Healthy Low Carb Cantaloupe & Cheesy Almond Bites

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During the hot summer months, nobody wants to turn on an oven or stand around for long in the kitchen, with the great  outdoors calling our name! But still, we do need fuel for summertime play, and we’d like it to be tasty, quick, and healthy.

Here’s a snack that fills the bill.  I often enjoy this for breakfast as well as a mid-day snack or to go with a glass of wine to make Happy Hour even happier.   And they are so delicious and pretty — you’ll feel great about serving them as a summertime appetizer to anyone, almost any diet plan.  Low carb, high protein, gluten-free and smart in calories as well.

And if you are looking for a nourishing, funny and uplifting summertime read to take to the beach (or your porch swing) —  may I suggest you check out our books: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep.

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Directions:

Simply cut a piece of string cheese in 8 equal pieces, then arrange on plate sprayed with Pam. Nuke for 15 seconds. Put a smoked almond in center of each piece of cheese while warm. Cut “cantaloupe crackers” (slices of fresh cantaloupe in cracker-sized pieces) and place cheese & almond on top.

This appetizer is cold and warm, sweet and salty, soft and crunchy. So easy so good so healthy.  Enjoy! cantaloupe


Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions

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(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado,  it is hard for me to stay away from the  perfect weather on our inviting back porch!

 

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We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible.  Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch.  A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table.  I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).

But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and  picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions.  I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere.   Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.

You can get creative and  add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!

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Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions

 

 6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)

1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup water

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)

1 T. sea salt

T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)

1 T. celery seed

1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)

 

Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid.  Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.)  Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.

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Cheesy Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic Drizzle

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Cheesy Hot Garlic Bread with Tomatoes, Drizzled with Olive OIl and Vinegar

(Becky, the Mama.)

What fun  Rachel and I are having hearing back from readers enjoying We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook. Here’s one I got a kick out of today from Linda: “Becky I’m only on page 18 and I’m laughing out loud like a nutcase. You really have made a career out of telling on yourself! OMG, too funny and you’re not exaggerating, not even a little? Starting with misplacing your car keys in Nashville, your suitcase exploding at the airport, you can’t find your car once you arrive in Fort Worth, then when you do, the battery is dead? I’m dying over here.”

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People often ask my daughter (now co-author), my friends, my husband, “Come on, tell the truth. Is Becky making this stuff up?” All they can say, with a slow head shake is, “We only wish she were.”

As I read the fun note above, I was in the middle of posting this episode on Facebook:
Leaving hotel room today. Close door, get 4 big suitcases in hall.
Me: “Uh I took my glasses off again.”
Greg: “Did you leave them in the room?”
Me: “I might have.”
All four  of our keys are behind locked doors so Greg goes to get new ones. Upon his return, I say, “I also can’t seem to find my cell phone.” He enters the room and turns it upside down. I look on the carpet, I’ve been sitting on the phone in the hall. I find my glasses, in the case where I put them in my suitcase. I don’t remember doing that AT ALL. We close the door pick up our things and go on. Greg never gets mad, not even testy. No matter how many times we exit a hotel room this way.

Life has been so busy lately with the book’s release and travel and finding things I have lost,  that when I do cook I want it to be fast and easy and delicious. One of the things I enjoy the most at some of the great Italian restaurants we’ve visited on our trip to Oregon this week, is fresh homemade bread dipped in a little plate of olive oil, good aged balsamic vinegar and a little garlic. Heaven.

Recently I found a way to turn Heaven into a quick snacky meal or a wonderfully easy appetizer for a bunch. Cutting a nice fresh loaf of French bread lengthwise, I sprinkled it with cheese, then layered sliced fresh garden tomatoes, followed  tiny pinches of salt, pepper, basil or oregano (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand), a little fresh grated garlic. Pop this in the oven until the cheese melts and tomatoes are sizzling. Then, here’s the fun part: drizzle it all with good olive oil and balsamic, cut in slices and serve with plenty of napkins.

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Cheesy, Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic

1 French baguette, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella, some white cheddar and feta. Use any combination you like.)

2-3 tomatoes (my baguette was small so Roma tomatoes were perfect size), sliced

Pinch fresh salt

Several turns of fresh pepper

1 t. dried oregano, or 2 t. minced fresh basil

1 clove fresh garlic, grated

¼ cup olive oil, approximate

2 T. good aged balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat Oven to  400 degrees

Put both baguette halves on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Sprinkle about ½ cup grated cheese on each side.  Slice tomatoes and place atop both pieces of bread, overlapping slightly as shown.  Sprinkle each half with a little fresh salt, some turns of fresh pepper, the herbs and garlic.

Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until baguettes are hot, cheese is melted and tomatoes are sizzling.

Drizzle the baguettes with oil and vinegar, slice in 3 inch pieces and serve hot.  (With plenty of napkins.)

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Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Okay.  I have an honest confession.  If there were a support group for it, I should have joined.  Here it is:  I’m afraid of quinoa.  Not of eating it, mind you.  I actually love it and I know it is a vegetarian’s friends, full of all good things.  One cup of the nutty, fluffy tasty grain provides over 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, along with goodies like magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium and all for around 220 calories

My first encounter with quinoa was all positive: my daughter-in-law Julie took me to an adorable coffee shop called The Red Cup in Mukilteo, Washington, overlooking the water.  The kind of cafe with bright funky colors alongside soothing bohemian baristas in Birkenstocks and granny skirts.

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They serve an organic warm, tasty burrito stuffed with quinoa and cheese that comes with tangy fresh mango salsa.   I’ve often thought how much I’d like to try recreating one of those burritos, but I found my mind braking at this thought: “Oh, no, I’ll have to learn how to make quinoa.”

Finally, I told my daughter-the-vegan that I have a quinoa-making phobia.  Her response? “Mom, you are going to laugh at yourself when you find out how ridiculously easy it is.  Just use your $10.00 cheap-o rice maker and pretend it is rice.”

So today I faced down my fears. I marched to my rice maker, poured a cup of quinoa and 1 ¼ cups of water into the bowl, turned it on, then walked away slowly.  When I returned, hesitantly, 15 minutes later… a miracle had occurred.  The tiny little beads had burst and turned nutty and fluffy and … awesome.

The rest was easy and familiar: I grilled a tortilla, sprinkled a little cheese around, then layered quinoa, black beans, salsa, mango,cilantro and chopped green onions.  Rolled that baby up, cut it in half at a diagonal. and dipped it in a bit more salsa mixed with diced mango.

I was immediately transported to that café in Seattle.

Just give me some Birkenstocks and a granny skirt and call me the “Quinoa Queen.”

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Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito

Serves 1

1 medium to large Tortilla (white or wheat, I prefer Tortilla Land brand)

1/4 -1/3 cup grated cheese, depending on preference
1/3 cup cooked quinoa, warmed (click for Rachel’s simple directions)
2 T. black beans, warmed
1/4 c. diced mango, divided
Sprig cilantro, rough chopped (optional)
1 green onion chopped 
1/4 cup salsa

Grill tortilla on both sides until brown in spots, hot and pliable. (Use a bit of olive oil if needed to keep from sticking.)
Layer cheese, quinoa, black beans, 2 T. magno, cilantro and onion.

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Tuck in two sides and then roll up into a burrito. Cut on the diagonal, in half. Mix salsa with remaining mango and serve alongside the burrito.

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Kale “Popcorn” (or Leprechaun Food)

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(Becky the Mama)

As Kermit the Frog would say, “It’s not easy being green.” Only around here, the saying goes, “It is not easy to get my family to eat green things.” If, God forbid, a stray piece of “green stuff” – from chopped basil to green onions or kale – should land on my husband’s plate, he looks at me as though I’ve betrayed him…. with malice and forethought.

Thankfully children are more easily tricked… er… uh… persuaded. I told my grandson George that, together, we were going to make Green Popcorn. He was all in, as he loves to participate in any kind of “cooking with Nonny.” I had him tear the leaves off a bunch of kale into bite-sized pieces, then we rinsed them lightly and I let him spin the salad spinner, which one of his favorite kitchen tools. We then tossed the leaves in a bowl of olive oil and melted butter (butter helps give it the popcorn-taste) spread them on cookie sheets, sprinklee them with just a tiny bit of sea salt and baked until they were light as a feather. In fact, kale will almost fly off the cookie sheet after baking.

For extra fun I put them in popcorn bags, and sure enough, George LOVED them and asked for more. He ate almost a whole bunch of kale in one sitting. With this success behind me, I went after my husband in Sam-I-Am style. “You know that a lie I cannot tell, you will SO love green popcorn kale… “ He was willing to sample them and before he knew it he’d eaten the whole bowl.

“What do you think?”

“It really does taste like popcorn. I could eat this as a snack now and again quite happily.”

Eureka! Dr. Furhman, author of many books and PBS health guru, lists kale as the #1 food to help boost immunity and fight cancer.  It’s got more iron than beef, lots of Vitamin C and K, is high in fiber and full of antioxidants.  I’m posting this blog on St. Patty’s day, so you could tell you children that you are going to make some Leprechaun treats! Hey, whatever it takes to get your family to eat their greens and come back to report that they were “magically delicious”.
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P.S.  As long as we are nourishing our body with green things,  here’s another lovely green thing you can acquire to nourish your heart, mind and soul! 

 

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Kale “Popcorn” (or “Leprechaun Food”)

1 bunch fresh kale, leaves torn off of stem into chip-sized pieces
1 T. olive oil
1 t. butter, melted
Sea Salt

Preheat Oven to 350 Degrees
Rinse the torn up kale leaves then dry them very well in a salad spinner or blotting them on with clean tea towel. Toss them with clean hands in a bowl with the olive oil and butter. Spread the leaves out on a big flat cookie sheet, so they are just barely touching. Use two cookie sheets if needed.

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Sprinkle VERY LIGHTLY with sea salt. (Just a pinch for the whole pan. Because the kale shrinks up it is easy to over-salt them.) Bake about 8 -10 minutes. Stay near the oven and check them often. When they are light as a feather and starting to brown and get crispy, remove them and let them cool to the touch. We like them still warm and fragrant, served in popcorn bowls or bags as a snack. They also make nice crispy toppings for soups or pasta dishes.

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Black Forest Greek Yogurt Parfaits

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“……even if you don’t know anybody, and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, you should have your box of chocolates with you. You should eat your bowl of cherries. And that is what life is.”
―    C. JoyBell C.

(Becky, the Mama.)

By the amount of Greek yogurt occupying grocer’s refrigerator shelves these days, I’m not the only one in love with its rich, creamy, tart texture and taste. I don’t even buy sour cream anymore and honestly can’t tell the difference.  The 2% Fage brand is my favorite; so smooth with just the right amount of fat so that no one misses the cream.

Two of my favorite foods are sweet dark cherries and chocolate. (I agree with Dave Barry who says, “Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”) So it is no surprise that Black Forest Cake is one of my favorite treats, but alas, it doesn’t have many redeeming nutritional assets. So I come up with this quick, easy, decadent Black Forest Parfait, using my favorite Greek yogurt in place  of a pudding.  It was love at first bite.  In fact, I  just made a batch of them  for everyone in our family as snack, to a happy chorus of “mmm.. mmms…yum,  that’s good!”

It’s a dessert you can feel good about enjoying and sharing because the chocolate adds antioxidants, the yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein, and cherries are in the top 20 foods with the highest amount of antioxidants. Also, cherries are one of the few foods that have melatonin in them, for a restful night’s sleep. Finally, by starting with unsweetened yogurt, you can control the sweetness to your own taste.

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Black Forest Greek Yogurt Parfaits

Makes 2 parfaits

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups plain unsweetened Greek yogurt (Vegans can substitute So Delicious Coconut Milk “Greek Yogurt”)

1/4 c. Hershey chocolate syrup, plus a little some for decorating parfait tops (Vegans need to use a milk-free chocolate syrup)

Agave nectar to taste

2 T. mini chocolate chips (vegans use vegan chocolate chip)

1/2 c. dark sweet cherries (frozen, pitted; if they are large, cut them in half)

2 T. cherry preserves I love Bonne Maman French preserves, now available in most grocery stores. They do not have any corn syrup and are full of fruit!

Directions:

In one bowl mix yogurt with chocolate syrup.  Add agave nectar if you like until it is as sweet as you prefer.  In another small bowl mix the cherries and preserves.

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In a tall clear mug or parfait glass, put about 1/3 cup of chocolate yogurt mixture, then put a layer of the cherry mixture on next, about 1/4 cup. (Reserve about a Tablespoon to decorate top).   Follow this with another layer of chocolate yogurt (about 1/3 cup) and  a nice squiggle of chocolate syrup. Top with 1 T. mini chocolate chips and a dollop of cherry mixture for decoration on top.  Repeat in another mug or parfait glass.

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Golden Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

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(Becky, the Mama.)

So, this is the story of how I ended up eating an ENTIRE CAN of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) in one sitting yesterday.

My daughter’s slow and steady vegan influence upon me seems to have caught fire of late.  Either that or I had some really awful meat-based meals last week.   We went away to a hotel for fives days so that I could finish up my part of some detailed edits on our upcoming memoir, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.   

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During my self-imposed confinement I ordered an “Asian Salad” from the hotel café –which turned out to be tasteless squares of chicken tossed in wilty Iceberg lettuce with a thick flavorless mayo-based dressing. Later, hope still afloat, I ordered a gyro, which was made from salt-less pre-cooked dry roast beef chips smothered a sauce that tasted of thickened water. I arrived home a few days later with a sudden and strange aversion to anything cut from cow or fowl.  I almost kissed my fridge and pantry, so happy was I not to be at the mercy of  restaurant cooks who are lacking in taste buds.  

Searching for a quick meatless meal, I remembered that Rachel roasts chick peas in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning.  They are yummy and easy. “I’ll make some roasted chickpeas!” I said to myself.  “I’ll get loads of protein and fiber and I won’t have to eat meat today.” (There are 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in ½ cup of garbanzos, and a scant 125 calories.)

Well, one idea led to another and by the time I finished, I created a snack that I could not stop eating until every single bean (or pea) was gone.  It began when I  decided to try sautéing the garbanzos in olive oil in my trusty iron skillet. Then I threw in some sliced fresh garlic near the end of the cooking time so they could turn a golden brown (but not burn) and add extra flavor and crunch. After draining them on a paper towel, I squiggled a touch of  agave nectar over them to give the beans and garlic a light sweet, sticky surface then sprinkled them with sea salt and Parmesan cheese. 

These little snacks have it all going on: some crunch, some chewiness, some garlic, some salty and savory, and just a hint of sweet.  They can be eaten out of hand or tossed on a salad or atop a pasta for a quick vegan or vegetarian treat.

They would go fantastic with an ice cold beer at a Super Bowl party this weekend for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.  (Although vegans will need to use Vegan Parmesan Cheese, found at most health food stores.  I keep this on hand for Rachel and Jared and it’s quite tasty.)

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Golden  Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

Ingredients

 1 16 oz can chick peas (or garbanzo beans), drained (I do this on a paper towel to get them as dry as possible)

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¼ cup olive oil

3 to 5 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food) peeled and sliced thin

2 t. agave nectar

Sea Salt to taste

Parmesan Cheese to taste (start with 1 Tablespoon and add more if you like)

Directions

Pour oil into a skillet and heat until very hot.  Put chickpeas in skillet and let them get brown on most sides.  Just before the chickpeas are ready to take out of the skillet, add the garlic slices and sauté until brown.  (If the pain is dry, you can add more oil at any time.) 

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Drain the chick peas and garlic on a paper towel.  Put into a bowl and gently toss with agave nectar.  Add sea salt and Parmesan cheese to taste.    Serve warm or at room temperature.   Excellent source of protein and fiber atop salads, sandwiches or pasta.

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