Peanut Thai Quinoa Salad

Disclosure: I received a selection of whole grain products from the Whole Grain Council to sample, as a whole grain ambassador for “Whole Grain Sampling Day”, but was not compensated for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thai Quinoa Salad

There’s nothing better than finally feeling in control of things again…at least diet-wise. Sure, I still have my splurge days, but for the most part, I don’t go over my calorie count. I have to admit, it really helps that the new office discourages eating at your desk. Walking to the break room for a handful of dried fruit or a granola bar makes me think twice before snacking. I actually like it….mindless snacking while at work was one of my biggest issues, and the new job sort of figured it out for me. :-)

I’ve also started trying new food items again. I was recently approached by the Whole Grains Council about being a Whole Grains Ambassador this year, along with some other fantastic food bloggers. I definitely jumped at the chance, because one thing I’ve learned throughout my weight loss journey, is that there is nothing wrong with giving new foods a try. One of my favorite whole grains is quinoa, which I wouldn’t have ordinarily tried when I was almost 300 pounds. I was looking for other options for lunch at the office, and there were so many great recipes out there involving quinoa…I just had to give it a try! I know it’s all the rage lately, but I can’t get enough of it. Not only is it tasty (it reminds me of brown rice, but with a nuttier taste), but I also think it’s versatile. You can serve it hot or cold, savory or sweet, and you can easily enjoy it anytime of the day!

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Cranberry Apple Avocado Salad

cranberryappleavocadosalad

My goodness! Life has been fairly busy lately. Things were a little more relaxing once the house got repaired from the lightning mess, however, the past couple of weeks, the closer we get to the holidays (um, it’s exactly two months until Christmas), the busier things get! I sound like I’m complaining, but it has me so excited. :-)

I know that it’s too soon to talk about holiday stuff for the majority of people, but every year in October, I get the holiday fever. I put the Josh Groban’s “Noel” CD in my car, I start crafting like crazy for holiday gifts & I’ll linger around any aisle in a store with snowflakes and trees. I’m tempted to burn my holiday tree candle, but then I’ll want to put the tree up. I do have my limits…. :-P

When I attended Fresh Summit this past Sunday, I received a bag of this new (to me) variety of lettuce from Coastline Produce called Little Gems. They looked like baby romaine, but they are a hybrid of crispy romaine and sweet butter lettuce. I couldn’t wait to try it, so I went to the store with an idea of combining apple and cranberry in a salad with this lettuce, along with a vinaigrette recipe I’ve had my eyes on since last year. Then, when I got home, I found that I received the amazing prize (from the California Avocado Commission) that I won from Dine & Dish’s Avocado contest (STILL can’t believe I won it!!), and included in that prize was a bag of avocados. I couldn’t help but add this to the salad as well, because avocados are pretty darn awesome in any salad. :-) It was so so good! The crispness of the apple and lettuce, the creaminess of the avocado and the tartness from the cranberry just made this salad delightful! The salad dressing is a bright pink color, which I think makes it so pretty and colorful. In fact, looking at it while I’m in my holiday fever phase makes me think that this recipe would be PERFECT for the holidays. It’s red and green, after all. :-)

Cranberry Apple Avocado Salad
Source: dressing adapted from AllRecipes

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 1 head Little Gem lettuce (or lettuce of your choice), washed well and dried
  • 1 large apple (I used gala), cored and sliced thin
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup fresh cranberries
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. water

Directions:

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients, blending until the dressing is very smooth.
  2. In a large bowl, add the lettuce, apple slices, avocado slices & dried cranberries. You can either serve it with the dressing on the side or tossing the salad with the dressing, a little at a time, until the salad is dressed to your preferences. Serve immediately.

Disclaimer: I received the lettuce at no cost to me from Coastline Produce, and the avocado was part of a prize pack from the California Avocado Commission.

 

Top 10 Recipes of 2012

Man, what a year it has been! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season with their friends and family. :-)

Most years, I feel like time has flown by, but for some reason, it feels like last January was truly a year ago. So many great things have happened to us this year (as well as some really crappy events).  

Some highlights and not so highlights:

  • It was our first full year in our new house, which has been such a blessing. It’s just awesome to finally have friendly neighbors, who don’t throw their trash in our backyard or play loud music at 2am (side-eye to the neighbors at the old house).
  • My husband and I have both decided to live healthier. Between us, we’ve lost over 150 lbs. this year. (I’m sure my husband is rolling his eyes at me sharing this, but seriously..I’m gonna brag here!) That’s just amazing to me. I’m so proud of us.
  • Another weight loss highlight. I fit into a clothes size that I haven’t been able to wear since 10th grade. That was 12 years ago. OMG!
  • A not so highlight. Hurricane Isaac…don’t want to go into too much detail with that one, but yeah, hurricanes suck. Oh, and for the record, labradors don’t care if the winds are 50 mph outside. If there’s rain/water, it’s playtime! (ugh)
  • I think I’m making some good progress on my 101 Goals in 1001 Days list.

And of course, it’s been another fun year blogging. I really appreciate all of y’all taking the time to read my tiny corner of the Internet. Thank you for your sweet comments, emails and tweets. In January, it’s gonna be this blog’s 5th anniversary, and I’m just amazed by all of the friends I’ve made and people I’ve “met”  through this blog. You guys are the best!

Just to round up the year, I wanted to share with y’all your top 10 most read posts from 2012.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies w/ Salted Caramel Buttercream

10. Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Buttercream - These whoopie pies were made for a work fundraiser, and they were a huge success. Great pumpkin/spicy flavor, and the salted caramel buttercream just makes them super indulgent. Pumpkin + caramel is a wonderful combination!

Red Velvet Bundt Cake

9. Red Velvet Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - I love anything red velvet. This bundt cake is a fun change from a regular cake, and it was pretty easy to throw together and bake!

Baked Oatmeal

8. Baked Oatmeal - My breakfast has been forever changed by this. This oatmeal is not soggy at all (which I hate about cooked oats), and it’s very sweet with the addition of bananas.

Peanut Butter Cookies

7. Peanut Butter Cookies - Just simple, classic peanut butter cookies. :-) Very good!

Candy Corn Oreo Truffles

6. Candy Corn Oreo Truffles - Oreo truffles are insanely good, and it was fun to make these with seasonal flavors. Always a favorite when I bring these truffles to work!

Fresh Strawberry Pie

5. Fresh Strawberry Pie - I’m SO glad strawberry season is back. I need to make this pie again…it’s not rich at all, and since it involves no cooking (except for the crust), it tastes so fresh!

Snickers Cupcakes

4. Snickers Cupcakes - Oh, I totally need to make these again. If you love Snickers, you will LOVE these!

Homemade Strawberry Lemonade

3. Homemade Strawberry Lemonade - Meyer lemon season + strawberry season? Um…guess I need to make this too and ASAP!

Red Velvet Swirl Brownies

2. Red Velvet Swirl Brownies - These were just delicious, and so pretty too! Perfect for Valentine’s Day!

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Feta

1. Spinach, Strawberry, Pecan and Feta Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette - This is a huge favorite of y’alls. I think Pinterest made this a popular one, and it is VERY easy to throw together! This is a salad you want to make for your next party…it’s an awesome combination!

Thanks so much for reading this blog, and I hope everyone has a Happy New Year! Time to get used to writing/typing “2013″. :-)

Warm Spinach, Quinoa & Mushroom Salad

Warm Quinoa Salad

You know, the crazy thing about starting this diet is that when I work-out, I find that I want to eat better. I’m slowly introducing myself to healthier foods that I haven’t tried before. My grocery cart has been full of fresh foods, which is so not like me. It’s a wonderful change, because every week, my clothes are getting looser and my body just feels stronger. It’s amazing how quickly your body can change in a few short months!

Quinoa has been one of those ingredients that I’ve been very curious about, but as long as I had rice and pasta, I felt like I didn’t need to try quinoa. I was actually worried it would taste terrible, but when I went to Whole Foods one weekend, I found quinoa in their bulk aisle and bought a couple of cups worth. I love that about their bulk aisle. You can buy just a little bit to try, and there isn’t much waste if you end up hating whatever you get there. :-)

Now, the challenge was to find a recipe for my first try with this grain. I was surprised to find so many recipes featuring quinoa, so I searched for a recipe based on what I had in the fridge. Since spinach and mushrooms are usually in my fridge, this was a no brainer. The original recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms, but I had a feeling regular white mushrooms wouldn’t make much of a difference. I also halved this recipe, and I still had a good bit left for leftovers. :-)

For those of you who are wondering, quinoa (to me) tastes a lot like a nutty brown rice. It has a bit of a bite to it (texture wise), but really, I think I could easily sub this for rice in most recipes I make. :-) As for this dish, the salad was very simple to throw together, and it tasted really great! It would be perfect to enjoy this summer, since it’s such a light dish!

Warm Spinach, Quinoa & Mushroom Salad
Source: mildly adapted from Everyday Food

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 pounds fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa (well rinsed in a strainer)
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, vigorously whisk the vinegar, oil, 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper together until the dressing is well combined.
  2. On a foil-lined baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with half of the dressing and roast the mushrooms for about 20-25 minutes (tossing occasionally).
  3. While the mushrooms are roasting, combine the rinsed quinoa with 3 cups of water and 1.5 tsp. salt in a small saucepan. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cover the saucepan and simmer the quinoa until the liquid has absorbed, for about 15-20 minutes.
  4. To assemble the salad, place the spinach in a large bowl and top it with the warm mushrooms, quinoa and the rest of the dressing. Toss the salad until everything is combined (the spinach will wilt) and top with the crumbled feta before serving.

Spinach, Strawberry, Pecan and Feta Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Feta

I started really getting into spinach salads a couple of years ago. I actually prefer to purchase baby spinach at the store vs. lettuce, because I know if I don’t feel like eating a spinach salad, I can cook or bake with it as well to avoid wasting it/letting it go bad. Cooked lettuce isn’t quite so appealing. :-)

A while back, I was invited to Hotel Indigo with a few other local bloggers to sample their restaurant’s menu, and they brought out this salad that had me absolutely smitten. It had spinach, local strawberries, feta cheese and pecans tossed in a strawberry vinaigrette. It was DIVINE. I knew one day I’d have to remake this for when we had company, and I actually made this a while ago. Like…Easter. I took pictures of this salad back in April and completely forgot about it. Oops!

Easter is smack dab in the middle of our strawberry season here, so I knew that this would be the perfect occasion to make this salad. It was ridiculously easy to throw together, and the salad was a hit. It tasted pretty darn close to the salad I enjoyed at the hotel, and I was thrilled about that. In fact, since I made this salad in April, I’ve made this vinaigrette multiple times. It’s just that good, y’all. I haven’t made the salad in quite a while, though, since I’m a strawberry snob and the season is long gone. :( I envy those of you who still have fresh strawberries at your local fruit stands!

Just to note: I realize that the pecans weren’t pictured here. I served them on the side though, since quite a few people in my family aren’t fans of pecans. :-)

Spinach, Strawberry, Pecan and Feta Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette
Source: salad inspired by King Bar & Bistro, dressing from Rachael Ray

Salad Ingredients:

  • 5 cups baby spinach
  • 1 pint sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. strawberry jam (I used this freezer jam)
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. To make the vinaigrette, place the strawberry jam in a large bowl and whisk in the vinegar until everything is well-mixed. Keep whisking the mixture and slowly add in the olive oil. Whisk until the dressing doesn’t look like it’s separating. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the spinach, strawberries, feta cheese and pecans to the bowl and toss the ingredients together until everything is coated with the dressing. Serve immediately, or if you’re serving at a later time, just make the dressing separately and serve it on the side (make some extra dressing, just in case you have some dressing lovers) instead of tossing it with the salad ingredients.