Oregon Home Grown Chef

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Not Your Childhood Hot Chocolate

As a kid, hot chocolate didn’t do much for me. I realize that seems un-Americana. What could be more reminiscent of childhood winters than a steaming hot cup of cocoa, topped with whipped cream and stirred with a peppermint stick? Well, I was the kid who found that whole concoction rather cloying. I preferred my chocolate dark and in bar-form.

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Feel-Good Blueberry Smoothie

I can admit it. I survived the holidays thanks (in part) to a little beverage we call coffee. I went from my normal one cup per day, to two, even three cups a day in order to get it all done. And I did, for the most part, get it all done.
Here I sit at the first of the New Year, and all of that “hurry-up and get it done” busyness of the holidays has disappeared—leaving a handful of spare time in its wake. I’m also left re-evaluating the need for 3 cups of coffee a day. I love the ritual of it—the warm mug cradled in my hands, the rich smell of the dark liquid mixed with a little cream, and the desire it instills in me to curl up on the couch and read.
But, there are times when I am reminded of some advice I was once given, “When you really pay attention, how does your body actually feel when you drink that beverage or eat that food?”
Honestly, I can say that anything past one small cup of coffee doesn’t actually feel that great. My stomach isn’t thrilled with the extra acid and my already ramped up Type-A body could do without the extra adrenaline. That’s not to say that I will give up coffee. No, I love the ritual too much, but after the excessive indulging of the holidays, I feel inclined to be kind to my body.
Occasionally, I whip up a smoothie that never fails to make my body feel energized. The ritual isn’t the same as coffee. There’s a list of ingredients. There’s the noise from the blender. There’s the fact that the beverage is cold and I loathe being cold. But, my body loves it. I can actually feel my mind sending out little messages of elation to the far extremities of my body as I drink down the grape purple concoction.
I’m not sure why I don’t make it more often. Perhaps it comes down to the choice between cleaning the coffee pot and cleaning the blender, and I choose coffee pot. Whatever it is, I plan to use a bit of my newfound time to make my energizing smoothie more often.

 
Feel Good Blueberry Smoothie
My kids love this smoothie. They have no idea there’s a handful of spinach in there. Hopefully, they won’t read this.
Ingredients:
1 cup orange juice
1 banana, broken into chunks
a handful of spinach, approx. 1 cup
¼ cup plain or Greek yogurt (optional)
1 tbsp honey
a shake of cinnamon
1 ½ cups frozen blueberries
1 cup ice
Put the ingredients into your blender in the order listed above. Blend until smooth. Pour into 2 large glasses or 4 small ones. Drop in a straw. Drink and be energized!

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Meal Planning: A Holiday Stress Reliever

With the holidays upon us, our evenings grow a little busier and the time for cooking dinner can feel scarce. During times such as these, meal planning is especially beneficial. Meal planning is a time-saver, a stress reducer and it prevents me from unnecessarily buying or wasting a lot food.
I try to have my weekly meal plan written out by Sunday night. I decide how much time I have for cooking each evening, taking into consideration the activities going on during that specific week. Using the plan, I can then write out my grocery list.
Some weeks I’m organized enough to write out my meal plan in my planner. Other weeks it gets written down on the back of my grocery list while I’m at the grocery store. Some weeks the meal plan shows up on multiple Post-It notes that I stick on the fridge.
I don’t stress about the method, just that dinner ideas for the following week get written down somehow-someway.
To help myself out even further, I came up with themes for each day. When I’m stuck on what to plan out or I’m at the grocery store frantically trying to come up with ideas, I think of my themes and let them guide me toward a decision.
THEMES OF THE WEEK:
Meat{less} Monday: Could be a vegetarian meal or a roast chicken depending on my mood.
Taco, Thai or Tuscan Tuesday: Doesn’t have to be those specific types of food, but the idea is to choose a more ethnic dish to make.
In-the-Water Wednesday: A meal with seafood.
Throw It On the Table Thursday: Leftover night. I go through the fridge and throw on the counter any random bits of food that need to get eaten.
Family Friday Pizza Night: My night off from cooking. Pizza delivery.
Spontaneous Saturday: Maybe I found something at the Farmers Market that morning that I want to cook up. Or I want to try a new recipe. Or we want to go out.
Soup on Sunday: Just what is says.
Don’t overthink it. Simply make it a weekly habit to write down a dinner idea for each day. When the question, “What’s for dinner?” comes up … you’ll have an answer.

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Easing the Cold Lunch Routine

Here’s my problem with making school lunches in the morning: I’m not a morning person. By sheer will power, I do manage to get out of bed, stumble down the stairs and pour a cup of coffee. I then proceed to stare at the wall above the kitchen sink and wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. As the caffeine wakes up my brain, I remember, “Ah, yes, make school lunches … but what should I make?” And the staring continues.
 With the start of this school year, though, I have a new plan that will minimize the need to think in the morning, but will get the job done. This plan works equally well for “work lunches” also.
 Much like a meal plan for the dinner hour, each day of the week has a different theme to ensure a variety of lunches and not just the standard turkey sandwich every day. My biggest tip for easing the lunch-making routine: whenever possible, double your dinners.

 
Monday: Sandwich Day
I see the sandwich as a complete meal in a tidy package. Many of the below ideas can be toasted, wrapped in foil and stored in a thermos for a Panini-style, cold weather lunch.
• Pita pocket with hummus, carrot, red pepper, cucumber, avocado and spinach
• Sesame bagel lightly toasted with smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumbers
• Ciabatta roll with turkey, provolone, tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, pesto and mayo
• Kaiser bun with ham, Gruyere, whole grain mustard and butter lettuce
• Baguette with goat cheese, pesto, tomatoes and arugula
• Rye with pastrami, red onion, dill pickles, whole grain mustard, mayo and baby greens
• Whole grain bread with tuna, mixed with mayo and lemon pepper and romaine lettuce
• Rustic white bread with freshly ground peanut butter and Nana’s blackberry jam

 
Tuesday: Soup or Chili Day
For dinner, I make “Soup on Sunday” which makes it easy to use those leftovers for lunch later in the week (even freezing the extra if necessary), when it won’t feel like a spoonful of de ja vu.
• Vegetable
• Potato and corn chowder
• Ribollita
• Ham and white bean
• Sausage and lentil
• Tomato
• Chicken noodle
• Kielbasa and kale
• Minestrone
• Taco soup
• Pasta and pancetta
• Spicy pumpkin
• Chili: vegetarian, beef or chicken

 
Wednesday: Appetizer Day
Invest in some containers with dividers, and put together a medley of finger foods.
• Italian theme: cheese, salami, crackers, olives and Caprese salad
• Mexican Theme: guacamole, salsa, chips, bean and cheese quesadillas (kept in thermos) and pepitas
• All-American theme: cut veggies with ranch or spinach dip, trail mix, a hardboiled egg and applesauce
• Mediterranean theme: hummus, cut veggies, Greek salad and dolmas
• Breakfast theme: hardboiled egg, yogurt, whole wheat muffin/ banana bread, fruit salad and granola

 
Thursday: Pasta or Rice Day Again, make use of the Thermos.
• Ravioli with marinara
• Cold pasta salad
• Sesame peanut noodles
• Spaghetti with Ragu
• Pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes
• Chicken and rice
• Beans and rice
• Sautéed veggies and rice, and so on

Friday: Give Yourself a Break Day Use up any remaining leftovers, or have your kids eat school hot lunch. Sneak away with a friend or your partner for a you lunch.

 
Extras I always include a container with in-season fruit as a side, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for the sweet fix, and a Klean Kanteen full of water for a drink.