The Top 5 Grocery Goodies to Fall in Love With This Year

A couple of weekends ago I did something amazing: I spent two full days at ExpoWest in Anaheim with 60,000 other visitors. ExpoWest is the ‘natural, organic, healthy’ red carpet of food shows; and, over 2,600 of the Who’s Who of food brands get decked out, strut their stuff, and highlight what we ‘must’ eat this coming year.

If you’ve never been to (or heard of) ExpoWest, imagine walking the isles of a 1-million square foot Whole Foods store. While people push and rub against you and force you to travel in baby steps, every single item is displayed, sampled, cooked-up, and/or served for your unlimited tasting. There are bright lights, music, yoga classes, speakers, massage chairs, colors, energy, savory smells of goodness, impromptu living rooms set up in booths where deals get done, and Disney-attraction quality displays where branded workers are tripping over themselves to hand pins, bags, stickers, stress balls, and sealed samples (some even full size!) of their products.

Gluten free, vegan, meat free, flower infused, dairy free, dairy rich, cricket-powder fortified (yes, I found a bar made with crickets as the protein source!), herbal… whatever your bent, ExpoWest had the goods.

It was a total hoot.

It’s taken me a bit to process it all. I’ve reviewed my brand materials, re-read ingredient labels, re-tested samples in the comfort of my own kitchen, and gathered reviews from my man and kids. And, now, here it is:

My TOP 5 GROCERY GOODIES TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS YEAR:

 

Better Bean Company

1)   Beans from The Better Bean Company. I love beans, as you know, and typically make my own. What I love about this company and their ‘rethought’ beans, however, is they’re made the way I would make them: with nothing but real, wholesome ingredients and no added sweeteners, added flavors, or chemicals. The Uncanny Refried Black Beans are exactly what you want to have on hand for an instant burrito night; top a bed of quinoa with some Rethought Red Beans, Cuban Black Beans, or Three Sisters Chili for an instant lunch (I break one pod into two lunches for my girls); or, try the Chipotle Bean Dip as a dip, or even as a base for a southwestern chicken tortilla soup! Every recipe they have is delish – and, the fact this company is run by a passionate and engaging father/daughter team makes them even more special in my book. (They cost about $2.50 / 14 oz pod, and you’ll find them in the refrigerated section beside hummus and salsa.)

Tumeric Alive Vanilla Bean Elixer

2) Tumeric Alive Vanilla Bean Elixir. Ok, I’m not a ‘drink’ girl that navigates too far from water, coconut water, and coffee. When I stopped and sampled the options from Tumeric Alive, though, I found a new indulgence: Tumeric Alive Vanilla Bean Elixir. (I say ‘indulgence’ because they’ll run you anywhere from $5-$5.50 a 12-ounce bottle.)  It’s not a juice – it’s a ‘herbal formula’ made of turmeric, ginger, cardamom, spearmint, honey, lemon, sea salt, cayenne, and vanilla bean. What I loved about the Vanilla Bean blend is it has some kick to it, yet was extremely refreshing and soothing to my talked-out throat. MMMM…. so good – and so much better for an afternoon pick-me-up than any coffee bar drink.

Epic Lamb Bar

3) Epic Bars. I was super leery about trying these ‘100% grass fed’ meat-based bars, but I did… and, thank God, because they are amazing. After tasting each of their four blends – lamb, bison, turkey, and beef – lamb was surprisingly my favorite. I felt like I was eating a really soft beef jerky with just a hint of sweet (from the cranberries). They’re geared for the Paleo crowd (but even non-paleo folk like me can dig ’em), and run about $2.75 a piece. The ingredients are clean and there are no added sweeteners – hooray! So, if you’re looking for a savory bar to keep on hand for after workouts, I’d give this a shot. (Use their product finder to locate a store near you, or order online.)

Nancys Greek organic-greek-plain-yogurt

4) Nancy’s Plain Greek Yogurt and Straus Plain Greek Yogurt. Since yogurt is one of quinoa’s best friends in my world, of course I set out to see if there was a yogurt brand I’ve been missing out on. And, you know what I discovered? Fage, move over – I have two new loves in my life:  Nancy’s Greek yogurt and  Straus Greek yogurt. Nancy’s is out of Oregon and Straus is out of California; I’m telling you about both because, depending on where you are, you may not have both choices. Either one, however, will knock your socks off. Super creamy, just the right tang flavor, no grainy taste, and fabulous consistency of each. (If you’re dairy free, try SoDelicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Unsweetened Yogurt, another one I really loved at the show.)

kolat

5) Kolat Espresso Hazelnut Superfood Fusion Fruit and Nut Butter. My kids beg for Nutella and, while we have one jar in the house for ‘special’ nights (I keep it high up out of the everyday intake because it’s literally a spreadable candy bar), I’ve told them when it’s gone, it’s gone and will never return. (Seriously – read the ingredient label.) This is why I was so excited to discover Kolat at the Expo. They make decadent tasting nut and fruit spreads with NO ADDED SUGARS. Serious! My favorite of their four recipes was the espresso hazelnut spread, and check out the ingredients: roasted almonds, hazelnuts, dates, organic coconut oil, ground espresso beans, and sea salt. No sweeteners, no preservatives, no flavors – just real good stuff I’m happy to keep readily accessible for all of us to enjoy. ($9.99 / 16 oz. Use their product finder to locate a store near you, or order online.)

Here are some other ‘must mentions’ to look out for:

Vegan Perfect Bar

Protein bars by PerfectBar. If you read ingredient labels for food bars, almost every one of them has sugar as a top four ingredient and a variety of other junk that should never be labeled ‘healthy’. (This is why I developed SmartyBars years ago – in rebellion to all the garbage!) Thankfully, however, I stumbled upon this fabulous bar at the Expo – and now I have something I won’t hesitate to buy: the Almond Coconut Perfect Bar. The founders have a great story. Plus, their bars really are ‘perfect’ with no added sweeteners, added flavors, or preservatives. (A few flavors do use honey, but honey is God-made and I have no problems with it in moderation.) I’ll hand these to my kids in a heartbeat.

Alter Eco Quinoa Dark Chocolate Crunch

AlterEco Quinoa Dark Chocolate Crunch Bar. A true treat: their gluten-free quinoa chocolate crunch bar. (I love they use Fair trade certified ingredients.)

chicapeas

Chic-a-peas. These baked chickpea snacks (plain and falafel seasoned) are a perfect lunchbox snack. Made of nothing but chickpeas, safflower oil, seasonings, and sea salt; and, perfectly baked to satisfy your savory cravings. (Hopefully coming to a store near you… and, until then, order online.) The company was also founded by two cutie-patooties from New York – and their passion and love for their products captured my heart.

There you go! Let me know if there’s a grocery product YOU’VE discovered that I should try out. I’m always looking for clean ingredient labels and good tasting options.

You Can Do It: Kale Pesto

I love pesto.

Pesto, for me, brings back memories of my junior year in Italy. Of friends and laughs and love and long, lingering dinners where we’d hang our legs over the Arno bridge at sunset and dream of the future.

Pesto is divine.

I don’t often make pesto in the wintertime since basil (the base for traditional italian pesto) isn’t growing like a weed in my garden. So, the other day when a sweet friend told me about making pesto with kale instead of basil, I knew I had to try it… and then: I fell in love.

Here we go:

Special tools:

  • Food processor with the blade attachment
  • microplane (or other fine cheese grater)
Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

  • 1 bunch of organic kale (remember: kale is one of the ‘dirty dozen‘, so always buy organic)
  • 1 handful organic arugula
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano regianno
  • 1/4 cup of raw walnuts
  • 3 garlic cloves (peeled)
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon (for zest and juice)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Chop off and discard the bottom two inches of your kale bunch, and then rough chop the rest.

Place half of the chopped kale into the food processor and chop until fine, like this:

DSC09057Then add in the remaining kale and chop until no large pieces of kale remain, like this:

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Add in the arugula, walnuts, whole garlic cloves, and parmesan (and yes, it’s okay if there are some larger hunks of the cheese):

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Re-cover and chop and chop for approximately 8-10 seconds.

Next, add in the zest of the lemon (approximately 1 tsp), juice from 1/2 of the lemon, salt, and pepper.

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Re-cover, and then, with processor ‘on’, slowly drizzle in your olive oil until mixture is smooth and ‘pasty’. And, when you’re all done, it should look like this:

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Now, what do you do with it you ask? I say: what don’t you do with it!

Pesto isn’t just for pasta, even though I think that’s what most people think of when they hear ‘pesto’. To the contrary: think of pesto like a condiment – something to add a punch of flavor to just about anything. (It’s like a cousin to Argentinian chimicurri.)

You can toss potatoes in it or vegetables in it, like I did with these leftover brussels sprouts from last night’s dinner:

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You can toss quinoa in it (which I LOVE to do) and use it as a bed for a perfectly fried egg:

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You can use it as a dip for raw veggies, like I did for my cherry tomatoes today:

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You can slather it on a piece of toasted, rustic bread with a little turkey and brie…

You can add it to soup, or meatballs, or use it as a spread for grilled steak or a hamburger…

You can even mix it with a really yummy yogurt to make a perfect yogurt dipping sauce like this:

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(For the yogurt dipping sauce, use 1 part kale pesto and 1 part yogurt and mix until incorporated. The Straus yogurt is hands down my favorite yogurt to use for this type of mixture because the texture is looser than most, and also because Straus uses real sweet cream buttermilk, which gives a delicious tang to the dip.)

The key is this: just make it. Once you taste it, I promise you’ll invent ways to creatively get it into your mouth.

Be forewarned, though… pesto brings on some serious garlic breath; it’s simply the price we have to pay for the amazing flavor pesto brings. But, no worries! Thanks to visual.ly, you’ll see what garlic is great for our health – but also how to kill the impending garlic breath 🙂

Garlic - Amazing Natural Cure for Your Health

by stedas.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

And, there you have it! You can do it kale pesto.

Thanks for being here – and I hope you’re leaving inspired.

You Can Do It: Homemade Fruity Greek Yogurt

One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is flavored yogurt. Why? Because it’s junk masquerading as ‘healthy’ for us.

Yes, I said it: JUNK… because flavored yogurt is filled with sugar and other nonsense we have no need of. (I’m not totally against sugar, but I like to keep it in it’s place.)

Let’s take a mainstream ‘blueberry yogurt’, for example. (By ‘mainstream’ I mean one of those yogurt brands that has 50 different flavors and is often found on special for 5 for $5.) This is what the ingredient label looks like:

Yogurt Ingredient List_Blueberry

Now, when you read a lable, you may not know this, but they are listed by greatest to least. This means the first three ingredients typically make up the bulk of the product; and, in this case, your first three are milk, SUGAR, and blueberries. So, you see what I mean? SUGAR is one of the top 3 ingredients and comes before blueberries, meaning there’s more sugar than blueberries! Yuck… and then you get down to stuff like corn starch, preservatives, flavors, etc. etc.

Now look at the nutritional label:

Yogurt Nutritional_Blueberry

You see that sugar content?? 26g of sugar is the equivalent of 6.5 teaspoons of sugar. 6.5 teaspoons!! And in one INDIVIDUAL serving!! Granted, yogurt and blueberries have their own naturally occurring sugars. However, the fact one of this brand’s top three ingredients IS sugar and the sugar came before the blueberries, I lean towards believing most of it is processed and not natural; and, hence, you will NEVER find it in my kitchen.

(If you have flavored yogurt in your fridge right now, go take a look at the ingredient label and the sugar content. Shocked?)

With all that said, because commercial flavored yogurt is so full of everything I totally REBEL from, I make my own… well, blend my own. Is it as sweet as the commercial stuff? No, not even close – but that’s why I love it! By keeping the hyper-sweetness of commercial brands off my tongue, my palate has been trained to appreciate the subtle, natural sweetness of what I make at home. (And, you know what? If I eat commercially produced flavored yogurt now, the hyper-sweetness is overwhelming.)

Now, don’t be overwhelmed at this idea! It’s very simple… and it’s all about your tools and your ingredients.

Before you begin, you’ll need to find some glass cups with lids, like these:

Ball canning jars and a storage jar and lid

Ball canning jars and a storage jar and lid

(You can buy a flat of Bell canning jars for about 12 bucks.)

Next, assemble your ingredients:

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  • Fage PLAIN greek yogurt (my favorite of all the greek yogurts)
  • Frozen fruit

(Notice I don’t list sugar, beet juice, corn starch, gelatin, or natural flavors… because we don’t need them!!)

Now, porition out about 1/2 cup of frozen fruit into each of the jars, cover/cap the jars, and place them in the fridge to defrost overnight. (I like to do several jars at a time before bed so they’re ready for me the next morning.)

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Once the fruit is defrosted, you’re ready to pulverize it so it will blend nicely into your yogurt. (There are many ways you can do this, but I don’t think I’d do it without an immersion blender. It fits right into each of my cups and clean up is a snap! So, if you don’t have one, I highly recommend spending the $35 to get one; it’s one of the best tools I have in my kitchen.)

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Add in about 3/4 cup of your PLAIN greek yogurt into each cup…

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Stir with a simple spoon…

raspberry/blackberry greek yogurt

raspberry/blackberry greek yogurt

blueberry greek yogurt

blueberry greek yogurt

mango greek yogurt

mango greek yogurt

And that’s it! Your very own homemade fruity yogurt!!

You can make up several jars and store them for the week. I like to pull them out for afternoon snacks and add in some precooked quinoa, or top a cup with some of my quinola crunch.

A few final thoughts that may be stirring up questions in your mind:

1) Which fruits are best? Fruits that mash well, like berries, peaches, mangos, pears, kiwi, pomogranates, bananas. (Apples would require you to cook them first to soften them.)

2) Why frozen fruit? I used frozen for this post because it’s February and not a lot of good fruits are available right now. (In the summertime I’d do all of my yogurt with fresh fruit.) Also, frozen fruit is often fruit picked in it’s prime and flash frozen, so it’s often just as sweet as when it’s in full season.

3) What if I want it sweeter than it is with just the fruit? Use honey. (I’m not an agave fan, but that would be my second suggetion.) I actually use honey quite often… but just a little bit, like a tsp or so. It adds really nice flavor.

4)  What if I don’t want to wait for the fruit to defrost overnight? You can put it into the cups and then put the cups in the microwave for a minute or two. (Just long enough to defrost, though… you don’t want them overwarm.)

5) Why greek yogurt? Because it’s nice and thick, which makes a particularly good base for this recipe. But, most importantly, the protein content is almost double that of regular plain yogurts. (If you choose to use a regular plain yogurt, it may be very watery – more of a drinkable than spoonable.)

If you’re a yogurt fan, I hope you’ll try and do this at home. It’s healthier, it’s cheaper, and, again, cutting out the processed sugars from just one more place is always a good thing… always.

Much love to you today.

 

You Can Do It: Mama’s Honey Vanilla Quinoa Granola (“Quinola Crunch”)

Honey Vanilla Quniola

Honey Vanilla “Quinola Crunch”

My mom’s dad was addicted to granola when I was little. He was a military man – very rigid and regimented, and when we stayed with them I knew one thing for certain: granola and milk would be my breakfast.

My grandpa would buy dozens of boxes of granola at a time. He bought the exact same brand and exact same flavor, and I could always count at least six boxes at a time being perfectly stocked side by side in the overflowing pantry. (I chuckle as I think of him standing in front of the dozens and dozens of granola options we have available today… how would he have decided?)

But anyway, with all that said, I guess you could say I have a special spot in my heart for granola… and for the sweet memories of childhood it brings to mind.

While I love granola, though, the problem I have with most commercial options (beyond the mere fact they are flat out expensive!) is they are filled with sugars, preservatives, and other junk. If you read the labels, it’s quite shocking, actually: some granola has even more sugar than the ‘taboo’ cereals like Frosted Flakes. Seriously! So, what’s a girl to do?

Make my own!

Today I’m sharing my Quinola Crunch recipe with you for several reasons:

1) It’s yummier than anything you’ll find on the shelf.

2) It’s made with nothing but amazing God-made ingredients (i.e. no refined grains, flours, or sugars).

3)  Making it yourself will save you a boatload of money.

4) It’s one more exceptional way to get a little more quinoa into your day!

5) I love you and I want you to be healthier by cutting out all the excess refined sugars you can.

So, you ready to wow yourself with your quinola-making abilities? Here we go:

Timing: It will take you about 10 minutes to put together, 20 minutes to bake.

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Tools:

  • baking sheet
  • large bowl
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • small glass bowl (or glass Pyrex measuring cup)
  • a large airtight container for storage

Ingredients:

DRY mixture:

  • 1 cup dried quinoa
  • 1 cup toasted buckwheat (“kasha”)
  • 1 cup whole oats (if you buy gluten-free oats, this recipe will be 100% gluten-free)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut ribbons
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

WET mixture:

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup pure coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to bake at 300 degrees on ‘convection’ setting; or, 325 in a regular ‘bake’ setting.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients into a large bowl. Set aside
  3. In a glass bowl, melt coconut oil for approx 45-60 seconds. Add honey and return to microwave for another 30 seconds. Using a hand whisk, whisk thoroughly; then, add in vanilla and salt and whisk again to fully incorporate all ingredients together.
  4. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix until all dry ingredients are coated evenly. Spread mixture out on a cookie sheet so that the mixture is about one inch thick.
  5. Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Remove sheet and carefully stir the mixture so that exposed surfaces are turned under. (Pay special attention to disrupt the sides and corners since those tend to toast faster than the center.)
  6. Return sheets to oven and bake for another 10 minutes. (NOTE: The key to cooking time? You’re waiting for the mixture to turn a beautiful LIGHT golden color. So, if the mixture is already looking golden when you pull it out after the first 10 minutes, you’ll want to return it for less time after stirring; and, if you don’t notice much change in color after the first 1o minutes, you’ll be able to leave it for a little longer in the second round.) 
  7. When baking is complete, remove trays from oven and allow quinola to cool completely right on the tray. Once cooled, use a spatula to carefully release the quinola from the pan. (The more gently you work, the more chunky your quinola will be.)
  8. Store in an airtight container.

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That’s it! It is sooo yummy… and an entire tray is sooo inexpensive to make when you consider how much ‘gourmet’ quinoa snacks and granola are going for these days. (I’ve seen granola similar to this selling for close to $20+ a pound!! And this recipe? It will probably cost you about $5 for the whole tray.)

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I love to just nibble on my quinola, or it’s especially yummy as a sprinkle over greek yogurt:

Quinoala Crunch and Greek Yogurt

Quinola Crunch and Greek Yogurt

A few final tips:

  1. You can find all ingredients in most bulk bins.
  2. Buy organic everything if you can… and look for ‘unsulfured’ dried fruits.
  3. The first time you make it keep a close eye on it so you don’t over toast it! Lightly toasted, lightly toasted, lightly toasted!
  4. The quinola continues to cook AFTER you remove it from the oven… keep that in mind! So, it’s better to pull it out a little under toasted than too toasted.

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you try it… and then come back and let me know what you think!!

Ladies, Meet Ataulfo


We are coming into the season of this bundle of sweetness: the ataulfo mango. Depending on where you find them they are also called “Manila” and “Champagne” mangos… our family just calls them candy.

They are amazing.

Juicy, vibrant in color, and string-less.

I just picked some up at our local Costco (every time I see them there I wanna do a happy dance!), and every nibble makes me feel like I’m back in the islands. When you find them you want them to be bright orange with yellow undertones and you don’t want them mushy when you give them a little squeeze. (If you buy them a little underripe, just put them in a brown paper bag for a couple of days and they will ripen right up.)

We eat them freshly skinned, over homemade pancakes or waffles, and, of course, over quinoa as either a super porridge breakfast or an “afternoon delight”.

Keep an eye open for them… I promise you’ll fall in love.

Here’s the recipe for the photo above:

  • 1/2 cup of quinoa (pre-cooked and cold out of the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 1/2 a ataulfo mango, diced
  • a sprinkle of frozen blueberries
  • a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut

Eat up, mama… that’s SUPER FOOD for sure!

Enjoy!