Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beet pesto and greens pasta

Easy roasted beet pesto, used as a sauce for gluten-free pasta and tossed with peppery beet greens: a gorgeous, healthy dinner that's simple and quick!

beet pesto and greens pasta

There is no more wonderful vegetable than a beet. There: I've said it. I've gone on record:

Beets rule.

Why, you may ask, do I make such a statement? ERMERGAHD, LOOK AT THAT COLOR! What other natural food has that kind of color -- and tastes good? (And yes, I know there are other colors of beets, but we're talking your average, fuchsia, beet-colored beet today, OK?)

However, that stunning color comes with a price: it stains. It stains EVERYTHING. This is an excellent property if you are, say, a Pilgrim who wants to dye your drab flaxen frock a gorgeous hot pink color (well, then I guess you wouldn't really be a very good Pilgrim now, would you?). It's not such a great property if you are simply trying to make dinner without ending up looking like a serial killer.

I know my love of beets is true love because I keep ... (wait for it) ... dedicated beet gloves in my kitchen.

(True story: Mr. Ninj was rummaging in the cabinet under the kitchen sink for a pair of rubber gloves to use in the garage and I shrieked, "Not those! Those are my BEET GLOVES!" Yes, I'm a complete dork.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taralli -- buttery Italian Easter cookies

Taralli are simple, buttery, traditional Italian cookies, often made for Easter, reminiscent of scones and, when unglazed, perfect for a not-too-sweet breakfast or cocktail cookie.

taralli - traditional Italian Easter cookies

In my family, these cookies have always simply been called "Mom's Italian cookies" and they were always made for Easter (and sometimes Christmas). It was years before I realized that a) they were a traditional Italian cookie that other Italian families besides ours knew about and b) they had a name: taralli (although there are umpteen variations on how to spell it).

They are very buttery, cakey cookies, simple to make and amazingly delicious in their simplicity. This is a recipe that lets the good, natural taste of butter really shine through (I have since seen other recipes for taralli that call for almond or lemon extract, but I prefer this simple buttery taste).

They don't have much sugar in them, so they are not very sweet. In fact, I prefer to eat them for breakfast, as they are almost more like a scone than a cookie. Similarly, they make a great cocktail cookie or afternoon tea cookie.

However, if you have a sweeter sweet tooth than I, you can certainly ice them. Growing up, we always iced them, with a simple glaze made from confectioners sugar, moistened with a little lemon juice and milk -- just enough to make a thick liquid to spoon over the cooled cookies. And, as they were Easter cookies, we added a drop or two food coloring to some of the glaze to make them pastel shades of pink, green and yellow, as well as white.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chai tea concentrate

Chai tea concentrate: an aromatic blend of herbs, spices, fruit and tea ready to mix with your favorite kind of milk for a hot or cold chai tea latte.

chai tea concentrate

I realized recently that I almost never give you drink recipes, unless they're boozy. Which may make some of you think that I never drink anything unless it has booze in it. (Jeez -- I'm beginning to give myself a reputation!)

Au contraire. 

I have become a tea drinker over the past few years. It started on a vacation to the British Virgin Islands a few years ago. On said vacation, I was actually getting a ridiculous amount of sleep and feeling very well rested (this is pretty much the goal of any of my vacations). Which meant that I was not craving wake-me-the-hell-up coffee every morning. And, since it was the British Virgin Islands, I decided to be queenly and have a pot of tea with breakfast instead of coffee.

And it stuck. I'm now a morning tea drinker.

Not so much of an afternoon tea drinker, though. Not even herbal teas. Until last month.

What happened last month, you ask? I went to a local food swap and scored a jar of spiced chai, courtesy of fellow food swapper Lisa Barnes of Fiddleheads Cuisine (you've got to love a food swap with a professional chef!). It was just the right blend of spiciness, sweetness and floral notes -- perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up that doesn't pick-me-up quite as much as a cup of coffee, which would wind up preventing me from sleeping at night.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Savory sausage bread pudding muffins

Savory sausage bread pudding muffins: a fun riff on the traditional breakfast casserole, perfect for feeding a brunch crowd.

savory sausage bread pudding muffins

I love it when the stars seem to align -- that is, when my real life dovetails perfectly with my blogging life. How so? Katie of Healthy Seasonal Recipes asked me to take part in her spring entertaining giveaway on the very same day that my BFF sent me a recipe for a savory bread pudding that she thought I would like.


Spring entertaining made me think immediately of Easter brunch and, I swear, there is nothing better (or easier) for feeding a brunch crowd than a breakfast casserole. And it seemed to me that this savory bread pudding was just begging to be made into cute single-serving muffins.

(So, should we be even cuter? Should bread pudding muffins henceforth be known as "puffins"? No, I don't think so either.)

Therefore, you can see why I called it an alignment of the stars. 

In my quest to make my recipes more stealthily healthy, I cut way back on the whole-fat dairy in this bread pudding -- and you won't miss it: it's still rich and filling with lots of cheesy flavor. For a vegetarian version, simply omit the sausage and double up on the amount of bell pepper (a combination of red and green looks smashing).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blackened blue steak salad with coffee marinade

Blackened blue steak salad, with a coffee-based marinade, tangy balsamic dressing and bold blue cheese, will quickly become a weeknight favorite.

blackened blue steak salad

If you think it seems silly of me to post a recipe for a salad, you're not eating the right salad.

I love a good meal salad. Probably for the same reason that I love one-pot dinners: it seems so efficient to have a fully balanced meal -- protein and veg -- all in one simple dish.

And there's the speed factor, too.  Meal salads are generally simple and speedy, perfect for weeknight dinners.

My blackened blue steak salad has evolved over the years. It started with the dressing, and then evolved into the whole salad, becoming my go-to recipe for those inevitable summertime post-grilling steak leftovers (plus it got its cutesy name).  Now, I'm marinating and pan-searing a steak in the dead of winter solely to be able to eat this salad.

Sometimes, when I have them coming in in my summer garden, I add sliced radishes to the salad for an extra peppery crunch, but it's just as good without them.

The one thing that cannot be messed with, however, is the blue cheese. In combination with the balsamic-based dressing, the blue cheese is what makes this salad so addictive (and yes, a salad can be addictive).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Banana espresso breakfast muffins (+ a giveaway)

Banana espresso breakfast muffins: a healthy, easy recipe reminiscent of banana bread but with a shot of espresso for a delicious morning pick-me-up.

banana espresso breakfast muffins

 You know what's better (and a wee bit healthier) than coffee for breakfast? Coffee in your breakfast. In the form of banana espresso breakfast muffins.

Yeah, I'd call that stealthy. Here's how they happened:

I was excited when Staples asked me if I'd like to try out the Verismo home brewer from Starbucks. One of the biggest pluses is that the brewer comes with a recipe booklet for making many of your favorite Starbucks drinks at home. I mean, how cool is it to just whip up a chai latte or an iced Americano or a caramel latte whenever you want?

It's very cool. And handy.

And easy to use: just pop a coffee pod into the sleek brewer and press a button. There are also milk pods (made of real milk, not "creamer" chemicals) for making the specialty drinks, so there's no separate heating or frothing necessary. And the used pods are collected in a little built-in container which makes clean-up a snap.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Healthy and easy weeknight dinner ideas

Six easy recipes from The Ninj to help you pull together a healthy weeknight dinner in no time -- way better for your health and your wallet than takeout!

You know when your week gets cray-cray and you don't have a lot of time or energy to think about making dinner? Do The Ninj a favor: put down the takeout menu and pick one of these six simple recipes instead:
  1. Chicken and Biscuit Casserole
  2. Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
  3. White Bean Burgers
  4. Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup
  5. Rice Noodle Bowl with Sausage and Greens
  6. Thai Tuna Sliders
What are your favorite easy weeknight dinner recipes? Leave a comment: The Ninj wants to know.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Boozy maple bacon jam

boozy bourbon maple bacon jam

Boozy maple bacon jam. Yes, you heard me right.

This is my second post this week in which I think the title says it all and if I didn't write another word about it but instead simply gave you the recipe, you'd be perfectly happy.

I'm an advocate of homecooking for healthier eating and, more importantly, eating real food rather than prepackaged, only-microwave-cooking-required crap that is full of chemicals (and yes, I'm not perfect and occasionally indulge in Nutella but I also haven't eaten a bite of fast food in five years).

Luckily, bacon is real food, as regular readers know that I have a weakness for it and tend to throw a bit of it into nearly everything (including bacon oatmeal cookies -- yes, I went there). And I refuse to jump on the bacon-is-so-last-year bandwagon (freakin' hipsters, raining on my parade).

Yet you may notice that I haven't been packing on the bacon recipes much in 2014 (there's actually only been one, can you believe it?). Time to rectify that.

Happily, Katie from Healthy Seasonal Recipes invited me to take part in her Pure Maple link party to celebrate maple season -- and we all know that nothing goes better with maple syrup than bacon (well, I hope you know this -- it's a fact). And, even though the sap is running here in Vermont, it's still freakin' cold and snowy, so why not throw in a little bourbon to warm us all up?

(Bacon is never made worse by the addition of bourbon. This is another fact.)

Oooh! I can't believe I haven't yet mentioned the best part: you can make this boozy maple bacon jam in the slow cooker.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nutella peanut butter chip mini muffins

nutella peanut butter chip mini muffins

A super-simple recipe for Nutella peanut butter chip mini muffins: I almost feel that I don't need to post anything else other than those words to get you to try this recipe, right?

I have posted before about how I get snack cravings -- like many of you, I'm sure -- in the late afternoon. Since we eat very little processed food around Casa de Ninj, this means that if I want a treat, I have to make it.

This is good in many ways because, if I'm feeling lazy, I just go without said treat. Which is better for my waistline.

However, there are times when the siren call of Nutella is just too great.

(And yes, I realize that Nutella counts as a processed food. Which is why I often make my own Nutella, but I don't expect you to go to those extremes. It's totally fine by me if you have a big ol' jar of Nutella in your pantry at all times. I'm not judgy like that.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Coconut chocolate drops (and a Keurig giveaway)

coconut chocolate drops

Today is an exciting day in Ninjaland: to celebrate the first day of spring and, hopefully, the beginning of the end of all this winter snow and cold weather, I'm part of a group of awesome New England bloggers introducing you to a new seasonal coffee flavor from Keurig Green Mountain ... AND giving away a Keurig brewer!

The new coffee flavor, Island Coconut, truly lives up to its name. It's a light-roast coffee (which I prefer) with a great coconutty aroma -- it will definitely have you thinking about tropical islands and warm weather.

It also had me thinking about pairing it with chocolate, which I have done with this recipe for Coconut Chocolate Drops, a ridiculously easy, no-bake dessert. Made with very little sugar, ground oats, unsweetened coconut and cofee, these bite-sized chocolate drops are only slightly sweet and  guilt-free.