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A nutty apple pie smoothie

Nutty apple pie smoothie labeled
This post is sponsored by Almond Breeze Almondmilk.

Right now I am all about the smoothie.

(OK, I've always been all about the smoothie.)

I started going to a dietitian a couple months ago, and she initially had me using smoothies for two of my three meals a day, which is totally fine with me because I love smoothies.

But when you make all those smoothies you need to switch things up – and not just for boredom. My dietitian (Meryl Brandwein, RD) suggests that you switch up the ingredients at each meal to get a variety of nutrients. If you’re using hemp seeds at breakfast, use flax seeds at lunch. Blueberries for breakfast? Peaches at lunch – you get the drift.

After I exhausted the variety of frozen fruit at the grocery store, I spied a can of apples on the closeout shelf (I love the closeout shelf!). Specifically, it was a can of Comstock sliced apples packed in water, and yes, they’re pretty darn bland. But here’s what I did – I drained the can and spread the apple slices on a foil-lined cookie sheet and stuck it in the freezer. After a few hours, I put the frozen apple slices in a plastic bag and had another fruit to play with for smoothies.

I also had another “alt milk” to play with when Blue Diamond sent me its unsweetened Almond Coconut Almond Breeze. Unsweetened milks aren’t great for drinking straight up but they’re fabulous for smoothies because you’re also putting lots of other ingredients in the mix. The combination of coconut and almond is a creamy, slightly coconutty milk that goes with pretty much anything you dream up for your next smoothie.

Since I had my frozen apples, I came up with an apple pie-inspired smoothie that was a welcome change from my usual.

Nutty Apple Pie Smoothie

  • 1 cup Almond Breeze unsweetened Almond Coconut Almond Breeze
  • 1 scoop vanilla or cinnamon protein powder (I used Perfect Fit Cinnamon Roll protein by Tone It Up)
  • 140g frozen apple slices
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • ½ cup crushed ice

Blend and enjoy!


A Ginger-Peach Smoothie to perk up your day

This post is sponsored by Almond Breeze Almondmilk. Almond Breeze sent me product to use for this post. All opinions are my own (and delicious).

Ginger peach smoothie

UnsweetenedVanillaAlmondBreezeI love it when a product that I love and use regularly lands on my doorstep. I'm kind of picky when it comes to reviews because I say "no" more than "yes." But when I was asked to come up with a smoothie recipe that uses Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze, I was all "Duh! Of course!" Not only do I use it regularly, I'm really relying on it for this 2-week dietitian-prescribed eating plan that calls for two smoothies a day. Unsweetened almond milk is one of the nut milks that is on the list, so it was super easy to come up with a recipe.

I had this for lunch on Monday, after I got home from the gym. I had just bought a whole bunch of different frozen fruits because I was tiring of blueberry smoothies. Frozen peaches are less sweet than a lot of frozen fruits, so I added a packet of stevia. I also added some fresh ginger, which pairs beautifully with peaches. You can use whatever protein powder floats your boat -- usually I use whey protein but I'm using the pea protein powder that's part of the plan. The ginger adequately hides the beany flavor of the protein powder. Depending on the protein powder, this smoothie is around 225 calories with plenty of protein and fiber.

Ginger-Peach Protein Smoothie

  • 1 cup Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze
  • 1 serving (140g) frozen peach slices
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1 serving protein powder of choice
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice

Place all ingredients in a single-serve blender cup, process and enjoy!


Asian Chicken-Almond Meatballs

I'm a Blue Diamond Tastemaker and was compensated with the almonds for this recipe.

Asian chicken almond meatballs
Do you know how difficult it is to keep a couple cans of Blue Diamond almonds around the house when asked to come up with a game-day snack idea?

Blue Diamond sent me their Smokehouse and Wasabi-Soy flavors, and before I had a chance to dream, they disappeared.

Cvs abound rice crackersSo armed with more supplies, I came up with these meatballs that use the Wasabi-Soy mixed in with the ground chicken. You get a hint of the flavor and a nutty texture in the meatballs, which sit on an Asian rice cracker. (CVS's new Abound line of healthier snacks has some great flavors of rice crackers -- I'm a big fan of the Lime & Black Pepper rice crackers but I used the sea salt variety for this dish.)

Serve the rest of the almonds with the meatballs -- a bite of the meatball with an almond heightens the flavor. As for those Smokehouse almonds, set that can down in front of the TV and they'll disappear by halftime.

Asian Chicken-Almond Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 2 ounces Blue Diamond Wasabi & Soy Sauce Almonds, finely chopped in a food processor
  • 1/2 cup cooked white rice
  • 1/4 cup liquid egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
  • Couple dashes of Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine chicken, almonds, rice, egg whites, minced onion and 5-spice powder in a large bowl.

With wet fingertips, form mixture into 32 small meatballs and place on large cookie sheet either sprayed with nonstick spray or lined with nonstick foil.

Bake meatballs for 15-18 minutes or until cooked thoroughly.

Sprinkle meatballs with the tablespoon of soy sauce, and place each meatball on a rice cracker.

Makes 16 servings (2 meatballs and 2 crackers per serving): 95 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 gram sat fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 6 grams carbohydrates, 0.4 grams fiber, 7 grams protein.

This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. For more Game Changing Snacks, visit Blue Diamond Almonds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For more recipes, check out my recipe archive or check out Shrinking Kitchen, where I contribute original recipes every other week!


Making chili like a Ninja

Chicken black bean chili labeled
Is it chilly where you live? Here in Humidityville, the daily highs are still up near 90, so, just to let you know, I am TOTALLY JEALOUS of all you sweater wearers getting to run and walk outdoors and not coming back purple faced and drenched in sweat.

Speaking of chilly, I thought it was finally a good time to share with you my go-to chili recipe. I can't believe I haven't posted this because I make it all the time -- even when it's 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

I consider this recipe to be a "living document" in that you can sub in whatever kind of ground meat you have on hand. I've made this with turkey, chicken and buffalo. I wasn't fond of the recipe with ground beef because it came out a little greasy, especially when I don't brown the meat first (yeah, sometimes I'm lazy like that; it's just dump and run). 

You also can switch it up with the vegetables. I usually use onions and a variety of bell peppers but chopped mushrooms work great, too, especially chopped portobellos.

Oh, and the beans! Black beans, red kidney beans, cannellini beans -- all of them work well in this. (Pinto beans don't -- just sayin'.) 

And you can make this a few different ways. I've made this in a pressure cooker, in a big skillet, a slow cooker, or my favorite way -- in a Ninja Cooking System. Depending on what I've got going on, I can either make chili in "real time" or use the slow cooker setting and let it cook all day. What I like about the Ninja is that I can brown the meat on the stovetop setting to give it a richer flavor and color. 

(I've had the Ninja cooker since the beginning of the year and I've made a bunch of things in it, from chili to chicken wings to a whole chicken. I haven't tried baking in it yet but I've heard that baked goods come out really moist.) 

This recipe makes 6 big servings, which you can eat on its own or over a baked potato, which is my favorite way of repurposing the leftovers. That way you can use a half serving over the potato and really stretch the recipe.

When it comes to the canned goods, I try and stick with sodium free or reduced sodium beans and tomatoes to keep the overall sodium count down. This is still a little high so if you're watching your salt, make sure you compensate by making lower sodium choices the rest of the day.

Chicken Black Bean Chili

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons chili powder (if you're not using Mexene, you're not living)
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1 teapoons garlic salt (Lawry's is my fave)
  • 1 15.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15.5-ounce can salt-free fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 15.5 cans low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 tablespoons shredded 2% Cheddar cheese

Chili cooking in the ninjaHeat the olive oil over medium-high heat in your Ninja or in a large skillet (at least 12 inches). Add ground chicken, onions and peppers and saute until chicken is slightly browned and the vegetables are tender. Add chili powder, spices and garlic salt and combine. 

Add in tomatoes and beans and, if using a skillet, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for at least 30 minutes. If using a Ninja, switch to the slow cooker setting and cook on the low setting for 6 hours. 

When done, top each serving with a tablespoon of shredded Cheddar.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information: 384 calories, 13g fat, 3g saturated fat, 941g sodium, 46g carbohydrates, 10g fiber, 10g sugars, 27g protein.


Back-to-school lunch ideas

Babybel sent me a Snack a Little Bigger Back-to-School kit to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.

I had never attended BlogHer Food before, but this past summer it was practically in my backyard so I jumped at the chance to volunteer at the conference. The sponsors and expo had lots of my favorite food peeps in attendance -- Jamba Juice, Applegate, McCormick, Aldi, Wyman's, Pompeian, among many. Babybel was also at the expo, and I love their brand because it's real cheese in single-serve portions.

Everything is a single-serve container to me. A little, red wax-wrapped cheese, a 100-calorie pack of almonds, a pint of ice cream ... yeah ... I need to keep the single servings small. As long as the single serves are individually wrapped, I totally stop at one. Great for Babybel, bad for ice cream.

Babybel sent me a Snack a Little Bigger Back-to School Kit that included samples of Mini Babybel flavors, a copy of Weelicious Lunches by Catherine McCord, a Visa gift card to buy lunch supplies and a really cool collapsable lunch box (I found a similar one on Amazon).

In keeping with the Snack a Little Bigger them, I came up with a snacky lunch, which is actually my lunch. My teenager brought his lunch all last year but this year he's giving the cafeteria a try again. I like the idea of boxing up my food, even though I work at home and my lunch technically doesn't need to be packed. But then again, single-serve and all.

Babybel lunch box

I have a peanut butter and raisin sandwich on whole wheat bread, which is a more interesting version of a PB&J. Just a sprinkling of raisins gives the sandwich sweetness and texture and fewer sugary calories than jam. Banana slices are also a great addition, too. A Babybel Gouda (because I'm fancy) goes in the upper left with some carrot sticks, and my fave new thing is in the bottom left -- homemade dried fruit. 

I got a food dehydrator last month, because I was channel surfing and stopped on HSN where I watched the presentation and thought "OHMYGODWHYDON'TIHAVETHIS." But instead of the usual dried apples and strawberries, I got tropical and dehydrated starfruit and kiwi. Those two would be great for older kids who like sweet-and-sour things. The starfruit and kiwi came out great and are great together. 

I'm not a big fan of making elaborate sandwich animal faces or overly involved creations. I don't know if all that work is truly appreciated, and I'd rather the food just be really tasty and healthy with a little fun thrown in.

Some other lunch additions that are great for kids as well as mom and dad:

 

  • Spread some peanut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla, stick a peeled banana on one end, roll it up and slice into small sections for a fun PB and banana rollup.
  • Instead of a bag of chips, throw in a bag of popcorn. Boom Chicka Pop sells big boxes of single-serve bags at Costco in sea salt or kettlecorn flavors for either 90 or 140 calories each.
  • Use guacamole or hummus as a sandwich spread instead of the usual mayo or mustard. And speaking of that, here's a recipe for Avocado Hummus from Weelicious Lunches that combines the best of guac and hummus:

 

Weelicious-LunchesAvocado Hummus

(from Weelicious Lunches, by Catherine McCord)

 

  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tahini

 

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. The dip will keep for 4 days in the fridge.


This is nutty good: Kickin' Chipotle-Almond Chicken

Chipotle almond crusted chicken sliced
I'm a Blue Diamond Tastemaker and was compensated with the almonds for this recipe.

Salty-sweet is definitely a hot flavor combo -- I just bought a salted caramel protein bar! But throw some heat into the salty-sweet mix and you've really got a winner.

Blue Diamond recently sent me a couple flavors in its Honey Roasted line -- Honey Roasted Vanilla and Honey Roasted Chipotle almonds.

While both flavors were fantastic, I was particularly enamored of the chipotle ones and stashed a serving away so I could come up with a recipe that incorporated them. 

Portion control is really important when snacking on nuts -- you can easily get carried away and polish off a few servings at one sitting, so before that happens, I portion out 1-ounce servings in either a zipper-lock snack-size bag or a tiny Tupperware container. That way I can reach into the pantry, grab a serving, CLOSE THE PANTRY and be on my way.

So before the family polished off all the almonds, I took an ounce and turned them into a coating for skinless, boneless chicken breasts. I baked the chicken in the oven instead of whipping out the skillet because I didn't want any of the tasty coating to fall off in the pan.

This recipe is great for a quick after-work meal -- you get to beat the living daylights out of the almonds and the chicken breast, so if you have any post-work or post-traffic aggressions, take them out on your food!

Kickin' Chipotle-Almond Chicken

  • 1 ounce Blue Diamond Roasted Honey Chipotle almonds
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (add more or less, depending on your comfort level)
  • 2 6-ounce (or whatever you've got to total 12 ounces) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the almonds into a large, heavy duty zip-seal bag and crush the almonds to the consistency of the panko bread crumbs.

Chipotle almond crusted chicken
Shhh ... rest, my little chicken breasts, rest.

After the almonds are crushed, add in the panko bread crumbs and the chipotle chili powder. 

Add the pounded chicken breasts to the bag, seal it and shake the bag until the chicken breasts are evenly coated.

On a baking sheet coated with either non-stick spray or non-stick aluminum foil (my fave for easy cleanup), place the chicken breasts on the baking sheet, sprinkling any remaining coating on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the juices run clear and/or the chicken reaches 165 degrees. 

Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for around 10 to 15 minutes so the juices incorporate back into the meat. 

Slice the chicken into medallions and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information (calculated on SparkRecipes.com): 131 calories, 4.4g fat, 0.3g sat fat, 215g sodium, 5g carbohydrates, 0.7g fiber, 1.4g sugars, 19g protein.

For more recipes, check out my recipe archive or check out Shrinking Kitchen, where I contribute original recipes every other week!


Strawberry-Banana Cheesecake Smoothie

Strawberry banana cheesecake smoothie labeled
It's no secret that I love smoothies of all stripes, and my goal is to come up with ways to pack in as many nutrients as possible without breaking the calorie bank or having to resort to protein powder. 

Friendship cottage cheeseDon't get me wrong, I love me some protein powder. A large swath of my pantry is devoted to tubs and bags of protein.

But I had bought a tub of low-sodium cottage cheese (yes, it exists!) so I thought it would work great in a smoothie. Friendship makes the cottage cheese, and as a bonus it's also higher in protein than most cottage cheeses (16 grams per half-cup serving). Though it's not a salty tasting food per se, regular cottage cheese is surprisingly high in sodium, and this low-sodium variety feels more like ricotta cheese than lumpy cottage cheese.

Wymans strawberriesI figured the cottage cheese would make a great cheesecake-like base for a smoothie, so I grabbed my bag of Wyman's frozen strawberries (I talked to the Wyman's folks at BlogHer Food and they were generous with their coupons) and went to work. I like Wyman's frozen berries because they're less humongous than other brands of frozen fruit so they're more flavorful and less like fruity ice cubes.

I ended up with a thick and creamy Strawberry-Banana Cheesecake Smoothie that packs in a fair amount of protein and fiber without a lot of calories.

You'll find that I add half a frozen banana to pretty much all my smoothies -- they really help thicken the smoothie and they add sweetness without having to add much sweeteners.

Strawberry-Banana Cheesecake Smoothie

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries, slightly thawed
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup Friendship no-salt-added cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • Crushed ice, if you still have room in your blender cup

Blend and enjoy!

Makes 1 serving.

Nutrition information: 273 calories, 4 grams fat, 1.6 grams saturated fat, 124 milligrams sodium, 41 grams carbohydrates, 4.4 grams fiber, 28 grams sugars, 21 grams protein.

If you'd like to read more recipes from me as well as other fun contributors, check out Shrinking Kitchen. I contribute a couple times a month.


Turkey-guacamole-bacon burger? Yes, please

Turkey guacamole bacon burger labeled
I've been intrigued by chefs' gourmet burger recipes but usually they're a minefield of fat and calories. I've seen everything from pork belly to fois gras added to the traditional beef mixture.

So how could I take my standard turkey burger recipe up a notch?

SWITCH CIRCLEAs a member of the Jennie-O Switch Circle, I was sent some coupons to stir my imagination. I was also sent a coupon for Wholly Guacamole, which is a staple in my fridge. I also keep extras in the freezer for emergency guacamole needs. :) 

I decided to go for broke and used ground turkey, turkey breakfast sausage and turkey bacon in my Turkey-Guacamole-Bacon Burger. The addition of turkey breakfast sausage to my burger mix made the burgers really flavorful, and topping them with bacon and guacamole only seems decadent, because when you realize that a slice of turkey bacon is only 30 calories and a tablespoon of Wholly Guacamole is also 30 calories.

Turkey bacon
Oh! And I finally mastered a crisp piece of turkey bacon -- my trick is to use a ridged grill pan. The ridges allow some air under the bacon, giving it a chance to crisp up nicely. Heat the pan over medium-high heat and spray with a bit of cooking spray. Cook the turkey bacon, flipping occasionally, until it's browned and crisp. 

Here's my recipe for the burgers:

Turkey-Guacamole-Bacon Burgers

  • 20 ounces Jennie-O ground turkey
  • 8 ounces Jennie-O turkey breakfast sausage
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 packets plain instant oatmeal
  • 1 capful Mrs. Dash, any flavor (we used Chipotle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Heat a grill pan on medium-high.

Mix all ingredients with hands. Form into 6 equal patties.

 

  • Turkey burger temperature
  • Covered turkey burgers
Covered turkey burgers

 Place burgers on grill pan and sear on one side. Flip burgers and sear on other side. 

Turn heat to medium, cover pan and cook until burgers reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Top each burger with a tablespoon of guacamole and a slice of cooked bacon, cut in half.

Makes 6 large burgers.

Nutrition information for just the burger patty:  280 calories, 14.8g fat, 442mg sodium, 9g carbs, 1 gram fiber, 27g protein. 

You can get more recipe ideas at SwitchToTurkey.com.

As a member of the Jennie-O Switch Circle, I was provided coupons to purchase the Jennie-O and Wholly Guacamole products for this blog post. 


It's all good: Gluten-free sweet potato-sorghum-oat-flax muffins

Sweet potato sorghum oat flax muffins
AGA-ambassador-badgeCarrington Farms sent me a few of its products to try, as part of its All Good April celebration. I had heard of the brand before, as I have a basketball-sized jug of their coconut oil in my pantry (bought it at Costco for a really good price).

You can check them out at CarringtonFarms.com, and its Facebook page for special deals and discounts on its products.

As a #CarringtonAllGoodApril ambassador, they sent me a smaller container of coconut oil (which my sister gladly took home), a package of milled flax and a bottle of coconut cooking oil, which remains liquid and is less "coconutty" than traditional semisolid coconut oil. This makes it convenient for using in things like baked goods, stir-fries and even salad dressings.

Muffin ingredients

These ingredients couldn't have come at a better time. I've been amassing quite the collection of interesting flours, which have been piling up in my pantry. I was going through the stash and was determined to come up with a recipe that included a variety of gluten-free flours.

I've never, ever, ever experimented with winging it on gluten-free baked goods. It can be really tricky to get the right consistency and you can easily end up with a muffin tin full of hockey pucks.

But experiment I did -- eek!

Muffin batter fingers crossed
Well, the batter looks normal -- fingers crossed they come out good!

I also had a can of sweet potato puree that I've been itching to use, so I came up with this simple breakfast muffin. It's slightly sweet and makes a great base muffin recipe for add-ins, like raisins or walnuts, which I am totally going to do next time.

I was really happy with the consistency of the muffin -- I think the flax meal and oat flour contributed a lot. And they smelled fantastic while they were baking.

Gluten-Free Sweet Potato-Sorghum-Oat-Flax Muffins

Sweet potato sorghum oat flax muffins1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 can (15 ounces) sweet potato puree

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup almond milk

1 cup oat flour

1 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup flax meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together egg, oil, sweet potato puree, sugar, vanilla and almond milk. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine oat and sorghum flours, flax meal, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, stirring until just combined.

Spoon into a 12-muffin tin and bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove muffin tin from oven and let cool on a baking rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Nutrition info: 190 calories, 6 grams fat, 2 grams sat fat, 29 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 9 grams sugar, 5 grams fiber.

Disclosure: I wrote this as part of Carrington Farms' #AllGoodApril campaign. I received products to review and develop recipes for the campaign.


A Shamrockin' protein shake for St. Patrick's Day


Gail shamrockin protein shake labeled
I didn't have any real shamrocks for garnish, so a baby spinach leaf will do.


Since Monday is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be fun to come up with a healthy alternative to the Shamrock Shake, which isn’t exactly a nutritional powerhouse. My version is packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants and superfoods, so feel free to shamrock it for breakfast.

 If you’ve never put greens in a smoothie, baby spinach is a great one for newbies – it’s very mild in flavor and not very fibrous, but there’s enough plant fiber to actually thicken the smoothie. Also, it goes great with mint.

(But be careful with the peppermint extract. Too much will take it from minty to mouthwashy.)

And don’t fear the wheatgrass powder – it adds a little extra sweetness and a whole lot of nutrients. (Pines sent me a jar of its powdered wheatgrass, and it's a great addition to smoothies and juices.)

Shamrockin’ Protein Shake

Shamrockin shake ingredients(Makes 1 serving at around 260 calories, depending on the milk and the protein powder)

1 cup milk of your choice (I used Silk coconut milk)

1 serving vanilla protein powder (I used Biochem vanilla whey)

Dash of peppermint extract

1 teaspoon Pines wheatgrass powder

Handful of baby spinach

½ frozen banana

Crushed ice

Put everything into a single-serve smoothie cup (I use the Ninja Ultima to thoroughly blend smoothie ingredients), and process.