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HOMEMADE CHIA PODS: VANILLA CINNAMON, CHOCOLATE & BLUEBERRY (GLUTEN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE, & VEGETARIAN)

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Have you heard of Chia Pods? They’re these cute little things that look like yogurt, but they’re actually a chia seed pudding. A coworker of mine had them and I was intrigued, since chia seeds are the current “it” food and I’ll try anything to create an easy healthy eating habit that I can actually maintain. Okay, it might’ve been the really cute packaging (that little orange spoon in the lid!) that caught my eye but still. The healthy factor still stands. I hunted the Chia Pods down at our local Fresh Market, but YOWZA. I was kind of taken aback by the price. They run $3-3.60 per pod here in Columbus, depending on where you shop. I used to think the Fage Greek yogurt w/ honey thingies were expensive at $1.50 a pop, but I think I eventually just got used to the price. Is $3/pod not that bad and I’m prematurely freaking out b/c I’m an occasional cheapskate? Maybe? But I tried one anyway. I thought “I’ll try it, see how I like it, and if I’m obsessed then I’ll figure something out.”

Well, I tried it. It was good. I wasn’t like OH MY GOD I’M IN LOVE but I was in love with the healthy aspects of this little thing. Chia seeds are packed with Omega-3s, and according to the company’s website, one pod contains your daily recommended dose of Omega-3’s. Take that! That’s pretty awesome. Plus, there’s fiber and protein. The other thing I love? They’re made with simple, real ingredients. SO SIMPLE, in fact, that I saw the side of the container where the ingredients were listed and thought “Really? That’s it?? Hell, I could make this myself.” So I did just that. I can’t remember if I did it that night or the next day, but I knew I had chia seeds sitting around, some almond milk in the fridge, and really, everything else on top would be a bonus.

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I started out slow. I used 1/4 cup chia seeds and slowly added liquid. First 1/4 cup almond milk, then I let it sit. A few minutes later, I had a cemented lump of chia. Not what I was going for. Bring on another 1/4 cup of almond milk…then another 1/4 cup… and pretty soon, I was at just over 1 cup of almond milk. A sprinkle of cinnamon, a little honey, and by golly, it was actually really good. I even added a 1/2 tsp of instant coffee, being inspired by the Coffee Bean flavor of Chia Pod. I divided the mixture into little jars and let them gel overnight. The next day, I had a pretty satisfying chia snack that’s an awesome copycat of the store-bought Chia Pod. After making the first batch, I tested my next versions, refined the proportions, and had a recipe for chocolate and blueberry chia puddings.

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While these things still aren’t “cheap,” (because chia seeds are kind of ‘spendy) they are a lot more sensible on the pocketbook, especially if you have 15 minutes in your schedule for prep. And yes, they really do only take about 15 minutes—amazing, right? I have three recipes for you. I like to think of the Vanilla Cinnamon as a good “base” recipe (minus the cinnamon, if need be) if you want to play around with flavor variations. Feel free to experiment and figure out other combinations!

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::: VANILLA CINNAMON CHIA PUDDING POD :::

Yield: 3 – almost 4 oz (just under 1/2 cup)

• 1 cup + 2 tbsp vanilla-flavored almond milk (Note: if you want to use unsweetened or “original” flavored almond milk, just increase the amount of honey you use)
• 1/4 cup chia seeds
• 1 1/2 tsp local honey
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pour almond milk into medium bowl. Sprinkle chia seeds into almond milk, stirring well. Add honey and cinnamon, stirring for 1-2 minutes to make sure everything is incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes, to allow chia seeds to start the swelling process. Pour mixture into a large measuring cup and pour into 4-oz mason jars. You will yield 3 jars that are just slightly under 1/2 cup in volume. Let jars sit several hours or overnight before eating. 

— • — • —

::: CHOCOLATE CHIA PUDDING POD :::
Yield: 3 – almost 4 oz (just under 1/2 cup)

• 1 cup + 2 tbsp vanilla-flavored almond milk (Note: if you want to use unsweetened or “original” flavored almond milk, just increase the amount of honey you use)
• 1/4 cup chia seeds
• 1 1/2 tsp local honey
• 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Repeat same process as above, replacing cinnamon with cocoa powder.

— • — • —

::: BLUEBERRY CHIA PUDDING POD :::
Yield: 4 – almost 4 oz (just under 1/2 cup)

• 3/4 cup blueberries (about 115 g by weight)
• 1 cup + 1/4 cup vanilla flavored almond milk (Note: if you want to use unsweetened or “original” flavored almond milk, just increase the amount of honey you use)
• 1/4 cup chia seeds
• 4 1/2 tsp local honey

Puree blueberries in food processor, adding almond milk. Pour mixture into medium bowl. Sprinkle chia seeds into blueberry/almond milk mixture, stirring well. Add honey, stirring for 1-2 minutes to make sure everything is incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes, to allow chia seeds to start the swelling process. Pour mixture into a large measuring cup and pour into 4-oz mason jars. You will yield 4 jars that are just slightly under 1/2 cup in volume. Let jars sit several hours or overnight before eating.

I know, they look pretty weird. They look like funny little fish eggs or frog eggs or whatever you want to call them. The texture is jiggly and hilarious, but promise me to just give it a chance. I don’t eat tapioca pudding but supposedly they’re kind of like tapioca pudding. They’re smooth, but ever so slightly crunchy. I mean, for the health benefits and simple ingredients? How can you NOT give them a whirl??? Make yourself a batch and let me know what you think. And better yet, try your own variation and share what you created!

MINT JULEP: THE OFFICIAL COCKTAIL OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY & OUR WEDDING

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You know what’s hard to believe? In one week, George and I will have been officially married for one year. I guess it’s really not that hard to believe, considering we’ve been together for what will be nine years later in May. We got married on the first Saturday in May last year, which also happened to be the day of the Kentucky Derby. We chose it purposefully. I wanted a May wedding (nice weather, my favorite flowers, blah blah blah) and every other weekend in May is something else. The second weekend is Mother’s Day. Didn’t want to overlap that. My birthday falls on the 19th. Didn’t want to overlap that. Then you have Memorial Day somewhere in there, so the first weekend + the Derby was perfect. It works out well because we love the Derby anyway. Neither of us are horse people, but a fancy fussy sporting event with its very own designated drink? Hells yes! Let’s embrace it and have some Derby-tastic fun at this thing, amiright? So we did. We projected “the fastest two minutes in sports” just as our reception officially started (we didn’t want to miss the race just because we tied the knot!), and our wedding toast—instead of bubbly—was a mint julep.

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In honor of the Derby next week (and our 1st anniversary as a couple of “Marrieds”), we’re going to clink glasses and cheers with a Mint Julep today. That way you have a full week to practice your muddling so you’re ready for Saturday! I warn you now—buy your mint in advance. If you wait until Saturday the grocery stores will be out of stock. Trust me, I speak from experience!! The drink below makes one cocktail, but it’s an easy one to multiply. We also suggest you make a mint simple syrup, but it will still be delicious if you use regular simple syrup instead.

Oh yeah, and those snazzy personalized wooden swizzle sticks? Those are from my best friend and maid of honor. She took our wedding logo I created for our invitations, and had them made for my bridal shower. Such a fabulous touch, don’t you think?

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::: MINT JULEP :::
Makes 1 drink

• 6-8 mint leaves
• 1-2 extra mint leaves for garnish
• 1 tsp white sugar
• 2 tsp mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
• 2 oz whiskey or bourbon
• 3 oz club soda
• crushed ice

Muddle mint leaves, sugar, and syrup in cocktail glass. Top with crushed ice. Add whiskey and top with club soda. Garnish with mint leaves.

::: Mint Simple Syrup ::::
Adapted from Martha Stewart

• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 bunch of fresh mint (4 oz or more)

In medium sauce pan, combine water, sugar, and mint leaves. Stir often and dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking for 5 minutes after sugar is dissolved. Let the leaves steep for 15-20 minutes, then strain leaves from syrup. Make sure to compress the leaves to strain them well! I have found the best way to keep simple syrup is in a mason jar in the refrigerator.

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SUNDAY NIGHT GLUTEN-FREE QUINOA OATMEAL

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With the new year just beginning, I thought I’d share one of my (relatively) healthy recipes with you guys. Let me start out by saying very clearly that I do not have Celiac Disease. I generally do not have a problem digesting gluten. But after reading a bunch of stuff on people who have gone gluten-free, I decided to give it a try. I kept coming across articles or hearing from other people how giving up gluten helped solve some of their random health issues. People had less sinus problems. Less muscle aches. Headache problems went away. Skin problems cleared up. Other allergies seemed to disappear. Is it merely a coincidence? Or was gluten really the culprit? I suffer from headaches the majority of the time; it’s more rare for me to NOT have a headache of sorts. Then I somehow, totally randomly, came down with asthma a little over two years ago. Where the heck did that come from? The headaches were bad enough, so I’ve been curious about trying to go GF for awhile. I assumed it would be really hard and didn’t put enough time and energy into figuring out how to make it work for my eating habits. A friend turned me onto quinoa pasta, which we’ve actually been using for probably the past three years. And you know what? It’s good! But that’s about as far as I got because it just seemed really daunting.

The final straw came after our honeymoon. The Sunday night after our wedding—the night before we were supposed to leave for our honeymoon—I got the stomach flu. Awesome. Fabulous. It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, I’ll thank my lucky stars for that, but we still had to postpone our trip one day and take a trip to the emergency room at 4:30 in the morning. Hey, in sickness and in health, right?? After a few IV bags of fluid and some prescription nausea meds, I was doing much better. But it still took several days to be officially back to normal and I’m not sure I ever got back to 100%, honestly. Even after we were back, even three weeks later, I noticed a change in my digestive system. I was on a soup kick (after being sick I found it comforting and just stuck with it), and Campbell’s just didn’t sit right. I used to eat Lean Cuisines at lunch (easy, affordable, could keep a stash in the freezer at work, pair it with a salad and stay in a good calorie range) but those, I noticed, weren’t digesting quite right either. I don’t know if it was the stomach flu that made me notice these things or what, but that was when I finally decided that I needed to make a change. I wanted to try eating cleaner. I’m not completely clean—I don’t do organic everything—but this processed food thing has got to change. And while I’m at it, it’s a good time to see if that gluten-free thing will help as well. Read More →