Sunday, December 13, 2015

Garlicky Green Beans with Almonds & Cranberries

I bring to you today the simplest side dish. Crisp steamed whole green beans tossed in garlicky olive oil, toasted almonds, and sweet yet tart cranberries.

Green beans are pretty standard fare, and almost everyone has their own version of a green bean dish for the holidays. Growing up, we always had traditional Green Bean Casserole with any turkey dinner, but in my older years I've really come to shy away from that gloppy dish and the usual canned ingredients that go into it. There are versions of whole food Green Bean Casserole out there, I just haven't had the interest to try them; I like green beans in their more pure form.

For the last few years, I've been in charge of green beans for our family Thanksgiving dinner. I brought them one year a while back, and after Matt's cousin ate two plates full and insisted on bringing home the leftovers, I was charged with forever bringing them again. I take that as a compliment? I've been making different versions of them for a while, but this one seems to be a real favorite. It has just enough color and flavor to feel like the holidays, but can be whipped together quickly and doesn't feel heavy like a Green Bean Casserole. It's festive, but healthy.

And of course, while I usually make them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, they by no means have to be served only at the holidays. I mean, green beans. Why not jazz them up for any time of year?

Garlicky Green Beans with Almonds and Cranberries

Serves 6-10 as a side dish

2 pounds frozen whole green beans (i.e., two 16-oz. bags)
2 tsp. sea salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened cranberries*
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, place green beans, sea salt and a few tablespoons of water. Steam over medium heat until beans are tender yet still crisp. Drain and set aside. Do not overcook!

Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over medium low heat. Add oil and garlic, and cook just until fragrant (do not brown garlic). Add the almonds, and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes until the almonds are slightly toasted. Add the cooked green beans and toss to coat.

Finally, take off the heat and stir in the cranberries. Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper to taste.

*Note: unsweetened cranberries can be tricky to find, but are so much better and healthier than sweetened versions like Craisins. I find mine in the raw nuts section of the grocery store, but you can also buy them online.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Construction Birthday Party

This past weekend we celebrated my favorite 4-year-old's birthday.

I can hardly believe my sweet little boy is 4! He has brought so much joy and laughter to our lives, and it's so bittersweet watching him grow from a baby into a little kid. I'm thankful he still loves to snuggle and yell "I love you mom!" from down the hallway at school. I pray those little moments last as long as possible!

Riker actually turns 4 on Saturday, but we'll be in Philly for the weekend - and I'll be going out on the town Saturday night to the Philly Pops / Andrea Bocelli concert with my sister, mom and Grandma (a gift from my sister on her wedding day, which I am SO excited about). We're going to take Riker to the Philly Zoo on his birthday since we'll be in that area, but since I won't be with him the whole night, I wanted to throw him a festive celebration the weekend before. We kept it small, just family, but I still wanted him to feel like it was a birthday party and not just a dinner; I let him pick the theme, and he went with construction. He loves all things dump trucks and bulldozers.

I got a lot of ideas from Pinterest of course, but came up with a few of my own as well.

The place cards were paint sticks that I nabbed from Home Depot. I bought a few small paint trays to use as dip holders while I was there, and honestly we buy so much stuff at Home Depot, so I didn't feel bad taking 12 of them. ;)

I found this little traffic cone at Party Fair, which actually had a sticker on it that said something about turning 30. I pulled the sticker off, and stuck a balloon weight underneath it so it could serve as a construction balloon holder.

The "lumber" were pretzel rods - and I was excited to find organic, whole wheat pretzels in my grocery store, finally!

Those little silver buckets came in handy yet again. Such a great buy - I can always find a use for them.

For dinner, Riker chose his favorite foods: homemade mac & cheese, chicken tenders (Matt made those) and roasted broccoli. It's the exact same meal he chose last year. The kid knows what he likes.

Riker also picked his cake design. Thankfully he picked one off Pinterest that I could actually pull off, since I'm not much of a cake designer. The one on Pinterest was absolutely huge, so I had to improvise using a smaller cake, but he loved it. He was so excited about the edible "dirt" on his cake.

Happy birthday my sweet boy. We love you!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wine Country Getaway & Oyster Mushroom Fettuccine

Last night we arrived home from a mini getaway to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Our friends Chris & Karla have been going to Seneca Lake every November for years, which is known for its huge array of wineries, beautiful scenery, farms, and local cheeses, chocolates and organic produce. All the wineries and restaurants pride themselves on serving locally grown and produced foods. Totally my kind of place. We've never been able to join them, but this year Matt's family offered to watch our babies for 2 nights so we could head off for a couples-only weekend away, and it was amazing. Matt and a few other of the others in our group are teachers and had off on Thursday/Friday, so we left early Thursday  morning and spent the better part of two days eating, drinking, hiking, playing card games, laughing and relaxing. It was so nice to spend some time just the two of us as well as quality time with good friends.

Some of my favorite stops included Silver Springs Winery (incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine maker, amazing malbec, and everything is organic), Magnus Ridge Winery (nice reds, they pair all their wines with cheese, and the service is great), and Glenora Wine Cellars (amazing lunch with a nice view). Grist Iron Brewing also had good craft beers, even better pizzas, and a view that can't be beat, and Two Goats Brewing was a good spot for a very casual night cap with the locals.

We stayed at The Fox and the Grapes Bed & Breakfast, and I would highly recommend it. Their view of the lake was gorgeous, and there were plenty of gathering areas both in and outdoors, so in the morning before breakfast you could sit and read quietly drinking coffee while gazing at the lake (one of my favorite vacation things to do), or chat with other visitors while drinking coffee and eating banana bread in the sitting room; and at night you could either drink wine and play games loudly in one area (clearly our preference), while others watched movies without being bothered in another area. The homemade breakfasts and snacks were also fantastic.

On our way home we stopped at the Ithaca Farmers Market, which my mom had told me was a must-do before leaving the area. She was right. The market was beautiful, filled with all kinds of local organic fruits and veggies, cheese, meat, popcorn (yes, local popcorn!), honey and bread vendors, as well as artisans selling pottery, wools, wooden kitchen tools and more. Not to mention there were about a million delicious things to eat onsite, and live music to top it off. I am so jealous we don't have a market like this by us; I would be there every Saturday.

We picked up a few things for the week, and when we saw the locally grown oyster mushrooms we had to have them too. I used them to cook dinner last night, and when you have mushrooms this delicate and beautiful, there is really only one thing to do. Pasta. I mean, what's one more day of carbs and butter after a weekend wine & cheese bender?

We scarfed down the pasta bowls before I remembered to snap a picture, but here is the basic recipe I threw together - and trust me, it was fantastic.

Oyster Mushroom Fettuccini

Serves 4

3/4 pound fettuccini (about 3/4 of a box)
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pound fresh oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. fresh herbs, chopped (use woodsy herbs - I used what I had in my garden: an assortment of sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Extra herbs for garnish
Truffled sea salt, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, leaving it slightly al dente.

In the meantime, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the mushrooms and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the salt, pepper and herbs, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the saucepan of butter. Toss to coat. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese, then toss again. Pile the fettuccini into bowls, and top with a sprinkling of extra parmesan, herbs, pepper and truffled sea salt. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Carrot Ginger Soup

It's been a really fun and festive weekend, filled with costumes, parties and of course treats. My brother- and sister-in-law throw an annual Trick or Treat party at their house, which happened on Friday. Our town always does trick-or-treat the day before Halloween because the fire department hosts a big parade on Halloween day.

I love the Trick or Treat party because it makes Halloween feel like a real event. We eat, we drink, we sit by a fire in the front yard, and we tour the rest of the neighborhood to see all the festivities. And their neighborhood takes it very seriously. The whole area is filled with decorations, haunted houses you can walk through, spooky pumpkin patches, music, smoke machines, fog horns, lights - you name it. Missy and Corey's contribution to the fun is a Halloween Photo Booth, where the kids can get their pictures taken in their costumes. The theme changes every year, and this year was a "Forbidden Forest". They are so artistic - I love how creative the photo booth is!

Riker wanted to be Spiderman, and Carson and our niece Lianna were "Mary Had a Little Lamb." I can't stand how cute they all are.

P.S. If you're looking for ways to curb the insane amount of candy eating that goes on around Halloween, we use the "Switch Witch". Riker is allowed to eat as much candy as he wants on trick-or-treat day, but then when he goes to bed, he leaves the candy for the Switch Witch, who takes the candy and leaves him a small present instead. It works great. I will say that we didn't even need to do it this year, because he only wanted to go to about 5 houses before calling it quits. No complaints here! :)


Since trick-or-treat happened on Friday, we were free to do some home celebrating on Saturday. Dinner, a family walk, and scary movies on the couch sounded perfect. I knew that I would want to make a mostly healthy dinner on Halloween since we'd be eating lots of snacks and treats at the party on Friday, so I had planned to make a Carrot Ginger Soup (healthy, yet festively orange) and see if I could draw some spiderwebs on them with sour cream. I had never tried it before, but it actually worked pretty well!

And bonus, I didn't even have to buy carrots. Matt pulled a huge bunch of them out of the garden yesterday, and they tasted sweeter and fresher than any carrots I could've bought. Having a fall garden is awesome.

I served the soup with "Spider Pizzas" that I made on Ezekiel English muffins with Muir Glen Organic tomato sauce (my homemade sauce, which I keep in the freezer, is just too thin for pizza), Organic Valley mozzarella cheese and sliced up black olives. These are so fun and always a hit.

I'd say we might just have our annual Halloween dinner figured out. And of course this soup does not have to wait for Halloween night. It's incredibly easy to make, really budget friendly (only a few inexpensive ingredients), healthy, and has great flavor. It's smooth, sweet, a bit spicy from the ginger and has a nice herby finish. I ate a bowl of it for lunch today with a kale salad on the side, and I'm sure it would be a good dipper for a grilled cheese. It's a good basic fall/winter soup, especially when you have a bunch of carrots to use up.


Carrot Ginger Soup

Serves 4-6 as a meal
Adapted from this recipe

2 Tbsp. ghee (can substitute butter or olive oil)
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth (I use Organic Better Than Bouillon
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
2 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup half & half
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sour cream (optional)

In a large pot over medium high heat, add ghee or butter. When melted, add onions and cook until translucent. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender - about 20 minutes.

Once carrots are cooked, use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth, then return to the pot). Add the half & half, salt, pepper, ground ginger and thyme. Stir until combined, and simmer 3-5 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, or make sour cream spiderwebs:

Sour Cream Spiderwebs
To make the spiderwebs, put about 1/4 cup sour cream into a Ziploc bag, then snip the corner. Draw a small circle in the center of the bowl, then a larger circle around that. Draw 5 diagonal lines across the circles. Then use a butter knife to pull sour cream from the center outward, all around the circle, until a "web" forms.