Meatless Monday - A different kind of nacho

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

A Life Less Sweet is proud to be a part of the Meatless Monday movement! If you haven't already, check out the official Meatless Monday site - and look for a mention of this blog in the Who's Going Meatless? section! The recently renovated site is a wealth of meatless recipes, reviews and information. You can also join the Meatless Monday movement in a more official way.

Who doesn't love nachos? Nachos are a fun finger food for adults and kids alike. A couple of weeks ago I made an unusual one that is sure to become a favorite around here. What's so unusual about it? Sweet potatoes! These nachos are topped with a bean sauce and roasted sweet potatoes.

I think that we have established that I am not a bean fan. I am slowly but surely working bean dishes into our repertoire, though. I find that if a dish is heavily seasoned and the right kind of bean is used, I don't mind beans so much. The flavor of red kidney beans blend in nicely in a well seasoned dish. I use these beans in my turkey chili and in this dish. The bean sauce is really kind of like beans and salsa and is fine even for me.

And the sweet potatoes - divine! My husband said that every time he took a bite with sweet potato in it his mouth got a burst of delicious sweetness. The sweet potatoes are coated with wonderful, aromatic spices - cumin and coriander - that really compliment the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the bean sauce. Plus, sweet potatoes, you'll remember, are really good for you.

At long last, it's recipe time! I adapted this recipe from Linda McCartney's World of Vegetarian Cooking, a cookbook that has provided many delicious recipes to our household. It's a different take on nachos, but one that is definitely worth your time!

Beans and Sweet Potato Nachos

1 1/2 lbs sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp paprika
14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 14 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups Cheddar cheese
corn tortilla chips

In a large baking dish, mix the sweet potato, 2 TBSP of the oil, and the cumin and coriander. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 50-60 min or until tender.

Heat the remaining oil in a pan and add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and paprika. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, about 10 min, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes with their juices and simmer uncovered for 5 min. Stir in the beans.

Place some corn chips on an oven or microwave-proof plate, and top corn chips with the bean mixture, then the sweet potato, and finish with some cheese. Bake for 10 min until nachos are well heated (or microwave for 30 seconds or so to melt the cheese).

Serve with garnish of choice - cilantro, avocado, sour cream, or jalepenos for example.


R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Essence review

>> Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Have you missed me? I've been away at a delightful family reunion in Colorado (we're actually originally from Mississippi, but who wants to meet in Mississippi in the middle of summer? Not me!) and didn't have my act together enough to have posts ready for you.

To get back in the swing of things, let me tell you about this new drink from R.W. Knudsen. I was fortunate enough to win a four pack of every flavor of the new R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Essence drink thanks to This Mama Cooks! on a Diet. The drink comes in four flavors - lemon, blueberry, mint, and cucumber.

What are these drinks? As their name suggests, they're simply carbonated spring water ("sparkling" water) with various essences for flavor and a little citric acid (as a preservative, I suspect). NO added sugar! NO fruit juice! It's a true flavored water. Take a look at the ingredients for the cucumber Sparkling Essence:

Carbonated spring water, organic brewed lemon extract, organic natural cucumber extract, organic lemon juice concentrate, citric acid

Ok, ok, so there is actually a little juice in there. Still, it's minimal. This is not a sickly-sweet, fruit-juice flavored water. I'm impressed with the ingredients in each of the drinks. Very simple and flavorful.

But how does it taste? The flavors are true. The blueberry and lemon flavors are not overpowering. The cucumber flavor, on the other hand, is really intense - but not in an unpleasant way. The mint has a pleasant spearmint flavor.

My son is hooked on these already. He is not a huge fan of "bubbly" drinks, but he really enjoys these. He's a big fan of the blueberry and cucumber flavors. I'm tickled pink that he likes these. Now I've got a sugar-free carbonated drink option for him that I don't feel the least bit bad about him drinking. Woo hoo!

Me? I'm on the fence. When I first tried one last night, I didn't care for it at all. I'm not a fan of sparkling water in general, though. I've given each flavor a try since then, and while it's not a drink that I would necessarily turn to (because it's sparkling), the flavors are actually quite good. The cucumber and mint are my favorites, which really surprises me. If they sold this drink in a non-sparkling variety, I think that I would be all over it.

That said, I will buy this when I see it in our store. Not necessarily for me, but for my kids and their company. If you like sparkling water, I would definitely recommend that you give this a try!


Meatless Monday - breakfast

>> Sunday, June 14, 2009

I have to admit something...I don't like breakfast. I never have. I'm not a morning person, and I just don't like preparing food in the morning unless it's super easy. I also don't like cereal, which takes away a lot of easy breakfast options. I used to skip breakfast quite often, but I now try to eat at least a little breakfast in the morning.

Going meatless in the morning isn't hard for me. I do enjoy having a little sausage or ham in the morning on occasion - if someone else makes it - but I also find that I prefer a lighter breakfast these days. So, here are a couple of my current favorite breakfasts - fast, easy, light, and delicious!

First, yogurt with fruit and granola. So easy! Chop up whatever fresh fruit you happen to have on hand and top with yogurt. I like to use either vanilla yogurt or 2% Greek yogurt with a little honey. Top with some granola - homemade or store bought - and mix. Delicious!

My breakfast this morning. Not much to look at, but SO good!

Next, a breakfast that is even easier and just as tasty. Quarter a banana and top with a smear of peanut butter, a tablespoon or so of raisins, and a dusting of cinnamon. Voila! Fast and tasty!

A great thing about these breakfasts (outside of them being easy, fast, and tongue-tempting) is that they have a nice combo of sweetness, fiber, and protein. The sweetness makes my tongue happy, and the fiber and protein keep me going all morning.

If you shun breakfast as I do, give these a try. It might make you change your mind about the most important meal of the day!


Surprising HFCS food of the week (or don't judge a food by its cover)

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I've gotten pretty good at picking brands that don't have HFCS in their products. With conventional brands (Nabisco, Kraft, etc.) it takes a lot of label reading. Some products are HFCS and trans-fat free, and some aren't. There is a whole subset of brands now that seem to go out of their way to make themselves look more shi-shi. It seems kind of an unwritten rule that these brands don't contain HFCS and usually don't contain hydrogenated oils. (They also generally cost more too, but that's not what this post is about.) Their products might not be healthy, but they're generally free of some of the more villified processed ingredients (like HFCS).

Sometimes, though, a brand surprises me. A brand that just has that look - that HFCS-free look - is Culinary Circle. Have you seen it in your store yet? It's all over our Albertsons here. The packaging and the upscale looking branding just screams no HFCS to me.
Guess what? I was so wrong! Culinary Circle looks upscale, but the ingredient lists tell a different story. Not all of their products contain HFCS, but some do. (Their garlic naan does not contain HFCS and is actually pretty good for a store bought naan.) And many (I'd say most, but I didn't look at very many of their products) have impressively long ingredient lists - though not impressive in a good way.

Culinary Circle is another Supervalu store brand that is marketing itself as "chef inspired cuisine." (Supervalu owns Albertsons as well as several other grocery store chains.) The Culinary Circle brand manager says that, "Culinary Circle brings families back to their own dining rooms with the quality and unique variety of food found on casual dining restaurant menus." Hmmm...their ingredient lists do not scream quality to me. (Don't bother looking for ingredient lists on their website. Nary an ingredient is listed.)

It's a nice idea, but in the end you're getting cheap meals made with cheap ingredients. I'm a little amazed that Supervalu could do such a good job with its Wild Harvest Organics - a reasonable priced organic line with good ingredients - and such a poor job with its "premium" Culinary Circle line of products.

So, let this be a warning. You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judge a food by its packaging. If you're serious about eating better foods, better flip your product over and at least give the ingredients a scan!


Meatless Monday - Layered Pasta Bake

>> Sunday, June 7, 2009

I came across a cookbook by Linda McCartney a few months ago at our local library - Linda McCartney's World of Vegetarian Cooking. For a cookbook with such a cheesy name, it's actually got quite a few good recipes in it.

I'm going to share one that we tried last week - a Greek Layered Pasta Bake. I was a little concerned about how all of the flavors would meld together, but it turned out great. My daughter liked it a lot. She especially like the zucchini chunks. My son picked at the pasta but did his best to avoid the sauce and zucchini - typical. My husband and I both thought it was delicious.

Layered Pasta Bake

14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 cup water
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 sun-dried tomatoes, crushed (I used oil packed sun-dried tomatoes)
8 oz crumbled feta
3 cups dried pasta (penne or fusilli or rigatoni)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium zucchini, sliced
1/2 cup cheddar, grated
freshly chopped basil to garnish

In a medium saucepan, simmer the tomatoes, tomato puree, and water with the thyme, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes. When the sauce has reduced and thickened a little (about 8-10 min), add the feta. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Drain, and mix thoroughly with the tomato sauce.

Saute the onion and zucchini for about 5 min. (I think that I sauteed a little longer. My onions and zucchini were just starting to brown a bit.)

Spread half of the pasta mixture in a 13x9 baking dish and layer the zucchini mixture on top. Cover with the rest of the pasta mixture. Top with cheese and bake at 350 F for 20 min. Garnish with fresh basil before serving.


Tips and Recipes

>> Thursday, June 4, 2009

Have you ever noticed how the longer the days get, the shorter they seem? It's summer! And there are so many things to do, which doesn't always leave a lot of time for writing. So today, I thought that I would go the easy route and pass along a few tips and share some recipes from a some other great blogs that we've enjoyed.

Random Kitchen Tips

  • I like celery, but it generally takes me a long time to use a whole head of it. Love this - wrap celery tightly in aluminum foil and it keeps for weeks! Really, it's true!

  • Lately I find that I almost always have a little 2% Greek yogurt on hand. It's a great substitute for sour cream - with the added benefit of being lower in calories and fat than even light sour cream.

  • I've been using white whole wheat flour in my baking. White whole wheat is made from white wheat berries instead of red wheat berries. I find that white whole wheat flour has a lighter texture and taste in my baked goods - so I can use more of it than I would regular whole wheat flour and still get desirable results. Like my pumpkin muffins? Try making them with 1 cup white whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup all purpose flour (or even go crazy and use ALL white whole wheat flour). Still light and delicious!

  • Buy seeded instead of seedless watermelons. Granted, there are some tasty seedless watermelons on the market now, but their flavor still pales in comparison with a good seeded watermelon.

  • Last, one from my mom...leave the skin on your sweet potatoes when making sweet potato fries. Simple, no? I always assumed that it would be papery and unappealing to leave the skin on, but my mom proved me wrong. Plus, the skins are the most nutrient packed part of the sweet potato. Next time you make sweet potato fries, leave the skin on!

What? You've never made sweet potato fries? It's easy! I like mine oven baked. Cut a sweet potato or two into thin fries. Toss with just enough olive oil to coat each fry (about a tablespoon). Season as desired (great with some salt, onion powder, and thyme). Place on a baking sheet in a single layer. (They'll crisp up better if they aren't piled on top of each other.) Bake at 400 F for 15 min. Use a spatula to flip the fries around and bake for another 15 min. Delicious!

Last a few favorite recipes compliments of some other fine blogs. Need a good red beans and rice recipe? This one is absolutely delicious (even for a non-bean lover like myself) and has a nice, authentic flavor. AND it's as easy as it gets! Go check out this Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice recipe from Life Should Be Beautiful.

Next, Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos from Our Best Bites! Nevermind that they're baked, these are some of the best taquitos that I've ever had. Mine didn't come out looking very pretty, but they made up for it in flavor. Serve with a little sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and some salsa - yum!

Last, a great one pot meal good for kids and adults. Picky Palate offers this great recipe for Chicken, Sausage, Broccoli, and Parmesan Brown Rice Dinner. Easy and delicious!


Meatless Monday - Frittata

>> Monday, June 1, 2009

One of my quick, go-to meatless meals is a frittata. A frittata - at least the way I make it - is basically just a crustless quiche. I start it on the stove and end in the oven. It's a great meal to use up leftovers in the fridge. Virtually any vegetable is good in a frittata. You could even throw in a little meat if you want - a little bacon is a particularly good addition and sausage would probably also be good.

I am not a big fan of eggs - the taste does not appeal to me - so I like a frittata that has a lot of stuff in it. The egg acts more as a binder than anything, and all of the other flavors temper the egg flavor. My husband and I love this dish (though my husband likes quiche better - he's a crust fan), and it's growing on my kids too.

I like recipes. I like to fiddle with a recipe to make it my own, but I still like to have a base recipe to go by. Frittata is an exception. It's a very forgiving dish, and I usually just wing it. So, I'm going to give you a basic recipe, but don't be afraid to play around with it. Feel free to use less egg or more egg, different seasonings, a different cheese or no cheese at all, and of course whatever vegetables suit your mood. You can even go up or down with the oven temperature - just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Without further ado, here is the basic recipe for the frittata that I made for our family last week. Enjoy!


1 1/2 cups red potato, cubed
1 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, chopped and steamed
1/2 cup Jarlsberg cheese
4 eggs
1 cup skim milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Saute the potato and onion over medium heat in an oven-safe skillet with a little olive oil for about 10 min or until potato is tender. Stir frequently. Add broccoli florets and top with cheese.

Mix eggs, milk, salt, and paprika. Pour into skillet over broccoli/potato/onion mixture. Shake the pan a bit to distribute the ingredients. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 min or until the bottom starts to set up while the top is till a bit liquidy.

Move skillet to oven and cook for another 15-20 min or until the frittata has set up. A toothpick inserted about an inch from the center should come out clean.


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