Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sparkling Ginger Lemonade


While I love eating healthy, I'm not really into the idea of "superfoods." There seems to be a trend in the media surrounding food and nutrition these days to hero-ify certain foods to the point where you think they ought to just give these foods some capes and a Saturday morning cartoon. (I'm looking at you, salmon and kale.) "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's flaxseed meal!" Foods are foods, okay? Some are healthier than others, but as long as they're real and unprocessed, I think everybody's on a pretty level playing field. However, there are certain positive, even medicinal properties associated with specific foods. Ginger is one of these.

For centuries, people have relied upon ginger as a medicinal herb. Reports of its healing powers date back 5,000 years. The ancient Chinese regarded it as a healing gift from God. That rich history plus numerous clinical studies are enough to convince me that ginger is effective at combating nausea, reducing inflammation and gas, and even inhibiting bacterial growth. (If only donuts had so many benefits, amirite?) So getting an extra dose of it in your diet can only be a good thing.

This sparkling ginger lemonade is a great way to incorporate a little ginger into your day in a unique twist on the usual summertime cooler. You do have to like ginger to enjoy it, because the flavor is definitely robust, but I find it a refreshing lemonade with just a bit of bite! (And you could always go a little easy on the ginger for a subtler taste.) So for nausea, inflammation, or just a light drink on a hot day, it's just what the ancient Chinese doctor ordered.

Sparkling Ginger Lemonade
(Barely adapted from Taste of Home)

Ingredients:

2 c. water
1/2 c. honey
2 Tbsp. minced ginger root
2 c. sparkling water (lemon-flavored is a plus)
1 c. fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, honey, and ginger to a boil. Remove from the heat. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and discard ginger. Cool.

2. Pour into a pitcher and add sparkling water and lemon juice. Chill completely before serving and enjoy over ice.

Serves about 5.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creamy Margherita Quinoa Bake


The first time I ever made this for dinner, my husband said, "This is probably one of the best things you've ever made." I was stunned. (And possibly a little insulted--a quinoa bake? What about all those fancy cakes I've made, or herb-marinated tilapia with mango salsa? Or my chicken pot pie?) But as I kept eating, I had to agree. This initially unassuming quinoa bake is in fact a consummately delicious comfort food. With stretchy mozzarella, fresh tomatoes bursting with flavor, and strips of basil, it's pretty much all the things you love about a margherita pizza in creamy casserole form. As if margherita pizza could be improved upon! But for a little something different, I think I actually prefer this dish to the pizza of the same name. (Pause here for horrified gasp.)

Speaking of margherita pizza, have you ever wondered who Margherita was? I have, but maybe that's because I spend approximately 90% of my mental energy thinking about food. Supposedly, back in 1889, a Neapolitan pizza maker was commissioned to make a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita, who was visiting Naples. (Um...I want to live in a country where people get commissioned to make pizzas.) He created three different pizzas--two of which have apparently been lost to history--and the queen was thrilled with the one that represented the colors of the Italian flag: red, green, and white. Thus was the pizza named Margherita, and thus did Margherita go down in history as Queen of Pizza, which is probably the greatest honorary title ever bestowed on a human being.

So for a little twist on an Italian classic (that happens to be gluten-free, if you're into that sort of thing), give this one a whirl. With a green salad, it's a tasty dinner that has won my heart, and my husband's--and probably would win the Queen of Italy's, too.



Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake
(Adapted from Half Baked Harvest)

Ingredients:

1 c. uncooked quinoa
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. tomato-basil pasta sauce
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
scant 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
1 1/2 c. grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise, divided
12 large basil leaves, chiffonaded, divided

Directions:

1. Thoroughly rinse quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve. Drain. Place quinoa in a large saucepan and cover with 2 cups water. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside in a separate container. Wipe the pot clean to be used later in the recipe.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In the same large saucepan, heat tomato paste and pasta sauce until warm. Stir in Parmesan, heavy cream, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat and mix in cooked quinoa until well combined. Add half the mozzarella, half the sliced tomatoes, and half the basil leaves, stirring to combine.

4. Spray an 11 x 7 inch baking dish with cooking spray and pour quinoa mixture into the dish, smoothing the top with a spoon. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, pressing the tomatoes down slightly into the mixture. 

5. Bake in the preheated oven 15-17 minutes, then turn broiler onto high. Broil 1-2 minutes (75 seconds is the sweet spot in my oven). Top with remaining basil strips and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 5-6.


Smile and say CHEEEEEEESE!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Simple Broccoli Quiche


It's been a little while since I last posted, and I'll tell you why. Of course, there's the usual busyness of life with family, school, church, and housework (not to mention keeping up with new Mad Men episodes!), which is enough to keep me from blogging, but last week there was something else that needed my attention:

My sanity. 

See, the week before last, all three of my kids had gotten sick--in the space of 24 hours, every single one of them was called home by the school nurse--and then of course I got it, too. Your basic someone-please-put-me-out-of-my-misery stomach flu. I got into bed at 7 PM that night and lay there for two or three hours just trying to pray myself out of it before I eventually fell asleep. Then, even once we all recovered, everybody was still in a funk. I'm fine overlooking cranky behavior when my kids are ill. I get it. It comes with the kid-sickness territory. But when the crankiness goes on for interminable days after the illness has dissipated, it's hard to take. I vented my frustration to my husband one morning after dealing with some pretty extreme attitude problems, and he reminded me that it had been quite awhile since I had taken a personal retreat...or, as he likes to call it, an Emergency Vacation.

Ever since my firstborn was a toddler, I've tried to get away about once a year for a couple of days of quiet, prayer, and generally doing what I want, not what I have to. It's wonderful tradition that always leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to get back to my real life. So when my husband brought it up, I didn't need much encouragement before I jumped up, grabbed my laptop, and started making plans. Within a couple of hours, I had booked two nights doing something I've always wanted to try: a farm stay. If you haven't heard of farm stays, they're pretty much exactly what they sound like: (drum roll please.....) staying on a farm. In this case, I checked out farmstayus.com and located a small family farm outside Prescott, AZ, two hours from my home, that has a condo-sized cabin available for rent. A few days later I found myself sipping my morning coffee on a porch overlooking a beautiful valley with the sounds of chickens clucking in the background. Three Sparrows Farm was absolute bliss. 

The porch.


If you've ever had a hankering to get away from it all (but still be within driving distance of civilization), you couldn't do much better than this place. A 2-acre property set on a hillside, 3 Sparrows has chickens, goats, and a donkey, all of which you are welcomed to feed, pet, and/or hold. (Except the donkey. Feeding and petting, yes. Holding, good luck.) 

Week-old baby goats. Gaaaaahh, the cuteness!

After two days of peace and quiet, including a hike up Thumb Butte and walking around downtown Prescott, I was totally pleased with my experience and definitely came home better equipped to deal with whatever life might throw at me. (Check out the farm and info about the farm stay at 3sparrowsfarm.com)



So, speaking of real life, let's get to the other reason for this post: Broccoli Quiche. Because what's the first things a mom has to do when she gets back from a trip? (I mean, after laundry?) Make dinner, of course! Quiche is one of my favorite go-to easy dinners, as I've mentioned here and here. Coming home from my getaway, broccoli quiche was a simple way to get dinner on the table without a lot of fuss. Served with roasted potatoes, it's a satisfying but not overpowering brunch for dinner. Or just brunch for brunch. In any case, tasty, packed with veggies, and great for take-to-work leftovers. 

Now that my 2015 Emergency Vacation is done, any recommendations for next year?



 Broccoli Quiche
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 unbaked pie crust
2 Tbsp. butter
3 c. broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 medium-large onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
3/4 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread pie crust in a 9-inch pie dish.

2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, and broccoli and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and broccoli is bright green. Spoon vegetables into prepared pie crust and sprinkle with mozzarella and cheddar.

3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then mix in milk, salt, and pepper. Pour egg mixture over vegetables and cheese.

4. Bake 40-45 minutes or until eggs are set in the center. (Check quiche frequently throughout baking time, as it is notoriously finicky about how long it takes to set.) Cool at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 4-5 as a main dish.



Monday, April 6, 2015

Star Wars Birthday Party on a Budget


When you're a boy turning six, is there anything cooler than a Star Wars birthday party with your closest friends? My middle child certainly doesn't think so. Last Sunday was his second Star Wars birthday party in his six years of life. I very much enjoy planning and putting together parties, whether our annual Christmas party, going-away parties, our Twilight Zone movie night, a Preschool Halloween Party, or (why not?) Star Wars birthday parties. (Check out my Guide to Party Menu Planning here for some ideas on getting event-ready.) The only problem is, when you have three children with three birthdays in the space of 6 weeks, throwing a party for each of them can become not only time-consuming but pretty dang expensive. Have you been to kids' birthday parties these days? They're insane, and not scary-clown insane like when I was a kid. I'm talking bounce house rental-five-tiered cake-hired-DJ insane. Which our family is really not into.

So this time around, we decided to go low-key. I let my son invite five friends from school and we attempted to do a reasonably simple Star Wars party on a not-insane amount of money. In the end, it was a fun, low-stress event that didn't cost an arm and a leg (and didn't give my kid a celebrity complex). Here are a few of the details.

Menu: 


The internet is FULL of Star Wars party food ideas, from elaborate Death Stars carved out of watermelon to punny joke foods like "Vader tots." We kept it middle-of-the-road with some regular foods and some Star Wars-themed choices.

1. Bacon-Ranch Star Pasta Salad

Amazon sells this star-shaped pasta by Barilla. 


I thought it would be a great idea for a pasta salad...though I didn't realize that those stars are barely bigger than a grain of rice--the kind that come floating in a can of Campbell's chicken soup. So it was a bit hard to tell that the shapes in our Bacon-Ranch Pasta Salad were stars, but hey, it still tasted good!


2. Veggies and Dip. A party staple.

3. Dark Side Chips & Light Side Chips. Also known as blue corn and regular tortilla chips.

4. Salsa and "Carbonite Dip" (guacamole).


No use denying how cheesy this was. Get it? Han Solo trapped in carbonite? "I love you." I know."

5. Fruit Sabers


I can't take credit for this idea--it's all over Google images--but it sure was a hit with our partygoers. Duct tape elevates basic fruit skewers to multicolored light sabers! 

6. Yoda Soda


If this ice cream soda drink is supposed to look like frothy fog from Yoda's Dagobah swamp, it totally nailed it. (If it's not, it's super bizarre.) A mix of Sprite, softened lime sherbet, and 8 oz. of cranberry juice combine to make this creepy treat the kids went nuts over. 

7. Dark Side vs. Light Side Cake


Okay, this one I can take credit for: a three-layer (vanilla-chocolate-vanilla) Dark Side vs. Light Side cake, with chocolate Darth Vader fighting vanilla Luke Skywalker. Does it make me evil if I say I'd choose the dark (chocolate) side every time?

Games:

1. Light Sabers in the Swamp

If you've been to as many baby showers as I have, you may realize that shower games can be stealthily adapted to serve as kid party games. Our first party game is based off the old "find the diaper pins in rice" shower standard. In this version, Yoda has lost his lightsabers in the "swamp" (a shoebox) and needs your help getting them back.


Wearing a blindfold, our partygoers had to sift through this box of rice, popcorn kernels, and small pasta to see if they could pick out five small Lego lightsabers.


It's so much harder than it looks! Even the adults had a hard time getting more than three in a forty second turn. 


My kids had enough Lego lightsabers to make this game work, but you can also purchase them on Amazon for about 5 bucks. Budget-friendly game for the win! 

2. Star Wars Tic-Tac-Toe


This game could not be any easier. Print out five crossed light sabers for X's and five Death Stars for O's and glue to card stock paper. Use electrical tape to draw a tic-tac-toe board on any surface (we used our back patio table) and let the kids have at it! My boys played this repeatedly in the week leading up to the party.

Favors:

A good party favor that isn't just junk you wish your kid had never gotten is a kid-party diamond in the rough. As a parent, I tried to consider other parents' feelings about whatever party favors we offered. These super cute party food printables from Kreations By Kristy were an inspiration.


I think I could potentially resist C-3PO Carrots, but Ewok Food? I need that in my life. 


The kiddos helped me make bags of Goldfish, pretzel sticks, and Craisins and place them in 89-cent Star Wars cups I found at Target. Edible but not junk, in a reusable container, for approximately $2 each. Party favor gold.


Decor:

Decorating for a Star Wars party definitely does not have to break the bank. The amount of free material is almost staggering--if you know where to look.

1. Printables.

To decorate on the cheap, printables are the way to go. Along with the above food printables, the Internet is a never-ending resource for Star Wars party printables. Many of them are free, from DIY pennants to coloring pages, so happy searching!

2. Welcome sign.


Let your guests know they're in the right place when they get to your house by printing an Obi Wan Kenobi image with this phrase below it.  

3. Use what you got.

So your kid wants a Star Wars party? Presumably that means you have more Star Wars stuff lying around your house than you know what to do with. Use it to your advantage by turning toys into decor!


A couple of Halloween costume masks and a lunchbox served as a table centerpiece, and a play treehouse was placed in the family room newly dubbed the Forest of Endor. The Star Wars universe is big. You can creatively fit a whole lotta random stuff into it. 

4. Star Wars terrariums.


Again, a matter of using what's on hand. Star Wars Lego figures get cool new digs when you place them in glass with rocks and foliage. A fun, free centerpiece idea if your kids have some minifigures and you have some glass containers on hand.


I'm really pleased with the way this kid's party turned out--and even more pleased with what a wonderful kid HE is turning out to be! Happy Birthday, Elliot, and may the force be with you!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Low-Sugar Mango Almond Tart


Happy Easter! Here in the Phoenix area, it's a beautiful weekend for this celebration of Christ's resurrection--a weekend we get to spend with family, friends, and the winner of the Creepiest Easter Bunny competition 2015.

Right?

My kids and their cousins were super good sports about posing with the bunny that looked like it might burst out in a maniacal cackle at any moment. 

On this Easter day, as our Lenten fast comes to a close, I'd like to share with you another recipe I made while my husband and son were doing their six weeks of eating less sugar. It really was a fun challenge to make desserts that would taste good with a major sugar reduction. (I'm sure diabetics are rolling their eyes, like, yeah, tons of fun.) This mango almond tart was a definite winner. The original recipe from Eating Well is for a raspberry-almond tart, which I'm sure would also be fabulous, but as I had no frozen raspberries in the house when inspiration struck, I used the frozen mangoes hibernating in our fridge and it turned out delicious, too. With only a quarter cup plus two teaspoons of added sugar in the entire 9-inch tart, I'd say this dessert stretches the sugar pretty thin without it being noticeably absent. My guess is you could substitute any berry or even peaches for the mangoes with lovely results. I could see making it for company--at a tea party, perhaps, or as a light but satisfying dessert for a spring dinner party. Or just for a husband and son who were brave enough to last 40 days with less sugar. I applaud them and feel no guilt today about letting my 7-year-old dive head-first into an Easter basket full of candy.


Low-Sugar Mango Almond Tart
(Adapted from Eating Well)

Ingredients:

1/2 c. sliced almonds, skins on
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
4 c. diced mangoes, fresh or frozen (not thawed)
2 tsp. powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan or pie dish with cooking spray.

2. In a food processor, combine sliced almonds and sugar until almonds are finely ground. Set aside 1/2 c. of the mixture.

3. Add 1 1/3 c. flour to the remaining sugar-almond mixture and pulse to blend. Add butter a few pieces at a time and process until well incorporated.

4. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extracts until blended. Add to the food processor and process until the mixture begins to form a dough that looks like wet, crumbly sand, about 1 minute. Set aside 1/3 c. of this mixture.

5. Transfer the remaining dough to the prepared tart pan. Spread evenly, pressing the dough up the sides of the pan to form a crust.

6. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of flour to the sugar-almond mixture you set aside in step 2. Toss mangoes with 2 Tbsp. of this mixture until coated. Spread the coated mangoes evenly over the tart crust, then sprinkle the remaining sugar-almond mixture over the mangoes. Take the reserved 1/3 c. of dough from step 4 and pinch into small clumps. Sprinkle these all around the tart.

7. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 45 minutes or until the crumbs on top are golden. Cool at least 30 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Makes 1 9-inch tart.