A Peachy Salad

It’s peak peach time here in central Texas. Husband & I were in the Hill Country last weekend and picked up a flat of freestone peaches in Fredericksburg. I tweeked a recipe I found from Cooking Light and came up with a delicious, summer salad. It’s a great way to enjoy the bounty of peaches before they’re all gone.

For the dressing I used a sweet wine (’08 Muscat Canelli) we picked up at Santa Maria Cellars in Fredericksburg. Any sweet wine you have will do. Husband & I don’t typically drink sweet wines, but I always keep a bottle on hand for recipes or friends who enjoy the sweeter side of things.  Pick up an inexpensive bottle at the store (ask the wine guys for help!) and let me know what recipes you find.

Hill Country Wine Dressing

1 cup sweet white wine (riesling or muscat are great)

1 Tbs walnut oil

1 Tbs white wine vinegar

dash of sea salt

In a saucepan heat wine over medium-high heat until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. I set a timer for 10 minutes. If you walk away and forget wine boiling on the stove, you’ll return to a sticky, burnt pan. Don’t ask me how I know this…

Remove wine from heat and let cool. Pour into a mason jar or glass container, add vinegar, oil and salt. Gently shake to combine.

Dressing will keep in refrigerator for up to a week.

Peachy Salad

4 cups of butter lettuce, or mixed greens

2 – 3 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

handful of toasted walnuts, or sliced almonds

generous sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese

Toss the salad with the Wine Dressing and enjoy the sweet flavors of summer.

Kale Chips

Kale Chips hit the food blogging scene well over a year ago and seemingly everyone had their own version of the crispy uber-green. While the trend of making kale chips may be very 2009, I think kale is the new black and destined to be a classic.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to have several friends participate in Food Naturally, a cooking class at The Schell Cafe. We spent the morning making simple recipes and discussing ideas to encourage  loved ones, especially Littles, to embrace real food. We all know processed food is unhealthy, but it’s so convenient! Convenience, however, comes with a hefty price tag — our health! We talked about ways to transition our palates & pantries from SAD (Standard American Diet) to WHOLE.

During our class we made kale chips, testing out three varieties of kale: curly, red and lacinato.  Curly kale is green and, well, curly. Sometimes labeled  simply green kale at grocery stores, I’ve never had a problem finding it nestled amongst the lettuces.  Red kale is also very curly, but has color much like red leaf lettuce. Lacinato kale is an Italian heirloom variety, and has long, hearty, flatter leaves. I’ve noticed lacinato kale less around town and generally only find it at Whole Foods. But, keep your eyes peeled it’s a great kale to try.

All three varieties of kale roasted into crispy, delicious chips that disappeared as quickly as we pulled them out of the oven. Experiment with your favorite spices and herbs, the possibilities are truly endless.

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried

2 TBS olive oil

1-2 tsp mixture of your favorite herbs and/or spices (I love cayenne!)

1-2 tsp coarse sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry kale thoroughly – it’s very important the kale is dry. Wet, even damp, leaves will result in soggy chips. In a large bowl mix olive oil with herbs and seasoning. DON’T mix in salt yet. The salt draws out moisture and keeps kale from getting crispy.  Tear  kale into bite sized pieces and place in the bowl with olive oil.  Gently massage the kale leaves until the leaves are evenly coated.  Place kale on baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully, the kale can burn quickly. Once toasted to a crisp, remove from oven and generously sprinkle with salt.

We generally eat kale chips straight off the baking sheet. However, two of the Littles have yet to commit to the kale craze. I won’t give up and in the meantime, I sprinkle crumbled kale chips into bowls of popcorn for a healthy snack. And, everyone seems to enjoy the crispy addition to scrambled eggs. The crispy kale also adds a pleasant crunch to leafy green salads. See, I told you the possibilities were endless….

If you need more inspiration check out how to take your kale chips to a new level at The Sensitive Pantry. Nancy offers several ways to really kick your kale up a notch!

Have you joined the kale craze?

Fried Okra

Who doesn’t love fried okra? Seriously, in nearly five years of food blogging I can’t believe I haven’t shared a fried okra story. I guess it’s because I assumed everyone has a favorite way to fry okra. I don’t have a recipe written down, but my version historically involved flour, buttermilk, cornmeal and oil for frying. When the first few pods of okra showed up in our Tecolote Farms basket this week, I knew I had to come up with a marginally healthy way to fry ’em up. I pared it down to the essentials and guess what? Either our palates have changed significantly since our last fried okra fest, or we truly didn’t miss the flour and dairy.  All I can say is no matter how you fry okra it’s just plain YUM.

Try this simple version. It’s light on ingredients and the distinct flavor of the okra is allowed to star the show. I keep the pods whole with just the spiky ends trimmed. It keeps the notorious okra slime in check and you get a fuller bite.

Note: We only had a small amount of okra this week. Probably two handfuls. The quantities I’ve listed below are not hard fast. If you need another egg add it, likewise with cornmeal and oil.

Cornmeal Fried Okra

okra, washed and ends trimmed

1 cup canola oil

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free)

coarse sea salt

lemon

Wash and trim the okra. Pat dry.

In a frying pan, cast iron is best, add enough oil to float the okra. Heat over medium-high flame.

In a small shallow bowl whisk the egg until lightly beaten. Add the okra and toss to coat. Pour cornmeal into a shallow dish. Dredge the okra in the cornmeal until each piece is generously covered.

Gently place okra into hot oil with a spatula.  Fry until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes.

Remove okra with a slotted spatula to drain on a paper towel lined plate. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

For another delicious way to enjoy okra, read Martha Washington’s recipe.

Roasted Romano Beans

Look what came in my CSA basket today! A big bag of Romano beans.  Maybe you know them as Italian green beans or pole beans.  I’m going to toss these in a little olive oil with some garlic, chives and red pepper flakes and roast them for an addictive appetizer tonight.  Oh and see the red carrots in the background? They’re sliced nice and thin and already roasting in the oven.

Roasted Romano Beans

1 lb romano beans, trimmed

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 -3 TBS fresh chives, chopped

red pepper flakes, to taste

salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl mix olive oil, garlic, chives and seasonings.  Add trimmed romano beans and toss to coat.  Spread beans on a baking sheet and roast for 20 – 30 minutes, until tender and brown.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

Tonight I’m cooking for 50 people. It’s a dinner party to kick off a Spring Cleanse lead by Dr. Jeff Ulery and Neissa Springmann of iGnite.  When these creative geniuses behind the event asked if I’d help cook for the fete I jumped on the bandwagon.  We’ve had a great time coming up with a healthy menu to kick off the twenty-one day cleanse.  In addition to Lemon-Dill Baked Salmon and Pork Tenderloin with Raspberry Salsa provided by our lovely hostess, we will be serving a variety of side dishes that are easy to prepare and pack a nutritional punch.

Joining us for the Spring Cleanse? Subscribe (click the button in the top right corner of this page) to The Schell Cafe for recipes to help you continue on your health journey. Even if you aren’t part of the Spring Cleanse, you’ll want to hang around for the tips and resources coming up!  We can all use easy, healthy meal options, right?

We’ll kick the Spring Cleanse off with a tasty Mexican Quinoa Salad.  The flavors will satisfy your Tex-Mex cravings, and you’ll be filled with all the nutritional wonders found in the quinoa.  I’ve written about the benefits of the super seed before, and for the last couple of years quinoa has been a staple in our home.  Even the Littles love it! Especially when it appears as the star in their favorite brownies!

Mexican Quinoa

2 cups quinoa, rinsed

4 cups liquid (I use 2 cups broth, vegetable or chicken, + 2 cups water)

1 white onion, chopped

2 large carrots, diced

1 tsp cumin

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 1/2 cups sweet corn

1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro chopped

Dressing

3 Tbs walnut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)

4 Tbs lime juice (1 large lime)

3 Tbs water

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS cumin

1 1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp coarse sea salt

fresh ground pepper to taste

Rinse seeds in a mesh sieve with plenty of water. Quinoa is coated with a natural substance that can taste bitter if not properly rinsed.

In a large pan with a fitted lid, saute olive oil and onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add chopped carrots and saute until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add quinoa and stir in cumin to cover seeds. Add water/broth to pot and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until all water is absorbed.  Fluff quinoa with a fork and remove from heat to cool.

While quinoa is cooling, prepare the dressing.  In a small jar with a lid combine oil, lime juice, water, garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper.  Shake vigorously to combine.

When quinoa is cooled, place in large mixing bowl.  Add tomatoes, corn, beans, onions and stir completely to combine.  Fold in cilantro and toss with about 1/2 of the dressing.  Use more or less to taste.

Serve salad room temperature or cold.  This salad will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator which is a good thing as this recipe makes a lot! The quinoa will absorb the dressing quickly, add more from the reserved jar (to taste) as you continue to enjoy your quinoa salad for lunch, snacks, or dinner the rest of the week.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

I found this recipe in a Costco magazine I received during the holidays.  I’ve made the salad two or three times and it is a keeper.  It can stand alone as a meal, or add your favorite protein.  I’ve served the salad different ways and can’t decide if I like it better with grilled salmon or shrimp.  Try it and let me know what you think.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 3/4 – inch pieces

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs honey

1 tsp coarse sea salt

Mixed field greens (I use a 5 oz container of spring mix)

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds

3/4 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted

3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

For the Pomegranate Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1 small shallot, minced

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs honey

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cubed butternut squash, olive oil, and honey in a baggie until squash is coated.  Spread squash on a foil lined baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and pepper.  Roast squash for 15 – 20 minutes until tender and golden brown around the edges.

For the vinaigrette, place pomegranate juice and minced shallot in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce flame to a simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup liquid.  Whisk in red wine vinegar, honey, and olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Note: the second time I made this vinaigrette I accidentally mixed all the ingredients together before heating.  I simply warmed the pre-mixed vinaigrette in the saucepan until it reduced slightly and it turned out fine.) Allow to cool.

To serve, place salad greens in a large mixing bowl. Add the roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese.  Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten; toss well.

Makes 6 servings.

P.S. Look for pre-seeded pomegranate seeds at  your grocery store.  I was lucky enough to find these last week.  Seeding a pomegranate isn’t difficult, but the juice will stain! So be careful and expect pink fingertips!

If you need inspiration for the pomegranate juice you’ll have left over, try the Pomegranate Steak I made a while back.  Serve the steak one night and the Roasted Butternut Squash Salad (with left over steak) the next!

Sweet Potato Bites

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Truth is we’re still strung out on a high-fructose corn syrup high.  You can imagine the mother load of candy four Littles rack up on Halloween.  I’ve heard some mother’s offer to pay their children a coin or two for each piece of candy in an attempt to rid the burden.  Friends, I’m not that rich.  Coins or not, we don’t have enough to make a dent in the mound of well, Mounds we’ve got going on over here.

In a rare occurrence, I am alone in the house this morning.  I’ve circled the loot several times, hovering just long enough to consider dumping every last piece of candy in the garbage.  But the Littles would never forgive me. I really should give them a warning I’m going to dump every last piece of their candy in the garbage.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time figuring out healthy snacks for the Littles.  Oh I know! I’ll offer carrots or celery.  Or  ruta-frickin-baga! That’ll work.  Just about as well as the perennial fruit basket on the counter that goes untouched every.single.day.  Nope, I need to give some serious thought to after school snacks.  It’s just so easy to grab those goldfishy things and go…

The deluge of candy this weekend and the never-ending quest for healthy snacks the Littles will actually eat preoccupies much of my food thoughts lately. So I thought I’d kick the week off with a snack I know the Littles like.  Will the Littles actually choose sweet potato bites over a Snickers? Um, no.  That’s why I get paid the big bucks. To offer encouragement in their choices.  Or force them. Either way.

If you need a healthy alternative to the butterfingerextravaganza, try these sweet potato bites.  They are cheap, easy, and healthy.  Which is at least a step in the right direction.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Bites

2-3 sweet potatoes

olive oil

cinnamon

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Peel and cube sweet potatoes.  I make small cubes for little fingers.

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Place the cubed sweet potatoes in a large plastic bag.

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Add a glug of olive oil and as much cinnamon as you like.  Seal the plastic bag and shake to evenly coat each sweet potato cube with oil and cinnamon.

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Spread on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are fork tender.

Sweet potato bites are also delicious blended in a smoothie with vanilla yogurt!