Sunday, June 29, 2014

SUGAR - Why is it hard to quit?!

For anyone browsing my blog, you know by now that I'm not 'anti-sugar' but I am however, pro-health. I just don't think the two are mutually exclusive.

Now, stick with me. During college, I had the wonderful opportunity to study neuroscience. As part of that, I studied the brain chemistry behind addictions and social behaviors, which has always fascinated me. Why do we like other people? What makes us sad? What happens in your brain when you have a spiritual or emotional experience?

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" you may be saying. "Isn't this a cooking blog!?!" Yes, it is. And part of cooking is knowing what you're cooking with. Just like I believe in drinking responsibly (even though I don't personally drink), I also believe in eating responsibly.

This super cool TED talk is a quick explanation about how sugar affects your brain, how and why a tolerance can be built, and what you can quit your craving.

Steps to help you quit sugar: 

The following five steps are found on this Psychology Today article, written by Nicole Avena, Ph.D, the same women who does the video.

  1. Eat regularly. A meal or a snack every 4 to 6 hours will help keep your blood sugar balanced.
  2. Get enough fiber. Aim for 35-45 grams per dayof dietary fiber for women, and 40-50 grams per day for men. In addition to stabilizing blood glucose levels, fiber keeps you feeling full longer. A note of caution: work up to these levels slowly, or you risk experience bloating, gas, or even constipation.
  3. Eat real, whole foods. Packaged foods are notorious for including not only added sugars, salt and chemicals, but also high-fructose corn syrup. As much as possible, eat foods that are organic, from the ground, and in their whole form.
  4. Spice it up. Several studies have shown that cinnamon has the ability to balance blood sugar levels. Add a pinch to your tea or sprinkle it on oatmeal in the morning.
  5. Get enough Zzz’s. Good sleep is like the Holy Grail of total body health, and blood sugar is no exception. Hit the hay before midnight whenever possible.

For additional information, check out this link:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kale Pesto

This was stunning. The picture isn't great, but no picture could capture the true radiance of kale in all it's splendor.

I mean - it not only looked fantastic. But there was some true magic happening.

Not only did I find it beautiful, but as I made it, I watched almost 6 cups of kale dwindle down to about 1 cup of pesto. That's almost as good as you get to a good disappearing act. I just stared blankly at my food processor in wonder. And really, I think that's the best way to describe my thoughts about food in general. Consider me a woman of simple pleasures, but watching all the ingredients come together to form an evening meal is like watching the mice and bird in Cinderella put together her ball gown - it's magical, captivating, and amazing. And even more importantly, I want to get up and 'dance' again each night. Granted, she was dancing with a prince and I'm prancing around my kitchen with kale, but all the same - I love it!!!

So yes, as I watched an entire bunch of kale go to pesto, I was amused and almost beside myself giddy. Then, tossing the pasta and red cherry tomatoes in the speckled green sauce made my heart sing with joy as I watched the pops of red contrast with the green and gently cascade onto the serving dish.

On a more technical note, when making this dish keep in mind that the flavor of the olive oil will really come through, so don't use a low grade brand. If you don't care for olive oil, go for another oil that you like. Also, you can use milk or almond milk instead of oil - just add it slowly so the pesto doesn't get soggy. 

Kale, being a super food of sorts, really makes this crazy good for you especially once you consider how much of it you're eating once it's pulverized down to pesto. Pine nuts, while high in fats/oils, are also good for you, and the basil brings in the classic pesto taste that most people are accustom to. 


1 bunch of kale, or about 6 cups loosely packed kale leaves, hard ribs removed
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves 
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

1 lb pasta
1 cup cherry tomatoes 

Add everything into a food processor and blend on high until kale is reduced (and likely sticking on walls) by about half. Scrape and mix, and blend again. Repeat process until everything is totally combined and uniform size. It should yield about 1cup of pesto. Remove from food processor, taste, and add salt as desired. 

Toss in 1 pound of hot pasta and about 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved. Serve hot. 

Bulk Cooking

This week I taught a class on bulk cooking to a group of women at a local church. Their desire was to know how to better streamline things in the kitchen and capitalize on what they do when cooking. 

This invitation was music to my ears. I was totally tickled when they asked me - not only do I LOVE food, cooking, and good cooking tools, but I LOVE learning to do things better and more efficiently. I'm a huge believer that by teaching something, you come to learn it better. As an aside - I honestly think that thinking of the laziest way to do something is often a great creative exercise. It lets you explore new ways of doing things. 

My learning journey about bulk cooking started with a love of cooking, a desire to do things better, and eat healthier. I found it was better to cook one healthy meal, portion it out, and just grab it in the morning for my lunch, or warm it up for dinner. Do this with a few meals, and you get ease, variety, and healthy eating all in one easy package. Sure, there is up front work, but you can do that on your day off, and coast for the rest of the week. 

Following are the thoughts I shared with the group, and some elaboration on each point. 

How to be a Ninja in the Kitchen

Bulk Cooking - The concept of making a lot of food at once, in the hopes that it makes your life easier later down the road. The most crucial part of this all is to find a method that works best for you, then work it!

This stuff is amazing. Garlic scapes are only available for few weeks during the year, so bulk and freezing are a must.  

What is bulk cooking?

Double-Batch Cooking - this is where you double a single recipe, typically on a night you will eat it anyway. Chili is a great example. Make a double batch of chili, then portion out the rest into individual servings, and freeze. This allow you to pull out a meal when you need one.

Once a Week Cooking - Cooking for the whole week on one day. This requires stamina, dedication, and determination. It also requires a lot of planning. You'll need to plan your meals out for the week, shop for all the ingredients, and then cook everything that needs cooking. Finally, you'll store it in the fridge. Mason jar salads are a good example of this for lunches.

Once a Month Cooking - This is exactly what it sounds like. It requires stamina, dedication, and determination - but all on steroids. This is way out of my leauge. I'm in an apartment, don't have a deep freezer, and can't be that decisive about what I want to eat three to four weeks out. I suggest browsing Pinterest, google, and the various blogs out there that specialize in this. Double-batch cooking is to Once-A-Month-Cooking, as a 'Oh, this coupon is taped to the front of this package, I guess I'll use it' type of person is to this type of person.

How to do bulk cooking? Let's be proper about it. Doing things right will help things turn out successfully - which to me equals happily. Making sure you have all the ingredients you need before starting to cook, double checking you have enough storage containers and place to put them once filled, and making sure you've got enough clean space to work with are all things that make bulk cooking enjoyable, rather than stressful.
Proper tools: Large pots, measuring cups, portioned storage containers
Proper work space: clean your kitchen before you start, collect your tools and ingredients. Yes, put everything on the counter to make sure you have it. If you don't, go buy it.
Proper storage: Make room in your freezer!!! Cool hot items to room temp before portioning and placing in the freezer. Make sure you have enough bags, containers, boxes, etc, to put all your food in once it's cooked.
Make it fun: put on good music/favorite sermon, wear comfortable shoes, and eat a good meal before you start (eating fast food is 100% acceptable if needed).

What to bulk cook?
This depends on what you like to eat. Don't get wrapped up into what someone else is doing. Know what you and yours will eat, then mega size it. You can also cook part of a meal and use it later in the week. For example, cook two pounds of ground beef - one to use tonight, and one to use later in a taco salad or something similar. You can also cook components of dishes and then freeze them for use later - such as freezing pesto and grilled chicken, then making pasta the night of Chicken and Pesto Pasta (recipe coming soon!). Frozen components allow for more flexibility.

A nice double batch of chili ready to be stored and frozen! Great alone or on top of nachos. 

WHY!?!? Why on earth should I bulk cook?
Save money - buying in bulk is usually cheaper, as long as you use what you buy and don't throw stuff away.
Save time (in the long run) - yes, it's a time and energy sink to begin with, but it pays off
Waste less food - cooking in bulk, then freezing, and actually eating what you cook will help you save a lot of left overs (in bulk cooking, left overs are intentional) that would other wise get thrown away.
Eat healthier - By bulk cooking, I've found that I eat significantly less processed foods and incorporate more vegetables into what I eat. Sure, I may be eating 'freezer meals', but they're not pumped full of preservatives and who knows what else.

Freezer Meals

Making entire meals and freezing them is not my specialty at all! However, just like the insane "Once-a-month" cookers, there are people who master this and love it. Go find them! They will teach you their ways. Here is what I know:

Types of Freezer Cooking

Whole meals - the idea behind this is that you simply take it out and heat. Think Casseroles. I'm not sure I've ever done this except for store bought frozen lasagna.

Individual Servings - This is basically great for healthy grab-and-go lunches, and is at the heart of double-batch cooking. You simply need to freeze out individual portions after batch-cooking and heat upon destination for an instant and healthy lunch.

Partial/Pick Up meals - This is where you cook part of a meal, such as a sauce or meat, and then add fresh ingredients to it the night of use. This is also similar batch-cooking. If you've making a Chicken Caesar Salad one night, and Chicken Fajitas another night, make the chicken you need for all of that and cook it all at once. I bulk cook pesto sauce (recipe coming soon), chili, soups, rice, and breads.

Freezer to Crock Pot - I don’t know much about this but the internet does! Again, Go find them! They will teach you their ways!

General Tips and Tricks:

Start Small - Don't batch cook a recipe that you haven't tried yet. I like cooking the original sized recipe twice before I double it. Cooking something you don't love will just lead to waste.
Shop one day, cook the next - Trying to shop AND cook in one day, especially when you're trying to bulk cook can be exhausting.
Plan, plan, plan - especially if you’re monthly/weekly cooking. First, start with a meal plan. Not everything needs to be a freezer meal, or even a home cooked meal, but having a menu plan will save you hundreds of dollars. Use your plan to make your grocery list, and then refer to the plan as needed while you cook.
Also, double and triple check how much you need for recipes - especially if you're doubling things. Make sure to buy accordingly.
Only cook what you eat - just because someone else likes something, doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for your family. Try a recipe before you bulk cook it. This is very similar to starting small, and I said it before, but don't get wrapped up in what other people are doing. Even is someone else thinking making Super Energy No Cook Freezer Bon-Bons is a good idea - it may just be a waste of money for you.
Always keep learning - internet, bloggers, friends, Pinterest. Basically, make it a hobby! The ability to share idea's is one of life's greatest gifts. It can also lead to great friendships, new tastes, and fun experiences. Some information is more important that other, so use your critical thinking when hearing something new and think through the process before you take on something new.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Easy Mixed Berry Syrup

This mixed berry syrup - awesome. My picture skills to show how amazing this is - not so awesome. 

I don't think it was an actual rainy morning when I made these blueberry lemon pancakes, but I was motivated enough to whip up this berry syrup that I've been making since high school rather than just go with regular old maple syrup. The pancakes are nothing special, just a bit of doctored up bisquick with blueberries folded in then hidden under obscene amounts of lush, fresh strawberries.

The syrup however..... Mmmm, let me count the ways in which this is awesome. First - it's bursting with a variety of berry flavors. Second, it's sweetness is not overberrying (get it?) enough that you don't taste the berries. Third, the vanilla adds a delicate aromatic taste and smell that brings the sweetness and berries together. Forth... well I suppose at this point you're just looking for the recipe.

Before I get there, just a tip: if you don't use a frozen berry mix, and you want to use fresh berries, just make sure to not add more than 1/4 cup blueberries as they will overpower the other berry flavors if you do. 

If you want to make a plain blueberry (or strawberry, raspberry, etc) syrup, thats a different story. Just use 1 cup of which every berry you want and you'll end up with a delightfully sweet syrup for you morning meal. Also, if making raspberry syrup, I've found it's best to swap the vanilla for lemon juice. 

1 cup frozen or fresh mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are a good mix to start with). 
1 cup water
1 cup powder sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small sauce pan, bring sugar and water to a boil over medium high heat, add berries, return to boil, then adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Let simmer for 12-15 minutes. If you can run your finger on the back of a spoon thats been dipped in the sauce and it leaves a mark, consider it done.

If desired, strain syrup to remove fruit seeds and pulp. Personally, I love the thickness and dimension it adds, and only strain it if I'm using the syrup for an Italian Soda

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spinach, Feta, and Tomato Pasta

This has come to be a stand-by meal around here, much like it seems to be for the gal who inspired this recipe. Mr. Animator LOVES pasta, but we try to keep that passion (and our waistlines) in check by remembering that a portion of pasta is 2 oz. He could easily down 8oz, so when I make this, I usually make a half batch so there is some type of portion control.

It's also become a 'lazy night' meal because it's while it's savory, salty, and light yet filling all at the same time - it's also SUPER easy. Basically, if I'm planning a weeks menu and I need something for a crazy day or just can't think of something that sounds good - this gets penciled in. It also gets tossed together when I'm too lazy to cook some grand plan I had, but I have left over spinach. Mmmmm. Easy and good - it's a winner.

I usually use baby spinach (pictured) because I buy it for other stuff and typically have it around. However, in a produce delivery program called 'Fields-Good', I received regular spinach and I gave it a whirl on this recipe. To be honest, it was nice not having to deal with the little baby stems that are such a pain to pinch off. So use whichever you prefer.

Inspired by Kate on Our Best Bites.


1 lb short cut pasta, such as mezzi rigatoni, rotini, or campanelle
2 cans diced tomatoes
6-8 cups loosely packed fresh baby spinach
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon EVOO or butter
8 oz feta, crumbled (about 1.5 cups crumbled)


Cook pasta, drain, and return to pan. Add olive oil (or butter) and garlic, then stir to lightly coat the pasta. Add tomatoes, stir, and add spinach. Toss gently to work some of the spinach down into the pasta and tomatoes, and cover for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat, top with feta, stir if desired, and serve hot! This is great all by itself or with some garlic bread.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Dill Chicken and Sautéed Greens with a Garlic, Lemon, and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

Tongs. Yep, tongs. They are the magic wand in this recipe. They allow you to toss the greens gently, getting them evenly coated in the tangy, salty, and lemony sauce. This recipe is simple, but comes across as ultra posh with how decadent it looks and taste. If you're getting super ambitious, make garlic and parsley mashed potatoes in advance, and plate it all together for an extra scrumptious meal.

The cooked greens still retain their green, earthy flavor which pairs really nicely with the savory sun-dried tomatoes and creamy nut taste from the pine nuts. Add to all of this the aforementioned lemony sauce, and you get a fantastic parade of flavors throughout each bite!

NOTE: I had a friend ask for this, so I'm posting this without the grilled chicken or the plating of the final product. This also goes REALLY well with tuna steaks. Once I get some better pictures, I'll get them up and repost this, but for now, I wanted to get the recipe out there!! Hope you enjoy!

Serves 4


8 chicken tenders, or two large chicken breasts, halved
1 Tablespoon dried dill (OR 3 Tablespoons fresh dill)
2 Tablespoons EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste (I don't use any)

1/2 teaspoon Salt
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons EVOO

Greens and add-ins:
8-10 cups loosely packed braising greens/baby kale/baby spinach
1/3 cup diced sun dried tomatoes
1/4 cup Pine nuts
3-4 oz Capocollo (or any dried and salted meat, such as Prosciutto or Salame)


In a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients. Set aside. Prep greens by washing, shaking/spinning dry, and removing the stems, if desired.

Whisk the olive oil, dill, salt and pepper and toss chicken in it until coated. A plastic bag does this wonderfully.

On medium high heat, brown and cook the chicken until well done.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside (preferably on a pre-warmed plate or covered to keep it from cooling).

To the still hot pan (on the burner - yes leave it on!) add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice to start deglazing the pan. Add the greens and add-ins, pour the dressing on top, toss with tongs quickly, and cover for 1 minute. Toss again and cover until greens reach desired tenderness. Using tongs, plate the greens, top with chicken, and pour the remaining sauce over the greens and chicken.

The picture is blurry due to the steam - it's pretty steamy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Enchilada Casserole

Mmmmmm. This was made on a warm spring day for a few of the volunteers that I coordinate with at church. We had invited them over to dinner on Mothers Day and as it was a holiday of sorts, I asked them if there was anything in particular they'd like. "MEXICAN!" was the resounding and immediate answer.

In my mind, this is pretty Tex-Mex, and not true Mexican food. But, it's still good, even if it's not authentic. They seemed to love it, so I call it a win.

This is easy for a weeknight or make ahead meal, as it's pretty easy to put together and it freezes really well. The most difficult part of this is cooking the meat, which I usually do in a crockpot anyway. Also, by simply not including the meat, this dish easily turns into a vegetarian meal. 

The key to making Tex-Mex food? Spices. Know thy spices! While I'm going to list some here, play around with them to figure out what you like. Some people love more cumin, others like more chili powder, and some prefer more cilantro (although I think technically that's an herb).

Serves 8

1 lb cooked chicken, shredded (Or beef or pork) 
12-18 corn tortillas, halved 
1 16 oz can enchilada sauce 
2 cans refried beans 
1/4-1/3 cup water
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed 
1-2 cups corn (optional, not shown) 
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese 

2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano 

Scallions, Avocado, and sour cream - used for garnish. 


Preheat oven to 350º

In a large bowl, mix together refried beans, spices, and water, until beans reach a 'spreadable' consistency. I find warming them slightly in the microwave helps. Add more water if necessary. 

In a greased 9x13 casserole pan, spoon about a forth of the enchilada sauce onto the bottom of the pan. Layer on about 6 of the tortilla halves, and spoon over those about 1/3-1/2 of the refried beans. Then sprinkle with 1/2 the chicken, black beans, and corn. Repeat - Sauce, tortillas, refried beans, chicken, corn, and black beans. Pour the remaining sauce over the last layer of corn and black beans, and top with cheese. 

Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until warm all the way through. Remove from oven, garnish with diced scallions and avocado, and serve with sour cream. 


Note: The pictures depict a half recipe, as we only needed to serve 4 people.