Friday, May 29, 2015

Easy fruit and grain energy bars

Fruit and grain energy bars are protein-rich, delicious and easy to prepare -- a perfect portable breakfast or afternoon snack. 

Easy fruit and grain energy bars for breakfast or afternoon snack


These easy, homemade fruit and grain energy bars have successfully gotten us out of our current breakfast rut at Casa de Ninj.

Booyah.

They are just the right amount of chewy and not too sweet -- perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast. The danger is that they are so good that I'm tempted to keep making batch after batch.

But eating them constantly would likely get us into another breakfast rut, right? Gaaaaah, when will I learn?!

Changing up the kinds of dried fruit you use in these energy bars keeps them from getting boring. I use dried cranberries and cherries since we have them on hand most often, but I've been known to use dried apricots and plums, too. (Prunes and apricots are a particularly favorite flavor combination of mine, in case you hadn't noticed.)

And if you're not in a breakfast rut, these are still the bars for you. Their portability (and freezability!) make them great afternoon snacks.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Cast-iron skillet pizza

If Friday night is pizza night at your house, you're going to want to try this easy recipe for making perfect pizza crust in a cast-iron skillet.


Photo by Brent Harrewyn,
courtesy of Edible Green Mountains
In case you didn't realize, being The Ninj doesn't exactly pay the bills around here.

Sure, it's fun to get cheese in the mail, but we've got a mortgage, too.

So I do quite a bit of freelance writing and consulting as well.

One of my favorite gigs is writing for Edible Green Mountains magazine. For the current spring 2015 issue, I tackled cast iron.

Well, cast-iron skillets anyway: what they are, why they're classic, how to use them and how to care for them.

Plus, I shared a recipe for a cast-iron skillet pizza, given to me by my cousin and all-around amazing home cook Susan.

If, like me, every Friday night is homemade pizza night in your house, you're going to want to give this recipe a try.

It has become Mr. Ninj's favorite. So much so that he was visibly disappointed when I cheated and used a store-bought pizza shell because I'd already packed and moved my cast-iron skillet to our new home.

Want to know if it's OK to buy rusty cast-iron cookware from an antique store? Need a foolproof way to keep your cast-iron skillet perfectly seasoned? Or just looking for a fun new way to make pizza? The Ninj has got you covered:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lightened Ukrainian mac and cheese

Ukrainian mac and cheese: a rich and cheesy comfort food pasta dish -- with bacon! -- that's lightened, guilt-free and easy enough for a busy weeknight. 

Lightened Ukrainian mac and cheese


I'm not even going to get into, yet again, how much of a pasta addict I am. But I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually more of a comfort food addict -- and most of my favorite comfort foods are pasta dishes?

Either way, I've got an amazing double whammy for you today. Ukrainian mac and cheese, which is comfort food pasta that I'm completely cray cray about right now.

And there's bacon in it.

Yep, the food world may be scoffing at bacon, calling it "so over", but, for the true bacon fan, BACON WILL NEVER BE OVER. (Can I get an amen or a hellz yeah?!)

But never fear: This Ukranian mac and cheese is also a lightened recipe, so you don't have to feel guilty about digging into all the rich, cheesey goodness.

And speaking of cheesiness, the only cheese in this mac and cheese is cottage cheese, giving it less of an ooey-gooey cheesiness and more of a rich and creamy cheesiness.

Why Ukrainian? Well, the recipe I adapted it from calls for lokshyna, which are Ukrainian egg noodles. Given that I have no bloody idea where I'd find something like that, I simply used whole-wheat egg noodles but kept the Ukrainian nomenclature as a nod to its origins.

Booyah: We're getting all international over here, aren't we?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Healthy and hearty meal salads

Celebrate National Salad Month all summer long with these seven recipes for healthy, hearty meal salads.

Turkey or chicken, apple, fennel and bread salad: a healthy, hearty meal salad

Did you know that May is National Salad Month? Yep, salads gets their very own month! I know this thanks to my awesome friend and fellow healthy food blogger Katie from Healthy Seasonal Recipes. (That girl is seriously all about salad, my friends -- are you following her yet?)

Meal salads are a staple around Casa de Ninj, especially lately, as I've been needing to keep our weeknight meals quick and easy since our verrrrrrrrrrry slow cross-town move is taking up a lot of my time.

Plus, the farmers' markets are re-opening, the CSA share sign-ups have begun and my summer veggie plants are starting to get big. Yay for fresh vegetables!

So in honor of the impending summer fresh vegetable bounty and National Salad Month, here's a bookmarkable roundup of all my favorite meal salads.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Carrot and turkey pasta

Enjoy this easy, healthy pasta recipe that features lots of good-for-you carrots, lean ground turkey and dried plums. 

Carrot and turkey pasta


I'm pretty psyched about this carrot and turkey pasta, peeps. Read that sentence again and you'll know why. Carrots. As the main ingredient in a pasta dish.

And -- wait for it -- it doesn't suck.

So much so that it got two thumbs up from Mr. Ninj, and regular readers know that's like having your picky three-year-old eater declare that she is a devoted fan of lentils salads.

Now that you're already reeling from the fact that a carrot-based pasta is awesome, let me turn it up to eleven: There are also prunes in this pasta dish.

Whoops, sorry, I meant dried plums. Apparently prunes got a bad rep as prunes and have now been reinvented as dried plums. The plum formerly known as a prune.

Whatevs. I still love prunes. I mean dried plums.

And I've got 'em in this pasta, adding a little touch of natural sweetness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Easiest fruit and oatmeal breakfast smoothie

This super-easy, four ingredient fruit and oatmeal smoothie is a fast, delicious and healthy breakfast ready in just minutes -- perfect for crazy hectic mornings.

Easiest fruit and oatmeal breakfast smoothie


Still moving. (Note to self: Stop accumulating so much stuff!)

Which means that quick-and-easy is still my number one mantra.

While that's proven to be pretty easy for weeknight dinners, thanks in large part to the slow cooker, it's proving harder for breakfast, without falling into a rut of eating the same thing every day.

Smoothies have increasingly become my go-to breakfast -- if I've cooked up a batch of quinoa for the week, I opt for a quinoa protein smoothie with whatever berries are in the freezer. Otherwise, I rely on oatmeal to make my smoothies a nutritious and filling way to start the day.

This fruit and oatmeal smoothie is by far the easiest one I make. And it can pretty much be different every day if you mix up the type of fruit.

For the best consistency, you definitely want to use a mix of frozen and fresh fruit. If I've got bananas on the counter, I'll use those with frozen berries. With warmer weather and strawberry season on the horizon, I'll mix fresh strawberries with frozen bananas.

(Tip: You can get less-than-beautiful looking bananas -- still perfect on the inside, where it counts -- for a song in many grocery stores when they put them on the "reduced produce" rack. I buy a ton and then freeze the slices so that I always have a huge supply of smoothie bananas on hand in the freezer!)

Just be sure to keep the ratios of fresh to frozen the same. For the smoothie in this photo, I used frozen raspberries and fresh banana.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Maple date scones

Maple date scones are an easy-to-make, healthier, less-sweet treat for breakfast, dessert or an afternoon snack.

Healthier maple date scones


While I like sweet snacks and desserts as much as the next ninja, I generally prefer my baked goods to be a little less on the sweet side.

Which is why I'll choose a scone over a cupcake any day.

(True story: My sister used to love sitting next to me at family birthday celebrations when we were young because I didn't like to eat the frosting. I would eat the cake part of my piece and give the frosting to her -- that's how much I prefer my sweets less sweet!)

And any time I can sweeten a sweet more naturally than simply using refined sugar, I'm all over it.

As their name implies, these maple date scones are sweetened with pure maple syrup, chewy dates and almost no added sugar.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pan-roasted cauliflower pasta

A better way to eat cauliflower: healthy and easy pan-roasted cauliflower pasta with spicy sausage, arugula and olives.

pan roasted cauliflower pasta with sausage and arugula

I think I may have mentioned a few hundred times that I'm a pasta addict. In fact, I always say that if you really wanted to punish me, you wouldn't have to send me to prison -- just make me give up carbs.

Yet I don't do your standard American spaghetti and meatballs. I like my pasta to be interesting. Like when it includes healthy, yummy ingredients like butternut squash, pumpkin, olives, beets, broccoli and even sardines.

And sometimes bacon. (Who am I kidding? Often bacon.)

No bacon in this cauliflower pasta but there is spicy Italian sausage, another one of my pasta add-in faves. The spiciness pairs really well with the pan-roasted flavor of the cauliflower and the peppery arugula.

Yep, you pan-roast the cauliflower in this stove-top meal. It comes out tender with just the right amount of cruciferous crunchiness left. And who couldn't benefit from a better way to eat lots of cauliflower than drowning it in cheese sauce or picking it off a crudite platter, am I right?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shrimp burgers

Healthy baked shrimp burgers are an easy way to get that summery, eating-at-the-beach feeling without leaving home.

healthy baked shrimp burgers

Are you familiar with shrimp burgers? If not, be prepared to become a fan.

My obsession with shrimp burgers started during a family beach vacation on the North Carolina Outer Banks. Based on a local's recommendation, we got some shrimp burgers from the famous Big Oak Drive In in Salter Path, adjacent to Emerald Isle.

Oh boy. Talk about summer on a bun.

Being The Ninj, of course, I decided I needed to try to recreate these beauties at home. After years of trying lots of recipes and variations both by me and my mother-in-law, who is a much better cook than I am, we gave up. Somehow, neither of us could find the right mix that would give us the flavor we wanted yet still hold together well enough to be eaten as a burger in a bun.

Until now, that is.

Now, mind you, the flavor of these shrimp burgers is a little different than those of Big Oak fame, but I don't care. Not so long as I can have a beloved shrimp burger that won't crumble into a mound of individual shrimp pieces after the first bite. Plus, mine are just a wee bit healthier.

The funny thing is, the original recipe that inspired my shrimp burgers wasn't really intended to be a burger at all but a shrimp cake. Plus, it called for frying the cakes in quite a bit of oil. And you know I'll never fry when I can bake or roast to make a recipe healthier while also keeping my stovetop clean.

Win win.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cabot Creamery cookbook giveaway


Cabot Creamery cookbook giveaway


Normally this blog is all about me, right? Sure, I'm sharing it with you, but the recipes are all mine and the stories generally only involve me and Mr. Ninj.

Today, however, it's all about you.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for supporting The Ninj and this blog. Every time you view one of my recipes or leave a comment or check out the books I've read (yeah, I need to update it with my 2014 list, don't I?), you make this blog successful.

And, given that I gave up my "real" job five years ago to focus on this hobby-turned-lifestyle, that means the world to me.

So I thank you.

And, frankly, what better way for me to show you my appreciation than by giving you cheese?!! Who loves ya, baby?!

Thanks to my friends at the Cabot Creamery back home in New England, I've got a copy of the new Cabot Creamery Cookbook and a $25 gift box of delicious Cabot cheese to give away to one of you lucky readers.