Monday, December 19, 2016

Holiday sweets and treats

Check out these 10 easy to make and ready to give recipes for all kinds of holiday sweets and treats: cookies, candy, nuts, snacks and more!

Easy to make and ready to give recipes for all kinds of holiday sweets and treats

Happy holidays, friends!

Since I can pretty much guarantee that the teachers, hairstylists, mail carriers and everyone else on your list already has all the crap from the mall that s/he could possibly ever need or want, how about making some little thoughtful gifts this year instead?

If you're not up to even the easiest DIY project, The Ninj still has you covered with ten super-easy recipes for holiday sweets and treats that everyone will love: crunchy cookies, easy candy, my famous snack crack and even some no-bake treats.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Candied ginger cookies {copycat Tate's Ginger Zingers}

Thin and buttery cookies, with crispy edges, chewy centers and a zing of crystallized ginger: a copycat recipe for Tate's Ginger Zingers. 

candied ginger cookies copycat Tate's Ginger Zingers recipe

Oh, hi. Sorry it's been awhile. Life has been taking precedence over blogging for a wee bit -- hope you understand. But I couldn't let the holiday season slip past without sharing my latest favorite cookie recipe with you.

On First Eating Tate's Ginger Zinger Cookies

Last summer, I spent some time at the beach in North Carolina with my oldest friend and some of her other friends (as it goes, now we're ALL friends -- yay us!).  We all shared meal preparation and each brought some of our favorite goodies from home to share with the group. My friend mentioned that she'd brought these amazeballs ginger cookies that I needed try.

ZOMG, peeps, she was not kidding.

They were Tate's Bake Shop's Gluten Free Ginger Zinger Cookies. None of us there who were scarfing them down eats gluten-free, but it totally doesn't matter. If you are even the teeniest bit a fan of crystallized ginger, you will go cray cray for these cookies -- thin and buttery, with crispy edges, slightly chewy centers and a zesty zing of crystallized ginger in almost every bite.

I knew immediately that I had to figure out how to make them myself -- you know, like a good ninja does.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Homemade cranberry sauce in a can

Add some kitsch to Thanksgiving this year with homemade "canned" cranberry sauce using an upcycled empty can for the mold.

Homemade canned cranberry sauce made in a can mold

My sister and I have this thing.

Well, to be honest, my sister and have about eight million things. We're like those twins that have their own language that no one else can understand ... but we're not twins. She's two years older than I, but we've always been best friends. (In fact, I told her recently, "You'd better never die because, if you do, there will be no one to understand me!")

So, anyway, one of our things is canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. My first "adult" Thanksgiving was when I was in graduate school. I was attending school in the South, too far away from my parents' home in New England for me to afford to make a quick trip home for the Thanksgiving holiday. And my sister was living not that far away, so we decided to throw our own little Thanksgiving dinner for two.

Even though I had almost no idea how to cook anything and she was only slightly more talented, we went all out in a little apartment kitchen: turkey, stuffing, green beans and cranberry sauce.

In all fairness, let's clarify. We roasted a turkey (poorly), steamed some green beans, mixed up a box of Stove Top stuffing and opened a can of jellied cranberry sauce.

But we were both in agreement that the cranberry sauce was a must-have. You know, because of the the "ssssllluuuupp" noise it makes when released from the can. And, frankly, because it's freakin' shaped like the can.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

One pot kielbasa and rice with peas

This easy one pot kielbasa and rice with peas is a family friendly weeknight dinner that's ready in less than 30 minutes. 

one pot kielbasa and rice with peas

You know I'm all about quick and easy, real-food dinners that anyone can make, right? (I mean, if you don't know that by now, after six years, I must be doing something wrong!!)

I've pretty much got the mother of all them this week.

Easy One Pot Weeknight Dinner

This one-pot dinner made with kielbasa, rice and peas is so crazy easy and so crazy yummy that you will quickly make it a weekly regular, I can almost promise. Plus, it's a complete meal, made in less than 30 minutes in one skillet -- what's not to love?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Nutty chocolate coconut no bake snack bites

You're only four ingredients, five minutes and a food processor away from these healthy nutty chocolate coconut snack bites.

Nutty chocolate and pecan no bake snack bites

With Halloween just around the corner and frightened by stories from of trick-or-treaters arriving by the busload in our new neighborhood, I have a cabinet full of giant bags of snack-sized candy that are screaming out my name.

I can hear them in my sleep: "Eat meeeeeeeeee. I'm yummmmmmmmy. I'm sweeeeeeeeeet."

Little devils! So what's a Ninj with little willpower to do?

Healthy No-bake Snack Bites

Make a healthy sweet snack to stop the voices, that's what.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Easy weeknight chicken minestrone

Get a warm, hearty dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes with this healthy and easy weeknight chicken minestrone soup.

healthy easy weeknight chicken minestrone

It's October and the weather is starting to get cooler. So of course I can't stop making soup and chili. And basically anything I can cram into the slow cooker.

Easy Weeknight Soup

Of course, any soup that I'm making now has to be easy enough for a busy weeknight meal. This one fits the bill, as it takes less than a half hour, including prep, to pull it together.

And did I mention that there will be enough left over for tomorrow's lunch bag? Winning.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Healthy apple pumpkin breakfast muffins

A healthy, easy, breakfast muffin, low in sugar in loaded with good-for-you apples and whole grain oats -- plus some seasonal pumpkin.

Healthy apple pumpkin breakfast muffins

Now is the time of year when I highlight a few pumpkiny things on the blog. Because it's actually October now, the time when pumpkins are in season and seasonally appropriate.

Although you, like I, are likely suffering from a bad case of PSO: Pumpkin Spice Overload, which has reached epidemic proportions this year.

Pumpkins and Apples

I've gotten a bit of a reputation among my friends and readers over the years for being adamant with my No Pumpkin Until October rule. Every pumpkin-spice-hating meme has made its way on to my Facebook page, courtesy of Ninj fans.

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate pumpkin. I'm just a firm believer in keeping my life and eating habits seasonal.

And letting apples, one of the world's most perfect food, have their time in the sun, which is the entire month of September, in my book. It's the month for indulging in apple butter, apple pie oatmeal, apple bread pudding and apple sauce -- just for starters.

But now that it's early October, it's time for apples and pumpkins to join forces, which they do so quite deliciously in these healthy apple pumpkin breakfast muffins.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creamy slow cooker pork and vegetables

Creamy slow cooker pork and vegetables: easy weeknight comfort food that will make your whole house smell as good as dinner tastes.

creamy slow cooker pork chops and vegetables recipe

Do you remember that Carly Simon song, "Anticipation"? The one used in the popular Heinz ketchup commercial when I was growing up? The one that evoked the feeling of not being able to wait to taste something? (Although ketchup -- really? I could wait, no problem, really.)

That song will be running through your head all day long as you smell this creamy slow cooker pork and vegetables dinner cooking. I speak from experience.

Slow Cooker Comfort Food

And it wasn't just me. The first time I made this slow cooker recipe, a pair of HVAC guys were working upstairs in our house, installing a new air conditioning system. At the end of the day, one of the guys said to me, "Well, we have a little problem."

I begin freaking out. You know, because I'm always so calm when problems arise (snort). "What's wrong?"

He replied, "We really don't mind working hard all day. But you made it really, really hard today since you've made us smell something that delicious all day long!"

Monday, September 12, 2016

DIY autumn citrus spice room spray

While I have been compensated for creating this DIY autumn citrus spice room spray by #CollectiveBias and Nature's Truth, all thoughts and opinions are my own. #StimulateTheSenses

DIY autumn citrus spice room spray

Learn how easy it is to make your own DIY citrus spice room spray for fall using essential oils

Regular readers who remember my natural bug spray from earlier in the summer know that I'm a big fan of incorporating essential oils into my lifestyle. So I was thrilled when Nature's Truth asked me to create a DIY project featuring their blended essential oils to celebrate fall.

My biggest challenge was trying to pick just one of the scents!

Now that it's back-to-school time and cool fall weather is just around the corner, I opted to use the Purify botanical blend to create this easy DIY autumn citrus spice room spray. With scents of clove, lemongrass, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary, Purify offers the perfect blend of comforting fall spices combined with invigorating citrus notes.

And who wouldn't want a room to smell like that?

Easy DIY Aromatherapy Room Spray

Aromatherapy is a powerful thing. I'm sure you've had one of those experiences in which you smell a scent and it immediately evokes a vivid memory of a certain time or place. One whiff of this autumn room spray and I feel like I'm taking a walk through fallen leaves, wrapped in a cozy sweater, on a crisp and cool fall day.

Plus, this room spray is crazy-easy to make. All you need is some distilled water, a few drops of the oil and a little witch hazel or vodka to bind the oil and water together before spraying.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Skinny cranberry chocolate oatmeal cookies

Skinny cranberry chocolate oatmeal cookies are the perfect snack: chewy, crispy and chocolatey but also loaded with guilt-free ingredients.

Skinny cranberry chocolate oatmeal cookies

I read somewhere once, a long time ago, that having a little something sweet after a meal is a good thing because it sends a signal to your body that it's time to stop eating, the meal is over.

Doesn't that sound credible?

Honestly, I don't know if it's true, but it works for me.  Because I generally do find that just a taste of a little something sweet makes a meal complete.

Now, I'm not advocating that you eat an entire cheesecake just to send your brain a message. Note that I said a little something sweet.

Like a cookie.

Even better: A skinny cranberry chocolate oatmeal cookie that's chewy but crispy and loaded with good-for-you ingredients.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Healthy after school snacks that kids will love

Enjoy these seven healthy and easy after-school snacks that your kids will actually love and you can feel good about giving to them.

healthy after school snacks your kids will love

I don't like to admit it (because it means summer is coming to an abrupt end), but it's back-to-school time.

(Heck, it's been back-to-school time for weeks now for my nephews but I think they're district might be a little ahead of everyone else.)

Which makes this the perfect time to talk about after-school snacks. Forget about mini packages of chips, cheese curls, candy or any of the other junk you'll see in gargantuan packages at the grocery store. These seven easy after school snack recipes are all healthy and super easy to make.

So you can feel good about giving these snacks to your kids. And maybe to yourself as well.

Check out what I and some of my favorite foodie friends will be snacking on this fall:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blueberry peach cobbler cups

Easy dessert perfection: Cute cobbler cups featuring juicy summer blueberries and peaches, topped with a buttery biscuit crust.

Blueberry peach cobbler cups

I probably don't need to wax poetic with you about the awesomeness of summer fruit, do I?

I hope not. I mean, just look at that fruit, juicy goodness up there, would you?!

Blueberries + Peaches 4 Evah

And I don't think it was merely a coincidence that the universe decided to have both blueberries and peaches hitting their stride at the same time in the summer. They are simply perfect together in so many juicy ways.

But as much as I love to eat both blueberries and peaches fresh, by the handful or slice, respectively, or to freeze them by the bagful for winter smoothies, they are amazing to cook with as well. A blog oldie but goodie, my blueberry bread is a house favorite and I keep meaning to re-make those blueberry cobbler bars before the berries are gone this year (plus, they deserve a new photo shoot, don't you think?). And if you haven't added the peach cake muffins to your late summer breakfast rotation, you need to fix that ASAP.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Fast and fresh ranch pasta salad

This fast and fresh ranch pasta salad with crunchy summer veggies and chicken makes an easy, healthy weeknight meal or potluck dish.

fast and fresh ranch pasta salad from

I originally created this recipe while we lived in Vermont. And were once again in the midst of moving.

I know, it's like deja vu, right? But don't worry. I'm not moving again. (You hear me, universe? I. AM. NOT. MOVING. AGAIN.)

But, as you can imagine, moving has a way of cutting into the time (and energy) available for cooking dinner. As does hot summer weather, which we've been experiencing here in Maryland in full force over the past few weeks.

So, just as I did back when we were moving, I've lately been keeping my menu planning focused on quick and easy recipes -- especially the low- or no-cook kind.

Case in point, this easy, fast and fresh ranch pasta salad, which you can throw together in the time it takes to cook a pot of pasta, yet is cool, full of fresh veggies and very satisfying. Plus, it will leave you with lunch leftovers that you don't even need to reheat.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Easy tomato and sausage ragu

Why settle for jarred pasta sauce when you can make this easy tomato and sausage ragu with mushrooms and fresh herbs instead? 

easy recipe for tomato and sausage with mushrooms and herbs

Can you believe I was nearly 30 years old before I discovered the awesome glory of sausage?

[Seriously -- if you a regular reader of the Ninj, pick yourself up off the floor, as you know I tend to add sausage or bacon to nearly everything. Are you new? Go ahead, search on "sausage" or "bacon" in the search box. I'll wait ... get it now?]

Growing up, sausage to me meant an oily, hot sausage-and-pepper grinder (hero, hoagie, sub, whatever) -- and those just grossed me out (they still do). Therefore, in my mind I didn't like sausage. Period.

While Mr. Ninj and I were dating, he would occasionally cook for me (ah, those were the days!), and once he made some pasta dish that involve browning sausage as the first step.

This is so pathetic to admit now, but I watched in utter amazement as he CUT THE CASING OFF and added just the ground meat to the pan to brown. Whhhhaaaaattt???? Crumbled sausage? Sausage that isn't in a log shape or drowning in soggy pepper juice? Pure genius!

It's been fast ride straight down the pork hill from that day. All the way to this easy, way-better-than-jarred tomato and sausage ragu.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Healthy one pot turkey pilaf

Master weeknight dinner with one pot turkey pilaf: only 30 minutes to a healthy delicious dinner with minimal clean up plus leftovers.

Healthy and easy one pot turkey pilaf

Another busy week means another entry for my list of healthy and easy weeknight meals that anyone can make -- one-pot turkey pilaf.

Lazy me is a big fan of easy, one-pot dishes, as evidenced by some of my favorite recipes, including one-pot tomato basil pasta and healthy one-pot Asian pasta. I mean, seriously, what's not to love?

In less than half an hour, from start to finish, you can have a healthy, delicious dinner on the table. With leftovers for lunch the next day, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Port wine cheese spread

Cheese and crackers go retro with this super easy port wine cheese spread; all the addictive flavor, none of the garish colors.

Port wine cheese spread

Summer is just the best time for parties and entertaining, isn't it? Who doesn't love celebrating al fresco with friends at a garden party, backyard cookout or cocktail party on the deck?

It's no wonder so many people choose to get married in the summer, too -- talk about an opportunity for a grand outdoor party!

To celebrate summer and special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, I've teamed up with the folks at Uncommon Goods to introduce you to some of the amazing items they have available in their unique catalog that are perfect for gift-giving or entertaining -- and to give you a chance to win a prize package of their wares.

Case in point: the cheese-and-cracker serving board and butter and cheese knife you see in these photos. In particular, the gorgeous, made-in-Vermont cheeseboard is featured in the Uncommon Collection, an exclusive assortment of products that meet their highest standards for uncommon design, sustainability and doing good. I love the kitschiness of the ampersand -- because we all know you've gotta have crackers AND cheese!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best BBQ sides

Wow the crowd at your next BBQ or cookout with these easy and delicious sides: choose from salads, appetizers and salsas.

Six easy and delicious sides for your next BBQ or cookout

With Independence Day just around the corner, I've been fixated lately on the summer BBQ.

Or cookout. Is this a regional thing? Growing up in New England, we called them cookouts. I had to learn to refer to them as "barbecues" when I moved down south.

Whatever the nomenclature, I love those parties held outside that involve grilled meat.

But, more than the meaty main course, I'm all about the sides: salads, dips, appetizers, chips. Those little unsung heroes are often what makes the meal. And while anyone can bring some ice cream or cookies or a flag cake made with berries and Cool Whip, I highly prefer the guest who brings an amazing side.

So here's a roundup of some of my favorite BBQ (or cookout) side dish recipes, all of which are easy to make, easy to transport and guaranteed to wow the crowd.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Homemade natural bug spray

Make your own homemade natural bug spray with only 3 ingredients: an easy, safe, effective and great-smelling way to repel insects this summer.

Easy and effective homemade natural bug spray

I'm giving you a different kind of recipe this week. And here's why.

Our latest house doesn't have a screened porch. While it does sport a large, expansive deck with lovely wooded views, it doesn't offer the iron-clad protection from flying insects that a screened porch does.


And since I didn't want to spend the summer dousing myself or Mr. Ninj in chemical-laden commercial insect repellent just to be able to enjoy morning coffee or evening cocktails on the aforementioned deck, I whipped up some homemade natural bug spray.

OMG, friends, I love this stuff! Why?

1) It's all-natural, made with lavender and lemon eucalyptus essential oils that have naturally occurring insect-repelling qualities -- yay for nature!

2) It not only smells lovely, it's also cooling and refreshing -- yay for smelling good!

3) It's wicked easy to make, just three ingredients -- yay for laziness!

4) It's a wonderful way for me to incorporate gorgeous cobalt blue bottles into my daily life -- yay for pretty, colorful things!


Friday, June 17, 2016

Slow cooker strawberry butter

Slow cooker strawberry butter is sweetened naturally with pure maple syrup and a touch of honey -- enjoy it on toast or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. 

Naturally sweetened slow cooker strawberry butter

I scored the very last of the local strawberries from a neighborhood farm market this week. Which threw me into such a panic (No more strawberries until next year? Gaaaaaaah!) that I had to preserve them.

I froze a bunch for smoothies and then thought about strawberry jam. But then I tried to think of something else with less than a bazillion pounds of sugar.

And that reminded me to check Marisa McClellan's latest preserving book entitled Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. This is a whole book of preserves made without refined sugar. Yes! No white sugar -- amazing, flavorful jams and preserves sweetened only natural sweeteners like honey, maple and fruit juices.


I do so love to can but sometimes the amount of sugar required to keep our favorite jams safe for canning makes me feel like I'm defeating the purpose of putting up healthy fresh fruit.

You know what I mean? (It's why my yummy pear honey is used very, very sparingly around Casa de Ninj.)

After making a couple of batches, I've decided this strawberry butter is my new favorite thing. It's like apple butter ... only so much freakin' better. I've been spreading it on toast, natch, but we also love to stir it into plain yogurt for breakfast.

And I haven't even begun to start baking or making overnight oatmeal with it yet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Strawberry breakfast biscuits

Strawberry breakfast biscuits: not too sweet, with a scone-like texture, and super easy to make. Try them in strawberry shortcake, too.

Easy fresh strawberry breakfast biscuits

Lest you think it's all savory crockpot dinners around Casa de Ninj all the time, I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite baked good: strawberry breakfast biscuits.

(Not that you can't eat them any time of the day that you please. Or multiple times during the day. Trust me, we have.)

Regular readers and makers of my recipes will not be surprised to hear that these are a not-so-sweet biscuit -- not nearly as sweet as a pastry or muffin, with a slightly scone-like texture.

They really let the flavor of fresh, seasonal strawberries shine.

And, of course, they are super easy to make, because that's how I roll -- no mixer, no rolling, no lightly-floured work surface, no biscuit cutters.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Easy slow cooker jambalaya

Enjoy this easy jambalaya, delivering all the spicy Creole flavor you love but made effortlessly in your slow cooker.

Easiest slow cooker jambalaya from

Did I ever tell you that I lived in New Orleans for a while? (Yeah, like you're surprised anymore by the number of places The Ninj has lived...)

Let's just say it was a nice place to visit. :-)

But the food. Oh my gosh, the food. It's the only place I've ever lived where I gained more than 10 pounds really, really quickly. Because the food. Oh my gosh, the food.

In fact, I had never even eaten jambalaya until I lived in New Orleans. And I certainly had no idea the awesomeness that I was missing! Jambalaya is now one of my all-time favorite comfort foods -- and not just because of the smoked sausage.

Yet, as with long-cooking rice dishes like risotto, I never really made jambalaya a lot at home because it was too time-consuming.

Not so anymore, thanks to the slow cooker.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

White bean avocado toast

Packed with protein to keep you feeling full and energized, white bean and avocado toast is the perfect savory breakfast or easy, light lunch.

White bean and avocado toast for breakfast or lunch

It's easy to get into a breakfast rut, especially when you're in hurry, as most of us are each morning. Bless his heart, Mr. Ninj is perfectly content to eat the same egg sandwich or oatmeal smoothie that I put in front of him every morning, but I, on the other hand, need to change things up. And while baked goods like muffins are an awesome grab-and-go option, sometimes I need a savory, not sweet, breakfast.

So I was pretty excited when Pepperidge Farm® asked me to come up with a healthy and delicious recipe featuring toast. Yes, toast, which, when simply buttered and served with a plate of eggs can be a little ho-hum.

But this is not that.

We all love a good slice of avocado toast, whether for a quick breakfast or an afternoon snack. I've elevated it to healthy breakfast status by adding a layer of mashed white beans, loaded with keep-away-the-mid-morning-hungries protein, and topping it all with some veggies.

This, my friends, is a good-for-you, savory breakfast toast that's not only delicious but also has amazing staying power.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with yogurt sauce

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with mint yogurt sauce: comfort food meatloaf gets a lean, modern makeover for an easy weeknight dinner.

Mediterranean meatloaf sliders with yogurt mint sauce

Note: Updated May 2016

Putting a healthy, delicious dinner on the table quickly night after night is a challenge for all of us – really, all of us: Food bloggers are no exception. While I can often solve the weeknight dinner dilemma with quick-and-easy dishes like rice bowls, soups or salads, I'm still pretty old-school about wanting to eat some protein for dinner. And by protein, I really mean meat. And by meat, I really mean beef (I have been known to refer to myself as The Meatasaurus).

However, this presents me with a dilemma because one of my favorite beef dinners is meatloaf – and meatloaf is not a quick-cooking, get-it-on-the-table-fast kind of meal. And yet I do so love my meatloaf recipe, which is the one I grew up on, torn by my mother from the pages of some 1970s magazine and then customized over the years.

So what's a girl to do when she wants her meatloaf but she also wants it fast?

One word: sliders. Yep, because, when it comes right down to it, what is meatloaf, really, but a big burger without the bun?!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Salted oatmeal cookies: a recipe

Salted oatmeal cookies, the perfect blend of sweet and savory -- there's a reason they've been dubbed 'crack cookies'.

Salted oatmeal cookies

Note: Recipe and photos updated May 2016.

Salted cookies sound like an oxymoron, right?

Wrong. So wrong. So very, very wrong.

These cookies were first described to me as "cookie crack" and I can now bear witness that that is a perfect characterization.

Even though I have a bunch of healthier cookie recipes, I'm not even going to pretend that this is one of those. Yes, there are oats in it but there is also a crapload of butter and sugar which cancel out the oaty benefits.

But you will not care.

The balance of savory/sweet is absolutely perfect. You cannot eat just one. Hellz, you can't eat just six!

So please do not waste these on children. Repeat: PLEASE DO NOT WASTE THESE ON CHILDREN!

These are grown-up cookies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

White bean burgers (Secret Recipe Club)

These simple, healthy white bean burgers with a yogurt feta sauce are super flavorful and won't fall apart like many veggie burgers.

Healthy white bean burgers with yogurt feta sauce

Note: Recipe and photos updated April 2016.

I made this recipe in 2013 as part of the Secret Recipe Club (SRC).

Here's how the SRC works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs and their great recipes.

I was a little nervous about this month's assignment, as I knew it would fall right during Detox January. I had my fingers crossed that I would be assigned a blog with at least a couple of healthy recipes from which I could choose.

I hit the jackpot!

My assigned blog was Cooking Whims, written by Megan, another New Englandah (yay!). Megan is clearly a big fan of Cooking Light recipes, as am I, so I was thrilled to find so many things to try. In fact, I wound up making two of her recipes and had a hard time choosing which one to feature (really, it came down to which one yielded a better photo).

The winner? White bean burgers, a perfect, meatless dinner option for Detox January.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pistachio chai muffins

Enjoy these simple, not-too-sweet pistachio chai muffins as a skinny grab-and-go breakfast or quick afternoon treat. 

Pistachio chai muffins

So this is a thing I've been wanting to do for some time now...

When I go back and look at my recipe index, particularly the recipes I wrote about in the early days of this blog, I realize that there are a lot of easy, healthy, yummy, awesome recipes in there.

But they are horribly photographed.

When I started this blog six years ago (oh my goodness, SIX YEARS!), I didn't even know how to use the manual mode on my dinky point-and-shoot camera. So my posts really suffered. As did some of you, who have been supporting me from the beginning and willingly looked at those pictures!

Times have changed and so have my skills. Therefore, I'd like to give some of those awesome recipes a second life by re-photographing them to show you just how gorgeous they are.

And delicious. And worth your time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Skinny red pepper chicken sliders

Make these broiled skinny red pepper chicken sliders for a fun and fast weeknight dinner.

Skinny red pepper chicken sliders recipe

I've got another slider recipe for you today -- skinny red pepper chicken sliders, to be specific -- and it's quite honestly because burger buns come in insanely large packages and I hate to waste them.

I'm serious. Think about it. We are just two people but whenever we want to enjoy burgers, I always get stuck buying a package of 8 freakin' burger buns. What's up with that? Does a family of four really eat two burgers each every time it grills? I highly doubt it. So why can't anyone make a package of only four buns -- ostensibly a half package -- for smaller families? I can't be the only one that would be excited about that.

And yes, I've tried freezing the extras. But then I just end up three months later throwing out a bunch of small packages of frozen leftover burger buns instead of day-old ones because, frankly, they never taste any good once thawed, no matter how cleverly I wrap them prior to freezing.

Le sigh.

So my efforts to be frugal and not wasteful with my package of 16 slider buns means that you get a second slider recipe in a row. But this is not a bad thing, trust me. These skinny red pepper chicken sliders are also a great way to use up that half-empty jar of roasted red peppers that's been hanging around your refrigerator door -- not to mention the jar of pepperoncini you just bought to make last week's tangy slow cooker pot roast sliders.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tangy slow cooker pot roast sliders

Update your Sunday pot roast with this tangy riff, made in the slow cooker and turned into sliders for an easy weeknight meal with leftovers.

Tangy slow cooker pot roast sliders

Pulled pork is one of my all-time favorite things to make in the slow cooker. And I think you're well aware of my penchant for transforming chicken into all sorts of awesome dishes in my crockpot. I don't know why I never really thought to do any kind of beef cut in the slow cooker. So when I saw this article in the New York Times about a slow cooker beef roast with some interesting spicy flavors, I knew I had to give it a shot.

Apparently, there's a version of this beef that went viral via Pinterest (called "Mississippi Roast", for some reason) -- but it calls for packaged dressing AND gravy mix. Ugh. No way -- you know that's not how The Ninj rolls. Especially when it's just as easy and no less time-consuming to use real ingredients.

Which is what's happened here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Bloody Mary, Four Ways

Try one of four original recipe riffs on the classic Bloody Mary, often called the World's Most Complex Cocktail. 

Four Bloody Mary recipes, photo by Brent Harrewyn
Photo by Brent Harrewyn for Edible Green Mountains

As a contributor to Edible Green Mountains magazine, I recently wrote an article on the Bloody Mary, often called the world's most complex cocktail.

Here's an excerpt...
I opened Pandora’s box recently by naively asking a group of friends what makes the best Bloody Mary. Their responses were as varied as those of a group of four-year-olds being asked to name the single best Christmas gift. My friends offered up renditions sweet, savory, classic, outlandish and everything in between—and each was adamant that his or hers was the best.

What I have learned is that this variety and lack of agreement applies to nearly every aspect of the Bloody Mary—not only the ingredients but also its very invention and namesake. There’s a reason that the Bloody, as its most ardent fans familiarly call it, has been dubbed the world’s most complex cocktail.

As part of the article, I included four different Bloody Mary recipes:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Slow cooker chicken stock

Learn how to make recipe-ready, freezable slow cooker chicken stock from only the bones of a roast chicken, a handful of veggies and water.

Slow cooker chicken stock made with a roast chicken carcass

This is one of those recipes for DIY pantry staples that has been in my repertoire for years yet I haven't shared it with you yet.

Shame on me! I think it's because it's one of those not-really-a-recipe recipes that hasn't seemed "worthy" enough. Until now. Because I've been crockpot cray cray lately, as regular readers well know.

If you've never tackled homemade chicken stock, this slow cooker version will change your mind. It's not at all time-consuming because, well, SLOW COOKER. Plus, all you need to make it is the carcass of your last roast chicken (read: NO WASTE! Practically composting!), some common veggies you've likely always got in your fridge, some spices and water.

Talk about making something out of nothing!

Here's what you do: The next time you make a roast chicken, be a little less thorough than you might be when carving it -- leaving a little bit of meat on the bones means a more flavorful stock.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Skinny black bean tortilla casserole

Skinny black bean tortilla casserole is a healthy, fast and easy way to add a satisfying meatless meal to your weeknight dinner rotation.

Skinny black bean tortilla casserole

This may sound really weird but it's really exciting: I've rediscovered the public library.

I told you it would sound weird. I mean, where did it go that I had to rediscover it, right?

I grew up as a library power user: in elementary school, I couldn't wait for summer, not just for the swimming and playing outside and not attending class part but also for the summer reading program at my tiny local library. Whether I knew it or not, I was a lot more Type A back then and the reading program had a contest for which child could read the most books: Let's just say I rose to that challenge and then some.

Not to mention that I just loved spending time in the library itself. It seemed magical to me that I could wander around, browsing through a seemingly endless supply of novels, taking as long as I liked to make my selections and then I was allowed to just take them home. For free. It was better than a candy store for an avid reader.

Even as an adult, I made weekly visits to the library after work to refresh my book pile, largely because I tried to spend my lunch hours reading the novels I so love. The number of books I read each year was a little mind boggling.

But then something changed all that: We moved to a tiny town in Vermont.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Slow cooker chicken corn chowder

This healthy chicken corn chowder is made effortlessly in the slow cooker -- an easy and satisfying weeknight comfort food dinner.

skinny slow cooker chicken corn chowder

I'm back with another slow cooker recipe.

Seriously: I've been on a slow cooker tear lately -- largely because I am single-handedly painting the interior of our new house (I know, I'm insane. Or just cheap. Or both). As you would guess, this is more than a bit time-consuming and tiring. By the time I finish up for the day, the last thing I want to think about is making dinner.

And you know how I feel about take out. Well, I might consider it if there was any place other than Domino's in my new 'hood that delivered to a house beyond walking distance from the local university... but there's not.

So I've been focusing on making the easiest weeknight dinners possible. Which is why I'm working my slow cooker overtime. Especially with no-prep-required slow cooker recipes, like this skinny chicken corn chowder.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Healthy banana chai muffins

Made with no dairy or refined sugar, these banana chai muffins are a healthy choice for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

Healthy banana chai muffins with no dairy or sugar

I am lucky enough not to have many dietary restrictions in my life -- other than those that are self-imposed, of course (e.g., I gave up all fast food more than six years ago). But I appreciate that not all my readers are as lucky, so I try, whenever I can, to feature recipes that address some of your dietary concerns.

One of the concerns that comes up all the time is dairy -- and how to eat well without it, if you need to. Whether it's because of lactose intolerance or concern about dietary cholesterol and intake of fats, dairy isn't for everyone (although it would break my heart into pieces not to be able to eat my beloved cheese). Therefore, I'm happy to help by creating delicious dairy-free recipes for my readers, especially during February, which is American Heart Month. But that can prove challenging when it comes to baked goods.

Why? One word: Butter. Which begs one question: Is there really a butter substitute out ther that's good for baking? I say yes!

To help you figure out the best way to bake dairy-free, I created this recipe for healthy banana chai muffins and made it multiple times, not with butter but with two different spreads instead -- SmartBalance Buttery Spread and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! -- to see which one I liked best.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Skinny oven baked squash risotto

Skinny oven-baked squash risotto is a satisfying meatless weeknight meal or an easy but impressive side dish -- without all the stirring.

Skinny oven baked squash risotto

I never make risotto. Seriously: I made it once or twice and, with all the freakin' stirring and attention it required, I quickly removed it from my repertoire. No time for that.

Until now! I'm bringing risotto back because I found it can be easily baked in the oven, with very little stirring and even less attention.

Made with acorn squash, this skinny oven-baked squash risotto is satisfying and filling enough to stand alone as a meatless weeknight dinner entree, accompanied by a green salad. Because we are trying to eat more meatless meals around Casa de Ninj. But it also makes an easy but impressive side for a Sunday dinner.

And, of course, you could easily substitute butternut squash for the acorn, if butternut's more your jam.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Skinny slow cooker peanut butter cup blondies

Use your slow cooker to make easy, skinny peanut butter cup blondies, a healthier choice for dessert, snacktime or school lunchboxes.

Skinny slow cooker peanut butter cup blondies

This is getting sort of crazy, isn't it? Another slow cooker recipe: Maybe I should have made 2016 the Year of the Crockpot.

But come on: I'm giving you a dessert recipe. A skinny dessert recipe. A skinny dessert recipe made in the slow cooker.

You can't blame me for being pretty excited about this one.

Regular readers are by now aware of my penchant for using my slow cooker as a water bath for making yummy things like overnight oatmeal and bread pudding. This skinny peanut butter cup blondie recipe is similar in that it uses the slow cooker in a non-traditional way -- like an oven; all you need is a springform pan that fits inside your cooker.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Healthy slow cooker cashew chicken tacos

Whip up these easy, healthy cashew chicken tacos in the slow cooker as a weeknight dinner or a crowd-pleasing party appetizer.

Slow cooker cashew chicken tacos: healthy, easy, gluten-free

I know: another slow cooker recipe. But really, can you blame me? They're so good and so freakin' easy -- it almost feels like having someone make dinner for me for a change.


And this slow cooker cashew chicken taco recipe is no exception to the so-good-so-easy theme. Simply blend up a five-ingredient sauce, pour it over chicken in the slow cooker and -- SHAZAM -- a few hours later, you've got tacos!

It's a pretty perfect healthy and easy weeknight dinner recipe. Plus, if you use corn tortillas instead of flour ones, it's a gluten-free dinner recipe, too.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nutty vegetarian lasagna

Introduce more meatless meals into your weekly menu, starting with this nutty vegetarian lasagna, loaded with Brussels sprouts and kale.

Nutty vegetarian lasagna with sprouts and kale

Have you seen the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans that were all over the news lately? The new guidelines tell us, basically, to consume less meat and sugar and eat more veggies. What a shocker, right?

But, if you're a meatasaurus like I am, or if you have a picky eater in the house, it can be hard to introduce veggie-packed, meatless meals into the menu mix.

Good news: One easy and delicious place to start is this nutty vegetarian lasagna, loaded with good-for-you veggies like Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and kale with a nutty twist from pureed cashews. Yes, cashews -- in your lasagna!

If you're a lasagna purist, you might be skeptical. I promise you that this nutty vegetarian lasagna in no way misses the mark for comfort-food heartiness or flavor. Even I-Never-Met-A-Vegetable-I-Liked Mr. Ninj gave it two thumbs up -- and had two helpings.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Easiest slow cooker chicken tikka masala

You're going to love this healthy recipe for making amazing chicken tikka masala effortlessly in your slow cooker.

Easy, healthy recipe for chicken tikka masala made effortlessly in a slow cooker

Regular readers know I'm more than a little obsessed with slow cooker meals -- heck, with making anything in my slow cooker. And not simply the usual soup or chili but also the unexpected: oatmeal, cake, bread pudding -- nothing is off limits.

It's largely because I am all about recipes that are not only healthy and delicious but also easy or even downright effortless.

Which is why it drives me absolutely bananas when I see slow cooker recipes that require pre-crock stovetop preparation. What is up with that? The whole point of the slow cooker, for me, is to make meal prep easier, not add extra steps.

I just don't get it. Why put the effort back into something effortless?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Skinny taco soup

This skinny taco soup has all the flavor and crunch of a loaded taco but in a healthy, easy-to-make, comfort-food soup.

Skinny taco soup is healthy and really easy to make

Does anyone make soup in the summer? Or is it just a cold-weather comfort-food thing? Which it definitely is for me.

And I particularly love a good, hearty soup -- not quite as thick as a stew but still filling enough to be an entire meal unto itself.

This skinny taco soup is just such a soup. It's got all flavors of a taco -- spicy chilis, browned turkey, crunchy tortillas and sharp cheddar cheese --  in an easy-to-make soup. Plus there's a whole load of good-for-you beans and veggies thrown in to make it a healthy weeknight meal.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Thai green curry noodle bowl

Thai green curry noodle bowl: lots of sweet, tangy Thai food flavor in a lightened noodle bowl for a quick, healthy weeknight dinner.

Light and easy thai green curry noodle bowl

Yo, peeps: I'm back.

Sorry for being relatively incommunicado over the busy holiday season. It was extra extra busy for The Ninj because ... brace yourselves ... we moved. Again. To yet another state.

(I know, right?)

After bidding farewell to Kentucky, we are now happily ensconced on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (Job 1: I'm personally judging the crab cakes and shrimp salad sandwiches at every local establishment I can find. I mean, how else will I be able to identify The Best?!)

If you've read any of my previous adventures-in-moving posts, you know there's a lot of stress involved. And living in a house that looks like it's built out of moving boxes. And trips to the dump-I-mean-recycling-center. And inability to locate food photography props.

Luckily for you, that box was recently unearthed, which allowed me to photograph and now share this amazing Thai green curry noodle bowl with you.

Trust me, you are going to want to make this for a weeknight dinner ASAP.