A is for apple and absolution

I woke up today dreaming of baked apples.  Well, actually I dreamt of grey hairs, heart attacks and baked apples (in that order).  Strange, I know, but it all sort of makes sense if you know the back story.

This year has been a tough one for me on my path to good health.  I have been on this journey for nearly three years and have done incredibly well up until the beginning on 2011.  I have managed to get my fasting glucose down 10 points (well out of the danger zone - yay me!) and my joint aches and pains had disappeared.  My dark circles had (mostly) vanished and my skin was looking pretty darned good for a 40-something Mama of two.  Then I fell off the wagon about this time last year and when I fell, I fell off hard.

I have been thinking a lot about my general health and well being for about six weeks or so.  In addition to falling off the healthy eating wagon last year, I suffered from some low level depression that most definitely part of the reason for the fall.  I have emerged (mostly) from the depression but still fully immersed in the old eating habits.  As a result, the joint aches and pains are back, my dark circles are frightening and I am struggling to get into the dress pants that I bought last Christmas.  Add that to the grey hairs that I can hardly seem to keep at bay, the cold that was making my chest itchy and sore and then the dream starts to make sense.

So this morning, after about six weeks of contemplation, I have decided that I need to forgive myself for the last year and move on.  I am a work in progress after all, right?  I could continue to wallow in the pity that was 2011 but that won't make me better.  I just have to face the consequences and move forward.  Apparently that is where the apples come in (I think anyway).

So, since I woke up renewed AND dreaming of baked apples, it was baked apples for breakfast this morning.  While the apples were baking, I made a quick batch of low sugar granola and served that over the top.  Number One Son and I loved this but Number Two was only so-so on it (to be fair, he hates apple peels).  Note that I baked the apples with just a touch of maple syrup which increases the sugar by 3 gr per serving to an already fairly sugary dish (the apples are full of natural sugar but it is natural so I am going with it).  You could omit this and I am sure these would still taste fantastic.  I am going to try that later in the week and report back.  In the meantime, if you are wanting to start your new year off with a virtuous meal, this might be just the one.


Baked Apples with Granola (serves 2)

2 apples, cored and cut in half
2 t maple syrup
2 T low sugar granola

Preheat oven to 350.  Places cored apples, cut side up, in baking dish.  Drizzle with maple syrup.  Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes or until soft.  Top with granola and serve warm.

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Chicken Marbella and Couscous

How long has it been since I blogged?

That was the question that I asked my cooking club this morning.  I have been seriously uninspired in the kitchen lately (thus the lack of blogging) but hosting cooking club made me get my act together.  I pulled this recipe out of the vault - its an oldie from the Lincoln Heights Dinner Club.  It is super easy (just marinate and bake) and despite that fact that I forgot to buy prunes and used raisins instead it was really good.  I would note that this isn't a particularly low GI meal (lots of sugar in the dish from the fruit and the brown sugar) but it is a nice once in awhile treat.

Chicken Marbella (from AllRecipes)

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pitted prunes, halved  (or raisins, which I found out was a good substitute!)
8 small green olives
2 tablespoons capers, with liquid
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 (3 pound) whole chicken, and cut into pieces (remove skin if you wish - we didn't)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley added to marinade)

In a medium bowl combine the garlic, prunes, olives, capers, olive oil, vinegar, bay leaves, and oregano. Mix well. Spread mixture in the bottom of a 10x15 inch baking dish. Add the chicken pieces, stir and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to prepare, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Remove dish from refrigerator. Sprinkle brown sugar on top and pour white wine all around chicken. 

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, spooning juices over chicken several times as it is baking. Serve on a platter, pouring juices over the top, and garnish with parsley (note that we used dry parsley in the marinade instead of fresh).

Fruited Couscous (Adapted from AllRecipes)

2 cups vegetable broth
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups dry whole wheat couscous
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Pour the vegetable broth into a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the butter, apricots and raisins. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the couscous. Cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve (note that you can also sprinkle with cinnamon if desired).

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I was on the phone with my BFF the other day and said to her "I am making cheese". The phone went dead silent and then she said "you are MAKING cheese?" Yes indeed, I made cheese and it was so easy. You need all of three ingredients and a couple of hours to produce ricotta with no stabalizers, gumming agents or preservatives. It is dead simple and the outcome is delish.

Ricotta Cheese

9 C whole milk
1/2 t salt
3 T lemon juice or white vinegar

Add milk to a large pot and set over a high flame. Heat until the milk reaches a rolling boil, stirring occassionally to prevent scorching. When the milk reaches a boil, take it off the heat and add lemon juice. Stir to combine. Let the mix sit for two minutes. Stir to seperate the curds from the whey (you will see it happening as you stir).

Pour the mixture into a strainer that has been lined with three layers of cheese cloth or a fine cotton tea towel which has been set over a large bowl. Cover the cheese and let strain for one hour. If the cheese is still too wet, wring gently inside the cheese cloth/tea towel. Discard whey. Place cheese in a storage container and refrigerate.


Low Sugar Granola

Last week, Daniel had Spring Break. Because David was still in school, we decided to enrol Dan in Spring Break Camp. Every morning, I dropped David off at school and then had 60 minutes to kill before bringing Daniel to camp (which was just around the corner from David's school). What do you do with 1 empty hour and a 4 year old? Breakfast naturally.

Every morning last week Daniel and I ate at a different local restaurant. One morning we ate at a sandwich and salad cafe which offered a really spartan breakfast menu. Daniel choose granola topped with fruit and milk. He devoured it. I told him that morning that we could try making our own granola (you know how unhealthy traditional granola is) and this is what I came up with.

When analyzed against Bear Naked Fruit and Nut Granola, mine comes in at about the same per serving (1/4 cup) for calories (140), carbs (16 gr) and fiber (2 gr). Where it really shines is the sugar, where I have halved the amount per serving (mine is 3 gr to their 6 gr). This makes the fiber to sugar ratio pretty appealing for a grown up snack and an overall decent choice for kids anytime.

Low Sugar Granola

2 C rolled oats
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
3 T canola oil
1/4 C agave syrup
1 t vanilla
1/2 C walnuts, chopped
1/2 C almonds, slivered
1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 325. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss oats with cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk oil, agave and vanilla with a fork until well blended. Pour wet mix into bowl and mix with hands to combine. Pour mixture onto baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well. Return pan to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in nuts and fruit. Return to oven for an additional 2 minutes or until nuts are fragrant. Remove and let cool. Pack into air tight container and enjoy.

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Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Since Christmas, I have been trying to wean myself off of sugar. It is so hard with the holiday goodies still around the house (yes, still!) so instead of fighting the urge to have a treat with the kids I decided to make my own healthier treat. Again, I find myself with loads of carrots (see this carrot cookie recipe) so I did a little internet search and found an easily modifyable carrot cookie recipe. At first bite, my family didn't really like these, but after a minute or two, we all started grooving on these cakey and not too sweet treats.

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies (adapted from this recipe at 101 Cookbooks)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 cup shredded carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
1/2 cup dark agave syrup
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 t ground ginger

All ready to go

Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. In a separate smaller bowl use a whisk to combine the agave, and oil. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Coming together

Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 - 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

I'm back and I brought dinner with me

Hello internet. Have you missed me? I have missed you, but I have been spending lots of time with you doing other things mostly work related. In fact, I have been working nearly round the clock this month and have hardly had a spare minute to blog. But, we still have to eat around here, even when I don't have a chance to write about it, so I have a lot of good new recipes to post. Let's get things rolling with last night's dinner masterpiece.

I will freely admit that as a child I ate my share of crummy stuffed bell peppers (sorry Mom!). They were mostly bitter green peppers filled with tasteless meat and rice. I really hated stuffed pepper night when I was a kid. And honestly, when I stared at the pile of red bell peppers that my hubby came home with a few nights ago stuffed peppers didn't immediately pop into my head. But when searching for a dinner that would use a substantive amount of them I kept running across stuffed pepper recipes. Clearly the universe wanted me to make stuffed peppers, but they needed to be something yummy and that my kids would actually eat.

I surfed over to my favorite food blog, Kayln's Kitchen, and low and behold, Kalyn had just what I was looking for. These were, without question, the single best stuffed peppers I have ever eaten. Period. Chris and I ate them with a side of green beans. For the kids, I could have served the filling over or along side pasta and it would have been delicious. Please make these....you won't be disappointed.

Italian Stuffed Peppers (adapted from this recipe at Kalyn's Kitchen)

6 red peppers
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pkg. (5 links) Italian sausage, casing removed
1 cup diced onion (1 medium onion)
1 cup diced red pepper (tops of peppers)
Salt and Pepper to season meat
1 1/2 cups grated low fat mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 cup tomato sauce (I used Classico Tomato Basil)

Preheat oven to 375. Cut tops off red peppers, making a deep enough cut that you have some red pepper to chop for the filling. If needed, "square" off the bottom of the pepper to make them stand up. Clean out inside of peppers and wash if needed.

In very large frying pan, cook hamburger and sausage until lightly browned. Drain meat, reserving about 1 T of oil in the pan. Set meat aside. Add peppers and onions to the hot pan. Cook 3 - 4 minutes or until just starting to soften. Add pepper and onion mix to the meat. Add about 1 cup tomato sauce, just enough to barely moisten the mixture. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture cool slightly, then mix in cheese.

Choose a glass or metal pan barely big enough to hold all the peppers standing up. Spray the pan with nonstick spray. Stuff each pepper with meat/veggie/cheese mixture, using a large spoon , piling it up on top and pressing in tightly until you use all the filling. Place peppers in pan touching each other. Top with an additional spoonful of tomato sauce. Bake, covered with foil about 30 minutes. Take off foil and bake about 20 minutes more, until cheese is melted completely and top is slightly browned.