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Every night this week has felt pretty much like summer and with the crazy long daylight hours that we have in Indiana, we have been spending plenty of evenings in our outdoor living room, or, during our first summer here, our only living room.
 
The first summer that we lived in our house, we had no furniture. Well, that isn’t completely accurate, all of our furniture was in our garage while we spent countless hours installing hardwood flooring. It was one of those Murphy’s Law projects that should have been done in a week or two, but in reality took about six months.
  
When we first bought our house, we  didn’t plan to change the floor at all, but almost immediately we realized that the carpeting smelled awful. Even after shampooing and deodorizing, the smell was completely overpowering. It quickly became apparent that our floor had been doubling for a litter box.

 

No problem, just tear out the carpet and nail down hardwood, right? Riiiight. That’s what we thought this first day when we had our flooring “breathing” to adjust to the humidity.

In reality, we had to chip away sections of tile floor, pry up soggy particle board, removed sweet 1970’s parque, remove a few hundred square feet of perfectly good hardwood, then finally, after numerous trips to the dump, we could…

…wait for it…

…install and level plywood. You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you? Did I mention that I was still working in Memphis five days per week?

Chris did his best to work on the floor while I was gone, but between that project and our massive lawn to mow, it was a Herculean juggling act. As summer came to a close and it began to get too chilly for me to appreciate the comfort of our outdoor living room, we were finally able to move into our house for real.

We still like to relax on our back porch, and while I don’t think we will ever again do so with the frequency that we did that summer, I still enjoy grilling extravaganzas like the one we had last Sunday. 

Sunday’s all-grill dinner was topped off with none other than a grilled dessert. I’m a huge fan of grilled fruit and this may be my favorite. It had the sweetness of dried fruit, but was juicy like the real deal. An added bonus is that Chris, our house grill master, does the cooking when I come up with (almost) all-grill dinners.

Adapted from Skinny Chef.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp adobo paste from canned chipotles in adobo
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ripe mangos, peeled, cut into 1-inch thick slices

Directions:

  • Heat balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan, boil for several minutes until in reduces by half.
  • Mix in olive oil, adobo paste, and salt.
  • Marinate the mango slices in the balsamic sauce for 2-3 hours or overnight.
  • Heat a grill over medium-high heat.
  • Grill the mango in a grill basket, turning once, until browned and slightly softened, about 5 minutes total.
  • Serve warm or cold, it is excellent both ways.

Servings ~ 4
Calories ~113 , Fat ~ 3.7g, Carbohydrates ~ 21.6g, Protein ~ 0.5g

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As some of you know, my breakfast pretty regularly consists of overnight oats. My favorite OO concoction involves vanilla almond milk, oatmeal, guar gum, vanilla protein powder and blueberries. I imagine that I will continue eating this pretty routinely for quite a while.

I guess I am a creature of habit when it comes to breakfast. I generally find one that works and stick with it until there is some impetus for change.

So if you love OOs so much, what’s up with the breakfast cookie?

Well, as tasty as they are, OOs are not perfect in every situation. They cannot be taken through airport security, they are not ideal to eat while driving, and they certainly can’t be discretely eaten during a meeting at work.

The breakfast cookie solves all of these problems. Portable, one handed, and just as filling and tasty as OOs.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp almond slivers
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar or honey
  • Splash of almond (or regular) milk
  • Non-stick spray

Directions:

  • Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Work agave nectar and a splash of almond milk into the mixture.
  • Optional, for breakfast cookies to go: Place a square of plastic wrap on a small plate before continuing with the steps below.
  • Lightly coat a small plate with non-stick spray, then press the oatmeal mixture into a cookie shape on the plate.
  • Refrigerate overnight. The cookie can usually be lifted off of the plate easily after it has set. In the case of a to-go cookie, lift the plastic wrap and go.

Servings ~ 1
Calories ~ 423, Fat ~ 7.9 g, Carbohydrates ~ 68.6 g, Protein ~ 21.8 g

Last weekend while I was grocery shopping I got a call from Chris.

“Can you get some Wheat Thins?”

He was smoking some meat at our neighbor’s house and he wanted a snack to hold him over until dinner was ready. I brought home some generic “Thin Wheat Crisps”. Fail.

While he was thankful, I got the impression that they didn’t quite hit the spot. Wheat Thins? Thin Wheat Crisps? What’s the difference?

From Chris’ perspective, the Thin Wheat Crisps just don’t have the same wheaty, crunchy goodness. Not being much of a cracker eater, the only difference I can discern is about $1.50.

I quickly got to work trying to create a homemade version his favorite crackers.

This week I have been on a mission to make homemade versions of two of Chris’ carby staples, Wheat Thins and whole wheat bagels. The homemade Wheat Thins were a win. Far better than Thin Wheat Crisps. I’m still trying to replicate his favorite whole wheat bagels.

I have finally duplicated the texture of his bagels. Now I just need to improve my bagel sealing technique, but that will have to wait. We have a backlog of twenty or so bagels from my practice runs. With his two bagel a day habit it will be a little while before I have an excuse to make more.

From Oh She Glows.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups (5 oz) 100% whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for sprinkling on
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoons butter (I used yogurt butter.)
  • 3 oz water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 F. 
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  • With a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly.
  • Mix the water and vanilla and then pour them into the flour mixture.
  • Use the pastry cutter to combine the  water/vanilla and the flour mixture, adding a bit more water as necessary if it appears to be too dry.
  • Split the dough in half.
  • On a floured surface roll out one half of the dough to about 1/16 inch thickness, then cut into pieces using a pizza cutter.
  • Use a spatula to transfer the crackers to the parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle with more salt and sesame seeds if desired.
  • Repeat as necessary with the second half of the dough.
  • Bake for ~10 minutes, watching closely.
  • Cool completely on a cooling rack then store in an air-tight container.
  • I ended up with about 70 crackers.

Servings ~  10
Calories ~ 110, Fat ~ 3.3 g, Carbohydrates ~ 18 g, Protein ~ 3

These pretzels may be even more dangerous than store-bought frozen pretzels. Yes, they are whole wheat. Yes, they have much better nutrition stats than your typical frozen pretzel. But no, you will not be able to stop eating them. Hence the danger.

Thank you to Branny for suggesting vital wheat gluten as an ingredient in whole wheat pretzels. A quick search turned up several whole wheat pretzel recipes, and this recipe from Baking Bites was the one of the few that met both criteria that I was looking for: all whole wheat and contains vital wheat gluten.

(Notice, I made pretzels and ran fast yesterday.)

The whole wheat flour makes the pretzels quite filling and gives them a great texture. To my surprise, I also found the whole wheat pretzel dough to be much easier to make and to work with than the white pretzel dough. Win. Win. Win.

Next time I will definitely double the recipe because these will not last long at all at Duke’s House.

As an aside, if you are shying away from this recipe because of the vital wheat gluten, don’t. You can find it in the baking aisle of most grocery stores and it is not a “scary” ingredient to work with.

From Baking Bites.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water (100 – 110 degrees)
  • 3 1/2-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
  • 2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • coarse salt, for topping

Directions:

  • In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, active dry yeast, and sugar.
  • Stir in warm water, then let sit, covered with plastic wrap, for 40 minutes for batter to rise.
  • Stir in honey, salt and 1 1/2 cups more whole wheat flour.
  • When dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gradually work in the remaining flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough is moist, but not sticky, and elastic (about 5 minutes).
  • Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 additional hour.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Dissolve baking soda in warm water.
  • Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangular shape.
  • Divide, dough into 10-20 even pieces depending on the size of pretzels you desire.
  • Working with one piece at a time (leaving the others covered with a towel or plastic wrap), roll each piece of dough into a long rope (longer means thinner pretzels, shorter leads to breadier pretzels) and make an “X” with the loose ends and turn “X” down to meet the center of the dough rope, forming a pretzel shape.
  • Dip each shaped pretzel into baking soda mixture and place shaped pretzels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased, leaving 1-2 inches between pretzels to allow for further rise.
  • Sprinkle each with coarse salt, to taste. (For pretzels with a glossy finish, beat one egg and brush pretzels with egg before salting.)
  • Bake pretzels for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown, then cool on a wire rack.

Servings ~ 10
Calories ~ 200, Fat ~ 1 g, Carbohydrates ~ 44 g, Protein ~ 8 g

Servings ~ 20 (I made my pretzels into 20 servings which yielded similar size pretzels to the white flour pretzel recipe that I tried.)
Calories ~ 100, Fat ~ 0.5 g, Carbohydrates ~ 22 g, Protein ~ 4 g

When I saw this recipe, I knew that I had to try it. I have always had a “thing” for soft pretzels.

Unfortunately, I have mostly stopped eating them in the past few years. For a long time, I bought frozen, pre-made soft pretzels and enjoyed the salty, bready treats, probably more than I should have.

One sad day, my pretzel-filled utopia came completely unraveled.

One of my favorite, salty, chewy, golden brown pretzels was two servings. No big deal, right? Eh, sort of a big deal because they descended from their glorious snack status to simply being meal-calorie-sized hunks of bread.

Who eats half of a soft pretzel anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I love meal-size hunks of bread, but I just don’t end up feeling meal-satisfied from eating them.

Major bummer. I stopped buying my favorite carby treats and moved on to other snacks that never quite lived up to the soft pretzel. I thought soft pretzels had been written off for good, but things have changed.

Soft pretzels and I have blissfully reunited. Now to learn how to make them whole wheat!

Thank you Nicole for a reasonably sized soft pretzel!

From Nicole at PreventionRD.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
  • 3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • olive oil spray
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 tbsp baking soda

Directions:

  • Combine sugar, yeast, and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 110 F) in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  • Mix in 1 tbsp salt and 3 1/2 to 4 cups of flour until a dough forms. 
  • Using a dough hook attachment, “knead” for 8 minutes.
  • Briefly remove dough to lightly coat bowl with olive oil spray.
  • Return dough to bowl, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  • Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and cut into 16 equal pieces.
  • Using your hands, roll 1 piece back and forth into a rope about 14-16 inches long.
  • Twist dough into a pretzel shape, then transfer pretzel with your hands to an oiled baking sheet.
  • Form the rest of the pretzels in same manner with remaining dough, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.
  • Let pretzels stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes.
  • Bring a wide 6-quart pot of water to a boil.
  • Once boiling, add heaping tablespoon of baking soda.
  • Pre-heat oven to 425 F.
  • Using both hands, carefully add 3 pretzels, 1 at a time, to boiling water and cook, turning over once with tongs, until pretzels are puffed and shape is set, about 3 minutes.
  • Transfer boiled pretzels to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
  • Line baking sheet with parchment paper and oil paper, then arrange pretzels on sheet.
  • Brush pretzels lightly with some of egg and sprinkle with pretzel salt.
  • Bake until golden brown, about 20-22 minutes.
  • Cool 15 minutes, then serve warm.

Servings ~ 16
Calories ~ 99 calories, Fat ~ 0.1 g,  Carbohydrates ~ 21.4 g, Protein ~ 3 g



a.k.a. Green Radioactive Sludge Smoothie.

Green Monsters are one of those things that you will either love or hate because it takes a certain palate to appreciate emulsified spinach, or worse yet kale, disguised as a (typically sweet) smoothie. I happen to be a proponent of Green Monsters.

It all got started a few summers ago when I first heard about these Shrek-like smoothies and decided to give them a try. At first, I was totally hooked, slurping down the radioactive sludge nearly every day. Eventually I got tired of washing my blender, so the Green Monsterfest subsided.

Let’s face it, scrubbing dried-on spinach out of my blender is not my idea of a good time. I prefer low maintenance meals with little to no cleanup, lazy girl foods. I still cook in Teflon pans (shhh, don’t tell my mother in law!) because if I had to scrub cooked-on food out of stainless steel pans with any frequency I would probably be relegated to daily take-out.

Over time, my relationship with the Green Monster has evolved. Today I tend to only drink Green Monsters when I have something to gain from it. For example, I like to make Green Monsters when I realize that I own half a pound of spinach that is wilted slightly beyond salad goodness and needs to be used ASAP or when our my (Chris is not a banana fan) bananas are getting a bit too mushy and brown to spread peanut butter on.

I have tried many Shrek-smoothie combinations, but this one is probably best for keeping me full and I think it tastes pretty good too!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz unsweetened original almond milk
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1 banana, frozen (Make sure to peel and slice the banana before freezing…peeling a frozen banana is quite difficult!)
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar (More if you are feeling extra sweet.)
  • splash of vanilla extract

Directions:

  • Add ingredients to a blender. It works best to put the spinach somewhere near the bottom of the mix so that you don’t have to scrape stray spinach leaves off the sides of the blender – I hate to get a spoon dirty if I don’t need to.
  • Pulse several times to break up the frozen banana, then use the liquify setting on your blender if it has one.
  • Serve cold. I sometimes store half of the Monster in my refrigerator for up to a day or so.

Servings ~ 1 – 2
Calories (based on 1 serving/recipe) ~ 403, Fat ~ 5 g, Carbohydrates ~ 69 g, Protein ~ 25 g

It is pretty ironic that I was feeling ambitious enough to make crystallized ginger from scratch to put in my Roasted Butternut Squash with Ginger and Cilantro but I was too lazy to go grocery shopping and just buy the crystallized ginger. Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

You know those days where you are driving home from work and think about turning off to go to the grocery store/gym/you name it and all you can think about is going home and putting on sweatpants? Exactly. Grocery shopping seemed as unappealing as possible at that point.

But, after getting those sweatpants on, ambition set in again and I suddenly had the drive to make my ginger. And butternut squash, green beans, and salmon to boot! Ok, Chris was the one who purchased and cooked the salmon. We each made a salmon glaze though and he cooked half of the fish in each glaze.

About that salmon glaze…if you do make crystallized ginger, I highly recommend saving the “ginger flavored sugar water” when you drain the ginger to make something else. The two salmon glazes we made were maple-soy-ginger and ginger-teriyaki-mustard. Mmmm. Pretty self explanatory, just play around with the ratios until you like the flavor.

Recipe from Sonic.Net.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped ginger

Directions:

  • Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  • Add ginger pieces, then simmer for 30 minutes or until crystallized.
  • Strain and dry. Save the “sugar water” when you drain the ginger! See note above on some awesome ginger glazes for salmon!
  • Sprinkle with sugar.

Servings ~ 4 (1/4 cup servings, about 34 g)
The nutrition information is very ballpark on this one as it is difficult to calculate. This is based on typical calorie labels on crystallized ginger products.
Calories ~ 120, Fat ~ 0 g, Carbohydrates ~ 30 g, Protein ~ 0 g