Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Healthified Banana Streusel Muffins

Muffins. They're what's for breakfast.

Last weekend I needed to come up with a dish to bring to Sunday brunch, and since we'd be driving over an hour to get there, a baked good that I could make ahead of time and that would travel easily seemed like the best bet.

I love muffins, but my beloved Joy of Cooking calls for insane amounts of butter, oil and sugar to make these breakfast goodies. You all know I'm not one to shy away from indulgences, but it just doesn't seem necessary to waste all those calories on one little breakfast pastry. Ice cream, yes. Norwegian Eggs Benedict, yes. Muffins? No.

Especially not when you can swap out oil and butter for mashed banana, and whole milk for almond milk.

I made a double batch of these so I could take a basket to brunch and freeze the rest for home. My weekday breakfasts usually consist of a bowl of Kashi or a yogurt with some kind of fruit, so a healthified muffin that I can guiltlessly grab from the freezer on a weekday, microwave it and smear it with PB and bananas and eat it in the car on the way to daycare...just seems like such a treat.

Healthy Banana Streusel Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pinch salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil (may substitute applesauce)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 medium bananas, mashed

1/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/8 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine egg, oil, almond milk and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, then add bananas. Stir gently until just combined - do not overbeat.

Scoop batter into greased or paper lined muffin tins, about 2/3 full. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the topping; spoon topping on top of each muffin.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until just done in the center.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Birthday Dinner

The rest of this weekend was spent enjoying more time with family - Matt's side this time. His mom's 54th birthday was last week, so yesterday the family convened at their house around 3:00 for a belated celebration. Mrs. B. always has appetizers waiting when we arrive for family dinners, and we can usually count on seeing some cheese & crackers and veggies with dip or hummus.

I had a handful of parmesan pretzel crisps, a few crackers and a couple celery sticks with garlic Sabre. Love that stuff. I'd been planning to take Riker on a long walk before dinner, but before long it was time to eat. We had an early dinner since Matt's dad had to go to work; he's a control room operator at the nuclear power plant - like a real life Homer Simpson - and right now is on overnight shifts.

Steak and shrimp done on the grill were the main course - shrimp only for me of course - with zucchini and yellow squash, sweet potatoes and whole grain baguettes.

My contribution to the dinner was a big mesclun salad with all kinds of veggies, balsamic-marinated baby beets, goat cheese and toasted walnuts. I of course had a bowl of that as well.

Beets and goat cheese are such a fantastic combination.

Can't have a Baratta birthday without an ice cream cake, and I'll admit I was looking forward to a little slice of that all day.

Happy birthday "mom"! Riker only ate half his dinner, so no cake for him. He managed to swipe some frosting off the top of the cake before anyone was looking, but that's as far as he got. ;-) Sorry buddy.

Matt's mom recently started doing yoga as part of her gym program, so I got her a new yoga mat and gear for her birthday. After opening it she decided Matt's sister and I should join her for hot yoga this week, and I immediately jumped on board. I haven't done hot yoga since before I got pregnant with Riker, and I haven't been to a yoga class since my New Year's Resolution to practice it more. We're all planning to go to a class together on Friday night, which sounds like the perfect way to unwind after a long work week.

We came home in the early evening and Matt and I got a sudden urge to watch Labyrinth...strange, I know, but it's one of our all-time favorite movies and we usually watch it a few times a year. We don't usually let Riker watch TV, but it felt like time for him to meet Bowie and our favorite puppets, so we decided to let him stay up and watch some before bed.

He only watched bits of it in between running around playing with his toys and wrestling with me, but it's safe to say he was intrigued. It's crazy how much of a little kid he is now. He's only a little over a year old, but he is most definitely not a baby anymore. I think the age he's at now is so fun and is my favorite so far, but it's bittersweet to watch him grow so fast.

Finally Riker went to bed and I felt obligated to watch The Oscars for a while. I'm not much of an awards show person - they are soooo loooong - but they're such a big deal so I usually try to watch at least some of them. I fell asleep somewhere in between the animated short films special effects, but woke up this morning to check the winners and saw that Argo won best picture. I loved the movie so was glad to see it win, especially since it's one of the few nominees I've actually seen. Now it's my goal to watch the rest of the nominees, since they all look great.


This morning started with a strawberry & Greek yogurt smoothie and a sweaty workout.

My weekend workouts got kind of hijacked with the Philly trip and birthday party yesterday, so I woke up extra early this morning to squeeze a few extra calorie-burning minutes into my Monday workout. I started with a Jump Rope & Abs circuit from PBFingers.com to get my heart rate up, followed by some strength training. Great way to start the day. I hear some rumblings from Riker's room now, which means it's time for the day to officially start.

Back to the work week!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Surprise Family Reunion

Yesterday turned out to be a surprise little family reunion at my sister's place in Philly. My stepdad Bruce took a drive down to rural PA from Vermont to visit his daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend Mike for the weekend, and they decided to come over and visit with me and Amanda for the day. Bruce had brought down a few boxes of my sister's childhood items to drop off, so we had fun sitting around going through all her old stuff and reliving kid memories. After a while we were all hungry and decided to head out for lunch at Fall's Taproom, the gastropub we went for lunch with my cousins last summer.

Sisters! It's been at least 6 months since all three of us have been together at the same time, and it was so great getting to catch up. Especially since it was a total surprise visit. Riker had a great time visiting with his PopPop too. :)

Gastropubs are right up my alley - great beer, and fresh, creative foods with lots of vegetarian options. Falls Taproom even has vegan "wings"! You can't go to Falls Taproom and not get a beer; I originally ordered a PBC Kenzinger since I wanted to try a local brew, but it was really disappointing. It didn't have much flavor and I felt like it was a waste to drink it, so I set it aside and went with a tried & true...the Fegley's Hop'Solutely. Always a winner.

After nibbling on a few fried pickles we ordered for the table, I ordered the mushroom & cheddar beer sandwich for lunch.

The fried pickles were so unique and some of the best I've ever had. They were super salty and vinegary, and only lightly breaded. My sandwich was pretty good too, but I only ate half before calling it quits. That thing was enormous.

I also tried one of my sister's rosemary pierogies, which were amazing.

I ordered Riker a flatbread, but he only ate a few bites before realizing that Mike was digging into a bowl of homemade bacon mac & cheese. That boy loves his cheesy macaroni so we had to give him some. 

I'm pretty sure he ate at least half that giant bowl. ;-)

After lunch we all said our goodbyes, and then Amanda and I ran a few errands before relaxing back at her apartment for a few hours. She made a plate of coconut chocolate chip cookies (actually from a jar mix I gave her in a Christmas goodie basket) for a late afternoon snack and sugar fix, which we enjoyed while simultaneously watching Harry Potter and Riker chasing Amanda's cats all over the apartment.

Mmmm. Two cookies and a second cup of coffee later, and it was time to get back on the road to go pick up Matt and his friends.

Lunch was so filling that dinner never made it onto the agenda, which was fine since we didn't arrive back home until around 9:30 PM after dropping Matt's friends off and picking up Butters. We were all exhausted and ready to crawl into bed. I tried reading a few pages of my new book, Switched, but I'm pretty sure I only made it three sentences in before my eyes drooped shut. It was a full Saturday, for sure!


This morning started with Sunday bagels & lox, followed by a family shopping trip.

I needed to get a gift for a bridal shower I'm attending next weekend, a gift for Matt's mom's birthday and a few things for Riker, so a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Babies R' Us and Target were in the cards. I also wanted to exchange some Sanuk shoes I got last week since they were the wrong size. Love the Roxy summer slip-ons I came home with. I love winter, but seeing all the summer shoes and sundresses out is making me itch for warm weather.

Riker just went down for a nap so it's time to clean up around the house and wrap some gifts. We're going to Matt's parents' later today for a small family birthday party for his mom, so gotta make sure I'm set for the week ahead before we head out. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Crockpot Cranberry Applesauce

The cold winter weather often takes a toll on my commitment to fruit-eating. My body screams for warm comfort foods, and I can only force tasteless oranges and mealy apples and pears down my throat for so long. Once I reach my tipping point, I start to make baked apples so I can trick myself into eating fruit and thinking it's dessert, and this past week was one of those times.

This cranberry applesauce came about sort of by chance. I didn't have time to deal with the oven, so wanted to make my "baked apples" in the crockpot so I could just throw everything in and leave it alone.

I originally planned to throw strawberries in the mix, but while roasted strawberries are delish, I feared that crockpot strawberries would turn into mush. So I swapped them for cranberries. CranApple is always a great combo.

This applesauce could not be easier to make - you just dump everything in, cook it til the apples are soft, then puree everything with an immersion blender. I actually kept out half of the apples before blending so I could eat them with yogurt (the way I eat my baked apples), then turned the other half into sauce to keep in the fridge for snacks.

The great reddish brown color comes from apple skins and the dried cranberries. This stuff is good cold, but even better warm, and to top it off, it's sugar-free but tastes all sweet and cinnamon-y. Mmm.

Crockpot Cranberry Apple Sauce

Makes about 6 cups

8 apples (Red & Yellow Delicious work best)
2 Tbsp. unsweetened dried cranberries
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 packet Truvia

1/2 cup water (substitute unsweetened cranberry juice if desired)
1 tsp. lemon juice

Washed, core and cut apples into large slices (I keep skins on half the apples). Add them to the crockpot. Add the cranberries, spices and Truvia, and stir to combine. Cover with the water and lemon juice. Turn the crockpot on high and cook for 2-3 hours, until apples are soft. Turn off heat, then puree with immersion blender.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunrise Morning

Ah, it's the weekend again. This was one busy work week, so when I powered down my laptop last night I was ready for dinner, a glass of wine and some mindless TV.

I made one of our favorite meals ever, Thai Peanut Soba Noodle Salad with lots of fresh veggies - eaten warm rather than cold since it's like 25 degrees outside. I didn't have scallions so swapped them for fresh cilantro this time, which was actually a really good substitute. And this time I actually had real soba noodles I bought during our Wegman's trip a few weeks ago; I normally use whole wheat spaghetti, but the buckwheat soba noodles were really great - they had a nice chew and a good flavor, plus lots of fiber and protein.

Love all those colors! We ate our noodle bowls in the living room after Riker went to bed while watching the semi-finals of Top Chef Seattle. I'm gunning for Kristen!


Today I'm spending the day in Philly with my sister since Matt is taking a bus trip to the Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware. I surprised him with a ticket on the tour for Christmas with a few of his good friends, and he's been looking forward to it for months. This morning we all got up at the crack of dawn and I dropped the gang off at the bus pick-up in Cherry Hill, which is a little over an hour from our house. At least we were greeted by a gorgeous sunrise; you know it's going to be a good day with a sunrise like that.

Cherry Hill is a short drive away from Philly, so since I was all the way down there I figured I'd come hang out with Amanda until I have to pick everyone up later tonight. Not sure what the agenda is - we're thinking a museum and lunch in the cute town of Manayunk - but for now we're relaxing over coffee while Riker naps and it rains outside. Perfect little Saturday morning for me. :)

Hope your weekend is off to a good start!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Spanglish Panini Makeover {Recipe ReDux}

It's Oscar time. Hence this month's theme for the Recipe ReDux - dishes based on food scenes from favorite movies. I'm not an awards show watcher, but I do love a great movie (who doesn't?) so thought this month's topic was awesome. I sat for a few minutes thinking about all the fun and fancy movie dishes that I could give a healthy makeover...but my mind kept going back to the first movie food scene that popped into my head.

If you've never seen Spanglish, it's sort of a silly movie about a chef (Adam Sandler) who falls in love with his Spanish-speaking maid but who is already married to a crazy, high strung, runner-obsessed, yoga-master of a wife. I kind of love this movie, and every time it comes on TV I have to watch it. And there is one particular scene I've always loved - and which always makes me crave a sandwich.

Adam Sandler comes home late from working at his restaurant, pours himself a glass of wine and makes himself this amazing sandwich - a grilled cheese/BLT/fried egg sandwich hybrid that oozes comfort. It's gourmet diner food and looks so delicious (minus the bacon), like something you'd expect a chef to make himself after a long day's work. I actually don't think he even gets to eat the sandwich, since as he goes to take his first bite, a big fight erupts with the maid and her daughter.

But I digress. It's no secret that I'm a huge sandwich lover and often make paninis for weeknight dinners. But I always try to make them healthy-er and get a little creative with the fillings. So without further ado, here are my favorite healthy sandwich swaps.

1. Don't use butter. I use cooking spray on the George Forman griller, so the panini gets crispy without all the fat. That golden brown Green Apple & Smoked Cheddar Panini is made without the use of any butter whatsoever.

2. Use a small amount of cheese, and good bread. I usually use 1-2 slices of cheese, rather than the half pound you get on a deli sandwich. If you use good flavorful cheese like sharp cheddar or smoked gouda, that's really all you need. I also try to use healthy breads, like whole grain/whole wheat, Ezekiel sprouted wheat, or even low carb pita pockets and bagel thins.

3. Limit the fat. If I'm using a fried egg, which has plenty of fat in the yolk, I'll skip the sliced cheese and use a wedge of Laughing Cow Light instead, which only has 35 calories. It still adds a nice creaminess and flavor of cheese to the sandwich.

4. Pile on the veggies. Instead of only adding a few tomato slices, I add broccoli rabe, arugula, spinach, Granny Smith apples, or anything else green I have around. The Pesto Gouda, Broccoli Rabe and Tomato Jam panini is one of my all time favorites.

As is the classic summer tomato & arugula sandwich. This one features lox as a lean protein, and neufchâtel as a swap for higher fat cream cheese.

It also helps to roast the veggies so you get maximum flavor without extra fat. Roasted tomatoes are especially delicious, and are great in the Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Baguette with Goat Cheese. Mmm.

5. Use fun spreads. Homemade tomato jam, chutney or spicy dijon mustard are my favorites - they add tons of flavor without any fat, and go great with a variety of veggies. Mustard goes well with green apples and cheese, and tomato jam goes well with grilled onions, mushrooms and provolone cheese on rosemary bread.

Smashed avocados also make a great swap for mayo; avocado is full of good fats and tons of flavor, and often appears in Grown-Up Grilled Cheese sandwiches.

And if you want to make yourself the real deal Spanglish Sandwich, far be it from me to stop you. You can find the recipe here. Happy Oscar watching!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lunch Prep

Well, the very long and very lovely weekend is over. It had to end sometime. Thank goodness there's only 3 days left til the next one!

Yesterday I got to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen, which was just fine by me. Riker took an unprecedented 3 hour nap and then his grandparents stopped by to take him to the park for a bit, which gave Matt time to brew a new batch of beer (finally, it's been months!) me time to prep some food for the week.

This week is a really tough work week for me schedule-wise, with three days in the city where I have to come in super early and then also leave pretty late. That meant I wouldn't have the luxury of making lunch at home each day, wouldn't want to make food after getting home late, and I really didn't want to succumb to buying lunch and eating crappy all week. Enter lunch planning - reminds me of the old days when I worked in the city 5 days a week and cooked for hours every Sunday.

I prepped three days worth of meals to power me through until Friday, and even got some dinners started so Matt could easily warm & serve them each night. Breakfasts needed to be grab & go, so bananas and low fat banana muffins (baked and frozen on Sunday) were the perfect item. Lunches came together in a snap; I cooked three servings of quinoa, and while that was simmering I sautéed fresh peppers with a bunch of spices and sriracha hot sauce, then tossed everything together and topped the "quinoa bowls" with some walnuts for extra protein.

Snacks are either a plain nonfat Chobani with strawberries & blueberries; a string cheese and baked apples; or whole wheat flatbread crackers with Laughing Cow Light and sliced apples.

Eating healthy is so much easier for me when all the work is done ahead of time.

I made dinner in between all the other cooking, so it was nothing fancy. Cavatelli & broccoli with ricotta and lemon graced our table last night.

I haven't eaten cavatelli & broccoli in nearly three years, since the last time I ate it I got a stomach bug and was violently ill for three days afterward. I haven't been able to shake the association, until I went shopping over the weekend and spotted cavatelli in the freezer. For some reason it spoke to me, and promised to be a good weeknight freezer staple that wouldn't get me sick.

Cavatelli has 10 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving, so I gave it a go. I paired a bag of it with a half cup of fat free ricotta, a whole head of fresh steamed broccoli, a few cloves of garlic, some fresh basil and a squeeze of lemon juice. And a whole bunch of crushed red pepper on top.

Swapping fat free ricotta for the olive oil that usually appears in this dish made the whole thing around 350 calories a pop, with plenty of green veggies and protein for all. And it's pasta, my fave!

My bus just pulled into the station so it's time to sign off and rush home for a few precious minutes of downtime with my fam before starting all over again tomorrow. G'night!