No-Bake Granola Bars

If you tell me that something can be made in 5 minutes or less, I will look at you skeptically and ask if it comes with with a sous chef to do the prep work for me too?  I want a recipe that is the real-people, real-time 5 minutes.  Not the if-I-have-a-sous-chef to chop, measure, and prep everything for me 5 minutes.  Read: A recipe that takes a whole lot longer than five minutes for those of us in normal people land.

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Fast forward to these no-bake granola bars.  Well ya’ll, you can glare at me skeptically if you want, but this is a TRUE 5-minute granola bar recipe that is made without refined sugar, and gives you tons of sustained energy from oats and lots of protein.  I know that you can buy granola bars, but trust me these are cheaper, tastier, and you control EXACTLY what goes into them (read: protein, whole grains, and natural sweeteners) and exactly what does NOT (read: preservatives and refined sugar).  Did I mention that they are completely customizable to your family’s preferences?  My favorite mix-ins are unsweetened dried cherries, but you can add just about anything!  Dried fruit*, nuts, flax seeds, cacao nibs, dried coconut, or a combination would all be quite tasty.  I even added bits of dark chocolate once when I had a sweet tooth. (*If you are trying to avoid added sugar, be careful that the dried fruit you select does not contain added sugar.  Trader Joe’s has some good “no sugar added” options.)

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Most days, my breakfast routine is not reminiscent of the photo above.  Its a little bit more: put granola bar in plastic baggy, pour tea in travel mug, grab computer bag while running out the door un-mascara-ed.  These are the best grab-n-g0 breakfast I know of.  These bars fill me up and all that protein keeps me full for a good long time!  They are, of course, an excellent snack – its a granola bar after-all.  Also, they are a great healthy way to satisfy a mid-afternoon sweet-tooth;)

For the past few months, there has been a batch of these in my fridge at all times.  Trust me, I am not “that person” who always has homemade granola or fresh baked cookies at the ready, but these only take 5-MINUTES!  And, luckily, 5 minutes for something this satisfying (and handy) is just my speed.

I am addicted and, until there is a 12-step program to cure me of this 5 minute, no-bake granola bar awesomeness, I will not stop.  Despite this development, I think you should join me in the world of never-ending No-Bake Granola Bars.

No-Bake Granola Bars

Total time: 5 minutes

Servings 8-12 (depending on size of bars)

  • 3/4 cup natural peanut butter or almond butter (the kind with oil separation)
  • 2 tbl. coconut oil
  • 2 tbl. molasses
  • 1 tbl. honey (or more if you prefer sweeter)
  • 2 cups oats (I prefer the texture of regular oats, not quick oats.)
  • 1/2 cup total of mix-ins of your choice (i.e. dried fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, cacao, flax)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir just until melted enough to combine (about 2 minutes).

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Remove from heat and stir in oats one 1/2 cup at a time.

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Finally stir in mix-ins.

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Pour mixture into a glass loaf pan for thicker bars or a glass 8×8 inch pan for thinner bars.  Cover and store in fridge:)

 

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Cheese Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

I am almost embarrassed to post this recipe.  It is a departure from everything I gravitate towards.  Its not exactly healthy, its messy, and it has guy-meal written all over it.  But, the gooey cheese filled centers have beaten me senseless.

In a post vacation moment of fridge raiding and “what can I do with ground turkey, eggs and ricotta?,” these meatballs were born.

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Admittedly, these are not very Mama-Mia Italiano (sorry, Nonna), nor are they the Ikea-clad Swedish variety.  These are more of the lowly, American football watching, dipped in ranch dressing variety.  Its the jalapeño popper of the stuffed pepper world or the hotdog of sausages.  Not fancy in the least. .

Ok, so maybe these aren’t the best thing to serve at a dinner party, but you caught the part about them being stuffed with cheese, right?  How can they not be good?!  My thoughts exactly. 

These aren’t anything fancy, but their assembly can be a bit tricky so I’m posting a few more process photos and explanations than I typically do below.  So for fluffy pre-recipe banter, I am going to keep things simple.

Enjoy!

Cheese Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

Total Time: 40    Active time: 25

Serves: 3-4 people

Cheese Filling:

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Turkey Mixture:

  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 onion finely chopped
  • 3 tbl. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. sage
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt (+ more for cooking onions)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (+ more for cooking onions)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (for rolling)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

First heat, 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium frying pan.  Add onion.  Season with sage and salt/pepper.  Cover the pan and stir occasionally.  Cook until soft  until soft.

Set aside corn meal in a small bowl for rolling.

Combine all other ingredients of the turkey mixture including the cooked onions in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

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For the cheese filling, combine ricotta, green onion, salt and pepper whisk to combine.

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Whisk in egg to combine.

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Then stir in cheddar with a fork.

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Lay out your three bowls: turkey mixture, cheese filling, and cornmeal to make assembly easy. IMG_2467.jpg

Lightly oil a 1/4 cup measuring cup to prevent sticking.  Take a ball of turkey mixture and generously line the measuring cup allowing some to hang out above the edge.  Make sure there is at least a thumb sized depression for the cheese filling to go in.

Place 1 tsp. size blob of cheese fill in in the middle.  Use excess turkey on edge and add more if necessary to enclose the cheese in the turkey.

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Remove from measuring cup and roll in cornmeal until well coated.  Set aside on a clean, dry, flat surface.

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Repeat this process until all turkey/cheese is used up:)  For me, this makes 8 huge meatballs, but of course you can use a smaller measuring cup (or other similar implement) for smaller meatballs

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons. olive oil in pan over medium-high heat.  Gently add meatballs.  You may need to work in batches.  Cook just until browned on all sides.  Set aside.

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When all meatballs have been browned, bake uncovered for 10 minutes.  If you see some cheese oozing out of the middle this is a good sign that they are cooked all the way through!

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Serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauces….I reluctantly inform you that such classy accompaniments as Ranch, bleu cheese, BBQ sauce, and ketchup have all been used to great delight.

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Curry Spiced Avocado Chickpea Salad Pitas

Pita, pita, pita.  Love it.  But, aside from dip it in hummus and hope that someone makes me a gyro, I never know what to do with it.

After a dinner with the fam, that consisted of moroccan chicken brochettes, lots of sauces, hummus, chopped tomatoes, mint leaves, and, you guessed it, pita.  Now, rest assured, my family can eat.  Leftovers are never really an issue.  Knowing this propensity, I stared at the store shelf for far to long trying to estimate how much pita to purchase.  Thoughts like “if we eat it with hummus before dinner, then probably this much.” And, “But, if we only eat it with the meal, maybe this much?”running through my head.  So I bought for the former and the latter occurred.  The result: lots of leftover pita.

Knowing there had to be a solution other than dipping it in gobs of hummus, this Curry spiced Avocado Chickpea Salad was born.  This egg salad texture but with an entirely mediterranean flavor profile.  This is my favorite type of “______ salad” sandwich filling.  EVER.

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The filling itself if vegan, vegetarian, and GF friendly.  While that may be music to some of your ears, I can’t say generally speaking that I share the sentiment.  In the interest of full disclosure, when I see a recipe that has the above dietary labels, I automatically disregard it assuming that it will fall into one of two categories: flavorless mush or cardboard-esque.  And, while this recipe has a certain degree of “mush” since this falls into the salad sandwich category, it certainly is NOT flavorless (thanks to curry spices and chopped mint leaves) or textureless (thanks to whole chickpeas and chopped olives).

So, break out the pita and get ready!  You can customize this recipe many different ways, but here is how it is done in our house…

Curry Spiced Avocado Chickpea Salad

5 minutes                                        4 servings

  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), divided
  • 1/4 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 2 tbl. finely chopped mint leaves (or a combination of mint with cilantro or parsley)
  • 5 finely chopped kalamata olives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pita for serving

Additional toppings:

  • chopped tomatoes
  • mint leaves
  • greens like arugula or spinach
  • feta

Remove avocado skin and pit.  Lightly mash avocado in large mixing bowl.  IMG_2443.jpg

Thoroughly rinse chickpeas.  Add around 3/4 of the chickpeas to the avocado. IMG_2444.jpg

Add curry spice, turmeric, and mint (or other chopped herb mixture).  IMG_2445.jpg

Mash until well combined.

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Add finely chopped olives.  IMG_2447.jpg

Add remaining chickpeas. Gently stir to combine (without mashing the additional chickpeas).

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Place in pita and top with chopped tomatoes, mint leaves, other greens.

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Add a sprinkle of feta if desired.

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Peanut Butter Pie

Can we talk about peanut butter for a minute?  Which side are you on?  Camp love-it or camp hate-it?  Creamy or crunchy?  I fall into camp love-it and creamy, please.  I don’t know many that stand on the neutral line with peanut butter.  So, I will happily admit that I am in  LOVE!  Peanut butter cups are my guilty pleasure.  Chewy peanut butter cookies are my jam.  Peanut butter on apple slices are my go-to snack or lunch.

Yesterday my little brother turned 24.  And, I guess that makes us twins because now we are both rocking 24… never mind that I have celebrated a small handful of “24th” birthdays.  Sooo… Moving right along.  My family has an old-school, homemade birthday dinner tradition – where your dinner and dessert requests are granted by Momma-dearest.  So in keeping with tradition, my “twin” brother placed his requests.  Venison stew, a salad he can dump bleu cheese dressing on and for dessert…….

His Birthday dessert request is the one peanut butter treat that is so airy, fluffy, dreamy, and over-the-top indulgent that I cannot, will not allow myself to make it.  Peanut Butter Pie.

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I do not want to hear about the undoubtedly high calorie count, nor do I care.  This is worth the splurge!……. Note to self:  You deem a lot of items splurge worthy.  Look into that.  Or maybe don’t.  

So ya’ll, I am taking a page from Momma-dearest’s repertoire today.  Because Peanut Butter Pie.

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Traditional flaky pie crust (But, I bet graham cracker crust would also be pretty awesome!).  A layer of melted semi-sweet chocolate chips.  And a mountain of fluffy, creamy peanut buttery filling.

Need a make-ahead dessert?  You can make this pie up to 3 days ahead of time!  Need a relatively easy dessert?  No-bake filling, and I won’t judge you for going pre-made on the crust;)  Want something a little outside the box? In my book, a dessert that is essentially a giant open-face peanut butter cup is sufficiently outside the box.

By the way, I am in recipe-delevopment mode on a bite-size version of this recipe.  Think a truffle meets a buck-eye ball  – but with cloud like decadent peanut butter filling.  Why the heck not?!  So watch for those little guys in the weeks to come!  

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In the meanwhile, compliments of Momma-Dearest, take in the wonders of Peanut Butter Pie!  “Twin” brother approved for 24 years.

Peanut Butter Pie

Servings: 10-12

Total Time:  3+ hours (includes cooling)                 Active time: 30 minutes

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening (Crisco)
  • Water

Chocolate Ganache

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tbl. whipping cream

Filling

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 6 tbl. butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter, creamy
  • 8 oz. cool whip

Disclaimer: Use any pie crust recipe you desire!  This is my mom’s crust recipe.  It works well for her, but despite many attempts, I am not successful at it.  So use what works for you!

If following this crust recipe, mix dry ingredients.  Divide shortening into tablespoon sized pieces and combine with dry ingredients.  Add just enough water, one teaspoon at a time, for the dough to stay together.  Roll out dough and place it in a pie plate.  Use pie weights or dry rice on parchment to help Pinch edges and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

For ganache, melt chocolate chips and stir in whipping cream.  Spread over interior of cooled pie shell.  Allow ganache to cool and set.

Melt butter and brown sugar together in small saucepan.  Mix in milk and peanut butter until well combined.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Combine peanut butter mixture and cool whip in a stand mixer until combined.  Place in pie crust and allow to cool for 2+ hours and up to 3 days.  Create a tent with plastic wrap while chilling if longer than over night.

 

 

 

Waiting

Our adoption process is long.  Longer than I imagined.  Longer than I expected.  And, most certainly, longer than I would have chosen.  Friends, family, and total strangers who heard we are adopting ask how it’s going.  For years now, my answer has been the same:  “We are still just waiting.”

Waiting.  Such a strange concept.  “Waiting” implies a sense that the outcome or result is not in your control and in someone else’s.  As such, waiting has a passive connotation. Pro-active waiting isn’t really even waiting.  While there are certainly pro-active or preparatory things that one can do with their time while waiting, the action of “waiting” is hardly an action at all.

At some point, if you wait for long enough, the “waiting” status begins to feel permanent.  For my husband and I, we can’t move states or even houses if we wanted to.  As a result, we started doing the long-term investment type of house projects on a house that we didn’t see ourselves in long-term.  For my husband, “waiting” has meant delaying grad school, and our current inability to relocate may even mean him passing up a promotion at work.  For me, it means investing time and energy into a career that I viewed as a placeholder for the much less lucrative job I really want: mama-hood.  So, we maintain the status quo as we wait.

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In the past, I judged people for not making things they want happen.  I have watched friends unhappily spend years in the same stagnant job with no clear opportunity for advancement.  I have seen others work for years in various internships while unsuccessfully applying and re-applying to medical school.  I would think “Move on!,” “Be more proactive!,” “Where is your resilience?,” or judge them for wasting so much time in the status quo.  But, after joining them in the waiting game, I have learned not to judge.  Maybe they feel called to the path or outcome that they are waiting for, just as we feel called to adopt.  Who am I to judge?*  (*Laziness or a lack of motivation to change a poor situation is a whole different ball of wax.)  

By now, people have said all of the things I used to think about others to us – often to our faces.  Knowing that people think we are nuts for waiting so long, I used to muster up a defense.  Now, I don’t bother.  I just smile and give brief, dumb sounding answers like: “We are still just waiting…”  “Yes, you are correct. We have been waiting for a long time…”  “Oh, thank you for the information, but, as far as we know, fertility isn’t an issue…” “Yes, we explored [fill in the blank type of adoption].  We are going to stick with adopting from Uganda for the time being…”  The bottom-line answer to all of people’s questions is that, regardless of the time lapsed, I believe this is how we are to build our family.

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The biggest lesson I have learned in this process is that God uses waiting.  We have watched Him use it to prepare our relationship, minds, finances, families, and hearts.  We are learning to trust His timing of the process and not our own ideas of perfect timing.  If I am able to brush aside the anxiety and frustrations we have had waiting, I can see how rewarding this time has been for us on many levels.

Because we have been blessed with such a lengthy wait, we feel that we have a responsibility to be aware and prepared for when the time does come.  So even though waiting is our new state of being, we are making efforts to proactively use the time we spend waiting.  Rather than crawling into a hole until the time comes, we read nearly every adoption book ever written, stay up to date on current events in Uganda, and maintain frequent communication with our adoption agency about the status of Ugandan adoptions.  And, despite my husband’s eye rolling at my pronunciation efforts, I have attempted to learn some basic words and phrases in Uganda’s most common tribal dialect – with limited success.  I certainly do not believe that the things we can do in our own power will ever fully prepare us, but, I figure, they are a more productive use of the time than thumb twiddling.

Amidst the countless blessings that waiting has provided and the ability for us to proactively prepare, it hasn’t made the past few years easy. Waiting is hard. Waiting is stressful. The level of uncertainty is nearly crippling at times. So crippling that the cloud of anxiety feels palpable. A many number of times, I have forgotten about the outpouring of blessings, growth, and healing that have occurred as a result of our wait, and angrily prayed, “Why are we still waiting? What other things can be more important for us to be focusing on right now?…” God probably views my outbursts as indicators that I indeed do need to more deeply root my trust in Him before He ends our wait.

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Even though waiting has placed our life in a state of limbo, I have to trust. I have to trust His plan. I have to trust His timing. Not one single aspect of this journey has been in our control. Yet, we have seen His faithfulness throughout this process in so many ways. As we near the end of the journey, trusting is getting easier.

The sooner I realized how inconsequential my notions are and learned to trust, I was able to more fully enjoy right where I am. No official referral. No set timeline. No clarity. I can choose to wallow in these details, which I certainly have! Or, I can choose to rest in the peace of knowing this is where I am supposed to be right now.

Where we are right now is still just waiting. And, that is alright with me.

Waiting is hard. Trusting is harder. But, if you take the leap of faith to trust, oh, the blessings you will surely see.

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Avocado Toasts with Poached Eggs

I love brunch!! Breakfast is awesome, but it usually ends up more about efficiency than execution or awesomeness.  My typical breakfasts are a rotating cycle of yogurt and granola, oatmeal, apple slices and peanut butter, and smoothies.  Ya know, easy things that take less than 5 minutes and fuel you up in a sufficient & efficient manner.  They may do the trick on a week-day morning, but none of these items are “brunch worthy.”

Brunch should be moderately more time consuming, have a slightly impressive presentation, require guest participation/customization, and be easy to serve in large quantities.

Pancakes, waffles, or french toast bars are brunch mainstays with good reason!  Customizable toppings mean there is something for everyone. And, if you whip out the griddle, you can crank out some serious volume!  Or there is always the egg casserole option (the spongy Easter brunch tradition and my least favorite).  Who can forget the classic omelette bar, but lets face it, it’s hard to make omelette orders for a large group!

Enter the Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs.

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A post on a recipe where the 3 main ingredients are in the title seems a little unnecessary, but I love this dish as a brunch for so many reasons!  First, this recipe is impossible to mess up….  Ok, well maybe not impossible, since poaching eggs isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Secondly, everyone can participate in its creation by delegating the toasting, chopping, and assembly.  When everyone is gathered around my kitchen island working on a component of the meal, it feels like the event is more about the coffee, tea, and company than it does about the elaborate prep-work of an intentionally impressive spread.  I love this approach whether its family who comes over all the time or new friends who aren’t an sure-footed in the environment – nothing breaks the ice like teamwork.  Depending on the crowd, the dynamic may differ but the result is the same: a low key, low pressure brunch.

Delegating this meal is simple.  I usually poach the eggs and delegate the other tasks, but if in the presence of an egg poaching pro, I am happy to step aside!  Cutting crusty french bread and slicing avocado are both simple, delegate-able tasks.  So is manning, checking, and flipping the toast slices under the oven broiler.  Final assembly and seasoning is a snap! With a couple words of instruction, my kitchen-challenged brother was topping these with the final seasonings like a pro!  Sometimes I wonder why I bother with elaborate menus and impressive spreads.  This is more fun and just as tasty.

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Even if you have a large crowd, this recipe will work!  A large cookie sheet and the broiler of your oven, allows you to toast many servings at once.  If you need to poach eggs in batches, a shallow baking dish like a 9×13 covered in foil will keep the eggs the right amount of warm, or stick the 9×13 in a 200 degree oven if you are concerned.

On a tangental note: One quick word to those who feel that all toast is created equal.  I am here to bust that bubble and tell you that only a French-style crusty loaf will do.  No sandwich bread.  Not even nutty, seedy whole wheat (although in other circumstances, I love whole wheat toast).  Do as the Parisians do and make a special trip if you have to.  With simple dishes like this, quality matters even more!

Avocado Toasts with Poached Eggs

Servings: Totally customizable, but the quantities below are based on 4 servings

Serving suggestion: one egg per toast, two toasts per guest

Total time: 10 minutes (unless working in batches for large group)

  • 1 crusty loaf of bread, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 large avocados
  • 8 eggs (I prefer the taste of grain-fed, organic brown eggs)
  • Water
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Smoked Paprika

In a large skillet, add enough water to measure a depth of approximately 3/4-1 inch.  Add in 2 tsp. vinegar and bring to a slow simmer and cover pan.

While water is being brought to a simmer, arrange toasts on large baking sheet.  Move oven rack to upper position.

Chop avocados into thin slices or mash, if you prefer.

Poach eggs. Use a large kitchen ladle to cup the egg while immersing in the water.  Keep egg inside ladle to help it keep its shape during the first few seconds of poaching.  Do not crowd the pan.  My skillet can cook about 4-5 eggs at once.  Depending on the size of your group, this will likely require working in batches or using two large skillets to prep eggs.  Watch eggs closely and make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Eggs will cook the most quickly with the lid of the pan on.  After about 90 seconds flip the eggs.  And cook for around 30 more seconds.  Transfer to foil covered 9×13.

While eggs are poaching, use the broiler to make the toasts.  Flipping after the top side is sufficiently toasted.

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Top the toasts with around 1/8-1/4 avocado per slice of toast and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Add one poached egg to the top, another sprinkle of salt and petter, and a generous sprinkling of smoked paprika.

Serve immediately!

 

 

 

Spinach Fettuccine Alfredo

Question: Now truly, who doesn’t love a good Fettuccine Alfredo?

Not many people I know.

Question: Who loves the massive amounts of calories and empty carbs that typically accompany this dish?

Hmm…. I don’t see nodding heads.  Me neither.

The truth is that I love Alfredo sauce, and since I’m italian, I think my veins are even made out of pasta.  But, in this land of healthy eating, Alfredo sauce and pasta don’t get a seat at the table.  Until now…..

Pull out that immersion blender and get ready to puree some spinach, kale, avocado, and a little plain yogurt or low fat sour cream.  Because my friends, not only is this dish healthier, but it is also easier!!!  No finicky consistency to worry about here!

And what about the noodles?  Whole wheat fettuccine or linguine noodles are easy to come by these days (these are what I usually use), or treat yourself and go for traditional fresh hand-cut fettuccine noodles (for extra deliciousness!).

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Well if this isn’t the strangest mishmash of ingredients known to man, then I don’t know what is.  Oh my goodness!  But, please, please, don’t judge this book by its  very, very green cover because I cannot even explain how tasty this dish is.  Although it is mostly vegetables, it tastes nothing like vegetables. I promise!  Its just creamy, saucy goodness over here.  It is the unicorn of pastas: healthy and tasty!  Excuse me while I slurp up some more noodles.  *Sauce dripping from chin.*

I feel like a formal introduction is probably necessary here.  Ya’ll meet the guilt-less pasta dish that is kid, vegetable-hater, picky-eater, & picky-husband approved.  Now that we are all acquainted…..

Spinach Fettuccine Alfredo

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Special Equipment: Immersion Blender

  • 2 cups packed fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup packed chopped flat leaf kale
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup water, one tbl. at a time
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbl. butter
  • 2 tbl. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or low fat sour cream
  • 1 avocado, lightly mashed
  • 8oz. whole wheat fettuccine or linguine noodles (cooked to al dente)
  • Parmesan cheese for serving

In a large skillet, add spinach, kale, garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt, about 1/2 of water.  Cook on medium with lid closed,  tossing occasionally until greens have turned a nice dark green color.

Transfer greens and all cooking liquids to a heat proof mixing container.  Using immersion blender, blend until smooth and well integrated (or use a traditional blender).  This will take less than a minute.

Reduce heat to low, and using the same skillet melt the butter.  When melted, whisk in flour.  Slowly whisk in blended greens mixture.  Add more water if necessary.

Remove from heat and add avocado.  Blend with immersion blender until combined.  Then mix in sour cream or yogurt.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Finally toss sauce with noodles and top with parmesan cheese.   

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