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"Power Bar" Yogurt

This healthy yogurt dish is a wonderful breakfast, or a nice compliment to a lite lunch.  The first time I made it was for breakfast, and I was amazed at how satisfying it was.  I really didn’t become hungry again until late in the afternoon.  You can use granola,  OR I also like to use Kashi Go-lean Crunch Cereal instead of Granola.  You can  use fresh strawberries, blueberries, peaches or really any fruit you like.  Keep in mind that when you are making something like this, the recipe is really just a guideline.  You can add or take away as much or as little as you want. You also don’t even have to add Peach Nectar in; you can keep it the consistency of thick greek style yogurt and just add  honey, fruit, granola, and almonds.

3/4 cup of granola or Kashi Go-Lean Crunch Cereal

1 (32 oz) tub of plain lite yogurt

3/4 cup of toasted sliced almonds ( I coat a small non-stick skillet with 1 tbsp of butter, then evenly distribute almond slices in the skillet and cook on medium heat until nuts are slightly brown)

3 handfuls of fresh berries (I like to use blueberries or strawberries, but whatever kind of fruit or berry you have on hand would be good too)

1/4 cup of honey (I use raw local honey)

3/4 a can of peach nectar (found in your grocery store on the international food aisle)

*Note:  This would also be wonderful with any kind of dried fruit in it!  Try it with raisins, prunes, cranberries, cherries or apricots!!

Put a fine mesh strainer in a medium sized bowl and line strainer with a paper towel.  Put the yogurt in the strainer.  Place in your refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.  Discard the excess water from the bottom of the bowl and put thick, strained yogurt mixture in another bowl for preparation.  Stir peach nectar into yogurt until it’s fully mixed.  Then add honey and berries, and dried fruit (optional).  Before serving, top with granola, toasted almonds and more fresh fruit (optional).  This makes 4 large breakfast bowl servings or 8 side servings.   Prepare to be satisfied and energized!!  This will stay good in your fridge for up to 3 days.

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Sweet and Spicy Cornbread Muffins

This cornbread is true to the name-sweet and spicy.  You will crave it for breakfast, dessert, and any time you eat chili!!  If you don’t like too much heat, you can always de-seed the jalapeno or leave it out altogether.  If you want it to be even spicier, you could add another fresh jalapeno!  As is, I would consider this about a “medium” level of spiciness.

1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp ground cumin

1/2 cup of sugar

3/4 cup of cornmeal

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 fresh jalapeno, diced

1 and 1/4 cup sharp grated cheddar cheese

1 cup milk(I use skim)

1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of vegetable oil

1 egg beaten

3 tbsp honey ( I use good local raw honey from the food co-op)

*local raw honey  has been said to help allergies if you eat a spoonful a day

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease regular sized muffin tin.  I use an olive oil sprayer, and spread it around thoroughly in the muffin trays.  Combine dry ingredients.  Then add the cheddar cheese and the jalapeno, stirring only til combined.  Then stir in milk, honey, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Pour batter into tins.  Cook until the tops are golden and barely brown:  15-20 minutes.  Muffins should pop right out of tins with the help of a butter knife.  Makes 12 muffins.  Serve warm with my “Spring Chicken” Chili!!  Good with a little bit of butter, or without!  Enjoy!

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"Spring Chicken" Chili

The beer in this chili recipe gives it a rich, hearty flavor and the kick of  the peppers will make you cry tears of joy while eating it!  If you don’t, however, like spicy foods, you have options.  You can a)leave out the fresh peppers, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper all together b)use less pepper, or c)de-seed  the jalapenos and serrano pepper.  The seeds and the fleshy white part on the inside of the pepper is where most of the heat is found so if you leave those out, your chili will have a milder flavor.  Also, keep in mind that the serrano is hotter than the jalapenos so you might start by omitting that first.  Just know that this chili has a definite kick to it and if you don’t like spicy chili, you will need to slightly alter the spice.   I garnish this chili with a little bit of grated cheddar cheese, reduced fat sour cream, green onions, and most importantly, homemade pico de gallo.  The crunch of the fresh veggies in this pico de gallo is a wonderful healthy alternative to corn chips and it also gives the chili an extra punch of flavor!  If you still crave the flavor of corn to go along with the chili, try my sweet and spicy cornbread  muffins (recipe to follow).

1 lb ground chicken

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 fresh jalapenos, diced

1 serrano pepper, diced

*Remember to wash hands well with soap and water after dicing fresh peppers because they can burn your hands!

1 tbsp ground cayenne pepper

1 tbsp red pepper flakes

1  tbsp ground cumin

1 heaping tbsp of chili powder

2 (15.5 oz) cans of red beans, drained

1 (15 oz) can of black beans, drained

1 (15 0z) can of kidney beans, drained

1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes

1 bottle of amber ale or dark lager (we used No. 21 Brewing Company lager)

3 larges cloves of garlic, minced

Pico de gallo for garnish (optional)

Reduced fat sour cream for garnish(optional)

Grated sharp cheddar cheese for garnish(optional)

diced green onion for garnish(optional)

2 tbsp olive oil(you only need this if you are using a very lean ground chicken)

1 (46 fl. oz)  can of tomato juice

1 tbsp kosher salt

If using a lean ground chicken(see above) add olive oil to a large soup pot and heat on medium heat.  Add chicken, and onion.  Stir constantly and cook for about 7 minutes, until onions are translucent and meat looks done (the meat is done when you see no pink).   Then add garlic and diced fresh peppers.  Cook for about 2 more minutes.  Then add tomato juice, beer,  diced tomatoes, beans,  ground cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, chili powder, and cumin.  Reduce to simmer.  Stir occassionally and let simmer for about 1 hour, until you have reached desired thickness, and until onion pieces are soft, and no longer crunchy when you bite into them.   Serves 8-10 people.  We like to make it for 2 and eat it for the rest of the week.  It lasts for up to a week in the fridge.  Remember you can always freeze leftovers.  Serve with desired garnishes( I use about a spoonful of each), and my sweet and spicy cornbread muffins  and enjoy!!

Spicy pico de gallo( makes about 10 spoonfuls for garnish)

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 roma tomatoes, diced

1/3 cup of diced yellow onion

1/4 cup finely diced fresh jalapeno (de -seeded if more mild flavor is preferred)

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

6 turns of freshly ground black pepper

Stir together all of the above ingredients.  Serve with tortilla chips or as garnish for “Spring Chicken” Chili.  (about a tablespoon per bowl)

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bicycling + chocolate cake = amazing combination!!

A beautiful view of the Trail

I had the  opportunity to  bicycle down the Virginia Creeper Trail over the weekend.  The weather was beautiful, the forsythia were  in full bloom, and the chocolate cake was rich and delicious!!  You start at White Top and make your way down the mountain.   The ride is a total of 17 miles to Damascus, although the trail continues on after that for 17 miles.  There are many bridges along the way, with amazing views, and in many spots along the trail you’ll go through tunnels of trees that are arched over the trails.  We stopped in Damascus.  From White Top to Damascus, you lose 1,699 feet in elevation.  So while one could say this is all downhill, it’s still very gradual; and not by any means what you would call steep.  You can even get a workout in if you bump up your resistance a bit and raise your rpms.

What NOT to eat while bicycling down the Virginia Creeper Trail

We stopped at Green Cove for a lovely picnic lunch.  Most of us brought sandwiches, chips, fruit, yogurt; you know, typical picnic lunch food.  Not my sister.  She has apparently been on a seafood kick lately and she brought pickled herring  with mustard sauce in a can.  She ate it on baguette rolls with olives.  Eck!!  I fancy myself as being quite open minded when it comes to food, but on this I cannot budge.  What can I say?  Stinky pickled fish just isn’t my bag.  But luckily I was able to immortalize her strong smelling lunch on camera.  Keep in mind that the  pictures just don’t do the smell of  canned fish justice!  This in my opinion, would be an example of what NOT to eat while ascending down the beautiful Virginia Creeper Trail.  But my sister would not agree.  We continued on down the trail, making stops here and there for pretty scenery.  We came across two people who got flat tires.  Word of advice: if you plan on doing the Creeper Trail, pack a tire patch kit as there are rocks on the trail.  My sister, luckily came fully armed with not only pickled herring but also a bike pump so we were able to help one of the two people in need along the way.

Home of the World Famous Chocolate Cake

At about 11.5 miles down the trail, you will come across the Creeper Trail Cafe at Taylor’s Valley.  It is here, at the Creeper Trail Cafe, where they have the world famous chocolate cake.  Their 3 layer chocolate cake has been written up in Southern Living magazine, and I gotta tell ya, folks, it is delicious!!  Delicous chocolate cake from the Creeper Trail CafePlus, it’s guilt free because you have been riding bikes all day, and still have 5.5 miles to Damascus!  I assure you, even after eating moist, spongy, rich chocolate cake and their buttery vanilla ice cream I did not get stomach cramps on the bike.  Who knew chocolate cake and biking went so well together!!  You should do the Virginia Creeper Trail for the chocolate cake alone if not for any other reason!  After the Creeper Trail Cafe, you have 5.5 easy  miles til you get to Damascus.  The last few miles before Damascus are pretty flat.  This is where you could up your speed and resistance if you wanted to burn off the cake.

After returning our rentals in Damascus, we headed to Abingdon, VA for some sight seeing, and then dinner to follow.  Abingdon’s downtown is picturesque, with lots of Victorian houses turned into cafes and shops.  Abingdon is known for being home of the Barter Theater and the Martha Washington Inn.  If you happen to make it there, I recommend you stop in and have a look around at the Martha Washington Inn.  It is a four star hotel built in the 1800’s.  It is supposed to be haunted!!  We looked for ghosts but didn’t see any.  After doing a little sight seeing we stopped in for dinner at Pop Ellis Soda Shoppe and Grille.  This cute little restaurant is located right on Main Street and has a nice little outdoor eating area, as well as indoor dining too.  Along with soda’s, shakes, banana splits, and sundae’s, this restaurant features a very versatile menu which includes a Norwegian Salmon Appetizer and a Blue-Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Burger.  Barack Obama himself ate there  in 2008 during his campaign.  You can read about his experience there while waiting in line for the bathroom.   The newspaper article is posted on the wall.  Other than having a very un enthusiastic girl greet us at the door (she seemed to be put out that she had to clean off a table), we experienced excellent food and excellent service (the girl that greeted us was not our server).   We all split the norwegian salmon appetizer.  This consisted of delicous smoked salmon, diced onions, capers, and horseradish sauce served with slices of italian buttered bread.  Delish!  We were all very happy with our meals.

Delicious smoked salmon appetizer from Pop Ellis

After dinner it was time to head back down I-81 for our trek home after a wonderful day.  So if you like bicycling and chocolate cake, I urge you all to go to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  You will be very glad you did.  If you have time, drive ten minutes down the road and check out Abingdon.  It’s a beautiful little city.

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Spicy curried lentil soup(not your grandmother's lentil bean soup)

My Mimi is quite the lentil soup connoisseur.  In the past I have brought her certain upscale store-bought lentil soup and she loves it.  This recipe, however, would not get the stamp of approval from Mimi because a) it’s too spicy, and b) it has curry in it.  Although these ingredients are  a no no for Mimi, for me, they are a must and they really make this dish!  If you like lentil beans, spicy curry, and comfort food, this is the recipe for you!  You can serve this as a hearty soup or serve it over basmati rice as an entree.  If you do prefer a more mild version, just substitute a  mild curry powder and leave out the cayenne and red pepper flakes.

3 tbsp olive oil

1 (13.5oz) can of coconut milk

1 quart chicken stock

2 and 1/4 cups of water

3 carrots, peeled and diced

3 medium celery stalks, diced

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves minced garlic

2 slices of uncooked diced bacon, (use 4 slices if it’s a less fatty bacon).

2 cups of lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 tsp dried thyme

1 (14.5 oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

salt and ground black pepper to taste

3 tbsp spicy curry powder

2 tbsp japanese red pepper flakes ( or regular red pepper flakes)

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp garam masala(Indian spice mixture that is available at the food co-op, however if you can’t find it in stores, here is a link to the spice blend recipe: http://indianfood.about.com/od/masalarecipes/r/garammasala.htm).

1 tsp ground cumin

Garnish options:

sour cream

fresh cilantro

lettuce

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and bacon.  Cook until tender but not browned, about 7-10 minutes.  Stir in chicken stock, water,  coconut milk, lentils, diced tomatoes, thyme, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, curry powder, garam masala, and cumin.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer on low for about 45 minutes.   Make sure lentils are tender.   Stir in vinegar.  Taste and then add salt and pepper to your liking.   Make sure to taste before adding salt, as the bacon will have cooked down and rendered its salty flavorful goodness to the soup!  Garnish to your liking and enjoy!!

Serves:  10 cups

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Apple and goat cheese spinach salad

This is a great spring or summer recipe that will make you wanna eat your spinach!  This salad is great with or without grilled chicken, and you can really add more or less of any of the ingredients according to your preferences. In the balsamic vinaigrette,  you can replace the shallots with 1/4 or 1/2 cup finely diced red onion if you don’t have any shallot on hand, but it will have more of an onion flavor if you do this.  This is a great balsamic vinaigrette recipe that my sister told me about years ago.   You can use it  for more savory salads or meat marinades too!

1 Granny Smith Apple, quartered or diced stored in a bowl of water and lemon juice til ready to use

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4-1/2  cup of goat cheese  cut into pieces

(just eyeball it)

3/4 lb baby spinach

balsamic vinaigrette: http://www.cooksrecipes.com/salad/balsamic-vinaigrette-recipe.html

Put the rinsed and dried spinach in a bowl.  Add all ingredients.  Make vinaigrette according to recipe.  Pour vinaigrette over the salad.  Toss together, making sure all ingredients are lightly coated.  The goat cheese will sort of break down and almost liquefy.  Serve and enjoy a taste and texture party in your mouth!

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