Unsweet spring

If you know one thing about me, I hope it’s that I’m passionate about life and the people I love. 

If you know two things about me: see above, plus I’m from New Hampshire (Granite State represent!).

But if you know three things about me… #3 may very well be that I have a serious sweet tooth.

I will skip dinner if it means saving room for pie, eat ice cream even in the dead of winter, try every brownie recipe you’re working to perfect. From Turkish delight in the food halls of London to chocolate croissants in Paris to caramel iced coffee on the banks of the Charles, I’ve loved it all. 

And for March, I’m trying my darndest to go without. 

I was inspired by my coworkers and this NYTimes article, and by the notion that cutting out added sugar for a month will reset my idea of sweetness. So far, that seems to be true – even butternut squash seems sweeter than it did before. 

And it’s also made it perfectly clear just how much sugar is in everything. 

I read Salt, Sugar, Fat a while ago and learned about the unfair advantage these ingredients have in modern food, and this month has shown me all the secret places sugar is hiding. Not just in dressing and jams, but in frozen bagels, chicken sausage, and crackers. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to buy yourself a snack in a coffee shop without drowning yourself in sugar, even if it’s through a “healthy” granola bar. And what do you bring to your friends who just had a baby or your overwhelmed coworkers but pastries and cookies and other sorts of overly sweet treats? And what do you eat at the movies?? (Confession: seeing about eight movies and theater productions in a month where I ate a bag of candy each time is part of what prompted this.)

I’m two weeks in with two weeks to go. My criteria is avoiding sugar (and related sweeteners, like honey and corn syrup) as an ingredient. So fruit is a go, and bread without added sugar and such is fine. But honey mustard and that delicious Skippy peanut butter are off the menu at least until April (and maybe longer). Learning to have coffee without copious amounts of sugar has been the hardest by far – and has taught me that I need to seek out better coffee, if I was trying that desperately to mask or improve the taste. (Goodbye office K cup coffee, hello Cafe Nero cappuccino!)

I’m joined in this quest by my mom, sharing moral/menu support from NH, and my roommate, Katie – so glad she agreed to this weird experiment because watching someone else have dessert when I am not would be my downfall for sure. 

Have you ever tried going without sugar or addressing other cravings? What would be the hardest for you to give up?

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Kitchen Adventure: Maple roasted pumpkin seeds

The best part of making this delicious recipe for Thanksgiving was seeing how incredibly easy it is to toast your own pumpkin seeds.  Where has this idea been my whole life??  They’re great for:

  • putting on top of stir-frys
  • adding to salads
  • snacking (dangerous, but good)
  • putting on top of a pumpkin pie

With one bag of pumpkin seeds, you can make at least 3 servings of this – plenty of time to try all the combinations you can dream of!

pumpkin seeds

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, coating the seeds with oil and syrup.  Pour into a foil-lined pan (rimmed cookie sheets work best, but I just used a baking dish).
  3. Cook until toasted – about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool before enjoying on top of anything and everything you can imagine.

Kitchen Adventure: Easy cheesy frittata

For those nights when you can’t get enough cheese… when you want to use as few pans as possible… when you want leftovers you can eat for a week – this meal is for those nights!

cheesy goodness

 

Easy Cheesy Frittata 

  • 1 large head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 whole eggs, beat
  • 8 egg whites
  • 2 cups cheese (I used a 4 cheese “Mediterranean” blend of sharp Provolone, feta, Kasseri, and Romano)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved, or two large tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Caramelize the onions in a small frying pan, cooking over medium heat with olive oil until golden.  Remove from pan and set aside in large bowl.
  3. Sauté the broccoli in a pan with water until it’s lightly steamed.  Add chopped garlic and cook until easily cut with a fork.  Add to the bowl with onions.
  4. Beat the eggs and cheese together, add to the bowl with cooked veggies and chopped tomatoes.  Mix together and transfer to large baking dish.
  5. Cook for 25-30 mins or until cheese is melted and eggs are set.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between!

Kitchen Adventures: Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts

This simple recipe is great for the end of a busy week and can accommodate almost any ingredients you have around.  Sub couscous for quinoa, add in other veggies, or include other proteins if you have them handy.

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Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 lb shredded Brussels sprouts (I got them precut from Trader Joe’s – one bag will do it!)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice – about one lemon worth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • goat cheese (optional, for topping)
  1. Cook the quinoa – one cup of quinoa to 2-3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 15-20 minutes for liquid is absorbed.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
  2. Add the oil, onion, Brussels sprouts, salt/pepper, and half the lemon juice to a frying pan over medium heat.  Stir frequently – when the sprouts get bright green, add more lemon juice and bell pepper.  Stir for about 7-10 minutes total, until sprouts are cooked but still crunchy.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan of veggies and mix well.  Serve hot or cold.  (I topped mine with goat cheese crumbles – SO GOOD!)

This made about four salad-sized servings – can’t wait to eat it for lunch later this week.

Enjoy!

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Kitchen Adventures: Quiche Tartlets

I am the definition of a breakfast person.

I could eat it three times a day – eggs for breakfast, cereal for lunch, crepes for dinner.  Bring me to a diner at any hour and I am 99.9% likely to order hash and poached eggs.  I simply can’t live without a good meal to start off my day.  But when I combine my love for breakfast with my tendency to hit snooze a million times (right family?), it gets to be an expensive habit that ends up with me stopped in at Dunks on my way to work.

Luckily, I saw this pin the other day and decided to whip up some planned-ahead breakfasts so I could save some money and time in the morning.  These tartlets came out great, and in 45 minutes, I was able to pack up 6 healthy breakfasts to eat and freeze for the week ahead.

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Quiche Breakfast Tartlets

  • 5-8 oz of baby spinach
  • 1 cup baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 links chicken sausage (optional)
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (low-fat preferred, or another kind of shredded cheese works too!)
  • 3 eggs and 6 egg whites (I use them from the carton) (alternatively, you can use 5 eggs)
  • Dash skim milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a frying pan, heat up 1 tsp olive oil and cook the mushrooms.  Cut the chicken sausage into small pieces (1/2 dime sized or so) and add to mushrooms, browning lightly.  Remove from pan.  Wilt spinach in frying pan. add to mushrooms and sausage.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Pour into lightly greased muffin tins, making sure that each section has all types of filling as well as some liquid.
  3. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until edges are browned and tops are solid.  Remove from tins and let sit before freezing/storing.

By the end, you should have 12 muffin-sized crustless quiches (mine actually made 5 mini muffins as well – use it all up!) which are each worth 2 PointsPlus each (I recommend two as one serving).  In one travel-sized bite, you have cheese, eggs, meat, and veggies, or as I like to call it “perfection.”

These quiches are super versatile to whatever you have in your kitchen – asparagus and red pepper, cheese and more cheese, garlic and onion, you name it.  My recommendation: go light on the fat, especially in the cheese.  I only had full fat cheddar around, and these were a little more oily than I would usually eat, but they’re still quite healthy and definitely delicious.

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What’s your go-to breakfast food?

Kitchen Adventures: Crockpot style

Things I love: coming home to the smell of something cooking.
Things I hate: anything that could feasibly burn my house down.

I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the idea of crockpots.  I just don’t trust them.  I know that they work for tons of people, but I just can’t wrap my head around intentionally leaving something cooking in my kitchen when I’m so far away.  So in my quest to get over this, I decided to take on a classic crockpot recipe today – with a twist – while I was out and about in the neighborhood.

The results were confidence inspiring and actually amazingly delicious – more so than anything I’ve made this way before.  The recipe is modified from a “Crockpot: the original slow cooker” cookbook I nabbed for $5 outside of Borders once upon a time.

Other than the delicious taste, this recipe wins because it just involves chopping some things up (no braising the meat, etc.), cooks at one temp the whole time, and doesn’t require you to buy tons of things you’ll never use in another recipe.  It’s also adaptable to almost any veggie – you can just use this as a starting point.  Definitely recommend for anyone who’s looking to spice up the old classic this winter!

Beef stew

Asian Beef Stew – Crockpot Style

  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut up – I got mine pre-cut into stew meat sized chunks at the deli
  • 1 head of celery, sliced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced – make your slices pretty thin, my carrots still had some crunch to them!
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (really, can use as little as 1 cup or as much as you want)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup beef broth (look for low sodium and low fat versions)
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce – the one weird ingredient!
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  1. Combine onion, beef, celery, carrots, and mushrooms in a large crockpot (the book recommends the 5-quart version, as though you have multiple sizes just filling your cupboards).
  2. Combine orange juice, beef broth, hoisin sauce, cornstarch, and curry powder in a small bowl – whisk together until cornstarch is dissolved.
  3. Pour into crockpot and give it a good stir – cover and cook on high for 5 hours or until the beef is tender.  When the beef is almost done (go ahead, peek!), stir in a cup of frozen peas and cook for a final 20 minutes or so.

Serve over rice, share, freeze, and enjoy!

This is definitely going in my list of easy favorites.  It has a great warmth to it, between the spiciness of the sauce and the curry.  The beef was so tender and tasty – I’m really looking forward to eating this all week.  Seriously!

What’s your favorite crockpot creation?  Had any major flops you learned along the way?

Kitchen Adventures: Tasty Tofu

Kitchen Adventures: Tasty Tofu

Yes, it exists. I love tofu in any form, but this recipe is the only one I can make and want to eat the tofu raw, and a few pieces usually get sacrificed to “taste testing” before they can reach the pan.

All it takes is mixing a few items together:
2 tbps Mirin (a sweet Japanese seasoning made from rice alcohol – keep this in your cupboard for tons of recipes!)
1 tbsp sesame oil (hint: you can get this cheap at the Christmas Tree Shop! I use it basically every day.)
1 tsp Tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp Teriyaki sauce (I used the low sodium version)

Optional:
Salt
Pepper
Chopped garlic

Cut up the tofu into small cubes and pour the sauce over the top. If you have time, try to marinade for an hour or two, stirring every once in a while. If you’re in a rush, just let this sit while you prep everything else.

You can either add the extra sauce to the pan after, or use it on a side dish – I threw mine, along with some extra Mirin and Tamari, over some asparagus I was cooking at the same time. Incredible!

What’s your favorite way to give tofu some flavor?