Sunday, April 29, 2012

Birthday Pizza Party!

I threw a "make your own pizza" belated birthday celebration for my friend Tiffany last night, and we had a blast!  Since only a few of us could make it, we were able to cram around my dining table, smashing out pizza dough, spreading sauce, layering toppings, and sprinkling cheese relatively comfortably.  I provided the dough, (I used this recipe, instead of my usual Artisan Bread in 5 dough, as I find the AB dough kind of hard to work with if you're not used to it . . . my instincts were right on, as John exclaimed almost immediately, "wow, this is a LOT easier to use than that other dough!"), two kinds of sauce, (prepared pesto from the co-op deli, and Muir Glen pizza sauce,) and four kinds of cheese, (mozzarella, parmesan, fontina, and feta,) and friends brought the toppings:

We had lots of olives, lots of mushrooms, onions, garlic, spinach, dried tomatoes, artichokes, capers, oregano, and chili flakes.  So many choices, I had to make my pizza in "halfsies" --

The left half is pesto topped with mozzarella, feta, artichokes, spinach, dried tomatoes, and olives; the right half is tomato sauce topped with mozzarella, parmesan, fontina, onions, mushrooms, garlic, chili flakes, and oregano.

For our salad, I made a new kale slaw:

I found a recipe on the Whole Foods website that looked delicious, but the dressing quantities seemed a little "off," in my opinion.  Here's my modified recipe:

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup oil (olive or walnut)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in the bottom of your serving bowl until emulsified.  Add:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Toss the onion in the dressing until it becomes completely coated.  (You want to lightly "pickle" the onion, to take out some of its sharpness.)  Then layer in the bowl:
1/2 small head red cabbage, shredded
1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 bunch dino kale, ribs removed and sliced thinly
1 cup orange sections

Cover and chill the salad for at least an hour.

Just before serving, toss everything together with:
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

After eating so many virtuous vegetables, make sure you save room for dessert!

I was gifted some rhubarb earlier in the week, so strawberry-rhubarb crumble was the logical dessert choice.  :)  (Plus, the birthday girl loves rhubarb!)  I promised Ali I'd post the recipe, which is loosely based off the "Apple Crisp" recipe from Joy of Cooking, but with a few of my own modifications.

Fruit (enough berries, apples, whatever, chopped, to nearly fill an 8-inch square baking dish)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick salted butter

1. Fill the baking dish with the fruit.  (If you use a large quantity of berries or any frozen fruit, I recommend tossing the fruit with a few teaspoons of cornstarch.  And thaw and drain any frozen fruit!)
2. Combine the sugar, flour, and butter.
3. Using your fingers, break the sugar/flour/butter into small clumps, and sprinkle evenly over the fruit.
4. Bake at 375 for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is golden brown and crispy.
5. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream or a drizzle of heavy cream.


I had so much fun with the "build-your-own" dinner party, that I might have to look for more things like this to do in the future!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

weekend eats wrap-up

John and I have had an incredibly busy, but incredibly fun weekend -- Farmer's Market, window shopping at Mother Earth Gardens, a quick browse at the CSA Fair at the Seward Co-op, cooking with the first local veggies of the season, some work, homework, and chores, (hey, we can't have fun ALL of the time,) a hike at Afton State Park, an ice cream cone and some exploring in downtown Afton, and tonight, a pizza on it's way from Galactic. (We're pooped!)

I did manage a little cooking and baking this weekend, in-between all of the fun!

Tempeh reubens, with a side of Magic Kale Salad

And JIF Irresistible Peanut Butter Cookies, with chocolate chips:
Time to make a salad . . . the pizza should arrive momentarily!

EVERY day.

Happy Earth Day!  I thought I would take some time this Earth Day and sing the praises of several products I use that help me make Earth Day part of my every day life.  I have spent time over the years researching and using a variety of reusable and eco-friendly products, and here are some of my favorites . . .

Sources for purchasing most of what I have listed below:

I know I've waxed poetic about Vitacost before, but my feelings are no less strong today.  :)  Vitacost carries just about every eco-friendly laundry, home cleaning, paper, healthcare, beauty, and vitamin products you'd want, most at more than 25% off retail prices, and they have a pretty extensive grocery selection, too.  They offer free shipping on orders over $49, (my friends and I often order together so we can hit the free shipping minimum,) and have incredible customer service.  (For example, every once in a while I receive a product that was damaged during shipment -- Vitacost has always replaced the item instantly, free of charge, no questions asked!)  If you've never visited Vitacost's website, please do so right now!
A great resource for purchasing reusables, they have a vast array of products to help replace many of the disposables in our lives.  I have found so many amazing products on their site over the years, and have even found great gifts to give as well!


Flip and Tumble produce bags

It seems as though nowadays, everyone carries a reusable shopping bag in their purse, car, bike bag, etc.  What a great start!  Think next about eliminating plastic produce bags by picking up a few sets of Flip and Tumble's bags -- they are lightweight, sturdy, hold up to being washed in the washing machine periodically, and can even be used for dry bulk items such as beans, pasta, nuts, etc.  Stuff a few of these inside your reusable shopping bag before you hit the store, and think about how many more bags you could eliminate over the course of a year!


I have seen a wide variety of reusable sandwich baggie-style pouches on the market these days, and while many of them are made with the cutest, hippest fabrics I've ever seen, only the Wrap-N-Mat opens completely flat!  They make a great placemat while you are eating, and are SO easy to clean.  I've even thrown these in the wash (on cold) when the fabric side needed a refresher.  Could you imagine trying to wipe peanut butter out of the corners of one of those baggie-style reusables?  I can't, which is why I love Wrap-N-Mats SO much!

This may be the last reusable lunch bag I buy.  I have owned my Built lunch tote for five years, and it is  still going strong.  Every once in a while, toss this in the wash on cold and drip-dry, and it's practically as good as new.  Carefully choose your pattern, as this bad boy ain't gonna wear out any time soon, and whatever you choose you're gonna be stuck with forever!  ;)  (P.S. These bags are roomy enough to hold a couple meals' worth of food for me, yet fold down flat when empty!)

reusable drinking straws

This may seem like a little step, but if you drink a near-daily smoothie during the summer like I do, think about how many plastic drinking straws you will save!  I don't have a dishwasher, so I always make sure to rinse out my straw as soon as I'm done using it, or I fear I will never get it clean again.  :)

Reusit Hemp and Organic Cotton Napkins

I purchased four sets of these napkins a year ago, and have been so pleased with their quality!  They are nice enough to use for guests, yet sturdy and durable enough for every-day use (and weekly washings!)  Keep a stack on your dining table, throw one in your lunchbox, and think about how many paper napkins/paper towels you will save in a year!

Since I don't have a dishwasher and I love to cook, I wash a LOT of dishes.  Until I discovered "True Blues," I was never happy with dish/cleaning gloves.  They were always too large for me, and seemed to get holes in them almost instantly.  True Blues, however?  They come in four sizes, (and the Small is just right for my petite hands,) and are practically indestructible.  I swear to you, I have had pairs of these last for longer than six months!  They are more expensive than standard dish gloves, but SO worth the investment!

One thing you may find when you incorporate more reusables into your life is that you'll be doing a little more laundry . . . I tend to generate a full load of towels, rags, napkins, etc. per week, in addition to my clothes.  Reusable laundry supplies to the rescue!

One thing I discovered when I started eliminating traditional cleaning and health/beauty products from my life is that I became more sensitive to artificial fragrances.  I've had good luck using dryer balls and static eliminator dryer sheets, instead of traditional dryer sheets in my laundry loads:
Dryer Balls

My clothes come out soft and nearly static-free, and the dryer balls help fluff up puffy items like vests, comforters, and jackets.  The balls also shorten dry-times!

So, the Super Wash Ball essentially allows you to eliminate laundry detergent.  I use the Super Wash Balls in each load of wash I do, with a teensie amount of detergent -- maybe a quarter of what is recommended on the package.  Maybe someday, I'll be brave enough to try a detergent-free load.  Until then, I'm just happy that I buy laundry detergent once a year.  ;)


A small change to make, but an important one.  Think . . . is there really anything wrong with your toothbrush handle after three months?  Nope.  :)  The heads on these brushes pop out easily, and after a quick scrub in hot, soapy water, (or a run through the dishwasher, if you are so lucky to have access to one,) you are ready to pop on a new head and keep brushing.  I've been rocking the same toothbrush handle for a few years, now, and it's still in perfect condition!

I use a wide variety of Seventh Generation products, including toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, (for guests -- I myself use handkerchiefs,) dish soap, laundry detergent, and cleaning products.  I am especially fond of the single-ply, 1000 sheet rolls of toilet paper.  Why?  I swear, a single roll of this TP lasts me at least a week, if not longer.  I have no idea how, which is why I think it might be magic.  Yep, magic TP -- thank you, Seventh Generation!

I switched to applicator-free tampons almost ten years ago, and made the switch to organic cotton tampons a couple of years later.  I have been impressed with the quality of these tampons, (I've also used Seventh Generation brand, although I find Natracare to generally be a little cheaper,) and couldn't imagine switching back to "conventional" products.

My favorite shampoos and conditioners, hands-down.  Eco-friendly, delightfully fragranced with natural oils and such, and really pretty affordable.

I love Burt's Bees face washes, lip balms, and hand creams!  They tend to be a little more expensive than some other similar natural products, but I find I use such a small amount, it doesn't seem to matter.


I have a small stash of these towels, and they come in so handy!  I have one clipped inside my purse for drying my hands when out and about, (I have a weird thing about those automatic hand dryers . . . they don't really work, and I feel like they just blow germy bathroom air directly back onto my hands,) and keep one in my hiking pack as well.  I used to run my belt through a people towel M-F, which practically eliminated my paper towel usage at work, but lately, I wash my hands MUCH more with the toddlers, so it's no longer really work-practical for me.  (I don't really want to walk around all day with a wet towel dangling at my waist.)

These are a few of my favorites . . . what are some of your favorite eco-friendly and/or reusable products on the market?

Whatever you do to celebrate Earth Day today, have a good one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Opening day!

I was so excited to get my Farmer's Market opening day email yesterday ... it was filled with promises of local produce already! Sure enough ... our unusually warm, early spring meant spinach, garlic chives, and asparagus were ready! We also picked up a dozen eggs and some new-to-us cheese from Eichten's ( a Danish-style, cheddar-like award-winner called Tilsit. Quiche with a side of roasted asparagus for dinner!

P.S. Courtney, I saved the leftover garlic chives for you!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Packing in the veggies

Here's one way to pack a couple servings of veggies into a grilled cheese sandwich -- sauté together a bunch of mushrooms and spinach, and pile it in-between a couple of slices of Swiss. Delicious! Then undo all of the health benefits of a veggie-packed sandwich by cooking the whole thing in butter. :)

Monday, April 16, 2012


Work has been hectic lately, and on more than one occasion in the past few weeks, I've found myself with little to no time to eat, collect, and/or heat up my lunch.  (The toddlers keep me busy!)  I'm aiming for something quick and simple this week, that doesn't require heating -- enter the Greek Chopped Salad!
Cucumber, yellow bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, artichokes, and feta, dressed in a creamy vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar, olive oil, a little mayo, salt, pepper, and dried oregano.  I had a bowlful for dinner tonight as a "preview," and let's just say, I'm excited for lunch tomorrow!  I'll smear a wholegrain pita with some hummus in the morning, and be good to go.

Any other brilliant make-ahead, easy cold lunch ideas?  My other alternate for this week is egg salad on Dr. Kracker flatbreads.  (I can't STAND packed sandwiches, as they get soggy.  Is that weird?)  I should spend some time next weekend looking through Lunches, Picnics, and Appetizers for more ideas, too.  That's one of those cookbooks I forget I own, and then have an "oh, YEAH!" moment, and get excited for it all over again.  ;)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Meals in bowls

Lunch today was chili, with a side of homemade corn bread, and dinner was whole-wheat rigatoni with olive oil, garlic, dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, artichokes, spinach, and goat cheese. One-bowl meals are awesome!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday morning waffles

The sun is shining and I just made waffles ... even though I have a mountain of homework to do, how can it be a bad day? :) Happy weekend to all!

Friday, April 13, 2012

National Grilled Cheese Day

... was yesterday. :) But that didn't stop us from having grilled cheese for dinner tonight! Grainy bread with cheddar, avocado, and tomato, cooked in butter. Stellar.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dinner on a Tuesday

Simple stir-fry for dinner tonight - red onion, shiitake mushrooms, red bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, green onions, and cashews, lightly dressed in my homemade stir-fry sauce: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tsp cornstarch, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil, and 1 tsp grated fresh ginger.

Monday, April 09, 2012

birthday treats!

Last Friday was John's birthday! We celebrated with some special activities (hiking and a trip to the Science Museum,) and most importantly, some special treats!

 "Spanikopita," from The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook:
I haven't made this since Christmas, and since John had been frequently demanding requesting it since then, I thought it would make a fine birthday meal. :) I made the right choice! While devouring leftovers last night, John said, "I think this might be my favorite thing EVER to eat." (Or something along those lines, anyway!) What's not to love? A stick of butter, a pound of filo, three pounds of spinach, a couple of eggs, an onion, some herbs and spices, half a cup of heavy cream, and a pound of feta!  Pictured in the background is a gigantic, steamed artichoke.  I love artichokes SO much, and John is also a fan.  We have been eating a lot of artichokes lately, as I've been able to score jumbos at Costco for a reasonable price.  John announced last night, "it's official -- we've become artichoke people."  We have.  And it's a good, good thing.

 A special birthday breakfast:
Brie and apple butter-stuffed french toast. Hell yes. You, too, should try this at home.  Pizza Luce brunch, I kick your butt.

Who needs cake when you can have birthday pie?
This Lemon Cream Pie from Real Simple was FANTASTIC. Sweet, slightly spicy cookie crust filled with a sweet-tart, creamy, light lemon filling. I may have baked the crust a minute or two too long, as it was impossible to cut in the pie plate. Solution? I pried the entire pie out of the plate and cut it into wedges on a cutting board. Problem solved, pie devoured, and I'll remember to shoot for a shorter bake time next time.

"Whole Wheat Fusilli with Swiss Chard and Balsamic-Roasted Onions," from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley:
Anybody else out there own this cookbook?  I picked it up used a while ago, after a lengthy library preview, and although this is my first recipe to try from it, I can't WAIT to dive further into this cookbook.  Berley's ethic seems to be right in line with my style of cooking, and the recipes are new and fresh -- just the breath of life I need in my cooking these days.  Back to this recipe . . . so simple, yet so fantastic!  Proof that all you need are a few high-quality ingredients, a good knife, and a little skill to put together an amazing meal.  Balsamic-roasted onions?  Possibly my new favorite food group.  ;)

Last weekend, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars to take to the reception for our church choir concert; John was sorely disappointed that they weren't sticking around for him to eat!  So, I figured I better make another batch for portable birthday treats:
We enjoyed these, along with some sandwiches, apples, and other snacks, on trail during John's birthday hike Friday.  I think I might like chocolate chip cookie bars BETTER than chocolate chip cookies.  They seem to stay softer, somehow, and I love how thick they are!  Mmmm.

Almost all of the leftovers are at John's house, so the question begs: what on EARTH am I going to have for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

cleaning out my cupboards

I have been on a mission recently -- a mission to clean out my freezer and cupboards. I'm not entirely certain as to why I'm on a roll in this department -- maybe I want to get stuff cleared out before the intense heat of summer, when things go bad faster and I don't cook much? I bet that's it. Anyhow, I emptied out my jar of wild rice earlier this week, and made headway towards clearing out my stash of green split peas tonight:

Smoky Split Pea Soup is, in my opinion, the ONLY thing to do with split peas. So, so delicious. But maybe I'm wrong? Any other stellar split pea recipes out there?

lunch with leftovers

Sunday's lunch, that has translated into plenty of leftovers for my lunches this week:

Sweet and Savory Wild Rice Salad from the Kitchn is one of those all-star recipes that is flavorful, healthy, and almost shockingly easy. (Especially since I used all dried herbs this time around, as fresh herbs are not in season and ass-expensive these days.) I made several substitutions, as ever, but that's the beauty of this salad -- it is flexible enough to use whatever you have on hand. I was even able to use up the wild rice I've had on hand for freakin' ever!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

ode to Cooking Light

Just thought I'd share -- the April 2012 issue of Cooking Light is FANTASTIC! I think I've bookmarked about half of the recipes so far, including a lightened version of hot cross buns, and amazing-sounding sauce and side dish recipes. I never seem to pay much attention to sauces or side dishes . . . does anyone else experience this? Anyhow, go check it out!