Ottolenghi’s Spinach, Date & Almond Salad

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Hi everyone! I’m sorry the blog went dark last week, but I had a good reason. I was on vacation! Like, just 2 adults and 0 kids vacation. I think prior to this it has been 6yrs or so since I’ve had an adult only vacation. It was nice, but I missed my big babies and my pups.

Now that I’m back to reality. It’s back to grocery shopping, cooking and meal prepping. This salad is one of my favorite salads. The flavor combinations in here are amazing! The texture is on point as well. Perhaps it’s the seasoning or the toasted pita bread that sets it off. I’m not sure, but it’s amazing!

For this recipe I slightly adapted it from Ottolenghi’s cookbook: Jerusalem, which I highly recommend if you are looking for veggie heavy, flavor packed recipes. There are meat and dessert recipes in the cookbook as well. So, far everything I have tried of his I absolutely love! Fair warning though – some of his recipes can be labor intensive, but the end results are always phenomenal.

This salad has a sweet, yet tangy flavor with a slight spiciness to it. The dates give it the sweet vibes and the quick pickled onions and dressing give it a bit of a bite. This is a match made in heaven to me. Top it off with the seasoning blend and I’m in salad heaven.

Ingredients

Salad Base:

  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium size red onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 Cup pitted Medjool dates, sliced into quarters lengthwise
  • 2 T unsalted butter or ghee
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 small pitas torn into roughly 1 to 1.5 inch pieces
  • 1/2 Cup sliced unsalted almonds
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 5oz baby spinach
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp plus 2 pinches of salt, divided

Directions

  1. Put the vinegar, onion, and dates in a small bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the onions and dates and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain away any residual vinegar and discard. Onions should has softened up by this point.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the butter or ghee and half of the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the pita and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring the entire time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
  3. When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the dates and red onion, *the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt*. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

*Dressing alternative: The olive oil and lemon juice works great on this salad, but when in a pinch I use balsamic vinaigrette and it compliments the flavors very well.

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Creamy Raspberry Mango Ice Pops

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How many people love a cold, creamy dessert? These ice pops are an awesome summer treat. You’ve got a creamy coconut layer and then a raspberry-mango layer. What’s not to love?! 🙂

Growing up I remember eating my fair share of Popsicle’s. However, looking back I think they were mostly brightly colored, frozen sugar ice. I loved them as a kid and my kids will eat pretty much any frozen treat that comes their way. But I’m not fond of the standard ingredients you will find in a box of Popsicle’s.

You will usually find this trio: High fructose corn syrup, sugar and corn syrup. Why? So many sugars crammed into one ice pop! So, I decided one day I would make my own. Surely it would be easy, right? I remember freezing juice in little paper cups as a kid with a wooden stick shoved into them and it worked! I had my very own miniature ice pop. 9yr old me was super proud of this moment even though it was just frozen apple juice or grape juice.

Adult me me realized there was more to it than just freezing some juice. The flavor combos are endless and it’s super fun to make your own ice pops. Plus, they’re healthy with no refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup!

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To get a cool layered ice pop you first pour the coconut milk base into your molds and freeze for about 10-15mins and then proceed with the fruit layer. Above are the molds I use. They have worked great over the last couple of years that I’ve had them. Also, they’re BPA free!

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While the coconut milk base sets you can move onto the fruit base. I used a mixture of frozen mango and raspberries. I add in some honey to sweetened it up a bit, but this is optional. You can also use agave or maple syrup if you prefer.

Also, if you hadn’t noticed already… here is some wise, old advice. Make sure you put your blender blade in the blender BEFORE you add your ingredients (face palm). I had to scrape all of my honey drenched fruit out into another bowl. Put my blender blade in the blender and then scrape all the fruit back into my blender. Having to dirty up an extra bowl because I forgot the blade was not cool. No one needs an extra dirty dish in their sink!

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Now, when you go to blend up your frozen fruit you will probably need a little bit of liquid to smooth it out. A couple of spoonfuls of the coconut milk base would work, but will result in a slightly lighter color. Apple juice is usually my go to, but I was out. So, I grabbed what I had on hand. Which was Voss lime mint sparkling water. I know, totally weird, but it worked! The ever so slight lime mint flavor from the water complimented the raspberry-mango very well. Here is a picture of the Voss sparkling water for reference:

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You totally do not have to use this. My youngest kid just happened to have downed the last of the apple juice before I had time to notice. Sometimes you just have to improvise 😉

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After you spoon in your fruit layer on top of the coconut milk, let freeze for at least 4hrs. To loosen the ice pops from the molds either let sit at room temperature for about 15mins or run lukewarm water around the molds to help loosen them up quickly. Ta-da you have just made delicious, yet healthy ice pops you can feel good about. Did you try them out? Let me know how you liked them 🙂

Ingredients

Coconut Milk Base:

  • 1 (15oz) can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 Cup honey*, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Raspberry-Mango Base:

  • 1.5 Cup of frozen mango chunks and raspberries
  • 2T honey*
  • 1/4 Cup Voss sparkling lime mint water (or apple juice)**

Directions

  1. Shake can of coconut milk well and pour into a small bowl. Add in 1/4 cup of honey minus 2T (these 2T of honey will be used for the fruit base later). Add in the vanilla and mix well.
  2. Fill ice pop molds about half to 2/3rds of the way full with the coconut milk base. Place in freezer for about 10-15mins.
  3. Place frozen fruit and honey into a blender and blend well. Scrape down sides and add 1T at a time of the Voss sparkling lime mint water (or apple juice) and blend after each addition of water or juice. Add only enough liquid to get a spoonable smoothie like texture.
  4. Take your ice pop molds from the freezer and spoon in the fruit base on top of the coconut milk base. Once all molds have been filled place a wooden stick in each mold and place molds in the freezer. Freeze for at least 4hrs or until solid.
  5. To remove from molds let sit at room temperature for about 15mins or run lukewarm water around mold to quickly release them.

*Agave or maple syrup can be used in place of the honey for a vegan friendly option.

**Only add in the liquid 1T at a time until you get a spoonable smoothie like texture.

Sweet Potato, Rice & Baby Spinach Salad

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It’s hot here in Texas this week. Like, it’s hovering around 108 degrees most every day this week! I like hot weather, but that’s just a bit much. When it’s that hot out I tend to gravitate towards light meals that don’t require a lot of cooking. Now, I’m sure you’ve been in the same boat of having salad burnout. Ya know, it’s when you have the same old boring salad over and over again and you can’t fathom having one more bite of cold greenery pass your lips. Sound familiar?

Well, fear not because I have a salad that is perfect to break your salad burnout. This salad has texture, depth, flavor! This isn’t your normal run of the mill boring salad.

This salad is fairly simple to throw together. The most time consuming part is waiting on the sweet taters to finish roasting. Yep, I just referred to potatoes as taters. That’s how I get down!

Let me know if you make this salad and what personal spins you put on it! Tag me on Instagram @Undercovernoms or post it over on my Facebook page if you want to share your pics with me 🙂

Ingredients

Salad Base:

  • 1/2 Cup uncooked mix of brown rice and wild rice
  • 3 Cups peeled sweet potatoes, diced into bite sized chunks
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • 3 Cups baby spinach
  • 1/2 Cup raw cashews, unsalted

Lemon Dressing:

  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • Zest of 1 lemon*
  • 1/3 Cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp honey**
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt

Directions

  1. Cook your rice mix according to the directions on box/bag. While rice is cooking prepare the dressing by putting all ingredients into a food processor. Process until well combined. When the rice has finished cooking add a tablespoon of dressing and combine. Let the rice cool off to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take your peeled and diced bite sized pieces of sweet potatoes and put into a medium sized bowl. Toss with the extra virgin olive oil and the spices. Once mixed well place the potatoes onto a baking sheet. You can line with parchment paper to make clean up easier if you prefer. Roast for about 25mins stirring the potatoes a couple of times during the roasting process to prevent sticking and insure a even texture. Potatoes should be soft, but not mushy. Let cool a bit before serving.
  3. Toss the baby spinach with the rice mix. Add in the sweet potatoes and raw cashews. Top with the dressing. Toss to combine. Enjoy!

*Since we’re using the zest of a lemon it’s important to have an organic lemon if at all possible. Wash the lemon well before use.

**Use agave in place of honey for a vegan friendly option.

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

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Let’s talk biscuits today! Flaky, tender, buttermilk biscuits. A good buttermilk biscuit pulls on my heart strings. I immediately get taken back to my childhood. We would have biscuits for breakfast with eggs and bacon or sausage. We would have biscuits for dinner served with sausage gravy. We would have biscuits as a dessert with some butter and honey or jam.

Basically I ate a lot of biscuits growing up. I have zero biscuit regrets!

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The only thing that has changed from my childhood biscuits to the biscuits I make as an adult for my children is the quality of ingredients. As a kid growing up on a farm we had cheap, refined white flour. Flour was flour, right? Now, I only use unbleached flour with no added in suspicious ingredients. Organic is even better. Bobs Red Mill flour is typically what I use.

Growing up a common ingredient used was shortening or lard. You get nice flaky biscuits this way! Again, it was cheap and it worked. Butter works just as well if not better, but we saw using so much butter in a dough as a waste. Why waste the butter in a dough when you can use it to smear onto the finished biscuit? I use a good quality butter such as Kerrygold butter. This butter is made from grass-fed cows and the taste is superb. I believe happy and healthy cows will produce a much higher quality milk/butter than sad, unhealthy cows. The same goes for buttermilk. Get a good quality thick buttermilk.

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Can you see those little chunks of butter in the dough above? Those are the secret weapons that make a flaky biscuit! Here are a couple of tips to making awesome biscuits. First, make sure everything is very cold. Your butter, buttermilk, eggs, even the bowl you mix it in. Cold = good. Next tip is how you “cut in” the butter. You can cut up the butter into little squares before you mix it with the flour. Or you use a cheese grater and grate your butter as if it was a block of cheese. The cheese grater trick works great! Just remember to keep your butter cold before cutting or grating.

I use a pastry blender to “cut in” the butter to the flour. This the easiest and most efficient way to do this. Push down the butter into the flour with with pastry blender. Move it all around to incorporate the butter and flour all the while you are pushing (aka: cutting) the butter into the flour. After you do that you will end up with a buttery ball of tacky dough like shown above. Now after the butter has been cut in you will want to cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for at least 45mins to chill the dough. You can leave it overnight and have the dough ready to roll out in the morning for quick homemade biscuits.

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Here’s the dough after it’s been chilled. My daughter is helping me “smoosh” out the dough. I tape down some parchment paper to a clean a counter (this makes clean up so much faster) and sprinkle some flour onto the parchment paper and flour my hands. Then I plop the buttery dough ball down onto the floured surface. I knead the dough and add a sprinkle of flour as I go until the dough is no longer tacky. This doesn’t take long. A couple of minutes worth of kneading should get the job done. I don’t use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. The dough is tender enough to do this by hand. I generally shape it into a circle with it being about 1/4 of an inch thick.

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Use a biscuit cutter and cut out the biscuits. Quick tip: Always flour your biscuit cutter before cutting out the biscuits and re-flour it as you go to prevent sticking. After I cut out first set of biscuits I gather up the dough scraps and re-roll out. I do this no more than 2 times or the dough will become too worked and warm.

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Brush the tops with an egg wash mixture. This gives them that nice golden color while baking. I place the cut out biscuits fairly close together. This guarantees a higher rise on the biscuits.

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And there ya go! Fresh, hot, buttermilk biscuits. Ready to be devoured.

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Look at that tender, flaky goodness! My mouth is watering all over again.

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So there you have it. Homemade southern buttermilk biscuits. Cut them in half and serve with a pat of butter. Or my personal favorite way: a pat of butter and drizzle of honey! Or make up a skillet full of sausage gravy to serve over the biscuits. The possibilities are endless. I will have to share my sausage gravy recipe with y’all later. I promise it will be worth the wait!

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 T baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 sticks or 24 Tablespoons very cold, salted butter (grated or cut into small cubes)
  • 3 large eggs, divided
  • 1.5 Cups buttermilk, plus 1 T

Directions

  1. In a large bowl whisk together all dry ingredients.
  2. Take the grated or cubed butter and cut into the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender  to cut in the butter with the flour until the dough comes together and the butter is pea sized.
  3. In a separate small bowl beat 2 of the eggs. Pour the eggs in with the dough and fold in well with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until incorporated.
  4. Pour in the 1.5 cups of buttermilk into the dough mixture. Mix until well combined and the dough is tacky. If it seems too dry add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk at a time and mix well until dough becomes sticky/tacky.
  5. Cover the bowl and place into the fridge for a minimum of 45mins or up to overnight.
  6. After dough has chilled for at least 45mins, pre-heat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. While oven is heating, tape down a good sized sheet of parchment paper onto your work surface (or make sure work surface is very clean). Sprinkle a liberal amount of flour on to parchment paper covered work surface. Plop dough down into the center of the floured work area.
  8. Flour hands and knead the dough until it’s easy to work with and no longer sticky. You may need to add a sprinkle of flour. This should only take a minute or 2 to have the dough come together.
  9. Start pressing out and shaping the dough into a circle that comes out to be 1/4 of an inch thick.
  10. Flour your biscuit cutter and cut out biscuits. Place the cut out biscuits close together onto lined baking sheet. Take the excess dough pieces and re-roll back out to another circle and cut out biscuits again. You can do this one more time if need be.
  11. Take the last egg and beat in a small bowl with the tablespoon of buttermilk. Brush the egg mixture onto the top of each biscuit.
  12. Place baking sheet of biscuits onto the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 15-20 or until golden brown.
  13. Take the baking sheet out of the oven to cool for 10mins. Now, enjoy the biscuits while still warm. Best served with butte and/or honey.

The Best Protein Bars

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Well, the 4th of July is over. Time to get back to decent eating habits again, right?! I might have had my share of BBQ, potato laden sides and bread… and ice cream… and whatever else that was there! Now I feel bloated and sluggish, but I had a good time with family so it was worth it.

Now that it’s back to work and the hectic schedule I like to have grab and go breakfasts and snacks. Something I can easily toss into my purse and eat in the car or quickly on a break. My preferences for this is something that does not need to be refrigerated or heated up. Something quick and easy to eat that will also satisfy my hunger.

Enter homemade protein bars! I used to buy protein bars out of convenience, but I was usually dismayed by either the ingredients, the taste, the price or all of the above. A lot of times they would taste chalky or chemical-y and I usually didn’t like the ingredient list.  Then one day I had this ah-ha moment! I concluded that surely I could make my own protein bars with ingredients I am comfortable with AND that taste good. These are chewy, chocolate-y and filling. Yesss!!

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So what about the protein powder? I personally use 2 polar opposite types: Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder in the Vanilla Bean flavor. It’s organic, non-GMO, vegan and derived from pea protein. The vanilla bean flavor makes for a good neutral base. The other protein powder I use that is my all time favorite is Redcon1 MRE Lite Protein Powder It is a whole food based protein powder that is whey/lactose free and is low carb (not vegetarian friendly). They have multiple flavors, but for these protein bars I typically use their Banana Nut Bread flavor. I vary between the 2 brands depending on if I am sharing with others or not. Due to having some vegetarian/vegan friends I will use the Orgain protein powder if sharing. If it is just myself I will use the Redcon1 protein powder.

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These protein bars are super versatile and can be tailored to your diet preferences. Dairy free? Use almond milk, oat milk or whatever “milk” you would like to use. Nut allergy? Use sunflower butter instead of a nut butter. Don’t want to use honey? Use pure maple syrup. I have tried many variations and they all turned out awesome! Also, the flavor of protein powder plays a big role. Vanilla is always a good base to start with. Trying other protein flavors (such as the banana nut bread) makes it fun and brings variety.

You can see in the pictures there are lighter looking bars and darker bars. The lighter bars I used the Orgain vanilla bean protein powder and vegetarian ingredients. The pictures of the darker bars I used the Redcon1 banana nut bread protein powder and the ingredients listed below in my recipe. Both versions are equally delicious!

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Below I will share the recipe on my favorite version of these protein bars.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and prepare an 8×8 pyrex dish by spraying it with cooking spray or greasing it well with coconut oil. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, protein powder, ground flax, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine peanut butter, honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Mix until fully combined. Pour the peanut butter mix into dry oat mix and stir until fully combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Pour into prepared pyrex dish. Use parchment paper to cover mixture and press down evenly and firmly into dish. (This saves your hands from sticking to the mixture).
  5. Bake for approximately 18 minutes or until edges begin to turn light golden brown.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool in the pyrex dish for at least 30 minutes before cutting into 9 squares.
  7. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

*Use Orgain protein powder is vegan/vegetarian

**Use nut butter of choice or sunflower butter if you have a nut allergy

***Use pure maple syrup or brown rice syrup if vegan/vegetarian

****Use any non-dairy milk of choice if lactose intolerant or vegan/vegetarian

*****Use dairy free chocolate chips such as Enjoy Life brand if vegan/vegetarian

Please let me know if you try these lovely protein bars out. They are the perfect grab and go breakfast or snack. I would love to hear other peoples variations too!