Chewy Protein Squares

Oatmeal square--plate emphasis

Around here, snacks are in high demand, and often in short supply. I pretty much never buy packaged crackers, cookies, bars, etc., because even the stuff at Whole Foods is full of sugar, refined flour and excess salt. We make what we eat, for the most part, which brings us back to square one: Aside from fruit and nuts, there are rarely formalized “snacks” in the house. Oops.

Yesterday, I set out on a mission to make a good nibble–something with protein to get me from 4 o’clock growl to 7 o’clock dinner. I got inspiration from the granola portion of this Cooking Light recipe for a breakfast parfait. After tinkering a bit, I adapted the basics to become a chewy square, not entirely unlike that Quaker Oatmeal to Go business, or a Cliff Bar.

BUT our squares are high in protein and low in sugar. They pack healthy fats and whole grains. I ran the numbers, and if you cut the pan into 9 portions, you can expect 210 calories, 9 grams of good fat and 10 grams of protein. Take that, Cliff Bar!

Chewy Protein Squares

1/2 cup buckwheat

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup vanilla rice protein powder

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/4 unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup salted pepita seeds

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons almond butter

3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. (buckwheat through salt)

In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients. (almond butter through vanilla)

Add the dry ingredient to the wet and stir well, until a thick batter forms.

Cover an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper. Add the batter and work it around to evenly cover the base of the pan. Push down hard! You don’t want your squares to fall apart.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Lift the parchment paper (and hence the bars) out of the pan. Allow them cool, then cut into 9 bars. Store in the fridge.


Baked Chili Relleno with Cilantro “Cream”

Stuffed Peppers

Oh how I love el Barrio, a funky little Mexican restaurant just down the street from Vore’s office in downtown Birmingham. They ascribe to the Tex-Mex philosophy I often found when I lived in the Lone Star State–fresh food that’s a far cry from greasy, Americanized standards for a Mexican plate.

It was in el Barrio that I found a chili relleno on the menu, which our server explained differed from the typical “filled with cheese, battered and deep fried” business. This was cut in half, stuffed with veggies and roasted, then served with a light and flavorful cream sauce. It was the jam.

I went home and sought to create an interpretation, and I’m darn pleased with the results. These stuffed chilis are easy to make and promise to be a standout at any Mexican dinner. You can easily serve them as a main dish, paired with rice and beans. They would also make a perfect side to accompany a meat dish like fajitas. I hope you enjoy these as much as we did!

Baked Chili Relleno with Cilantro “Cream”

3 poblano peppers, cut in half and seeded

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups sweet onion, finely diced

1 cup zucchini, finely diced

1 cup eggplant, finely diced

1/2 cup red pepper, finely diced

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, finely diced

1/2 cup corn (I used frozen)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 c cannellini beans

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup vegetable broth

1/4 nutritional yeast

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup goat cheese crumbles (optional)

1. Grill the poblano peppers. You want these lightly charred and tender, yet still firm enough to hold their shape. Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and set aside to cool.

2. Make the cilantro “cream.” Place the beans, cilantro, broth and nutritional yeast in a food processor or high speed blender. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper if desired.

3. Make the veggie stuffing. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion, zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, corn, garlic and salt. Sautee, stirring often, until all the excess water evaporates and vegetables are very tender.  Stir in half to three-quarters of the cilantro “cream.” It’s your binder, so you want enough for the veggies to stick together, but no so much to be soupy.

4. Stuff the peppers. Add the veggie mixture to the peppers and gently pat so it holds in place. Top with goat cheese, if desired. (For a vegan option, I think toasted pine nuts would make a fine topping!) Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is just starting to brown.

5. Plate the peppers. I served our peppers on a bed of quinoa, but Spanish rice and black beans would make a fine accompaniment. Drizzle with the remaining cilantro “cream” and enjoy.

Orange Cranberry Whole Grain Salad

Orange Salad

There’s something summery and delicious on my table!

I mixed some of my new favorite tangy salad dressing with a concoction of orange segments, beans and whole grains. Oh my goodness! The result is a fiber-riffic salad that I just couldn’t keep my paws away from. Rye berries provide a satisfying chew and quinoa–a seed, if you really want to be technical about it–pairs with beans to up the protein factor.

A few things to note: I have finally started listening to the blog world and making my whole grains in enormous batches, then freezing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. For goodness’ sake, If you’re going to go to the trouble of making quinoa, cook the whole package. Bag them up and you have a total lifesaver. You will thank yourself when you have it prepped and ready to throw in recipes down the line, just like I did here.

The whole grains in this salad are utterly interchangeable. You could use all three cups of a single grain if you prefer. If you’re gluten free and would rather use brown rice in the place of rye berries, go for it. You could mix in barley, bulgur, millet or farro (Remember this delicious farro salad? It’s still a favorite!)  Be creative with your whole grains. There are so many wonderful options.

Now then, are you ready to get cooking?

Orange Cranberry Whole Grain Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa (I used a mix of red and white)

1 cup cooked rye berries

1 cup orange segments

1/2 cup garbanzo beans

1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

1/4 dried cranberries

1/4 cup tropical basil vinaigrette

Optional toppings:

1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup orange zest

Mix all the salad ingredients together and serve over your favorite greens. Top with goat cheese, pine nuts and orange zest, if desired. Enjoy!

Tropical Basil Vinaigrette

Dressing Lo-Res

Is that a creamy tropical drink? Why no, friends. It’s a bright, fresh salad dressing, just begging to become your summer favorite.

As I mentioned last week, I am entirely obsessed with orange oil. It’s beyond easy to make, and it adds a little something extra to whatever you’re cooking.

I set out to make a dressing putting the delicious oil to work, adding miso as the salt component. Have you tried this Japanese goodie? As Naomi Duguid writes for Cooking Light, miso is for more than soup:

Like soy sauce, (miso) is a fermented food…It gives a satisfying depth, the flavor that we know by the Japanese word “umami.”

Unami? Sign me up!

I am smitten with the final product, a vinaigrette with a twist. I’m so smitten, in fact, I went through two jars last week. Oops. This vinaigrette is lightly creamy, fruity and chock full of fermented goodness. Use it on salads, tossed with whole grains or as a fruit and veggie dip. I’m convinced I’ll be making this all summer long!

Orange Basil Miso Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup orange oil

1 tablespoon white miso

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 cup basil

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place all the ingredients in a blender or mini food processor and whirl them together until well combined.

Store leftovers in a mason jar, and give it a little shake before using. I store mine in the fridge, then pull it out a few minutes before I’m going to use it.

Weekend Find: Green Garlic

Green Garlic Lo-Res 1

Glorious green garlic, 3 treasured scapes hiding in the greens.

At Pepper Place Market last Saturday, I got a little distracted. (Not a rare occurrence.) We were late arriving, and to be quite frank, the stalls were looking picked over. And then I saw these beauties. Just look at those gorgeous blooms. But what was it?

The kind hippie farmer behind the table informed me it was organically grown green garlic, something like a cross between garlic and onion. SOLD.

Back at home, a quick search on Organic Authority gave me this synopsis: “Green garlic – sometimes called spring garlic or baby garlic…is young garlic which is harvested before the cloves have begun to mature. What results is a vegetable that resembles a scallion, with a deep green stalk and a pale white bulb – yet the flavor is that of mild garlic.”


Sounds tasty, no? I used my green garlic in two ways this weekend:

  1. Chopped the top part of the stalks–the stuff that looks like chives–and mixed them in to smashed potatoes. We loved the garlicy onion flavor that added. A winner.
  2. Tossed the bulbs and the meatier part of the stalk in with vegetables for roasting. You could really smell the garlic as they cooked! I was impressed with the flavor, but sad I left onions out of the mix. I thought the green garlic would be a replacement. Not so much.

Have you tried green garlic? If you run across it at the farmer’s market, I’d highly recommend giving it a gamble. We were impressed!

How to Make Orange Infused Oil

Orange Oil Collage

When I swung by my parents’ house not too long ago, Mom sent me home with a lovely bottle of homemade orange oil. She had been using it in salad dressings and as a cooking oil, and wanted me to give it a try.

Ummmm…delicious! It’s got that fresh citrus flavor that adds a note of brightness without being overpowering. Obviously, I had to make my own. I went to mom for her secret “recipe.”

Turns out, orange oil is the easiest thing in the world to make. Mom didn’t have a formula, per se, just “grate an orange into high quality olive oil and let it sit for a week.” For posterity’s sake, I got a little more precise. I zested the rind of one orange, which yielded a quarter cup, into 1.5 cups olive oil, then let it sit in a clean jar for a week. Done! Just strain, funnel into your favorite container and enjoy.

Here are few tips:

  • Be sure you wash your orange really well before infusing. You don’t want any of that waxy business they put on the peels getting in your oil.
  • Consider using a lighter weigh extra virgin olive oil for dipping and salad dressing and a more hearty sunflower oil for cooking. Mom made scallops in the latter this week and swears they are divine.
  • Zest with a microplane grater. Smaller pieces of orange rind yield more surface area, and in turn, more flavor.
  • Try infusing different kinds of citrus and herbs. Mom is an experimenting fool! (Hmmm…wonder where I got it?) Orange is a favorite, but she says lemon and lime work well too. For whatever reason, tangerine turned out yucky.

The bottom line is that infusing oil is beyond easy and a fraction of the cost of the bottled stuff you find in specialty markets. Do you infuse your own oil? If so, share your experience with the class!