Friday Favorites: Healthy Snacks!

I’m not too much of a snacker, in general, but I do struggle with the hangry when my blood sugar dips.  Due to that, I’m always looking for healthy snacks that get me to the next meal, raise my blood sugar, and turn me back into something that resembles an agreeable human being.  So, here are my favorite healthy snacks!

 

1.  Popcorn

jar-topObviously, I’m not talking about the loaded down with butter and salt popcorn (though that is quite tasty).   Unflavored popcorn (though bland) is actually quite a healthy snack!   If you walk down the snack aisle at the grocery, there are an overwhelming number of boxed, microwaveable popcorn options on the shelves.  Avoid them!  It’s much cheaper (and healthier) to just buy the kernels and pop your own.  All you need is a microwave safe bowl, a microwave safe plate, and popcorn kernels.  Put 1/4 cup of kernels in the bowl, cover with the plate, and microwave until you hear the popping kernels slow down to about 2-3 seconds between pops.  Voila!  Popcorn, minus the waste of the bag.  Because I enjoy flavor on my popcorn, I usually add some spices to my already popped popcorn.  Cumin is really nice (use sparingly), as is garlic powder and kosher salt.  If I’m feeling extra lazy, I’ll just lightly salt the popcorn and dig in!  The best part about it is you can totally doctor it up to your taste!  Just remember, the more butter and fats you add, the less healthy it becomes.

2.  Hummus

460px-Hummus_from_The_NileHummus is everything that I love in a snack.  It’s creamy, healthy, tasty…I could go on and on.  Plus, it’s another snack where you can completely tailor it to your individual tastes.  I really like to pair hummus with carrot sticks for a veggie, but it’s also really good with pretzel crisps or a pita (for some extra calories, the pita is amazing).  You can buy a lot of different types at the grocery nowadays (ten years ago you’d have to go to a specialty store), but it’s also incredibly easy to make on your own.  I go both ways…if I’m feeling lazy I’ll buy some, and if I’m feeling more culinary with some extra time, I’ll whip up a batch of homemade.  I enjoy both, and don’t feel guilty about taking some shortcuts.  Just be sure to look at the label to make sure it doesn’t have a ton of “extra” stuff that you really don’t need (if you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t need it).  One of my favorite recipes (brace yourself, it calls for peeling the chickpeas…and it really does make all the difference) is from Smitten Kitchen.  And please, for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t skimp on the olive oil!

 

3.  Energy Bites

6907215929_29ed2b0329_zI’m sure many of you have heard of the Lara Bar craze.  I get it…they’re chewy, unprocessed (for the most part), and delicious.  They’re also expensive as crap!  Plus, I don’t usually want an entire bar, so then I’m left with half a bar that dries out and is pretty gross when I want some more (usually the next day).  Which is why energy bites is a much better alternative for me.  If you get on Pinterest, you can find plenty of recipes on how to make them, but most of them have the same method.  A grain (usually oats), some seeds, some nuts, a sweetener (I prefer honey), dried fruit, maybe some chocolate, and a binder (either a nut butter, or a sticky fruit).  Gimme Some Oven has a great recipe for Cranberry Pistachio Energy Bites, and it’s my favorite (I’m a sucker for pistachios).  It takes a little longer than the 15 minute prep time, but the results are totally worth it!  I like to make these before J and I go on a hike, because they’re great on the go, and are easily transportable.  Plus, these are fantastic for road trips, because they’re not messy and you can pre-pack them and pull them out as needed.

 

4.  Fruit

fruit-bowlThis one almost seems too easy.  But, raw fruit is a great healthy snack, and is easy to grab when you’re pressed for time.  For many fruits, the peel holds a lot of the fiber, which helps you feel full longer (obviously, this is only true for fruits that have edible peels), so don’t peel them if you don’t mind the taste.  When I’m at work, I like fruits that are easy to eat and not incredibly messy, so berries or grapes are usually my go-to.  However, when I’m at home, I prefer messier fruits, like plums and oranges.  My favorite fruits, overall, are blackberries and raspberries.  They’re tart and juicy, and easy to eat.  Plus, the more color to the fruit, the more nutritional value!  Another great way to eat fruit, especially in the summer, is to spread out whole pieces of fruit (berries, melon balls, and grapes work best for this) in a single layer, on a baking sheet. Then, place in the freezer and let the fruit freeze.  This really offers a sweet, cool treat during the hot summer months!

 

5.  Avocado

72468dd777e471da_cottage-cheese-avocadoI absolutely love avocado, and it’s one of my favorite “snacks,” when I have the time.  I don’t usually keep avocado in the house, so it’s more of a treat when I remember to pick one or two up at the grocery.  One of my favorite snacks with avocado (I have several) is avocado with cottage cheese.  The creamy avocado with the cold cottage cheese…it’s awesome!  Plus, cottage cheese (especially european style) has a more dry texture, so I really like how it tastes with the avocado.  If you feel like adding some more flavor, without a ton of extra calories, a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction would be really tasty on this as well!  When looking for avocados, I’ve found the best way to see if they’re ripe is to peel off the little nub where the stem would be.  If it’s green in there, it’s not too old.  Also, a gentle squeeze to see if it’s hard as a brick is a good trick too.

 

There you have it, my favorites in healthy snacking!  What are some of your favorites?  Feel free to let me know in the comments, as I’m always looking for new ideas!

Much love,
K.

Recipe Monday: Prosciutto, Arugula, and Egg Pizza

Over the past two weeks, J has been in Asia on business travel.  I’ll be honest, when J is away, cooking at home usually falls by the wayside.  But, after the first week of eating like a college student again, I was ready for a home cooked meal (to be honest, so was my waistline).  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make, so I spent a few minutes walking through the grocery before I came up with a meal that sounded delicious for dinner:  Prosciutto, Arugula, and Egg pizza!

This is a recreation of a pizza that I had while in Seattle, WA last May.  I know many of you are sitting here thinking, “Ummm…is she really going to put an egg on her pizza?”  Yeah, J thought the same thing when I ordered the pizza at the restaurant, but let me tell you, it is DELICIOUS!  I don’t mean to shout…ok, yes I do.  DELICIOUS!  The crunchy, salty prosciutto, paired with the creamy mozzarella, topped with a slightly runny egg and peppery arugula?  Oh my word, it’s just beyond belief good!

I was being lazy when I made this, so be forewarned.  I’ll admit, sometimes I make my own pizza crust, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I make my own pizza sauce, sometimes I don’t.  This dinner was all about ease of cooking, so I took the shortcuts where I could get them.  Pre-made crust?  Check.   Jarred pizza sauce?  Check.  Pre-washed arugula lettuce mix?  You bet your ass.  The only thing I technically “cooked” was the egg I topped it with.

Start with a pizza crust.  You can make your own, you can buy a pre-made one.  At the end of the day, it’s personal preference.  I went with the small pre-made pizza crust.  I topped it with jarred fire roasted pizza sauce.  From there, it was all about assembly.  I topped the sauce with two thin slices of prosciutto, and then thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese.  I put it in the oven, and waited for the bubbly goodness to happen.

Meanwhile, I dug out a skillet (see, this is where I “cooked”…so it counts as a home cooked meal) and heated it up with a small smidge of olive oil.  I broke an egg into the skillet and let it cook (without breaking the yolk) until the clear “whites” of the egg turned white and hardened up.  Then I turned off the burner and let it set while my pizza finished cooking.

Once finished, I brought out my pizza, and topped it with the pre-washed arugula lettuce mixture.  On top of that, I put on the egg and let the heat from the egg and the pizza wilt the lettuce.  And then…it was ready!  Time to eat!  Total time spent on this dinner was 15 minutes, max., and that included cooking time for the pizza.  Simple recipe that was quick to make, and healthier than take-out!  Hope you give it a try, and love it as much as I do!

Much love,
K.

Recipe Monday: Apple Butter, a Fall Favorite!

Riding high on the success of my honey sweetened white peach jam, I decided to do some more canning.  Only this time, I went with a fall favorite, apple butter!  J and I both love apple butter.  We use it often times in place of jams or preserves, and I usually mix it into my oatmeal during the winter.  Plus, most of the time, it has a lot less sugar than preserves, and fewer calories, but still tons of flavor.  Also, if you look at the ingredients, it’s usually only apples, water, and sugar.  Pretty simple, and I can pronounce and understand all these ingredients, so I call it a good day!

home preserving bookI decided to modify a recipe out of the Ball Home Preserving book.  They have a few different recipes in there for apple butter, and their main recipe calls for apple cider.  I took their traditional apple butter, but instead of the sugar that it suggested, I sweetened it with honey.  I prefer the taste of honey as a sweetener, over sugar, plus there’s a lot less processing going on with the honey.  I also made a half-batch, as compared to a full batch, because I didn’t want to have a ton of it lying around (because, let’s be honest, I’ll just eat it with a spoon).

apples_slicedI started with Honeycrisp apples, because they’re absolutely delicious.  Plus, they’re enormous, so I don’t have to peel as many apples as I would if I used the smaller ones.  Then, I cored and sliced up the apples, before putting them in a skillet with water to cook down.  This process took awhile…maybe 30 minutes.  I gave it a stir every now and then, and spent the time working on a homemade Spanakopita for dinner (next week I’ll tell you all about that recipe…divine!).  Really, at this point, you’re just waiting for the apples to cook down and get soft, so not much effort goes into this step.

food processor applesAfter you’ve cooked down the apples, you can either use an immersion blender to blend them up, or if you’re like me and don’t have one, you can put them in the food processor.  Do this in batches if you’ve got a lot…since I had a half-batch, I only needed to break it up into two batches for the food processor.  You don’t want to liquefy the apples, but do break them up until they’re smooth.  That said…this is YOUR apple butter…if you like it chunkier and less “buttery” then you go ahead and process to your desired texture.  “You do you, boo!” is my motto.

Once you’re done blending/processing to the texture you want, put it back into a clean skillet.  I don’t have many skillets big enough, so I just washed and dried the one I already used, and put it back in there.  Add the honey and spices, and bring up to a gentle boil.  Now, listen to me, because this is important.  If you have a canned apple buttersplash guard, USE IT HERE!  Nothing says 2nd degree burns like being splashed with boiling applesauce.  It’s not fun, save yourself the pain.  You’ll want to reduce down the apple/honey/spice mixture until it’s thick and doesn’t separate from the liquid when you place a spoonful of it on a plate.  I did this for nearly an hour, because I wanted the apple butter to be very concentrated.

After that…can as normal!  I got 2 half-pint jars out of this recipe.  I probably could have gotten 3 jars out of it, but I wanted some of the apple butter immediately, so I didn’t bother canning the last bit.  I’m really excited to bring this out this fall and use it in the mornings.  Plus, I think I’ll can up some more to give away as presents for Christmas (along with the Peach Jam I made last week).  Who doesn’t love food presents?!

Much love,
K.

Recipe Monday: Honey Sweetened White Peach Jam by Food in Jars

After several years of talking about how I’d like to start canning, I finally broke down and decided to do more doing and less talking about canning.  Last year, I thought I was ready to take the plunge.  I had bought more jars than I knew what to do with, as well as all the other necessary equipment, and then let it collect dust in our spare bedroom closet for another year.  Finally, yesterday, I decided that today was the day, and I stuck to it.  Since this was my first time ever canning anything, I decided to start small and simple.  Jams seemed like a good place to go, and I recently came across a blog that had tons of different canning recipes (Food in Jars, which I talked about here).  I was perusing Marisa’s recipes, when I came across the motherload!   Honey Sweetened White Peach Jam…HOLY CRAP!  First…I love honey.  LOVE honey.  Second…I love peaches.  LOVE peaches.  It was like a match made in heaven, and also made for me.  Naturally, I decided that this would be my first leap into the adventures that come with canning.

Honey Sweetened White Peach Jam
from Food In Jars

Ingredients: 

  • 2 pounds white peaches
  • 1 lemon
  • 8 ounces honey

First, I prepped my jars and lids.  Since all my supplies were brand new, I washed the jars, lids, and rings in warm, soapy water.  I then grabbed my water bath pot (which is actually my biggest stock pot I own) and put a small rack in the bottom to keep the jars elevated.  I put the jars on the rack and filled up the pot with water (I also put water in the jars, to keep them from floating).  I brought the water level up to the top of the jars, put the lid on it, and brought it to a simmer.  While I was waiting for the jars to come to a simmer, I put the lids in a small saucepan, which I also filled with water, and brought those to a simmer as well.  Both of these pots were left simmering until I was ready to use the jars and lids.  The screw tops didn’t need to be kept in simmering water, so I just let those dry on a clean towel.

IMG_9336Then, I began with my ingredients.  I started with white peaches (shocking, based on the recipe name).  I found some beauties at the local produce shop, and was excited to get them home.  I peeled them with your random, everyday vegetable peeler, and nearly bit into one right then and there because they smelled so good.  But, I held myself back, and managed to finish peeling.  After the peaches were peeled, I grabbed a lemon and peeled that as well, the chopped up the peel into pieces.  The recipe calls for you to cut it into strips, but I got lazy and just chopped it up into pieces.

IMG_9338Once the peeling was finished up and out-of-the-way, I pitted the peaches and cut them into slices.  I tossed those into a bowl and covered with the honey, letting the peach slices soak up the honey for a bit.  I wasn’t really sure how long to let this go, so I basically let the fruit sit in the honey for 15 minutes before calling it “good enough” and tossing in the lemon peel pieces.  After that, I stirred it all up, then put the mixture into a large skillet on my stove.  I brought that up to a boil and let it reduce.  Mine took a bit longer than the recipe called for, closer to 15 minutes before it was ready to be put in the jars.

IMG_9340One thing I am so glad I broke down and bought was a funnel for the jars.  At first I thought, “eh…why would you need that, a steady hand should be fine!”  Umm…no.  If your inner voice is saying that, don’t listen to it.  Get the funnel.  That $4 will make your life SO much easier!  So, I used my handy-dandy funnel and scooped the mixture into two half-pint jars.  I made sure to release the bubbles around the inner edges, then wiped clean the rims on the jars, then placed on my lid.  Using my hands, I screwed on the screw tops just until there was resistance.  I put the jars back into the water bath (where I was simmer the jars before I filled them) and filled it with enough water to cover the jars by at least an inch.  I put the lid back on, then brought it back up to a boil, then started my timer for 10 minutes.  One thing I’ve read about canning is to make sure that the water continues at a rapid boil for the full-time the recipe calls for processing.  If it stops boiling, you have to bring it back up to a boil and restart the timer.  So, with that in mind, I kept a close eye on the water to make sure it continued to boil.
IMG_9344After waiting and watching for 10 full minutes, I turned off the heat and took off the lid.  My canning book said to let it sit in the water for another 5 minutes to let the contents settle, then you can get it out and let it rest for 24 hours to let the seal develop.  I wanted a place where the cats couldn’t get their paws on the glass jars, so into the microwave they went, with strict instructions to J not to open the door or turn on the microwave.  The last thing I wanted was for all my hard work to go to waste!

I won’t lie…there were a few leftovers in the skillet when I was finished.  Just to test the quality (I swear, it was only to make sure it was edible!) I waited for it to cool and took a bite.  HOLY WOW!  If the preserves are only a quarter as good as what I had, I can’t wait to dig in!  I have big plans for these preserves…I think they’ll be a great addition to my morning oatmeal once it gets cold outside.  Plus, I think they would be perfect as an appetizer for a dinner party!  I’m thinking crusty french bread, a slice of brie cheese, and a dollop of the honey sweetened peach preserves.  Sigh…my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

There you go, my first foray into canning!  I hope you enjoyed the adventure with me, and I highly encourage you all to go to Food in Jars to see what Marisa is up to!

Much love,
K.

Recipe Monday: Food Prep!

I know I’ve been completely absent in my Recipe Monday posts, and for that I apologize.  My only excuse is that J and I went through a period where the only things we were cooking were frozen pizzas, frozen breakfast burritos, and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Vegetables had become a thing of the past, and our eating habits were going downhill fast.  However, last week, we made a promise to ourselves to change that, and so here I am, back in the Recipe Monday saddle!

This Monday isn’t really a recipe, it’s more of a walk-through on what J and I do after we go to the grocery each week.  We’ve really tried our best to only hit up the outer parameter of the grocery store, where all the fresh foods and vegetables/fruits are located.  We make it a point to only go into the middle aisles if something is absolutely necessary, and while it makes our grocery bill a little more expensive, we’re eating so much healthier.  I’d like to think eating healthier will cut down on future medical costs, so it’ll even out in the end (at least, that’s what I tell myself).

So…what do I do with all the fresh produce I buy, you ask?  That’s how I usually spend my Sunday evenings…just me, a glass of wine,  Food Network playing in the background, a sharp knife, a cutting board, and tons of Pyrex glass bowls with lids.  Yeah…I’m glamorous like that, be jealous all of you.  But, in all seriousness, that’s what I do.  Usually, J and I go grocery shopping Sunday morning/afternoon.  We’ll make a list of what we need for the week, including the recipes that we’d like to cook, and then head out with our mission.  We’ve found that if we don’t make a list, we come home with tons of random ingredients and nothing to make a full meal, so shopping with a list is a life saver for us.

IMG_9317This past Sunday was quite busy!  I had plans of making beans for the week, so I needed to get out the pressure cooker.  Plus, I figured I could make extras and freeze them for when we have busy weekends and I can’t get around to making cooked beans from dried.  I don’t mind buying canned beans, but I often forget to get them at the store, so I don’t always have them when I want them.  Plus, something about canned beans tastes weird to me.  It’s like they taste like metal or something.  Also, there’s a ton of salt, that you can’t always get rid of by rinsing (and I rinse the crap out of my beans).  Which basically leaves me with making my own from dried.  Thankfully, with the amazing pressure cookers out there, it really doesn’t take long at all, and you don’t even need to soak them overnight.  Soaking them overnight does speed up the process, but I’m perfectly fine spending 30 minutes instead of 20 and not soaking them at all.  Yeah…I’m lazy like that.  So, with that said, I started on the black beans, before dealing with anything else.

IMG_9324After the black beans were doing their thing in the pressure cooker (J bought me an amazing electric pressure cooker for my birthday last year, so it’s literally “fix it and forget it”), I started in on all the fresh produce we bought.  For most produce, we don’t really wash it when we prepare it.  I cut it up and put it into portions that we’ll use later on, but we don’t really wash the produce until it’s time to use.  A lot of times, I’ll just take off the obvious dirt (with a damp paper towel) and start cutting away to get it into manageable pieces.  This week, I went through quite a few vegetables: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, IMG_9327cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, radishes, kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce.  Most of that will be used to make daily salads for lunch and dinner, as well as other meals that we’ve planned out during the week.  For storage, we really like to use glass Pyrex dishes.  There’s the BPA scare out there, which comes into play some, but in all honesty, we got a lot of Pyrex mixing bowls with lids for the wedding years ago.  Those Pyrex dishes have become an absolute staple in our kitchen and I use them constantly.  I even ordered more of them yesterday from Amazon, because I found myself running out of them so often.  They’d either be full of things in the fridge, or dirty in the dishwasher, so I realized that they were probably the most used thing in my kitchen and that I needed more.  Hopefully Amazon comes through for me and they’re delivered tomorrow!

Along with my much coveted Pyrex dishes, I’ll also be getting a pressure canner in my Amazon shipment!  I’d really like to can beans instead of freezing them (but, without a pressure canner, I can’t do it), as well as preserves and other veggies that we get from the grocery and various friends’ gardens.  One thing I’d really like to try my hand at is small batch preserves, that I can give away for Christmas gifts!  Plus, I found a really easy looking recipe for handmade crackers, so I’m thinking gifts of homemade crackers, preserves, and cheese might be really nice gifts for friends during the holiday!  Of course, I’m sure I’ll change my mind at least 10 more times before the holidays get here, but for now…this is the plan!

So, there is my Sunday/Food Prep routine!  We try to do this weekly, but obviously the last few months have been few and far between on the homemade food items.  If you have any questions on how we prep various veggies and fruits, let me know!

Much love,
K.

 

Friday Favorites: Blogs

I get a lot of inspiration from various blogs out there, and love to be able to share some of my favorites with you all!  I always look for inspiration for tons of different things:  new recipes, home décor, crochet patterns, sewing ideas, and more recently, recipes for canning!  I hit up a lot of various blogs, but of course I do have my favorites, and here they are (in no particular order).

 

Favorite for Everyday Recipes: Smitten Kitchen

SMKSmitten Kitchen has some of the best recipes out there!  I adore her fresh take on foods, and so many of her recipes are easy to follow and don’t have a million odd ingredients that you’ll only use once.  Plus, her recipes are categorized in several ways: by ingredient, by season, by dish, by cuisine type…basically, any way you normally look for recipes, you can find them on her site.  I really encourage all of you who love to cook to go check out her page, you won’t be disappointed!

 

Favorite for Home Décor and Renovation Ideas:  Young House Love

younghouseloveThis husband-wife duo have some of the best ideas out there for home décor and all things DIY!  I’ve found so many cute things on this blog to incorporate into our home (or at least cute things that spark my own inspiration), and refer to their blog quite a bit for ways to fix and update things in the house.  Plus, these two are incredibly funny and entertaining, which makes reading their blog a breeze!

 

Favorite for Crochet, Knit, and Craft Patters: Whistle and Ivy

boat slippersThis blog is relatively new to me, but I have really enjoyed reading Bethany’s posts and looking through her various crafts.  She has quite a few crochet patterns available, some for purchase through her Etsy shop, and some for free.  I haven’t had an opportunity to make any of them yet (sadly), but they are currently topping my project list for once I finish my mom’s afghan for Christmas.   I’m currently coveting her pattern for Women’s Boat slippers (FREE!!), so that’s my first project on the list.  I’ll try to do a post on it once I finish them up!  I’m thinking, if they’re super quick and easy, I might be able to make some for Christmas presents to give to friends and family.  Who knows, I might even be able to con J into wearing a pair!

 

Favorite for Sewing: V and Co.

shag pillowVanessa Christenson’s blog on sewing is my absolute favorite.  I’ve used her fabric line a few different times on simple projects, and every time I think about starting another sewing project, I immediately head over to her blog.  Her fabrics are absolutely gorgeous, and she is always making new quilt patterns for her blog.  In addition to her quilts (which are gorgeous), she usually has more beginner projects interspersed within her posts, and I’ve been tempted to make a few of them.  They’re very easy to read and understand, and I imagine they’d be a breeze to make.  Her shag pillow is going to be my next sewing project once I get a moment to work on it!  I’m thinking, if they’re super quick and easy, they’ll be nice little Christmas presents for friends and family.  I might even be able to con J into wearing a pair.

Favorite for Canning:  Food in Jars

foodinjarsI will admit, I’m new to the canning world.  In fact, I’m so new, I’m still waiting for my pressure canner to show up from Amazon so that I can put it to good use.  Growing up, my aunt would can, and my best friend’s mom canned, but my mom was having none of it.  She would garden and cook, and could bake cakes that would make you cry tears of joy, but she had no time for canning.  Nope, no time.  “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  So, I am a newbie when it comes to this canning craze.  J and I have done our best to make a commitment to clean eating (though who can resist a McDonald’s cheeseburger every now and then) and we’d really like to eat as seasonally as possible.  So, when I suggested we try our hand at canning, he thought it would be a great idea (though probably won’t help much, go figure), and off I went.  I came across this blog and it has a great wealth of information on how to can, ways to can, and a ton of recipes to try!  I think my first recipe is going to be her Tiny Batch Black Raspberry Jam, just to get my hands wet!  So excited!

 

So, there you go, my Friday Favorites, blogging style!  I hope you enjoyed my favorites, and feel free to leave some of your own, as I’m always looking for new blogs to explore and enjoy!

 

Much love,
K.

Friday Favorites: Vegetables

Early last year, I decided to give a vegetarian diet a try.  I’ve always struggled with the moral issues around eating meat, and felt that moving away from an animal based diet, to one of a plant-based diet, would be best for me.  I was a vegetarian for over a year, and then slowly started introducing meat back into my diet.  I still rarely eat meat, and plan to continue a primarily vegetable based diet, but every now and then I do enjoy a meat dish.  I still feel bad about eating animals, so I try really hard to make sure that the meat that I do eat is sustainably and ethically sourced.  However, since becoming a vegetarian, I have found a new appreciation for vegetables, so I thought I’d do a Friday Favorites post on my favorite vegetables!

1.  Brussel Sprouts

brussel sproutsI know what most of you are thinking about brussel sprouts.  They’re bitter, and small cabbages, and really tasteless.  And, for the longest time, I would have agreed with you.  But then, I came across some good recipes, and learned how to cook brussel sprouts, and now they’re my absolute FAVORITE vegetable of all time!  Roasted brussel sprouts with shallots, salt and pepper, are fantastic in so many ways.  They’re a great side dish, they’re fantastic cut up in cold salads, and I even use them as the main toppings for one of my favorite pizzas (roasted brussel sprout pizza with potatoes and goat cheese…YUM).  Sure, they get a bad rap, but I’d encourage you all to go out there and try them again, because they really can be amazing!

2.  Eggplant

eggplantEggplant, or aubergine, is another highly overlooked vegetable (in my opinion).  Eggplant parmesan sandwiches were a huge staple in our house during my year of meat-free living, and we still enjoy the vegetable regularly.  I really enjoy it breaded and baked (never fried), with spicy marinara and fresh mozzarella melted on top, but it’s also fantastic just grilled with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also use eggplant quite often in my Couscous with Seven Vegetables recipe which I got from the cook of our riad in Morocco.  J and I will also eat leftovers that were grilled and put into the fridge, as a topping for pizza or cold salads.  Another favorite is a roasted vegetable sandwich, in which eggplant plays a starring role, along with onion, bell peppers, zucchini, and feta cheese!

3.  Asparagus

asparagusIn the Netherlands, people anxiously await the spring because it brings with it “aspergeseizoen” or asparagus season.  Both green and white varieties are celebrated there, and they even have specific recipes that include asparagus.  One staple recipe is the asparagus soup (which is divine) and another is its chlorophyl-free counterpart, white asparagus served with thinly sliced ham and soft-boiled eggs, with a lemon butter sauce.  Here in the US, we still eat a ton of asparagus, and it isn’t quite as seasonal as it is there, though we do eat the most of it in the summer.  Grilling the asparagus stalks or roasting them in the oven are our two primary ways of cooking it, though each Easter I do make the Dutch white asparagus, complete with soft-boiled eggs and roasted potatoes, and that delicious butter and lemon sauce.  It’s quite a special treat, and one that we look forward to every year, especially because it brings back such fond memories of our lives in the Netherlands.

4.  Avocado

avacadoOk, this one is cheating, because technically it’s a fruit.  I don’t care, I still love it.  It’s creamy, it’s got fiber, and it tastes amazing with some salt and lemon juice.  Avocado is a go-to adder for a lot of our recipes at home.  We’ll dice it up and add it to salads, we’ll smash it onto toast with an egg for a quick breakfast, and I’ll even eat it plain for a snack (either topped with lemon juice or some balsamic vinegar).  The healthy fats in the avocado add to heart and brain health, and it also improves the absorption of certain nutrients by up to 400%.  Another way we eat them at home is to add them to our protein shakes in the morning.  The velvety texture really adds smoothness to the shakes, plus you can’t really taste the avocado if you are adding other ingredients.  I only started eating avocado a few years ago, prior to that I wasn’t a huge fan of the flavor, but I’m so glad I gave it a second try.  Now, it’s one of our go-to snacks in the house and we always have one or two of them ready to eat!

5.  Artichokes

artichokesLast, but surely not least, is my love affair with artichokes.  These are another staple in our house, either raw or in their jarred variety.  I’ll put them on anything: pizzas, salads, couscous or quinoa…pretty much, if I’m making something that has any sort of mediterranean flavor to it, I’ll add artichokes.  My favorite is my Mediterranean couscous salad, which I make with whole wheat couscous, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, garlic, and feta.  It’s basically a “chop everything and add together” type of salad, and it keeps in the fridge well for next day’s lunch.  We’ve also really liked them lightly steamed and then grilled for a side addition to our main meal.  I’ve come across a few stuffed artichoke recipes that I’d love to try, but haven’t given them a whirl yet.  Once I do, I’ll be sure to post back here in a recipe post, because I’m sure that we’ll love it!  While we really enjoy the marinated variety, I’ve found that some of the jarred, marinated artichokes have a high sodium content, and lots of additional fat from the oils, so you should be careful if you’re buying the jarred artichokes.  Be sure to read the label, because you never know what else is in the jar if you don’t look at the ingredients!

There you have it, my top five favorite vegetables (ok…four vegetables and a fruit)!  What are your favorites?  Also, if you have some recipes that include my vegetables above that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear about them!

Much love,
K.