SNACKS!

dates with nuts

OK.  So, before I launch into my shpeel I want to say one thing: I really do despise it when someone professes the ease of substituting healthy options for junk food cravings.

Perhaps you’ve heard of how “a fresh crisp piece of celery is a great replacement for, like, potato chips!”  Yeah right.  In fact, just like with Lay’s, I can’t eat just one!  I often finish the whole bunch of celery before I realize what I’ve done.  It’s that good! 🙂

My personal defense against eating nasty snacks is to not buy them.  Or, if I do buy salty thingies (I have three kids and I’m not a tyrant for heaven’s sake!) I purchase things I don’t personally like.  We currently have a bag of TJ’s brand baked curly cheesy snacks… and probably some pretzels, pirate’s booty… I think that’s it.

I’m mostly a savory girl, but I do get sweet cravings too.  Above is one of my fave snacks when I’m in the mood for something sweet.  If you promise not to snort I promise not to even imply it’s “a good substitute for chocolate chip cookies.”  There is no substitute for chocolate chip cookies, honey.  End your search now.

But there are really tasty, satisfying, healthy foods you can consume that can give those taste buds a good hug from time to time.  Enter: dates with nuts.  YUM.  I buy my dried fruit at the farmer’s market, but you can get it lots of places.  Just be sure to try options if you don’t like it as the quality can really vary.

A few dried dates with some delicious nuts–especially pecans… oh my…–is just what the doctor ordered for me when I’m in the mood for something sweet.   Ya’ got yer fiber, ya got yer protein, ya got yer vitamins.  Another combo I like is cashews with craisins.  Yum-oh.

Unsolicited tip: try to eat unsalted nuts if possible.  Way healthier, of course.  If you feel like you just can’t do it (Mike used to be this way) mix salted with unsalted and slowly work your way toward salt free.  Once you get there you won’t miss the salt at all.

Happy Thanksgiving

carrot slaw Recipe and then a few thoughts for ya’ today.

OK.  So first a recipe (and yes, I’ve posted it before.  Get off my back!  This is a reminder for you, K?)  Rather than the dish of warm, cooked carrots that I have personally never been a fan of :(, consider this gorgeous, carrot slaw as an alternative!  Not only will it be gobble-gobbled up in a jiffy, it can be prepared one or two days in advance.  In fact, it tastes better when prepared in advance.  So, like, you might want to prepare it in advance.  I’m just sayin’.

Michelle’s Carrot Slaw

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound grated carrots, or 1-1/3 pounds carrots, peeled and grated (if you wash them well, don’t have to peel)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, from one orange (or a splash of orange juice)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • a little bundle of green onion, white and green parts, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • dash of salt
  • dash of pepper

Directions:

Bake walnuts at 350 for about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.  Throw remaining ingredients into a bowl and toss it up a bit.  This salad will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but don’t add the walnuts until you’re ready to eat.

And now for those thoughts I mentioned.  I L-O-V-E Thanksgiving.  Since food, family and friends are my favorite things in the whole universe, this coming Thursday is tailor made for moi. No shopping for gifts, decorations can be minimal or maximal, depending on your mood, and then you just gather with a bunch of people you love (or have to tolerate for a few hours, whatever) and eat delicious food.  OK.  Yes.  And drink wine.  Ahhh….

My recipe for Thanksgiving sanity is as follows: Welcome to everyone who wants to join us + it’s potluck so what are you gonna bring? + eat around 2:00 so there’s time to really enjoy the meal, take a walk or relax before dessert later in the day + do something un-American and really savor the day.  Take some time to talk, at least for a moment, to everyone at the gathering.  Don’t worry about stuff at work that still needs to get done and for heaven’s sake don’t worry about Black Friday.  Shut the world out, if you can, for that one afternoon and make like Jim Morrison, man… reeee-laxxx…

A note on my pot-luck notion.  I take pot-lucks very seriously.  There will be 35 people at my house (Please don’t rain!  Please!  Please!  Please!) this year for Thanksgiving and there ain’t no way I’m making all the food.  And why should I?  My grandma always said, “If you want to make someone feel like family, they have to contribute something.”  I’m making the turkey and this carrot slaw.  My guests are bringing dressing, potatoes, multiple vegetables, sweet potatoes, wine, pies, everything we need, really, for this to work.  I don’t just assign ornamental after-thoughts like dinner rolls to my guests (now the guy who’s bringing dinner rolls is scratching his head… It’s OK.  He’s bringing other things too.)  On Thursday ALL my guests are family and I’m counting on them to not blow it.  I’m not worried.  They always rise to the occasion.  That’s what loving families do.

Final words: save your turkey carcass!  My family’s post-Thanksgiving tradition is turkey tortilla soup… which I will not be thinking about yet on Thursday.

Gorgeous Carrot Slaw

carrot slaw

I simply cannot call this salad “carrot slaw.”  “Gorgeous” must be in the title because, duh: it is so divine to look at!  I placed that blue vase (pronounced “vahs” for effect) in the background as it makes such a stylish contrast.  I am so artsy-shmartsy.

My carrots slaw recipe is tweaked and a bit simplified from Once Upon a Chef.  I eased up on a few ingredients but it could be because the farmers market carrots I get don’t need as much stuff on’em; I don’t know.

The photo above is made with hand grated carrots as I couldn’t find the correct attachment for my food processor that I hardly ever use.  Lucky for me, child labor laws are a bit lax at my house…

Josie grating carrots

“Mommy, my arm is getting tired…”  “Hang in there, honey.  Only 10 more carrots to go!”

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound grated carrots, or 1-1/3 pounds carrots, peeled and grated (if you wash them well, don’t have to peel)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, from one orange (or a splash of orange juice)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • a little bundle of green onion, white and green parts, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • dash of salt
  • dash of pepper

Here’s what all the yummy stuff looked like before I mixed it up.  It’s already getting pretty!  I went ahead and and tossed my walnuts in as our mouths were beginning to water at this point and I was fairly certain the salad wouldn’t last long.  I was right.

carrot slaw ingredients

Directions:

Bake walnuts at 350 for about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.  Throw remaining ingredients into a bowl and toss it up a bit.  This salad will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but don’t add the walnuts until you’re ready to eat.

I made my gorgeous carrot slaw for a potluck last night with a few bags of store-bought shredded carrots.  Much less work and a different texture than the hand grated method.  What made it still yummalicious was that I made the salad 24 hours in advance so the flavors had time to really get to know each other.  They got along great, btw.

 

Winter Salad

I know I use the word “love” excessively when I talk about food, but, well, I really do love a good salad!

In my humble opinion, a “good” salad should contain a variety of textures and colors and be filled with seasonal produce, when possible, that combine to make interesting and varied flavors.  If you are looking for the iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing, you can stop reading this post now.  If you’d like to tantalize your taste buds (oh my!) and whip up something delicious and nutritious, keep reading…

For a southern Californian, it is easy to make fresh salads year round.  But what’s a meal maker to do if it’s January and one happens to live in, for example, Otisville, MI?  Don’t despair, Michigander amigas!   It is still possible to make a decent winter salad, even if you live in the temporary tundra.  You likely won’t be hitting the farmers market this weekend like I will, but I think you’ll find most of my suggestions at super market near you.

If I use leafy greens, I always start with something dark.  For this salad I used spinach.  You know those fancy restaurants that serve salad sculptures precariously balanced on plates with artsy looking leaves and stalks so large that even a muppet could fit in his mouth?  I hate that.  I like my salad to be easily poppable into my mouth.  You can use a knife or, my fave time saver, poultry shears.  Snip, snip, done!

cutting greens

I chopped up some carrots, celery, cucumbers and then cabbage.  I especially like the striking contrast between the bright white-ish cabbage and the dark spinach.  I do say it is a quite a nice visual, don’t you agree, Dah-ling? (see photo below)

In the summer, there’s nothing (NOTHING) better than a ripe red tomato in a salad.  But in the winter there’s nothing (NOTHING) more disappointing than a white, cakey tomato in a salad.  Don’t do it!  Yes, you need something acidic to make your salad truly del-ish, but there are many better winter options than a lackluster tomato! Even with So-Cal’s year round produce scene, options are still seasonal.   Try a tart apple, fresh or canned sliced pears, or what I used in this bowl of yum: some fresh oranges.

Another winter salad secret of mine is craisins.  Yum!!!  These tart and tangy little garnet gems (they seriously do look like jewels, don’t they?) are the perfect complement to my almost-done masterpiece.

craisins

My kids are well-trained (hello–I hope so!) to eat a good salad, but prefer it without cheese or red onion.  So I usually toss theirs with a balsamic vinaigrette, serve them, and then add the rest for the grownups.  I adore thinly sliced red onion in pretty much any kind of salad, and I also like a dash of cheese.  In this salad I used a mild and salty crumbled feta.  Parmesan or goat cheese could also have worked.   If I use pears, I sometimes like a mild blue cheese.

People who enjoy my salads often get annoyed when they discover that I usually mix the dressing right on top as I go.  “How can I recreate that Michelle!?”  I like a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic salt, pepper, sugar, sometimes mustard, sometimes honey, sometimes apple cider vinegar, sometimes celery salt…  (Sorry.  That’s not helpful; it’s annoying.  I think you get the picture…)

I promise to post some actual salad dressing recipes soon.  Honestly, though, when you’ve got so much good stuff in your bowl, a simple vinegar and oil (my general go-to) dressing from a bottle can do just fine too.

Drum roll please… Tah-dah!

salad

Some tips: Add the juice from oranges or pears to the dressing: yum!  This salad was served as part of a meal, but you can make your salad the main dish by adding some protein and maybe some bread or crackers on the side.  My preferred protein pals include chopped chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans or fresh nuts (walnuts, pecans=smile.)  Candied nuts taste marvy, but pack on the calories, so I usually just use plain.

Get creative with your salads.  My mom likes chopped cauliflower and broccoli in hers.  Sometimes we don’t even include lettuce or other leafy greens.  Gasp!  I know.  Shocking.