Archive for the ‘Back To School’ Category

#Betterbreakfastmonth Round Two: The Vegan Cranberry Orange Breakfast Loaf

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

 

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Fall is upon us! Well sort of- I want to believe it’s fall, but it’s still 100+ degrees here in Southern California so I’m fabricating fall smells in my kitchen while I pretend to be back on the East Coast with all its cool weather and changing leaves.

There’s something about fall that always inspires me to spend more time in the kitchen. I think it brings back a lot of nostalgic feelings surrounding my Mom, and my parents’ home back on the East Coast. I remember being young and having zero interest in learning to cook, but there was something magical about watching my mom in the kitchen. Some might call it observing her in her element, but knowing what I know now- it was more than that. My Mother is an amazing cook and baker, and spent most of my younger years cooking for an entire neighborhood (you laugh, but there were at least 15 extra kids at my house every night). Baking for my Mom was her way of showing those around her she loved and cared for them, and that act of service is something that has always stuck with me. Now don’t get me wrong- she cooked her butt off year round, but fall was really when she pulled out the big guns. Every day after school my friends would express their jealousy at the delicious smell of home baked cookies wafting from our little apartment (I’m talking oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies…this is just one afternoon y’all). People would randomly drop by during that time, as it was pretty well known in the area that if you came by Janie’s house you were leaving with a huge bag of baked goods, a hug, and likely some extra groceries to tie you over until payday (yea my Mom and Dad are the bee’s knees). So when I started putting together a recipe for this week I thought about a breakfast dish that you could easily share with loved ones, or co-workers, or friends that was comforting but still healthy. I decided I would borrow an old fall favorite, Vegan Cranberry Orange Loaf from Jennifer at the NeuroticMommy blog. She took out the eggs, the processed sugar, and milk, really knocking the calorie count down (and made it more restrictive diet friendly (I’m looking at my fellow lactose intolerant friends!) The recipe is incredibly simple and easy to share! I encourage you readers to whip up your own breakfast loaf and share it with the people you love, and in this case I got to share it with my super sweet co-workers!

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I whipped up this super tasty recipe using Pacific Merchants’ French wood utensils, which are fabulous not just because each utensil is unique (each utensil is hand crafted and therefore each one is like a little snowflake), but since they are made of wood you don’t get any plastic-y taste from the kitchenware. Plus since we have numerous cancer survivors in my family, we don’t have to worry about any plastic based carcinogens that may contaminate the food. I’ve plated the loaf on Pacific Merchants’ responsibly forested 16” x 7” acacia serving tray (so my wonderful coworkers don’t have to fight to get a “slice” of the action), and decorated our table with the Red Tone Fall Deco Parchment leaves so my co-worker’s get the full Fall experience (they may think I’m slightly insane in this 100 degree weather, but oh well- haha!)

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Vegan Cranberry Orange Breakfast Loaf
(Many thank yous to www.neuroticmommy.com)

Ingredients
1 ½ cups cake flour or GF whole wheat flour
1 tsp of Baking Powder
1 cup of organic sugar or ¾ cup of honey (Grade B)  (if you use the honey decrease the liquid in the recipe by 3 tbsp)
Zest of ½ an orange
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup unsweetened Almond Milk (or any nut milk)
½ cup organic safflower oil
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh cranberries

Orange Glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp orange juice

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F and lightly spray standard loaf pan with coconut oil or nonstick cooking spray
2. In a large bowl sift together dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and orange zest. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients, almond milk, safflower oil, applesauce, orange juice, and vanilla extract.
4. Slowly mix in wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir until just combined then fold in the fresh cranberries.
5.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The original recipe calls for 70-75 minutes but because of the ingredient switches, the time varies. Mine loaves were done at an hour and 20 minutes. 6. At the hour mark, just keep an eye on it from there. If you want to keep it in longer but don’t want the top to brown too much, lower the heat and keep it in longer. And of course do the whole tooth pick inserted check.Once done remove from oven and let cool in pan 15 minutes. After that transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before icing (if using).
7. Make the glaze by whisking both juice and sugar together until completely smooth and no sugar clumps are left.
8. Drizzle that yumminess like crazy on top of your loaf cake. Cut, serve and Enjoy!


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Healthy Pancake Variations for #BetterBreakfastMonth

Friday, September 16th, 2016

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One thing I look forward to every weekend is the ability to actually cook a real meal for breakfast instead of my usual instant oatmeal or cereal during the week. Due to the monotonous nature of my workweek eating habits, when Saturday morning rolls around I try my best to test out new exciting recipes (often to my husband’s dismay). One morning in particular we were trying to decide what kind of pancakes we wanted, and after a very rousing 15 minutes of ‘No you choose!’ I had a brilliant idea. Why not just make a healthy base and then we could divide it and add all the fun ingredients after? That way each person could have exactly what they want, or at the very least we would have a multitude of pancake options (what a sweet predicament to be in!) Not only was this a great option for us (no more WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT pep talks before coffee-hah!), but I thought about how great this would be for families with picky eaters (or with multiple kids who all want different things). What’s also great is that both variations I’m sharing are gluten-free and low calorie, AND you can refrigerate the batter and use it to make a quick healthy breakfast during the week!
Presentation is also big for me on weekends, since during the week my breakfasts are generally of the ‘to-go’ variety. I like each meal to feel as though we just stepped into the fanciest boutique brunch restaurant (minus the hefty price tag!) These acacia plates from Pacific Merchants are always a great touch, and since there is sticky syrup involved I love using our poly vinyl placemats (super great for not only protecting your table, but also are incredibly easy to clean). It seems like a little overkill, but after 15 years together with my husband, I love every opportunity I can find to create a special date experience for both of us. Plus when you’re on a budget, eating out every weekend is just not an option. And thanks to Pacific Merchant’s products, I’m able to really give my spouse the ‘fine dining’ experience at home (which is not only cute, but practical). Check out the gear I used for this post:
The Acacia Serving tray
The Acacia Round Plates
Our Laguna Linen Placemat
The Into the Woods Deco Parchment Leaves
…and try hosting your own fancy brunch-date at home with the people you love!
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Healthy Pancake Batter

2 cups Oat flour (or you can ground your own oats!)
2 tsp Baking Powder
½ cup organic unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unsweetened Almond Milk
1 egg
Coconut oil for pan

Method

1. Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl, and wet ingredients in another. Slowly add the combined wet ingredients to the dry mixing as you go.
2. Decide how you want to customize them! Today I’m making Lemon Poppy Seed for myself, and mixed berry cereal pancakes for the husband!

Lemon Poppy Seed Variation

1 tbsp Organic Poppy seeds
3 tsp Lemon Juice (Fresh or pre-bottled)
1. Half the batter you just made and set one half aside.
2. Add the organic poppy seeds and the lemon juice, and stir into batter until combined.
3. Add a spoonful of coconut oil to pan (do so before pouring each pancake)
4. Ladle a small amount of batter onto the pan and let cook for roughly 2-3 minutes each side (or until brown). Repeat until you finish batter.
5. Add some organic maple syrup and these bad boys are ready to eat!

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The Arnold’s Mixed Berry and Cereal Variation

½ cup organic blackberries
1 cup of any cereal (today we are using Honey Bunches of Oats)

1. Add a spoonful of coconut oil to skillet (do so before pouring each pancake)
2. Take the other half of the untouched batter and ladle it onto your pan.
3. Sprinkle a couple berries and a pinch of cereal on top of the pancake. Ladle more batter on top (lightly- you still want to see bits of berry and cereal poking through)
4. Once the pancake begins to bubble, flip it over. (Each side should take roughly 2-3 minutes to cook through). Repeat until you finish batter.
5. Add some organic maple syrup and voila!

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Side notes if you’ve never made pancakes before!
*keep pancakes relatively thin and small when you pour them onto the skillet. It allows them to cook more evenly, and you don’t have to worry about an uncooked middle section.
* If you feel like your pancake batter is too thick you can always add more almond milk. BUT if you do add some to it, add it in small increments or the batter will become too runny. You do want the batter to be relatively thick, and if it becomes too runny you’ll have something more akin to crepes!
* The best way to tell if your pancake is ready to flip is to watch the top of the pancake for bubbles. These usually come after 2-3 min on medium heat.
* Don’t crank your burner up to full blast! It’s always better to cook at a lower heat as it will save you from burning your pancakes.
* Fun fact- if you just add the berries and cereal to the batter, the ingredients will come out soggy! Be sure to follow the steps for some delicious crunchy pancakes!

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Fall Into the Woods: Trail Mix Recipe

Monday, August 31st, 2015

National Eat Outside Day falls on the last day of August. And speaking of fall, autumn is rapidly approaching. If you want to get specific, the fall equinox this year lands on September 23rd at precisely 4:21 a.m.
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Comforting Fall Soup – Apple and Butternut Squash Soup

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

I can’t believe it’s already October, which according to NPR is peak decorative gourd month.  Also, Halloween!!! Since we’re celebrating the gourds in all forms, decorative and delicious, we figured we’d kick off the month with a delicious and hearty soup recipe – our butternut squash soup with apples. It seriously tastes like autumn in a bowl.  Plus, it’s a totally festive orange soup – perfect for this time of the year.  If you’d rather, you can substitute the butternut squash with  pumpkin to make a pumpkin soup. Still festive. Still delicious. Just look for a small sugar pumpkin, not the one you’d be using for a jack-o-lantern. More flavor.  Now, unless you’re just on our blog looking for deals (in which case, click here) let’s get cooking – I’m gonna teach you how to make soup that’ll knock your festive fall socks off!

First up, gather your ingredients! As you’ll see, this is a vegetarian soup, but if you’d prefer, you can make it with chicken stock. I just know I’m always on the quest for great, hearty vegetarian dishes this time of the year, and this is a great one.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (approximately 2 medium squash)
  • 1 white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 3 apples, diced  (I prefer Fuji or Granny Smith)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you’d prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 5-6 large leaves sage, minced, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4-5 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you’d prefer.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Green onion, for garnish, optional
  • Sour cream, for garnish, optional

If you use those garnishes, it’s gonna look a little like this – I skipped the green onion but went crazy with the sage:

Instructions

  1.  In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium high heat.  When it’s melted, add the onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook until the onion begins to get transparent, then add the carrot, celery and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables just begin to get tender. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds more.
  2. Turn the heat to medium and add the butternut squash, apples, brown sugar and herbs. At this point, consider adding an additional small pinch of salt, especially if you like your food salty. I’m a bit of a salt fiend.
  3. Cook over medium for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add about 3/4 of the stock (chicken or veggie, your choice.)   Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium low, and leave it alone until the vegetables and fruits are completely tender. There’s a good chance they’ll absorb a lot of the liquid as well.
  5. Time to puree the soup. I use an immersion blender, but you can also puree in a blender, in small batches. When it’s all blended and smooth, put the soup back in your soup pot and taste it. Does it need salt? Pepper? A tiny dash of hot sauce? Add it.  Now’s also the time to take a look at the texture. If it’s too thick, add more of your stock, bit by bit. Keep tasting and adjusting the flavor. If the stock makes it too salty, add a bit of water, or even orange juice. If it’s too thin, let it cook a little longer. Some of the water will evaporate.
  6. At this point, it’s time to serve the soup. Get out your favorite soup bowls (we’re partial to acacia) and keep them handy. If you want a crispy sage garnish like we have above, simply fry your sage in a small pan with a bit of oil or butter. Set on a paper towel and it’ll crisp right up.  If you’re using sour cream, a little dollop goes a long way. If using chives or green onions, simply mince them up.  Put the soup in the bowl, garnish at will, and enjoy!

Some serving notes: If you’re wondering what to serve with butternut squash soup, I’d suggest going the *not to be named Italian restaurant*  way and doing soup, salad and bread(sticks.)  This is a hearty, super filling vegetarian soup (or not vegetarian, if you’d prefer) and it doesn’t need much. I love it with crusty, lightly buttered bread and a simple salad.   It’s also delightful with grilled cheese – like tomato soup with grilled cheese, but with this unmistakably fall flavor. For dinner parties, this is great in tiny bowls, little jars, or even shot glasses as an appetizer.   If you want to make a huge batch and make it last longer, here’s how to freeze soups like this butternut squash soup:  Put it in freezer-safe containers (I use 1/2 liter jars – they’re the perfect lunchtime serving size) leaving about an inch of head space.  Since this soup has a lot of water in it, it’ll expand.  Freeze for up to 3 months (I’ll admit, I’ve gone as long as 6 to no ill-effects.) If you freeze in serving sized containers, rather than in one giant vat, it’ll be super-easy to only defrost just what you need when you need it…especially if you need a last minute lunch.

Cheers to fall, everyone! What’s your absolute favorite fall recipe? Are you a soup junky as well?  Don’t forget to take pictures of anything you make from now until October 16 and hashtag it with #pmtcFallTable – you could win a $100 gift certificate to our site! You can also re-post the picture below to win! Details here.

Lunch-Packing 101: Beyond Brown Bag Lunch Ideas

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

With so many schools back in session already, and so many more starting in just over a week, we think it’s the perfect time to talk about packing lunches. Whether you’re packing school lunches for children or brown-bagging it yourself, we’ve got some great lunch-packing tips that will even make eating at your desk like a special occasion.image_ 077 We’ll help make lunchtime exciting again with brown bag lunch ideas to wow you!

First, when possible, ditch the plastic.  We get it, life happens, sometimes a Ziploc bag or a plastic food container is the easiest tool for the job, but with a little planning, it’s easy to ditch the plastic for more environmentally friendly, green   lunch containers.  Wrap sandwiches in compostable paper and pack everything from soups to salad to cupcakes in jars! Glass Kilner jars are better for the environment. They’re re-usable so they don’t take up landfill space. They’re BPA free so they’ll help keep you and your loved ones healthy. And they’re airtight, so food stays fresh and doesn’t leak.

Some of our favorite meal-in jars are salads and soups.  For the salad, I use 1-liter Kilner preserve jars or 1-liter clip top jars.  I put the dressing in the very bottom of the salad, then the protein, then the heavy vegetables. I fill the rest of the jar with the greens, so they don’t get crushed.  When it’s lunch time, I either shake up the jar and eat the salad right out of it, or I empty it onto a plate.  One of the nicest things about salads in jars is that I can make up to 5-days’ worth at a time, stash them in my fridge, and they stay fresh and crisp. No soggy salads here, and in the morning it’s SO easy to grab a healthy, filling lunch.

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I love doing soups in preserve jars (I find that the 0.5 liter jars are the perfect serving size.)  When I make big batches of soup I put the leftovers in jars, put what I think I’ll eat in the refrigerator and freeze the rest. When it’s lunch time, I take the lid off, microwave the soup right in the jar, and eat it that way. It’s a great, no-mess way to have a filling, comforting lunch.

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Second, always include a treat. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy, just think about what will make your lunch (or your kids’ lunch) into a special treat.  I often find myself reaching for 0.35 liter Kilner clip top jars and filling them with fruit salad, pudding,  a few cookies, and even a cupcake. The jars keep baked goods from getting crushed, keep fruit salads from leaking, and are perfect for making and storing pudding.  You could also use the 0.25 liter preserve jars for treats. They’re a little roomier so they’re great for pretzels, chips, and popcorn. I’ve even seen people bake pies and cakes right in the jars. What a treat!

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Third, find the right kind of lunchbox. Jars seal pretty well, but they are made of glass, and even though the Kilner jars are sturdy, we want to make sure your lunch is safe. I love these bags from 100_6491-1024x1024A Tiny Forest – They’re perfectly designed to keep jars safe, upright and well cushioned, and they even come with a re-usable cloth napkin! They come in a variety of colors and patterns from sophisticated florals to kid-friendly ninjas, so no matter who you’re packing a lunch for, they’re sure to find something they love. Plus, the bags have room on top of the jars for extra delicious treats.   Her pint jar bags fit our 0.5 liter jars and her quart jar bags fit our 1.0 liter jars! This great one-woman business will also do custom bags to order.

Fourth, know how the lunch is going to be stored and if it can be re-heated. Will there be a refrigerator available, or will you/your child need an ice pack to keep that lunch fresh?  Can your child microwave their soup at school, or will they be stuck eating it cold?  Both hot and cold foods work really well in jars – Just know your game plan.

Fifth,  don’t forget a beverage. As a bonus, your drink can double as an ice pack. I often freeze tea, water or juice right in a jar, wrap it in a napkin, and throw it into my lunch bag. It’s melted by lunchtime, but it keeps everything else cold!

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Last, but not least, remember a fork and spoon, but if you’re packing for a child, pre-cut everything and skip the knife.  Since schools have become more security-focused, bringing even a butter knife to school has become a no-no. So make sure that everything is bite sized, fork sized, or able to be eaten with a spoon.

We hope that these tips help you get an A in lunch 101. Have a wonderful start to the 2013-2014 school year, everyone!


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