Tuesday, June 26, 2012

 I updated this post with a photo, so you can see what you're making.  I think it's worth re-posting because it's been such a hit around my kitchen this summer (so far), that it might create some lunchtime smiles in yours!

This summer, my son Casey learned to swim.  He came close last year, but this year he got it.  One of the things I love most about Casey is his fierce spirit.  He committed himself to making a swim team, and now he's on it.

What does that have to do with food, you might wonder?

If you have a food-allergic or otherwise food-challenged child, I bet you know right away what this has to do with food.  Trying to ensure good nutrition and adequate calories in a child who is limited by biology (not to mention choice... darn pickiness!) can be demanding, to say the least.  Add in twice-weekly swim practices, and what's a mom to do?

Vegan Chocolate Spread
Chocolate Sunflower Spread

Luckily, there are some great resources out there to help make the job of packing a socially acceptable, tasty, nutritious and most-of-all safe lunch a little bit easier.  One of those resources is the fantastic blog, Diet, Dessert and Dogs written by Ricki Heller.

If you don't know this blog, I encourage you to check it out--and soon.  First of all, Ricki is a completely entertaining writer.  Even when she's cooking up something that won't work for our family, I still love to read the little essay that goes with the recipe.  Lots of times, though, she inspires me to think about ingredients in a new and different way.

Ricki came to the rescue of Casey's lunch box with a recipe for Chocolate Bean Butter.  Casey loves chocolate, so it really struck my fancy to make a refined-sugar-free chocolate spread made with beans.  I don't usually cook with stevia, so I had to make some changes in the sweeteners, but I was committed to trying to keep it in the spirit it was intended.  I used a little agave nectar along with the coconut palm sugar and stayed away from cane sugar.  The flavor was a little grown-up for my boys, so we added in some sunflower seed butter to bring to mind our favorite Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter Cups.  My younger son, Evan, still has other favorite spreads, but this Chocolate Sunflower Spread is hitting the jackpot for Casey right now.

Chocolate Sunflower Spread (adapted from Ricki Heller's Chocolate Bean Butter)

1 can Great Northern, canellini  or black beans, drained and rinsed
5T cocoa
2T coconut palm sugar
pinch of salt
3T coconut oil
1t vanilla
3T agave nectar
2T rice milk
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vegan Smoothie Ice Pops

What's your favorite season?

I think mine's summer.  This wasn't always the case.  I was kind of a shy kid, not too athletic, so although I enjoyed being off from school, I didn't necessarily LOVE summer.

Now I do, though. Becoming a mom transformed my summer affection into full-bloomed adoration.  I count the days til my kids and my teacher-husband are off of school.  I seek out pool schedules long before the pools are open and weigh the various merits of our local beaches (because Chicago IS a beach city).  

I live in a two-flat with my sister and her family, so summer is even more full of giggling, backyard kiddie-pool playing fun.  Since my sister is also a teacher, our days are especially joy-packed.

As I said, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE summer.  Summer means fresh-cut watermelon and frozen treats.  Today, it also means spinach.  What?  Spinach in a fruity, cold smoothie that we turned into ice pops.

We freeze up lots of healthy concoctions in our ice pop mold.  Making our own ice pops allows me to choose the ingredients I want to include (natural sugars from dates and other fruits, no-added sugar coconut milk, spinach or kale, etc.) and want I want to keep out (artificial colors and flavors, for example).  How about some orange juice mixed up with no-sugar added coconut beverage?  How about a smoothie?

Here's the recipe for the smoothie that we made this week. (Blueberries were not part of the original idea, but the color was really yucky!  The purple from the blueberries made all the difference.)  Feel free to freeze up whatever strikes your fancy!

What's your favorite season?

Spinach and Fruit Smoothie
Makes approximately 5-6 cups

 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen mango
1 cup spinach
1 cup blueberries
2-3 dates, pits removed
4 cups non-dairy milk (I used So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk beverage.)

Blend all ingredients thoroughly.

I shared this with Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, Allergy Friendly Friday, and Wellness Weekend.

Happy Cooking!

Find more tasty recipes in Welcoming Kitchen: 200 Delicious Allergen and Gluten-free Vegan Recipes.

Monday, June 11, 2012

For the first time since I moved into my current home, 6 1/2 years ago, I am growing a garden.  Yay!!!!

In my old neighborhood, there were lots of feral cats.  It turns out that feral cats are helpful for the urban gardener, as they keep unwanted (and I mean unwanted) pest populations under control.

In my current neighborhood, there are no feral cats, so I have to be very careful not to create a welcoming environment for unwelcome guests.  Therefore, no backyard garden other than herbs in a window box.

To my great delight, the absolutely fantastic Peterson Garden Project opened several community gardens on the northside of Chicago, and I got a spot with my friend, Dani, in a garden one mile from my house.

Urban Garden Raised Bed
Our Garden, Day 1!

We're growing cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, beans, lettuce, peppers and cauliflower in our 4x6 garden spot.  It's going to be great to eat food that we've grown.  We're already having a blast gardening with our kids.

Until, then, though it's farmers' markets and grocery produce for us!

To turn my carrot sticks into a fresh lunch, I created a bright, lemony dip with ingredients from my pantry and some fresh lemon.  It has no added fat, and it's rich in fiber and protein.  It would make a lovely base for a sandwich with fresh tomatoes, greens and cucumbers, too.  (Hmmm ... I can't wait til my garden's ready!

I made this very lemony by using two small lemons.  For a more subtle flavor, just use one. 

This would be a great addition for a Meatless Monday lunchbox!

Lemon Artichoke Bean Dip

I shared this recipe with Allergy Free Wednesday, Allergy Friendly Friday, Wellness Weekend and  Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.

Lemon Artichoke Bean Dip
Makes 2 cups

1 15-ounce can canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 large garlic clove
zest and juice of 1 or 2 lemons (depending on preference)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Puree all ingredients together in food processor or blender.

Happy Cooking!

Find more tasty recipes in Welcoming Kitchen: 200 Delicious Allergen and Gluten-free Vegan Recipes.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dairy-free Fruit Sundae
Fruit Sundae

If you read my blog, you know that I LOVE dessert.  

I adore baking.  It thrills me to have my house all warmed up and smelling like cinnamon and chocolate.  

Wait a minute.  All warmed up?  It's summer!

What's a gal to do who loves her sweets, but doesn't want to heat up the kitchen?

Turn to naturally sweet fruit for the foundation of summertime desserts, of course.

Today, on The Balanced Platter, I have a recipe (can you still call it a recipe if it's really easy?) for a vibrantly hued summer fruit sundae that's as pleasing to the belly as it is to the eyes!  Check it out so that you can serve up an impressive dessert with little effort and lots of cooling delight.

Happy Cooking!

Find more tasty recipes in Welcoming Kitchen: 200 Delicious Allergen and Gluten-free Vegan Recipes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

We have a winner!  Linda M.  was chosen by the random number generator at random.org.  Please contact me by leaving a comment or sending an email with your shipping info, Linda.

Life is a journey.  Right?

Always changing, always growing, right?

For me, that means trying to cook and eat healthier.  In my dessert-laden life, one of the things that I can do to eat healthier is to choose recipes some of the time that are free of refined sugar.

Good idea, but how to do it?

Step one ... Get to know Amy Green.  Do you know her?  You should.  She's the force behind Simply Sugar and Gluten-free.  She writes a blog that is rich with information and inspiration, simplysugarandglutenfree.com.  Every Tuesday, Amy hosts a link-up event called Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays (SIT) at her site.  Visiting SIT is like discovering a good-for-you cookbook each and every week.  The rest of the week, Amy provides recipes and tips to live and eat gluten- and sugar-free.
Sugar-free Gluten-free Brownies
Simply Sugar and Gluten-free's Chewy Chocolate Date Brownies

As much as I love visiting food blogs, and boy do I, I really love holding a quality cookbook in my hands.  I like turning the pages and discovering the treasures hidden between the covers.  Amy's book, Simply Sugar and Gluten-free is rich with the information and recipes you need if you want to give reducing refined sugar a try.  These recipes utilize a full range of options for sweetness -- coconut palm sugar, dates, stevia, applesauce and other fruits, agave nectar, etc.  Not only does Amy use these ingredients in her recipes, she explains them along with different gluten-free flours and kitchen staples to ensure that your sugar- and gluten-free cooking will be a success.

Because this isn't a vegetarian cookbook, not every recipe is right for me and my family.  There are, however, lots of delicious options that work as written or with slight modifications.  Some tasty titles include, Slow Cooker Pear Butter, Black Bean Soup, Chickpea and Summer Veggie Salad, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos and Apple Spice Granita.

One of the recipes that my family enjoyed was Chewy Chocolate Date Brownies.  These had a great texture and a chocolaty flavor without the fat and sugar of traditional brownies. 

If you would like to reduce your sugar intake, this book is an invaluable tool.  Lucky for you, the publisher of Simply Sugar and Gluten-free is going to give away a copy to a lucky reader!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment about why you want to win below.  To get extra entries, "like" Welcoming Kitchen on Facebook.  If you do, leave another comment saying that you either followed us or already do -- that's 2 entries.  For a third entry, "follow" Welcoming Kitchen on Twitter, and leave a comment saying that you do.  For a fourth, "follow" me, Kim Lutz, on Pinterest and leave a comment saying that you do.  I'll pick a winner on Friday, June 8.  Entries can be made up until 12 noon CST on June 8.  (Unfortunately, winners must live in the United States or have a US mailing address.)  

Feeling lucky?  Enter to win a copy of my book, Welcoming Kitchen, over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-free!

Happy Cooking (and Good Luck)!

Find more tasty recipes in Welcoming Kitchen: 200 Delicious Allergen and Gluten-free Vegan Recipes.