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Brunch: Spinach and Cheese Whole Wheat Strata Recipe

25 Jan

I relish in a good weekend brunch but sometimes the struggle to find a reservation, battle the weather, or even worse… wait an hour, makes hunkering down to a comfy, conversation-friendly meal at home way more appealing.

Strata is a layered casserole, usually including eggs, cheese and bread. Although it requires a little planning ahead, it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. Prepared ahead of time and baked in the oven, it requires no fussy juggling between entertaining and cooking. You literally prep it the day before, let it sit overnight, and throw it in the oven an hour before your guests arrive.

The recipe below is adapted from Gourmet (RIP). My version is a little healthier using WAY less cheese (and low-fat), whole wheat bread, 1% milk instead of whole, and as many organic ingredients as possible. It was still delicious although you definitely taste the tang of the whole wheat. If you don’t love whole wheat’s sour nature, you may want to go 50/50 (white/whole wheat) but I enjoyed the contrast against all the dairy. Of course, you can go to the original recipe for the full-fat version.

And yes some of you may remember strata making quite a scene in a 2005 holiday movie. Any guesses?

Spinach and Cheese Whole Wheat Strata

Adapted from Gourmet (sniffle), February 2003 via Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 (10 ounce) package organic frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped organic onion (1 large)
Less than 1T just for prepping baking pan
Salt & pepper (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed organic whole wheat baguette in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
1 to 1.5 cups shredded organic low-fat chedder or Gruyere (3-4 oz)
1/2 c finely grated parmesan
2 3/4 cups organic 1 % milk
9 large organic eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Procedure:

1. Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Sauteed onions and spinach

2. Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Tip: When you finish a stick of butter, save the wrapper to grease pans. Or you can always lightly dip a paper towel in softened butter to prep a pan. You can also spray lightly with canola oil. Top with one-third of bread cubes,one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.

3. Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day.

Prepped Spinach and Cheese Strata

4. The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Yummers!!! Don’t forget the hot sauce!

Spinach and Cheese Whole Wheat Strata

Mixed Berries

Ingredients:

1 cup of each organic berry (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries)

Orange zest

Juice from 1/2 to 1 orange

2T chiffonade of mint

Procedure:

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. If berries aren’t sweet, drizzle 1 T maple syrup (only if needed). Bring to room temperature before serving.

Mixed Berries

Forget Black Friday Fall Pumpkin Muffins

25 Nov

There isn’t a big enough discount that can convince me to go shopping on Black Friday. That’s what online is for. So while other crazies are out fighting the madness, I’m hiding at home craving pumpkin muffins.

I’m particular about muffins. Not too big, more top/less bottom, no nuts, no enriched flours – I like them how I like them. So, when I get the hankering for pumpkin muffins, I prefer to bake them at home so I can control the ingredients and customize. It’s easy to make almost any recipe healthier simply by using the highest quality, pure, organic, unprocessed ingredients.

Fresh pumpkin is ideal but if you use canned, look for organic solid packed pumpkin with nothing added instead “pumpkin pie filling” which has added sugar.  I tweaked this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, by adding a cup of thompson raisins and spraying the muffin tin with canola oil instead of using muffin cup liners. Of course, you could add any fruit like dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries, whatever you want!

This recipe produces pretty sweet muffins. Next time I’d reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup- 1 cup and use maple syrup instead. I’d also add a teaspoon of cinnamon for extra spice. However, if you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll get fluffy, light, cakey pumpkin muffins with a delicious crystalized cinnamon-sugar topping. They make a perfect breakfast for your overnight holiday guests, or great grab-and-go snacks. Add a little extra protein by smearing with almond or peanut butter, or enjoying with yogurt and fresh fruit. Change things up and try greek yogurt as a creamy, probiotic filled, tangy spread instead of cream cheese. If you have any leftovers, freeze them in a ziplock freezer bag. Defrost for 10 minutes before eating.

Forget Black Friday – go bake!

Close-up of pumpkin muffin with cinnamon sugar topping

Fall Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from the American club, in Kohler, Wisconsin via Gourmet Magazine. Recipe via Smitten Kitchen.

Made a dozen muffins

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups premium quality, organic all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15 ounce can)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic thompson raisins

For cinnamon-sugar topping:
1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Procedure:

1. Put oven in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Either put liners in muffin cups, or lightly spray the baking tin with high-heat canola oil spray.

2. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. (tip: whisking keeps things light and prevents over-mixing which can create a dense, brick muffin). 

3. Make cinnamon-sugar topping by stirring together cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl.

4. Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about three-fourths full), then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

5. Cool in pan on a rack five minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

Pumpkin muffins in tin

Acai Raspberry Smoothie Recipe

6 Jul

First things first. It’s pronounced, ah-sigh-ee. Now that that’s out of the way… acai is said to be full of antioxidants and considered a “superfood”. It’s tart, so I usually like it best combined with other sweeter fruits like banana, to soften the blow.

It has been painfully hot here in NYC. The good news is that heat completely suppresses my appetite. All I want is salad, watermelon, and anything else light and cold. So of course, that means one thing… smoothies!!

After my Bar Method workout this morning, I came home and made this refreshing, fruit filled smoothie. The tartness of the acai and raspberries are balanced with the creamy bananas, almond milk, and sweetness of the agave. Plus, there’s added protein and good fat from the flaxseed oil.

Well, I’m off to LA, and looking forward to my fill of west coast smoothies!

Click here to learn more about acai.

Acai Raspberry Smoothie

3/4 – 1 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy bev)

1 frozen banana (equivalent to about 1 cup)

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

1 packet frozen acai

1 tablespoon flaxseed oil

1/2 tablespoon agave

1. Blend all together and enjoy!

Please keep in mind I’m not a registered dietician or medical professional, I’m a cook. So if you have any health concerns or dietary questions, please consult your doctor or nutritionist.

Fresh RaspberriesAcai Raspberry Smoothie

Acai Raspberry Smoothie

aPEELing, organic, on-the-go snacks

5 Feb

I’m a snacker. Even before I was vegan, I always had a full arsenal in my bag. You’d think I had a toddler with all the snacks I carry. Nope, I just am one. Usually I’m packing bars, nuts, and fruit. As a vegan, I always want something on hand because I can’t guarantee I’ll have a vegan-friendly option when I’m out of the house. No one wants to see me hungry with my crankypants on, not cute.

Anyway you can imagine my delight when I came home to find a box from Peeled Snacks. YIPPPPYYY! They sent a variety pack to test out. I’m a lucky dog. I had to refrain from ripping them open and devouring the entire box. Patience young Skywalker, you have to take photos.

Look at how nicely it arrived! I love getting packages.

Oooooooo……. Ahhhhh check out all the pretty colors! Their packaging is so cute. Bright, cheery, whimsical.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a bit of a dried fruit connoisseur (toot, toot…and yes, too much dried fruit can lead to exactly that). I’ve tried Whole Foods,Trader Joe’s, and I stop at every natural foods store I pass. Peeled really is far superior. Yes, its dried fruit, but it doesn’t taste like the life has been sucked out of it only to be replaced with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or sulfur dioxide. It actually tastes like fresh fruit, but in a form that’s portable with a longer shelf-life. They are made with premium, organic, and all-natural ingredients, with no sugar or oil added.  They also try to source from sustainable farms making them not only good for the body, but good for the environment. LOVE THAT!

These single-serve packages are great on-the-go, and are low-calorie, ranging from 110 (apple & apricot) to 150 (banana). The portions are perfect for those like me who cannot control themselves with dried fruit. It’s easy to over consume and next thing you know, you’ve eaten a bushel of apples.

Even the names of their six varieties make me smile: much-ado-about-Mango, pine-4-Pineapple, Banan-a-peel, Apple-2-the-core, Apricot-a-lot, and Cherry-go-round. I’ve had the mango before (and loved it), but had not tried the other flavors. Until now!

Much-ado-about-mango

Much-ado-about-mango was gone first. That and pineapple are the household favorites. The mango is soft so you don’t break teeth chewing it, nice benny. The colors are vibrant and you know how mangos have that thread-like texture when they’re really ripe? It was still there. Hard to believe it’s dried.

much-ado-about-mango

Mmmm pine-4-pineapple…super chewy, with a natural sweetness. It’s like crack. LOVE IT.

pine-4-pineapple

Look at this, whole apple slices!

apple-2-the-core

Even the apricots are soooo plump and juicy. How do they do that? I don’t usually love apricots because they’re always depressing, shriveled up balls, but look at these gorgeous little morsels!

apricot-a-lot

I bought Balaton cherries with no sugar added from Whole Foods a while ago and I just had to compare them to the Peeled cherries. Look at the difference between them. Well, it’s hard in the picture… I’m not great at the close-ups yet. The cherries on the left are Whole Foods, the right are Peeled. You can see the Peeled cherries are plump and juicy. The Whole Foods cherries are dry and completely flat. They’re actually kind of hard to chew. I did like how tart the Whole Foods cherries were and think they’d be good in cookies or oatmeal when they’re cooked and can plump up a bit. The Peeled cherries are amazing on their own, and mind-blowing in trail mix when combined with nuts and chocolate. Which would you rather eat?

whole foods vs peeled

In addition to just regular snacking, I used the Peeled bananas and apricots in my oatmeal and OMG it was awesome. Totally tasted like banana nut muffins.

banan-a-peel

banana nut oatmeal

I prefer steel-cut oats over old-fashioned rolled or quick cooking. Although steel-cut take longer to cook, I like the nuttier, chewier texture, and find it’s always a little better on day two. What’s the difference between steel-cut, rolled and quick oats? Well, they’re all the same grain (groats – the inner kernel), just different stages of processing. Steel cuts are the least processed since it’s the whole raw oat, and are cut with steel blades into smaller pieces. Rolled oats are rolled (shocker) so they are a little thinner and cook a little faster. Quick oats are basically rolled oats processed a little further, so they cook even faster. Instant oats are the thinnest and are pre-cooked so they, cook the fastest. Click here for more info.

And here’s the recipe for Banana Nut Oatmeal. I use Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats, but use whatever you can find at your local grocery store. They even have a gluten-free version. Of course you can substitute any of the ingredients with any nuts, dried fruit, or even use jam instead of maple syrup. The options are endless!

Banana Nut Steel Cut Oatmeal

1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal, cooked

1/2 pack Banan-a-peel peeled snacks

1 T pecan pieces

1/2 T maple syrup

2 Apricot-a-lot diced

1 T ground flax-seed

Splash of nut milk (just to moisten)

1. Add splash of nut milk to cooked oatmeal and microwave for 1-1.5 minutes depending on your microwave. Mix in toppings and eat!



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