Yes, it’s still Sugar-Free January.
Yes, I know maple sugar is technically a sugar. My dad’s a diabetic, and people are forever coming up to him at church potlucks and saying, “I know you’re diabetic, so I made these cookies especially for you. They have no sugar, just maple syrup.”
Pro tip? Don’t be that person. Google is your friend.
Further pro tip: Do be the kind of person who thinks ahead in December, and specifically resolves to give up all refined sugars in January except for maple syrup.
See, I’m taking care of you. We all need a little diet-cheating now and again, and if that cheat is all-natural and comes from a tree, all the better.
This was the break room today — arrgh, so tempting.
This granola will make your house small aaahhh-mazing. It’ll make your boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) nose twitch and heart soften. You’ll sit down to hot bowls of granola, straight out of the oven, and wonder how you both got so lucky.
Granola: It’s what’s for dinner.
(Modified for Sugar-Free January from Minimalist Baker)
- 3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not the quick kind)
- 1 c. chopped nuts (whatever you have on hand; I used a mix of walnuts and pecans, but sunflower seeds or honey-roasted peanuts would be nifty too)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 T. cinnamon
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/3 c. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 overripe banana, smashed
- Combine all ingredients in large bowl.
- Turn out onto baking sheet (lined with parchment paper if you’re like me and don’t like doing the dishes). Spread evenly over baking sheet.
- Bake at 350 degrees F 25–30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once or twice to break up clumps. (Unless you like clumps. Clumps can be good too.)
- Serve straight out of the oven with milk and fruit, or room-temperature with the same. Enjoy!
There are some recipes that are all fancy and pretty and lovely. Those are the recipes you trot out for birthdays and baby showers and in-laws. Things like cherry–almond muffins, and grapefruit–olive oil tarts, and chocolate–tahini challah buns.
Wait. Why are all of my examples sweet things?
Dang Sugar-Free January. It’s got me all muddled up. Last week I ate a freakin’ banana and it was almost too sweet for me.
A banana. I know. Send help.
This taco tater-tot casserole is not pretty, but boy howdy, is it yummy. In fact, those are the two reasons I never got a picture of it: I couldn’t figure out a way to pretty it up, and a whole 9″x13″ pan disappeared in about two days.
I know. I have a problem. But when it’s a cheesy, meaty, spicy, filling, hot-dish problem … that’s a problem I can handle.
So, no picture today. And no written recipe, either, since I wouldn’t add a thing to the original. Instead, please enjoy the very pretty picture above of Castelmezzano, Italy, and then go on over to The Girl Who Ate Everything and check out the original recipe for taco tater-tot casserole.
Image credit: Castelmezzano from 12019 and minion from Alexas_Fotos, both on Pixabay.
Do you ever think of something, get excited by how innovative it seems, and then learn that it’s been done before?
I remember learning about McCarthyism in middle school, and realizing with glorious excitement how similar it was to the hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. Someone should write a book about that, I thought immediately. Someone should write a book with those two historical events in parallel. You can imagine my frustration when I discovered, some years later, that a brash young upstart named Arthur Miller had already done that.
Similarly, a few years after that, I was delighted to find out how deliciously pomegranate seeds paired with dark chocolate. I have discovered something amazing, I thought. I have discovered a bold new flavor combo that no one has ever tried before.
Oh, the insolence of youth. Not only was I not the first one to try this, but Trader Joe’s, I quickly found out, had already released a pomegranate chocolate bar.
But no matter. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean we can’t try to improve upon it, right? That’s what I attempted to do with this pie. The slight tartness of the filling … the mouthfeel of the whipped cream … the sweet saltiness of the chocolate crust … if you’re looking for a bold dessert to bring to a party, I’ve got just the thing.
- Pre-made 9-inch Oreo cookie pie crust
- 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 c. pomegranate juice
- Whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or pomegranate seeds to garnish
- Combine sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and pomegranate juice. (Would a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder add even more depth of flavor? Try it out and let me know!)
- Pour into pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15–20 minutes, or until the middle of the pie stops jiggling.
- Garnish with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or pomegranate seeds. Serve with coffee.
“What is that?”
“What’s in it?”
“… uh. Okay.” *backs away slowly*
You may be looking at this recipe through narrowed eyes. You may be tempted to skip it altogether. Perhaps you remember an unfortunate encounter with a veggie loaf that jiggled when you poked it.
This veggie loaf is 100% jiggle-free, I promise. Unlike my middle, which appears to have gained 14 pounds in the last year.
I know. What the heck. And I’m not even pregnant. I would make excuses, but … there just aren’t any excuses to be made. I’m just going to have to cut out whole milk and Chick-fil-A and orange rolls and all the other joys in my life.
This veggie loaf will help. It’s full of eggs and walnuts and breadcrumbs and other good things, and the barbecue sauce is tangy and sweet. Perfect for a cold winter evening.
Vegetarian meatloaf with apricot barbecue sauce
- 1-1/4 c. breadcrumbs
- 3/4 c. chopped walnuts
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
- 1-1/2 tsp. sage
- 3/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- 3 T. dried parsley
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 T. olive oil
- 2 T. lemon juice
- 6 T. apricot jam
- 4 T. ketchup
- 1 T. brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
- Mix breadcrumbs, walnuts, salt, onion, sage, cheese, garlic, parsley, and eggs until combined. Transfer to loaf pan.
- Combine oil, lemon juice, apricot jam, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, and oregano. Spread over top of loaf.
- Bake at 350°F until knife inserted in middle comes out clean (could be 40+ minutes). Enjoy with potatoes and something green.
Do you remember meeting your significant other’s family for the first time?
Do you remember what you wore? How nervous you were? Whether your significant other gave you hope, or reasons to fear?
(“Aunt Jeannie will be there. She … um. Well. You’ll see.”)
I just met my boyfriend’s parents and brother last month, and now that Christmas is here, I’m slowly meeting everyone else. The aunts. The uncles. The best friends and their girlfriends/fiancées/wives.
It’s been interesting. They’re all fiercely protective of my boyfriend, as well they should be. They’re all lovely, sweet, welcoming people, but I’ve been doing some serious PR work on my own behalf, let me tell you.
Fortunately, part of my strategy is baking, and everyone loves baked goods. For my first visit, I took apple crisp, which swifly disappeared. For this visit, I took banana bread. I accidentally left the eggs out, but you know, the bread still hangs together pretty well.
Just like this relationship will, I hope. Just like my relationships with this family will, going forward.
Browned butter banana bread with toasted pecans
7 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. butter, browned
4 c. flour
1-1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted
- Dice butter into small saucepan. Cook over low heat until just barely nutty-brown. Remove immediately from heat.
- Combine butter, mashed bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk.
- Toast pecans over medium heat in medium saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove when toasted, and combine with flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
- Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and stir to combine. Pour into two loaf pans.
- Bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool before removing from pan and enjoying.
Next in our summer salad series, which is as much a dedication to seasonal cooking as it is a Hail Mary intermission between cheese-filled pancakes and homemade waffle cones, we have this easy blend of watermelon, snow peas, and edamame.
And have you ever been told to put salt on your watermelon, to bring out the flavour? That’s what the dressing does, but through the vehicle of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Can life get better? I submit that it cannot.
(thrown together with what I had in my cupboard; for added flavour, try Joy the Baker’s original recipe: Snap pea, watermelon, and edamame salad with sesame vinaigrette)
- 3 c. chopped watermelon
- 2 handfuls snow peas, cut on the bias
- 3/4 c. shelled thawed edamame
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 T. Dijon mustard
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine watermelon, snow peas, and edamame.
- In lidded jar, combine oils, mustard, soy sauce, and seasonings. Shake to combine.
- Toss salad with dressing to taste. Store leftovers covered in fridge for up to four days.
It’s one of the hottest days of the year so far here, although you wouldn’t know it to look at my neighbours. I don’t think a day has gone by since Memorial Day that they didn’t have the grill fired up outside. Apparently sweat is weakness leaving the body.
As long as this heat wave lasts, I’m staying as far away from heat sources as I can. No pizza or soup or homemade baked goods for this girl. Even snuggling with my roommate’s cats is a bit much.
This salad definitely fits the summer bill of fare, though. I don’t know what it is about the snap of raw vegetables that feels cooler than cooked ones, but this dish has its fair share of crunch with broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Have some fresh asparagus spears you need to use up? Throw them in too. Sugar snap peas? Why not. Cooked chilled edamame? Have at it. This is your salad, my friends.
Green pasta salad
(based on Best Food Cloud’s ranch pasta salad)
- 1 lb. rotini
- 2 heads broccoli
- 4 carrots
- 2 green bell peppers
- 6 oz. plain Greek yogurt
- 1/3 c. milk
- 1 pkt. ranch dressing mix
- Cook rotini until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool.
- Dice broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers into bite-sized pieces.
- In separate bowl, combine yogurt, milk, and ranch dressing mix until smooth. (Based on how much whey is in your Greek yogurt, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of flour to thicken the dressing. If you like your salad extra flavorful, add up to 1 tsp. onion powder and 2 tsp. dried parsley.)
- Combine rotini, veggies, and dressing. Toss to coat.
Well, this is embarrassing.
Sorry about the month of silence. Let’s turn it into a game. I was:
a) in a coma after I heroically foiled a plot to blackmail the Duchess of Winnipeg;
b) abducted by space pirates and pressed into service on a mission to seize control of the galaxy’s last supply of pyridium;
c) super busy with the pre-Oscars press junket (you know how it goes); or
d) in grad school.
If you guessed C, you are … sadly mistaken. I weep with you. It’s D. But as my cohort’s Facebook page just reminded me, we’re in school for just 79 more weekdays! And then we’re done with school forever!
Or, you know, until our mid-life crises hit and we start thinking longingly of astrophysics.
Hey there, Centaurus A. I love it when you talk density to me.
In the meantime, it’s been a fun ride. Here’s a snippet of what’s been on my mind:
- Emotion-recognition technology: The future is here, and somehow it’s a lot creepier and a lot less jetpack-y than I was counting on.
- Righteous trolling: How being right can easily overtake recognizing someone’s humanity.
- #FITIN15: Jessica Smith might be my favourite YouTube workout leader — she’s always so positive, and she knows how to strike a balance between meeting people where they’re at and encouraging them to push themselves. Right now she’s doing a series called #FITIN15, which is a bunch of 15-minute workouts. Pair a cardio one with a flexibility or strength one, and it’s a great start to any day.
- Madame Tussaud: My current read. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but so far I’m loving the balance between the strong, complex protagonist and her turbulent, richly detailed setting.
- This soup-and-biscuit pairing. It’s been on my cooking bucket list for ages, but I didn’t have an excuse to make it until last week when a friend gave me some chevre. The soup is velvety smooth, with a mellow flavour that pairs well with the sharp tang of the goat cheese on top and in the biscuits. Next time I make it, I might roast the sweet potatoes before adding them to the soup, to deepen the flavour. For a special occasion, I might even caramelize the onions. But for an everyday winter soup, it works just fine as is.
Sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits
(From the inimitable Joy the Baker)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2-1/2 lbs. (between 5 and 7) sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 T. chopped fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. dried)
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. coriander
- 1/4 tsp. cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 8 c. liquid (I used 4 c. broth and 4 c. water)
- salt and pepper to taste
- goat cheese to garnish
- 2 c. flour
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 4 T. cold butter
- 4 T. goat cheese
- 1 c. buttermilk
- Over medium heat, warm oil in large stockpot. Add onion and cook 3–5 minutes or until soft.
- Add garlic, sweet potato, and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook 5–7 minutes.
- Add broth and raise heat to high. Simmer 15–20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
- In batches, liquify soup in blender. Return to stovetop and heat on low until ready to serve, garnished with goat cheese.
- For biscuits, combine flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
- Cut in butter and crumbled goat cheese until mixture resembles small clumps.
- Mix in buttermilk thoroughly. Drop onto baking parchment in spoonfuls. Bake at 425°F for 12–15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Image credit: Galaxy from WikiImages on Pixabay.
As I look at my post calendar, I’m seeing a theme.
In November, there was roasted garlic soup and spicy white bean stew. Today there’s going to be this broccoli–cheese soup. And in the not-so-distant future, there’s going to be French lentil soup and Tuscan bean soup and onion soup.
We’re big on soup here. I hope that’s okay.
Other things I’m big on, at least this week:
- Jonathan Coulton’s song “Ikea.” It’s everything you ever wanted in a song about everyone’s favourite elegantly furnished maze.
- A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter. Sure, it was published in 1909, but its themes of familial loyalty, independence, and staying true to oneself are as pertinent as they ever were. If you haven’t read it since you were a kid, try giving it another shot — I was amazed by the new nuances I caught this time around.
- Bath & Body Works’ Purple Amethyst lotion. Here’s how the pros describe the scent: “A hypnotic blend of Italian bergamot, rare camellias & exotic sandalwood.” Here’s my analysis: “Strong on the unicorn tears, with top notes of summer moonlight and the Jazz Age and a faint afternote of Nicholas Sparks.” Bottom line: It smells good.
- “Winterspell“, by Two Steps from Hell. Would you find tasks easier to accomplish in this dark, cold month if they were accompanied by a sweeping dramatic score? Look no further: Two Steps from Hell has your back. (Other favourites: “Spirit of Moravia“, “Cassandra“, and “Men of Honor Part II“.)
- The 2013 version of The Great Gatsby. This is preemptive praise — I haven’t actually seen it yet; it’s just been sitting in my “borrowed items” stack for longer than I care to admit. But given the reviews, I fully expect to enjoy it when I sit down to it tonight with my bowl of soup.
(adapted from Peas and Crayons’ recipe)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 carrots, diced finely
- 2 c. broccoli flowerets, diced finely
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/8 tsp. allspice
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. dried basil
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 c. vegetable broth
- 4 c. water
- 3 T. butter
- 3 T. flour
- 1-1/2 c. milk
- 1 c. grated cheddar cheese
- Warm oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion. Cook 2 minutes.
- Add carrot and broccoli. Cook 3 minutes.
- Add garlic, spices, and salt. Stir to combine and cook 2 minutes longer.
- Add bay leaf, broth, and water. Increase heat and cover pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
- In separate saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in flour to form a thick paste. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Continue to heat and stir until mixture has thickened.
- Add cheese to saucepan and stir until melted and incorporated.
- Ladle some broth into cheese mixture and stir. Gradually add more hot broth, stirring between each addition, until saucepan is full and cheese sauce’s temperature is similar to stockpot’s temperature.
- Pour cheese sauce into stockpot and stir to combine. Serve with green salad and crusty bread. Garnish with grated cheese, crackers, or fresh parsley if desired.
For a lot of people, winter’s not the best time of year. They’ll be rolling along just fine … and then BAM, winter hits them like a sledgehammer and it’s all they can do not to spend the next three months curled up in a lethargic ball in the corner.
Other people are more or less melancholy all year round, so winter isn’t so much a sledgehammer as an especially prolonged dip in the already hilly road.
Personally, I have the most success getting through winter when I view it as a military campaign. Not that I’ve ever been in the military, but I took a History of WWII class once and I’ve read The Things They Carried, so I have a sketchy idea of what it’s like. Work with me here. If you ask too many questions, the metaphor falls apart.
So here are my beating-winter priorities:
- Have a mascot. It can be super relaxing to spend some time with something that’s always happy to see you. I’m lucky enough to live with three snuggle-happy cats, but if you’re in a pet-free zone, try visiting an animal shelter every few weeks. If you’re still in college, many student wellness centers will bring in therapy dogs or a clowder of shelter cats for students to pet.
- Tune out the press. We all have those Facebook friends for whom absolutely everything appears to be going well. They’re forever posting about their killer workouts; their stellar grades; their fun, meaningful, high-paying job; their amazing significant other; the gourmet dinner they just hosted for 25 people; the coffee/quote/friend/salad that makes them #soblessed. If this makes you feel as inferior and frustrated as I do, consider unfollowing those people for a while. Better yet, take a break from the social media rat race altogether — it might help you regain perspective and re-realize that we all have our struggles and weaknesses.
“Never been sick a day in his life! Been sleeping through the night since he was 5 days old! Eats anything I give him! #soblessed #askingforfewerfollowers”
- Don’t dismiss the band. Put together a playlist that helps you rise above the blues. Some of my favourites are Two Steps from Hell’s “Cassandra“, Ingrid Michaelson’s “One Night Town“, and — yes, I’ll admit it — Hank Green’s “Shake-a-Booty“.
- Find a good drill sergeant. I’ve tried to follow Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred several times now, and I’ve never been able to make it a permanent part of my life. Then I discovered Jessica Smith TV, and I realized what was missing: encouragement. Her workouts can be seriously tough (second-position demi-pointe plié squats, anyone?), but she always projects kindness and the understanding that not everyone will be 100% up to the task right away. If this is what you need in a workout leader, don’t give up until you find one who works for you. It can make a huge difference in your motivation to work out — which in turn means you’ll be more likely to get the myriad physical and chemical benefits that exercise brings.
- Stay well-provisioned. Nothing brings me down faster than the realization that I have nothing in the cupboard except some stale bread and a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter. Cooking tasty, nutritious meals takes time and energy, I know — but it doesn’t have to take much.
- Find some buddies. You’re not alone in feeling down. In fact, the longer I listen to my Pandora comedy station, the more I realize that a lot of my favourite comedians have dealt with depression on a regular basis. This was a helpful realization on two levels: First, that human beings can turn those kinds of harrowing experiences into such beautiful art; second, that I can trust them to offer helpful advice. Here’s something Patton Oswalt posted recently that I found especially helpful:
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re in over your head. Calling my school’s counseling center to ask for an appointment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. It was really helpful to talk through various issues, face questions I’d been avoiding, and get some tools for managing my mental health more efficiently. Plus, I knew that I was in the hands of professionals who were uniquely qualified to evaluate whether I needed medication or more in-depth therapy. It was wonderful to hand that responsibility over to them, instead of trying to sort through conflicting advice from friends, family, and the Internet.
On the topic of provisions, I just made this casserole yesterday, and I can already tell that it’s going to become a standard this winter. It’s pretty easy to throw together, it’s fairly cheap, it’s filling, it’s got fantastically vibrant flavours, and it packs a nutritious punch. Perhaps best of all, one batch will feed one person for a week, and it freezes beautifully for the days you don’t feel like cooking.
Sweet potato–black bean enchilada casserole
(Inspired by these Sweet Potato, Corn, and Black Bean Enchiladas from Averie Cooks; seasonings adapted from The Creekside Cook’s Crash Hot Sweet Potatoes)
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, diced
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 tsp. salt (divided)
- 1 tsp. cumin (divided)
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1 c. corn
- 1 c. dry black beans, cooked until tender (or 1 can, drained)
- 6 large flour tortillas
- 1 small can of your favourite enchilada sauce, divided (I used 8 oz. of Chi-Chi’s mild taco sauce)
- 3/4 c. of your favourite salsa, divided (I used medium-hot Pace Picante salsa)
- 3/4 c. grated cheese, divided (your choice — I used pepper jack)
- Bring medium pot of water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender (~20 minutes).
- Drain sweet potatoes, reserving ~ 3 T. hot water. Add honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and rest of spices. Mash until smooth.
- Add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. cumin to black beans. Set aside.
- Spread half of the enchilada sauce evenly in large casserole dish. Add 2 tortillas to cover bottom of dish.
- Spoon half of the sweet potato mix, half of the corn, half of the beans, half of the salsa, and a third of the cheese over tortillas.
- Add 2 more tortillas and repeat step 5.
- Add last 2 tortillas and spread last half of the enchilada sauce and third of the cheese over the top.
- Cover in foil and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until cheese is golden-brown and bubbling.
- Serve warm with green salad. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days.
- Replace sweet potato with 1 medium butternut squash (cubed and roasted), or with 2 c. roasted or stewed pumpkin.
- Chop 3 c. spinach and add half to each layer.
- Garnish with sliced avocado, cilantro, and/or sour cream.
- Replace Pace Picante salsa with any of these delicious homemade options: pico de gallo, green tomatillo salsa, chipotle salsa, or cilantro–lime salsa.
Photo credits: Mother and baby from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.