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!