Grain Bowl Basics

Grain Bowl Basics

I think I mentioned this in another entry, but grain bowls and mason jar salads are what inspired me to start a blog in the first place.  It was right after the New Year in 2015, and I fixated on making both of these things.  I think I covered mason jar salads pretty thoroughly over 2 different posts (though my pictures could use some updating).  But I never got around to grain bowl basics until now (I first saw these “Health Bowls” in an old Real Simple issue.)  

Another new year, another reason to start fresh.  This year I’m planning to do a 10 Day Elimination Diet—not for weight loss, but because my stomach has been irritated a lot lately, and I’m curious if it’s because of certain types of foods.  I’m no expert, and I haven’t even started yet.  (As I write this, it’s New Year’s Eve.  I told my family I will not start this until everyone is back in school and at work because I don’t want to punish everyone by not having caffeine in the mornings if they’re all here). 

You may already know what an Elimination Diet is, and usually it is supposed to last for a month or so.  But I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  Instead I’m trying 10 days, and I’ll gauge it from there.  There is a long list of food types to avoid—types that can cause stomach irritation.  After you’ve done a week or more on an elimination diet, you’ve kind of given your digestive tract a restart, and then you slowly add back one food group at a time to see how you feel.  It doesn’t determine allergies, just sensitivities.  I’d like to know what I’m eating that’s making my stomach act funky. 

Some of the types of food you cannot eat include caffeine, alcohol (obviously), beef, pork, raw fish, shellfish, nightshades (like eggplant and tomatoes), white potatoes, soy, gluten, certain fruits like bananas and grapes, peanuts, dairy, and eggs.  It sounds like a lot!  But I decided to look at it as what I can eat:  chicken, fin fish, rice, gluten free oats, lentils, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lots of vegetables, lots of fruits like apples and pears, olive and coconut oil, every type of nut except for peanuts, tea, most herbs, almond milk and coconut milk, vinegars, even cocoa powder.  When I look at it this way, I think…hmmm, what can I make?  I have a lot of ideas coming very soon!


Brown rice, chili and cinnamon roasted acorn squash, purple cabbage, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, avocado, hummus, and sesame seeds

Immediately I think of grain bowls.  My family likes grain bowls, and while I’m certainly not asking them to do this diet with me, it will be nice to make things we can all enjoy.  A grain bowl starts with a bed of grain– any kind you like.  For me, it’s usually Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice or Quinoa.  After that, I pick a type of protein like beans (if I’m doing vegan), or salmon or chicken if not.  I almost always add sweet potatoes, seasoned and roasted.  Then a few raw veggies and cooked veggies (for contrast), something rich like olives or avocado, some herbs, and a dollop of hummus in the middle.  I think of it as a salad, but the base is a grain instead of a lettuce.  From here on, I’ll just list some options, and let you go to work and become inspired.


Total Time:  10 Minutes plus time to cook any veggies or grains

Serves:  1

Difficulty Level:  Easy



  • Grains (Pick 1): brown rice, barley, quinoa, oats, farro
  • Proteins (Pick 1): Egg, chicken, salmon, tuna, cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils
  • Cooked Veggies (Pick 2-3): roasted sweet potatoes, roasted acorn squash, roasted red pepper, steamed mushrooms, blanched asparagus, shelled edamame, roasted kale, blanched broccoli florets
  • Raw Veggies (Pick 2-3): diced cucumber, scallions, sliced radishes, shredded carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, purple cabbage, grape tomatoes
  • Something Rich (Pick 1-2): olives, avocado, feta, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  • Herbs (Pick 1-2): basil, parsley, chives, cilantro
  • Extra Flavor (Pick 1): hummus, pesto, chimichurri, Greek yogurt, tahini, tzatziki, olive oil and vinegar



Assemble your meal in a large, shallow bowl.  Start with the grain, and then layer the different vegetables and toppings.  In the center of the bowl, add dressing or hummus.





10 Budget-Friendly Recipes for 2017

10 Budget-Friendly Recipes for 2017

With the start of the New Year, most of us have big plans to improve ourselves.  Once we’re in the 2nd or 3rd week of January, though, it gets harder to keep up with our resolutions.  Most  years, I vow to lose weight/eat better and also become better with money.  But you know what?  Last year, I actually did both of those things.  I lost 20 pounds, and Jon and I eliminated our ‘bad’ debt.  When I say ‘bad,’ I mean credit cards, etc.  I don’t consider a mortgage to be a bad thing, but I didn’t like the idea of a monthly payment for something I bought at Marshall’s 2 months ago and have since forgotten what it is.  That felt silly, and it also felt overwhelming.  This year I vow to improve my blog with better photos and more inventive recipes, and I vow to surround myself only with people who are positive influences (no emotional vampires or phony friendships, please and thank you).

Since this blog is all about food and stuff, I’m going to do a 2 part series for our resolutions.  This one is 10  Budget-Friendly Recipes.  The second entry will be 10 Healthy Recipes.

I’m going to go back through old recipes.  These days in the hyper-fast world of Pinterest bloggers, recipes are churned out so quickly that new gets old really quickly.  There are so many great ideas out there that get buried.  Here goes:

  1. Budget Bytes: Halusky.  This is a simple dish (as are most on this list), and because it has few ingredients, it’s easy on the wallet.  Halusky is an Eastern European dish, and the egg is completely optional.  I wouldn’t skip it though, because it serves as the protein component for a complete dinner.  I would also replace the regular egg noodles with whole wheat egg noodles if they’re available.  Strangely I could always find whole wheat egg noodles when I lived on the Florida panhandle, but I can rarely find them in coastal Virginia even though it’s a much bigger area. halusky-v


2.  Green Healthy Cooking: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry.  I made this last year for Jon and me.  Again, it requires very few ingredients.  Aside from the basic pantry staples, just pick up some coconut milk and curry paste.  If you didn’t want this to be vegan, you can add some diced rotisserie chicken.  I posted my own version of this a while back.Vegan-Sweet-Potato-and-Chickpea-Curry-1.jpg


3.  Ina Garten:  Spaghetti Aglio e Olio.   This dish is just beautiful in its simplicity, and I bet most of us have the ingredients to make this right now!  All you need is a salad or simple roasted vegetable to complete this dinner.410490.jpg


  1. Martha Stewart: Cinnamon and Chicken Stew.   I love spicy food.  As much as I can, I make it for my family.  Last year, I really went for it as far as veering away from the boneless, skinless chicken and getting the thighs and leg quarters.  Sometimes I can find these for less than $1 per pound!  In reality, it seems a little weird to only eat one part of the chicken anyway.  The legs and thighs have so much more flavor.  For this dinner, if you don’t have cinnamon sticks, it’s okay.  Just substitute ground cinnamon.  Also to give the dish a little extra spice, I seasoned the chicken with Berbere instead of salt and pepper.  It was a hit!mbd105165_1109_cinchickc_hd.jpg


  1. Eating on a Dime: Easiest Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings.  This is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it reminds me of growing up in the south and eating my Nanny’s chicken and dumplings.  I’ve rewritten this into my own version, but this is where I found it.  It takes so little effort and is so comforting on a cold night.  Plus it’s all in one pot, and you don’t need to make any side dishes. crock-po-chicken-and-dumplings-close-up.jpg


  1. Family Fresh Meals: One Pot Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls This is the second cabbage dish I’m posting.  I know a lot of people who don’t like cabbage, but I love it.  It’s very inexpensive, and I think it’s underutilized.  For the ground beef (or ground turkey if you prefer), keep your eyes out at your local grocery store.  When they run a sale, get as much as you can, portion it out, and freeze it.  Really, you would benefit to do this with all your meat products!  It saves money, and you can cook based on what you know you’ve got in the freezer.  Doing this is also what forced me out of my boneless, skinless comfort zone.Diem-683x1024.png


  1. Jo Cooks: Mustard Balsamic Pork Chops with Rosemary.   I think pork chops are forgotten about in favor of chicken.  Boneless chops tend to be a little dry, but when you cook them in their marinade, it helps them stay tender.  Of course, you can always make this with bone-in chops, country style pork ribs (you need to try these if you’ve never cooked with them– so tender), or even chicken thighs (use what you have or buy what is on sale!).  This marinade is so flavorful and only uses a few ingredients. mustard-balsamic-pork-chops-with-rosemary.jpg


  1. Amuse Your Bouche: Butter Roasted Radishes.  The poor radish.  No one (except the French) ever thinks to cook them.  They’re always in the salad section of the produce department.  I love them in salad, but I think you should definitely try them roasted.  I tried them roasted years ago out of boredom, wondering, hmmm, I wonder if this will taste good?  It did.  The traditional way to roast them is in butter, but you can always substitute olive oil.  Pair this with the pork chops above or next to some pasta.Butter-roasted-radishes-5-639x1024.jpg


  1. Let’s Dish Recipes: Brown Sugar Balsamic Roasted Baby Carrots.  Carrots are one of the most consistent tasting and consistently priced vegetables in the grocery store.  You can get a pound of carrots for less than $1, and they’re always in season.  Even if you don’t know what to do with them yet, I think you should always keep them in your fridge.  They go with salads, casseroles, soups, even in omelets.  And here on their own.  I’ve posted a recipe for Middle Eastern Spiced Glazed Carrots, and the idea is the same.  I like carrots that have both sweet and spicy flavor components (e.g. Ras El Hanout + honey or Vinegar + brown sugar).Balsamic-CarrotsWB.jpg


  1. Yummy Healthy Easy: Slow Cooker Peach Oatmeal.  I figured I should include a non-dinner option on here.  Other than the canned peaches, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry already.  You can use any kind of nuts you have on hand.  You can substitute maple syrup for honey.  You can frozen peaches or even frozen berries for the canned peaches.  If you like a hot breakfast on a cold morning, it doesn’t get easier.  You set this up right before bedtime, and it’s waiting for you when you get up.  How cozy!Crock-Pot-Peach-Oatmeal-4.jpg




Pretty Things: January 2017

Pretty Things:  January 2017

For me, January is about getting back to basics.  The holidays are over, I don’t want to feel bloated.  I want all the cookies, wine, and everything red and green gone.  I want my house to feel neutral and cool again.  And as far as food goes, I want stuff that’s nourishing but light– lots of soups, lots of vegetarian dishes, and some healthy homemade snacks.

1.   Amagamsett sea salt. I confess, I saw this on Barefoot Contessa.  Intrigued, I went to their website to see all the different types of salt.  Whoa!  They have flavored salts of any type you could imagine, from Wasabi to Merlot to Espresso to Herbs de Provence.  They also offer several different sampler packs if you want to try a little before committing to a large bottle.pure_merlot_truffle_sampler-500x500

2.   Goop: Crockpot Moroccan Chicken. Classic Moroccan chicken is made in a tagine, which is  a clay oven with a conical top.  I love specialty tools and ingredients, but Moroccan chicken already requires a few, such as preserved lemons and saffron.  If you’re a first-timer, this is a cool way to try Moroccan chicken without spending $50 on specialty ingredients and tools.  161027_goop_2624.jpg

3.  Karen Page:  The Flavor Bible.  I got this for Christmas, and I already love it.  It’s basically a how-to flavor compatibility guide for cooks.  You can cross reference tons of individual ingredients and figure out what flavors are complementary.  It’s cool because it gives you parameters for your adventurous kitchen nature.  Playing with flavors can be fun, but it’s nice to know which things go together, and why.  the-flavor-bible.jpg

4.   Rose Water.I already have a ton of cooking and ingredient #goals for 2017.  One thing I’m going to make are Turkish Delights…you know, the candy from Narnia?  The traditional recipes for Turkish Delights call for Rose Water.  My big kids are finally enjoying the movies and, even better, the books.  I bought the set a year or so ago with the hopes of them divng into them.  I’ve only read the first 2 1/2, but it’s a series I only like to read in the snowy months.  January and February are notoriously frigid here in Virginia, so Narnia with a side of Turkish Delights sound like the perfect antidote for the winter blues.  31SV66VM2RL.jpg

5.   Pinch of Yum:  Mediterranean Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce: Every January, getting healthy is kind of a universal goal, isn’t it?   Grain bowls are what actually prompted me to even start a blog.  My first one was way back 2 years ago right before I found out I was having Ben.  I keep meaning to post more, but I think this one looks really delicious.  Mediterranean-Bowl-1-6-600x900.jpg

6.   With Food + Love:  Tagliatelle with Lentil Mushroom Bolognese.In the same vein as the quinoa bowl above, January food to me needs to be comforting and light.  I love making traditional bolognese, but why not try a lightened up version?  This version is gluten-free, but I would probably switch it up and just use a whole wheat pasta, such as fettuccine.lentil-mushroom-bolognese-2-768x512

7.   Williams-Sonoma:  Olivewood Tea and Toast Set.In addition to practical things, I like admiring some more unnecessary, whimsical items.  I like the look of this wood, and while they wouldn’t be everyday pieces, they sure would be pretty (but casual-looking) set out when you have friends come over.img15c.jpg

8.   Cookie + Kate:  Broiled Grapefruit with Honey Yogurt and Granola. Isn’t this cool?  I have never thought to cook grapefruit under a broiler, but why not?  This is another good wintery, New Year’s Resolution-friendly recipe that would be easy to whip up for a quick breakfast, snack, or even lunch.  Here’s my go-to granola recipe if you need a good one.broiled-grapefruit-granola-yogurt.jpg

End of the Year Splurgy Party Food

I don’t know about you, but I love doing casual food on Christmas Day.  I do love the Thanksgiving-y spread, but 2 times in one month is overwhelming.  For Christmas, I like to pick a few appetizers that Jon, the kids, and I can graze on all day.  We like to start the day with a big breakfast, including an egg casserole, cinnamon rolls, fruit, and champagne.  Then we usually have some kind of hot dip and a few other types of indulgent party food to snack on the rest of the day while we enjoy the time off.  For that reason, I decided to share some really great appetizers and party food that will be perfect for a casual Christmas Day or to bring to a New Years’ Eve party.

  1. How Sweet Eats:  Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Goat Cheese Truffles.  I love the idea of a savory “truffle.”  These are more like mini-cheeseballs, and isn’t that a fun idea?  Once you have the idea of these down, you could change up the flavor any way you would a regular-sized cheeseball (sundried tomatoes, olives, ham, pineapple, pecans, almonds, parsley…any combination!).gctruffles-5-480x569


2.  Diethood:  Pizzadillas. This is more of a cute idea for the kids.  As much as I would devour a goat cheese truffle or a pear tart, the kids…no.  Kids love a new combination as much as we do as long as it uses their favorite flavors.



3.  Home in the Finger Lakes:  Olive Cheese Bread.  I need to save this for a night with people who like olives because Jon will not eat them…maybe for a ladies’ wine night!olive-cheese-bread-1-4.jpg


4.  Food, Folks, and Fun:  Chicken and Waffle Sliders.  Have you ever hosted a party, and the guests devour the easiest dish first?  That’s what happened with these.  I made them for Ben’s First Birthday Party, and everyone raved about them.  It’s barely a recipe, and more of just assembling parts.  I didn’t drizzle the maple syrup because it looked too messy.  Instead I just poured some into a small dish and placed it in the center of the serving platter.


4.  Plain Chicken:  Cream Cheese Sausage Balls.  My grandmother used to make these every Christmas.  I consider it traditional southern appetizer food.  If you’ve never tried these, do it this year!  They are a little spicy, but not so much that kids will avoid them.  img_8092


5.  Spend with Pennies:  Jalapeno Popper Dip.  I’ve made this a few times as an alternative to my go-to Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  I love it!Jalapeno-Popper-Dip-24.jpg


6.  Crave Cook Click:  Paneer Naan Pizza.  This is another adult appetizer.  I love love Indian food, and one of my food goals this year is to make my own paneer.  Paneer is a cheese used in Indian cooking.  It’s sort of the consistency of feta or ricotta salada, and it does not melt. img_1785-660x440


7.  Home & Plate:  Pear Tart with Goat Cheese, Rosemary, and Honey.   This is sort of a play on the flavors of my Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese Medallions and Honey Lemon Vinaigrette.  It’s a delicious flavor


9.  Creme de la Crumb:  Spinach and Artichoke Dip Stuffed Mushrooms.  Two of my favorite appetizers combined into one.  You know I love Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms, but I may have to forgo them in favor of this, at least one time.spinarti-stuffed-mushrooms-3w


10.  Martha Stewart:  Easy Cardamom-Orange Chocolate Truffles.  The thought of orange and chocolate used to sound so gross to me.  I tried one of those chocolate oranges as a kid and hated it.  But when I tried the flavors together again as an adult, I was surprised at how they complement each other.  Truffles are a perfect party food because they don’t require utensils, and people can have as many or as few as they want.qc_0998_desert_vert.jpg


What do you do for food on Christmas Day and New Year’s?