen prepared meals in the house, I certainly appreciate the convenience that these meals provide and that they allow my kids the ability to warm up a nourishing mid-day meal in minutes when they are hungry. Lean Cuisine meals keep it healthy, are perfectly portioned and offer delicious options. Next time I plan to try the Asparagus Ravioli and the Chicken Pecan.

Question: what is your favorite Lean Cuisine meal?

I have partnered with Lean Cuisine through DailyBuzz Food to help promote their new line of Chef's Pick products. I have been compensated for my time commitment to work with this product. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments. Thank you Lean Cuisine

until next time...
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