Easiest Weeknight Pesto Pasta

Easy pesto pasta

Do you practice Meatless Mondays? We generally do, which means the dinners I prepare for my family on Mondays are vegetarian. I can easily get in a rut because there’s only so much time and bandwidth I have to dedicate to dinners on a busy Monday night.

Enter pesto pasta. I’m not even talking about homemade pesto (although in the summer when I’m swimming in basil, I certainly will make a homemade pesto!) I’m talking about a good quality jarred pesto sauce, a simple noodle, and a few other things to help create a little more excitement. Pasta is exciting!

Here’s what you do, and it’s so easy it’s ridiculous. 1. Boil any type of pasta you have. I am partial to Banza noodles, which are made from garbanzo beans so they are naturally gluten free but also high in protein and fiber. They also have 25% fewer carbs for people who are counting. 2.When there are about two minutes left in cooking time, add in about a cup of frozen peas to the water. 3. Drain everything and throw into a large bowl. 4. Add as much pesto as you’d like, and sprinkle in as much shredded or grated parmesan that looks good to you. 5. Grate some fresh pepper and salt over the top and you have yourself a pasta that’s a *tiny* bit fancier than spaghetti and marinara sauce. If you have any cherry tomatoes, you can slice them in half and sprinkle them in there. Throw some fresh shredded basil on the top if you have it, but don’t worry if you don’t.

Reader, I make this dish on the regular, and my family likes it. It feels hearty and healthy but is also so easy it’s ridiculous.

A friend once told me she felt overwhelmed by all the nutrition advice out there, so she didn’t even bother making dinner anymore, opting for takeout because she felt like she just couldn’t win. This penne pasta is the thing for anyone who feels that way. Or for people like me who have a nutrition certificate and *still* feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feeding your family shouldn’t be full of strife and confusion. A jar of sauce and a noodle is infinitely better than drive-through food. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

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Cocktails: The Pamplemousse

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

It’s been a minute since I featured a cocktail recipe. I’m still trying new ones, though, so here today is one that I had recently I thought you all should know about.

But back up a second. You’ve heard me talk about our Crappy Dinner Parties, right? This past Sunday, one of our gang suggested having waffles. How fun is that?! So we divvied up the responsibilities while still trying to keep it crappy-adjacent. We had two waffle irons going, and on the side we had homemade whipped cream, berries, bacon, sausage and fruit salad. Nothing fancy (but as a side note: it was the most excited I’ve seen all of our kids get about CDP)

What *was* a little fancy was the cocktail the hosts Catherine and Mark made. I think we should be allowed to have a not-so-crappy Crappy Dinner once or twice a year, don’t you? Mark and Catherine thought it would be fun to have a brunch cocktail to accompany our brunch for dinner and it was delicious! And to think of it, Mark kept it crappy by spilling a bunch on the floor.

Featuring fresh grapefruit and lemon juices, it was the perfect cocktail to accompany our Crappy Brunch Party. Here it is!

INGREDIENTS:

1 ounce gin (preferably dry)

1/2 ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur

1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice (I sometimes buy it pre-squeezed in bottles at Whole Foods)

1 large basil leaf or a sprig of thyme, for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS:

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the ingredients except the garnish and shake well. Pour through a fine strainer over an ice sphere or straight up and garnish with the basil leaf or thyme sprig.

Cheers!

Spooky Sips: Weekend Cocktails, Halloween Edition

weekend-cocktails

If you have read my blog you know how much I love a good fun cocktail. If you’re new to my blog, you might be thinking “But she’s a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant! How can she also promote drinking cocktails?”. Good question! My approach to wellness is to follow the 80/20 rule. That means 80% of the things I eat and drink promote health. The other 20% is devoted to pure enjoyment. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the things that fall in the 80%. For instance, I can’t tell you how much I love to bite into a caramelized balsamic glazed Brussels sprout. But the things in the 20%, such as cocktails and the occasional handful of peanut M&Ms fall solely into the treat category.

So, occasionally I will post a cocktail recipe for the weekend. I get a lot of enjoyment out of trying new cocktails. We frequent some restaurants nearby that have a strong cocktail game. It’s always a highlight for me to try them. For instance, the last time I went to one of my favorites, Lake & Irving in Uptown, Minneapolis, I tried something called “I Didn’t Say Banana” which featured house rum blend, coconut water, banana, lime, and Peychaud’s bitters. Delicious!

I’m not capable of making such a fantastic concoction so at home I tend to stick to my old favorites like the Aviation or a simple G+T. However, I think I could easily swing this Monster Mash Margarita. I love blood orange juice and I love a margarita, so I feel like I can’t really lose here.  Since I have most of the ingredients it will be easy to whip up.

For more ideas, try this list of 34 easy fun Halloween inspired cocktails.

I hope you have a Happy Halloween!

close up photo of halloween decors
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Make Each Day Of The Week Unique (plus a new carnitas recipe!)

I wrote a post in July about my new dinner plan, which is to “make each day of the week unique”. You can read about it here. I’m excited to be implementing it now that the school year has started and things have gotten pretty busy with sports practices\matches, theater set design, and orchestra rehearsals for my daughter, and meetings for me and my husband. More than ever, I need focus when it comes to meal planning. The premise is to assign each day of the week a theme (Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc) so that it’s easier to plan the week’s recipes.

When I was poring over recipes yesterday morning trying to figure out what to make this week, it was so much easier to decide using my new system. I’m telling you, I am really on to something here!

Here is this week’s dinner plan. Thursdays are kind of a catch-all day. We usually have a good amount of leftovers in the fridge, and sometimes we will just fend for ourselves. On Friday, without exception, we go out or order in. The kitchen is always closed. This tradition has been going on since my 13 year old was a baby and I look forward to it every week. On Sundays we get together with our close friends and neighbors for our Crappy Dinner Party which I cannot recommend highly enough. Dinner Plan

Next week for “Taco Tuesday” I have promised my family I would make these Pork Carnitas. I made them for a friend on Saturday in my Instant Pot and they were so good (and very easy)!

Here’s to a great fall ahead!

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Easy Dinner Plan

cookbook

Most every Sunday I sit down with a mixture of cookbooks, magazines, recipe files and swirling thoughts to try to map out the next week’s dinner menus. I collect cookbooks and recipes the way some people collect baseball cards or coins. I love recipes, I can’t get enough of them, but there are SO. MANY. And when it comes time to figure out weeknight meals I do feel sometimes as though I need a little guidance.

I read a tip somewhere recently to make each day of the week a unique *type* of cuisine to help guide things along. Taco Tuesday is a popular night, but can you really eat tacos every week without someone in your family complaining that they are getting sick of them by month six (I mean, in my family the answer is no, but I realize we don’t represent all families)? So instead of tacos, you could designate Tuesdays for Mexican food night. Rather than it just serving tacos, you could also incorporate an easy pozole , burritos, chilaquiles, make your own Chipotle bowls, etc.

This tip was kind of a big deal for me, and I laid out a plan for our week that I think will work nicely. Every so often, maybe quarterly, I can mix things up a bit so that I have a chance to use all my recipes that I love so much.  This plan will work well during the school year, when we are on a little bit more of a regular schedule.

Here’s my weekly plan:

Monday: Meatless Monday (usually a pasta or another grain)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (or any Mexican inspired dish like chilaquiles, burritos, or this Easy Posole)

Wednesday: Fish (salmon, poke bowls, shrimp kebabs, etc)

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: KITCHEN IS CLOSED, OUT TO EAT

Saturday: John grills or smokes meat

Sunday: Comforting soup or a roast, or any other more complicated, time consuming dish that sounds good

I am really excited about this new approach to planning meals, and I think it’s going to work well for us.

Do you use a system like this? How does it work for you? What are you ideas for days of the week? Please leave a comment below!

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Giant Scallions

This summer I am in a CSA share with my good friend Shawn. In case you didn’t know, CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a seasonal “share” from a local farm and each week you receive a box of produce (or cheese or whatever that farm specializes in). If you want to learn more and find a farm near you, click here. Anyway, we both have families of three so our boxes get split up very evenly and it’s a nice way to try new fruits and veggies. For instance, in yesterday’s box there were a smattering of gooseberries, which I had never tried. That was fun.

Also in yesterday’s box were the most gigantic scallions (also known as green onions) I have ever seen. One of these scallions probably equals four or five store-bought scallions. I got very excited because I adore green onions in any format. In fact, when I was a child, my grandma used to serve them raw on her veggie plate at her annual backyard BBQ and I would gladly gobble them up. I pity the fool who smelled my breath after that.

scallions
Giant scallions from the CSA

Onions are a powerful source of antioxidants and are part of the Allium family (along with garlic). They are rich in anti-cancer compounds called phenols and flavanoids. They are also rich in alliinase which is believed to be heart protective. They are anti-inflammatory and overall a very healthy food to add to your regular diet.

I got a little overwhelmed with the size and quantity of the scallions yesterday so I asked on my Cultivate Wellness Facebook page for cooking ideas and got some great ones. I thought that I would compile and share some of them here so you, too, can be empowered in your scallion cooking journey.

How about Tessa’s idea to make some Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce?

Maria says “My favorite way to cook green onions is in a cast iron skillet with olive oil, salt and lemon pepper! I do it on a medium/high ( depending on your stove) you want the onions to break down and get a little char! It’s about a 10 min cooking time.”

Lara suggested adding them to a batch of cold Potato Leek Soup (I can get on board with that! Plus we got potatoes in our box this week, too).

Allison wrote that she was using her CSA scallions to make a Minty Orzo Salad with Grilled Beef. That recipe isn’t available online but here’s one that looks ah-mazing.

Sally used her giant scallions to make Crab Cakes. I do love a crab cake.

Molly likes to make Smitten Kitchen’s Spicy Green Onion Slaw recipe, which looks absolutely delicious. I love a slaw in any form.

How fun that so many people participate in a CSA?! At least a couple of the readers who chimed in with ideas got their giant scallions this week too. I love that.

If you have a favorite scallion/green onion recipe, please leave it in the comments! Happy cooking!

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Friday Cocktails: The Pimm’s Cup

Pimms Cup
The Pimm’s Cup

I think the first time I heard about a Pimm’s Cup was reading about the Royal Family in a magazine, probably featuring Prince William and Kate Middleton at Wimbledon.  Ever since I found out about this refreshing and less boozy cocktail that is so popular in England, I’ve wanted to try one. Last weekend when I was shopping for a new bottle of bourbon for my husband for Father’s Day, I saw that the liquor store carried Pimm’s. At $18 a bottle, I figured I had nothing to lose and that I could check something off my bucket list.

Pimm’s Cup is made with Pimm’s No. 1, a concoction made out of “gin with herbal botanicals, caramelised orange and delicate spices”. Doesn’t it sound just delightful? It’s got an amber color that looks just beautiful in a glass.

Still, I was dubious. I sent my British friend Sally a text from the store that said “Is this gross?” and she immediately responded that it was delicious and then gave me some tips on how to make it authentic (“cucumber and mint a must, and orange slices rather than lemon or lime”). She also said that she likes hers with ginger ale rather than lemon lime soda. Done (except I also opted to use lemon slices too).

I stopped at the market for fresh oranges and cukes, and some Fever-Tree Ginger Ale. I like Fever Tree because it’s made with real ginger and doesn’t have artificial ingredients. The taste is more nuanced than other ginger ales, but any brand will do. I have fresh mint growing in my backyard and there are always lemons in my refrigerator. I eagerly set off for home so I could finally try the cocktail that has piqued my interest for so long.

I was very happy with the result, and can understand why it is so popular. It’s sweet without being cloying, and the delicate bubbles are refreshing. It’s also just a beautiful cocktail to look at. My husband took a sip and promptly said “will you make one for me?” He doesn’t generally like a sweeter cocktail, so I was surprised. I gladly poured him his own Pimm’s Cup and the rest is history.

This cocktail is perfect for your summer BBQ or other gathering, as it is refreshing and light on the booze. It’s celebratory but easy to make. And since it’s British, it feels super fancy.

INGREDIENTS:

2 oranges, sliced into rounds 

2 lemons, sliced into rounds 

About six slices of cucumber

2 cups Pimm’s No. 1 

4 cups ginger ale 

6 to 8 large sprigs mint plus more for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a pitcher, add a layer of orange slices, lemon slices, and cucumber slices. Repeat until gone. Pour in the Pimm’s and ginger ale, and mix with a long-handled spoon, making sure to muddle the fruit a bit to release the flavor.  In each individual glass, place a sprig of mint and muddle with the end of a wooden spoon (more or less, depending on how much mint flavor you want).  Add ice and fill with cocktail mixture, placing some of the fruit slices into each cup. Garnish with mint.

 

Enjoy!

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Friday Cocktails: The Classic Dirty Martini

dirty martini

There are some things in this life that just make me so happy. An expertly made dirty martini is one of them.

For those who don’t know, a dirty martini is one in which olive brine has been added. It gives it a salty flavor that can’t be beat. My husband hates olives. which I find so hard to understand. He likes capers, so I feel like eventually, like maybe when he’s 50, he might suddenly realize he actually likes olives too? This is psychological thing that probably isn’t worth pursuing.

Some people shake their martinis, some stir them. Some (like me) order them “extra dirty” which means lots of olive brine. You can make them with gin or vodka (I prefer Tito’s vodka). At any rate, I don’t think I’ve met a dirty martini I didn’t like. They are very simple to make, but quite elegant. If you want to knock the socks off of someone, make them a martini. They will marvel at your sophistication.

Another thing about a simple martini is that it’s free of added sugars. A lot of cocktails have simple syrup or liqueurs which are so tasty and I love them, but they have lots of sugar. If you are trying to cut back on your sugar consumption (which, frankly, is a good idea for just about everyone), then a martini is a really good bet. If you hate olives, you can also just order a vodka or gin martini “with a twist” which means it comes with a twist of lemon rather than olives. You can also order them with onions! It’s like a snack in a glass.

Here’s your basic recipe. It’s already perfection so I don’t recommend messing with it.

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • Ice cubes
  • 2 ounces vodka (I like Tito’s) or gin (I like Prairie Organic)
  • 2 teaspoons olive brine (4 to 5 teaspoons for extra dirty)
  • Splash of dry vermouth
  • Green olives (you can use blue cheese olives if you’d like)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Add vermouth to cocktail shaker first. Swirl to coat the inside. Fill the shaker with ice. Add vodka and olive brine; shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lots of olives. ENJOY!

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Friday Night Cocktails: The Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca

agua fresca

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, it’s a new cocktail recipe! But first, if I asked you what the significance of Cinco de Mayo was, would you be able to answer? If you said “Mexican Independence Day” you’d be…not right. Mexican independence is actually celebrated Sept.16. Instead, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces of Napoleon III on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. It has really become more of an American holiday excuse to drink margaritas.

Today I would like to introduce you to the Agua Fresca, which is a traditional Mexican drink that when translated means “fresh water”. Aguas Frescas are designed to beat the heat of summer and are refreshing and delicious. They are typically made of fresh fruit, water, and optional sugar. If you want to know more about aguas frescas, click here.

This delicious recipe would be perfect for a BBQ, and I guarantee the kids would love it. To make it “adult”, add a shot of vodka or gin to each serving.

Not for nothing, but watermelon is full of lycopene (actually it has the most lycopene per serving than any fruit or veggie) which is a powerful antioxidant. The lime juice has a good deal of vitamin c and mint is great for soothing the digestive system, which is perfect if you’ve overindulged at the BBQ. If you add just a bit of sugar it makes for a yummy treat that doesn’t include artificial colors, flavors or other additives.

This recipe, adapted from Epicurious, serves about 6.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup sugar

5 cups peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped watermelon (from about a 2 1/2-pound watermelon). Make it easy on yourself and buy pre-chopped watermelon if you desire.

1/4 cup fresh lime juice. I( also like prepared lime juice such as this one. I do this about 50% of the time)

Mint sprigs for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine mint leaves, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small pot. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Transfer mixture to a heatproof container and chill, uncovered, until cool, about 30 minutes.

Strain mint syrup into a blender; discard mint leaves. Add watermelon and lime juice and blend until very smooth. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain into a pitcher; discard solids. Add 2 cups water and stir well to combine. Serve with mint sprigs. If bubbles are desired, top off with a splash of soda water.

Aqua fresca can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for up to 1 day.

 

Enjoy!

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Photo credit: Pixabay

 

Portobello “Burgers”

Last night was Sunday, which made it Crappy Dinner Party night. Haven’t read about our weekly CDP? I recommend doing that right away, and then laying plans for your very own regular Crappy Dinner ASAP.

It was my husband’s birthday this week, so we hosted. He wanted to grill burgers and dogs, which are super yummy and yes please to all of that. However, if you are trying to reduce your red meat consumption or are vegetarian or vegan, I find portobello burgers to be a really worthy substitution. (Recent studies seem to show a correlation between eating meat of any kind of your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Studies also show that eating meat raises your risk of cancer and heart disease. This is not to say you have to give up meat entirely, but rather substitute some of your meat choices for vegetarian choices instead. Click here for an explanation and some tips.) You still get the meaty texture when you bite down, and the mushrooms soak up any delicious marinades you throw their way. Top with sautéed onions, a slice of cheese, and pickles and I guarantee you will enjoy your experience!

Here’s the marinade I use to make my portobello burgers.

INGREDIENTS:

4 portobello mushroom caps

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil (avocado oil has a higher smoke point)

1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

Mix all ingredients together and pour over the mushroom caps, turning every 15 minutes until time to cook, making sure to pour the mixture into the underside of the mushrooms before grilling. Throw on the grill and cook until desired doneness.

If you’d rather put them in the oven, preheat to 425°, place mushrooms stem side down in a baking dish, and roast for 18-20 minutes.

portobello grilled

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