Back to School! Keeping Lunches Light + Delicious

Although I don't have children of my own yet, I was inspired by Whole Foods of Charlotte's theme this week, Back to School. As opposed to the usual recipe I develop, I've decided to share a few tips on keeping school lunches balanced, light and most importantly nutritious so your little one can give each day all they've got.

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Keeping lunch nutritiously-packed is as simple as keeping it "CLEAN." Let me break it down for you:

Colorful; a lunchbox should be colorful. By that I don't mean many colored wrappers; as humans we eat with our eyes first, so try to include as many raw fruits and veggies as you can find. Baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, raw sugar snap peas are a few of my personal faves; add a couple tablespoons of homemade or store-bought hummus to the mix for an extra dose of fiber, vitamin C and protein! 

Note: I added delicious color, fiber and protein to lunch today by making these baby kabobs. They're as simple as sliding a grape tomato, small ball of mozzarella and a cube of cantaloupe to a skewer. They're the perfect mix of salty and sweet!

Lean meats; developing minds and bodies depend on protein for productivity. There are only 55 calories in two "very thin" slices of ham, and the extra 6 grams of protein goes a long way, so feel free to load that wrap or sandwich up with plenty!

Energy is key; I absolutely love Square Bars for this. They're chocolatey and absolutely delicious, so try popping one into your child's lunch. If they're on the younger side, I'd recommend cutting it in half and into tiny pieces, it'll be easier to eat that way.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away; this old adage remains true! By popping a small apple (or a few slices) in your child's lunch each day, you'll do wonders for their teeth, digestion and so much more. 

No repeats. Variety is the spice of life; so try and make tweaks to lunch boxes each day. 

And that's it! Although this is by no means a definitive guide on children's lunches, it's a great place to start. I'd also love to field comments from you reader, on how you keep your child's lunches fresh, fun and tasty. 

Until next time! Bon appetit y'all,
Mrs. O'Brien

Summery Watermelon Salad

Another delightful recipe developed for Whole Foods of Charlotte, this light and fresh summer salad is perfect for a cookout, healthy snacking or lunch. It's only a handful of ingredients, including fresh watermelon - on sale this week at your Charlotte area Whole Foods store.

 

Ingredients

4 C seedless watermelon, cubed
3 C heirloom tomatoes, seeded and cubed
1 C queso fresco cheese, crumbled
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1. Cut the seedless watermelon and heirloom tomato into 1/4 inch-sized cubes and add to a large salad or mixing bowl
2. Drizzle watermelon with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. of kosher salt and toss until evenly coated.
3. Zest and juice the lemon atop the watermelon and tomatoes; add the crumbled queso fresco cheese and finely chopped mint and toss until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Arrange on/in the bowl/platter of your choice and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

And that's it! Four simple steps, one delicious salad. I hope you enjoy; feel free to add your own take to it and let me know how it goes!

Bon Appetit Y'all, XX,
Mrs. O.

Oven Roasted Salmon with Saffron-Scented Heirloom Tomato Gravy

Don't let the long name fool you, this is an amazingly delicious, EASY weeknight dinner! Salmon is one of my go-to weeknight dinners as it cooks very quickly and is loaded with omega 3s. Here's everything you need:

Ingredients

4 salmon steaks (6-8 ounces each)
2 tbsp. of avocado oil
3 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
1 small red onion
1/4C avocado oil
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Scant 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
~ 10 strands saffron

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Coat salmon with avocado oil, salt and pepper
3. Place salmon in oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until just cooked through
4. Dice tomatoes and red onion into 1/4 inch pieces
5. Add avocado oil to a medium sauce pan over medium high heat and dump in red onion
6. Sautee onion until lightly translucent and add garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper
7. Add diced tomatoes and saffron and stir until evenly coated with spices
8. Cook over medium high heat for approximately 10-15 minutes, allowing the tomatoes to cook down completely
9. When it's time to serve, remove mixture from heat and blend with immersion blender
10. Plate salmon and top with sauce and lemon slices (optional) to serve!

Bon appetit yall! XX,
Mrs. O'Brien

 

 

Blueberry Lemon Crostata

Another round of recipe development for Whole Food Charlotte; blueberries were on sale this week, and having company over for dinner dessert was necessary. This is a simple recipe that's always a crowd-pleaser. I've included the directions for a homemade crust, but feel free to use a pre-made pie crust from your deli section - it'll be delicious either day!

Crust

1 1/4C all purpose flour
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted Kerry Gold butter
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4C ice water
1 egg + 2 tbsp. water (for egg wash)
1 tsp. sugar (for topping pie)

Filling

1 pint fresh blueberries
3 tsp. white sugar
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
Juice 1/2 a lemon
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. corn start

For the Crust

1. Cut stick of butter into small cubes, then place cubes in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes or until semi solid
2. Add flour, salt, and cubes of butter to a food processor
3. Quickly pulse the butter and flour mixture 12 times, or until pieces of butter resemble small peas in the food processor
4. Stream in the ice water very slowly while pulsing another 12 times (at this point chunks of butter in the mix are good, it'll make your pie crust extra flaky)
5. Dump the contents of the food processor onto plastic wrap and gently tuck and press the sides until a disk shape forms. 
6. Refrigerate 4-8 hours, the longer the better!


For the Pie

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
1. Dump pint of washed and dried blueberries into a bowl and sprinkle on sugar, lemon zest, add lemon juice and vanilla extract
2. Stir ingredients and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes, allowing the blueberries to release some of their natural juices
3. Once berries have rested, sprinkle on the 2 tbsp. of cornstarch and stir until berries are evenly coated
4. Lay the (rested) pie crust flat in a buttered cast iron pan or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
5. Dump the entire contents of the blueberry filling into the center of the crust and gently fold the pie around it; the beauty of this pie is that it is rustic, so it doesn't have to be perfect! 
7. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown

Top with ice cream and serve! Bon appetit y'all! XX,
Mrs. O.

Elote (Mexican Street Corn)

Y'all, I cannot stress enough just how delicious this side dish is. When corn on the cob is on sale at Whole Foods, load up. Another one of the recipes I developed for WF of Charlotte, this might just be my new guilty pleasure. 

Ingredients

4 ears corn on the cob, removed from husk and cleaned of all the silk
1/4C cotija cheese (or queso fresco, whichever you've got)
1/2 C mayonnaise
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
Pince salt + pepper
1 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

1. Add the mayonnaise, lime zest and juice, garlic powder, chili powder, salt and pepper to a small bowl; stir until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and allow mixture to rest in the fridge for approximately two hours.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tbsp. of salt; carefully place the corn in the boiling water and allow to cook for approximately 5-8 minutes, or until al dente.

3. Remove the corn from the pot and place in a large mixing bowl; dump the entire contents of your mayonnaise mixture over top of the corn and top with chopped, fresh cilantro.

4. Use tongs to toss the corn in the mayonnaise mixture until all four ears are evenly coated. 

5. Crumble the 1/4C of cotija cheese (or queso fresco) atop the corn and garnish with a little extra fresh cilantro.

My final, humble suggestion is to enjoy this dining al fresco; it gets mighty messy, so don't serve it as a first date meal! This is easily in my top-5 favorite side dishes, and it couldn't be any easier. 

Bon Appetit Y'all! XX,
Mrs. O'Brien

Babyback Rib Tacos

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I finally made tacos on a Tuesday! Recipe development has been so much fun, and I've recently started crafting new options for my friends at Whole Foods of Charlotte. Not only do they have the best meat and produce around, they love working with community bloggers like myself to offer their followers unique twists on their ingredients. Let me tell you about these tacos, they could NOT be easier or more delicious! Here's the recipe...

Rib Ingredients + Marinade

2 lbs. babyback (pork) ribs, trimmed by the butcher
Juice of 2 limes
Zest of 1 lime (apx. 1 tsp.)
2 tsp. chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. Southwestern Spice Mix: to make, add 2 tsp. each of garlic powder, chili powder, ground cumin and 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper to a mason jar and store for other recipes!
1 can Mexican beer
1 pack flour tortillas
1/4 C of cotija cheese
Lime wedges (for garnish)
Avocado slices (for garnish)
Thinly sliced watermelon radish (optional garnish)

Directions

1. Place babyback ribs in a large casserole dish (ribs should lie flat, bone-side down)

2. Add all ingredients of marinade to a small bowl and stir until a paste-like marinade forms

3. Use a brush to baste the ribs with the marinade; if you don't have a brush, simply spoon the marinade on both sides of the ribs. Once basted, cover the ribs with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 2-4 hours

4. Once the ribs have marinated, pull them out of the fridge 30 minutes prior to cooking; preheat oven to 300 degrees and pour 1/4C of the beer into the bottom of the dish (see above.

5. Cover the dish with two layers of aluminum foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Once time is up, allow the meat to rest covered for 15-20 minutes.

6. Remove the bones from the ribs; the meat should very cleanly and easily pull off the bones. If not, put the aluminum foil back on and put back in the oven for 30 more minutes. 

7. Take two forks and shred the meat with a gentle pulling-apart motion. 

8. All that's left to do now is assemble the tacos; place package of tortillas (opened) in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds. This will steam the tortillas making them the perfect vessel to hold the rib meat.

9. The final step to delicious tacos is your decision; you can either serve the meat, tortillas and accoutrement (lime wedges, avocado slices and cotija cheese) in separate bowls, allowing guests to assemble their own OR you can serve them plated as I did. Spoon rib meat into a tortilla, top with avocado slices, cotija cheese, sliced watermelon radish, a squeeze of lime and fresh cilantro.

Pure, taco deliciousness. According to my hubby, these tacos are not meant to be a first date food. Get ready for a big, tasty mess!

Bon Appetit Y'all! XX,
Mrs. O'Brien

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pure, grain free goodness.

Although I'm not a paleo practicer myself, I do love keeping its guidelines as part of my overall lifestyle choices. I stumbled across a slightly different version of these cookies on Instagram and simply had to try. Oh my goodness, are they good. Particularly fresh out of the oven, they'll quell even the stubbornest sweet tooth!

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies - Ingredients
1/2 C coconut flour (finely ground if you can find it)
6 tbsp. coconut sugar
1/3 C coconut oil (melted and cooled)
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 C chocolate chips (dairy free or otherwise)

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Add coconut oil and sugar to mixer/bowl and beat together until light and fluffy (appx. 1 min)

2) Add eggs one at a time to oil and sugar mixture, whisking/beating after each. Add vanilla extract to the mixture and beat again until combined 

3) Sift together salt, baking soda and coconut flour; add directly to the wet ingredients and beat until combined. (Note: the mixture should be tight, if it's a little loose, add 1 tbsp. of coconut flour to the mix at a time until you reach a cookie dough consistency.) Dump in the chocolate chips and stir until they're evenly distributed

4) Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and use an ice cream scoop (or tablespoon measure) to scoop out the dough. Roll the cookies into balls in your hands; the cookies won't hold together or hold their nice round shape unless you do!

5) Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown; place the cookies on a cooling rack and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (optional, but crucial if you love sweet and salty like I do!)

And most importantly, E N J O Y! Bon Appetit Y'all! xx,
Mrs. O.

Chia Bowls

You've seen them all over Instagram (#chia, #powerbowl, #toomanyhashtags) and I've been pretty into them myself lately! So why are chia bowls all the rage right now? A multitude of reasons:

  1. They're beyond simple to make: chia pudding basically makes itself overnight in your fridge, add a few berries and your favorite nuts and/or seeds and you've got a stellar breakfast, lunch or snack!
  2. They're loaded with nutrients: a two-tablespoon serving contains 8 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and respectively 15% and 10% of your DRV's of calcium and iron - all on their itty bitty own! 
  3. They're vegan, gluten free and packed with omega-3s and antioxidants!

As if you needed more reasons to love chia, am I right? That's why I'm sharing my favorite bowl combinations for you to try! But first, the basics - how to make chia pudding:

Chia Pudding Ingredients:
1 C almond milk
1/4 C chia seeds (black, white or both!)
1 tbsp. maple syrup, agave or local honey
1 Ball Mason Jar

Add all ingredients to the Mason jar, close the lid and shake, shake shake until combined. Wait approximately 15 minutes and shake it all up again to make sure seeds are evenly distributed.

And that's it. Leave it in your fridge ideally overnight, but at least 4 hours to get the right consistency. Now, for variations!

Tuxedo Pudding
Perfect for breakfast: I took one cup of Siggis Dairy's Triple Cream (9% milk fat) lemon yogurt and topped it with pudding made from a mix of black and white chia seeds, sliced banana, raspberries and pepitas. A little unsweetened shredded coconut and you've got a tropical vacay in a bowl!

Berrylicious Bowl
The product of using chia seeds in their delectable raw state; they add a phenomenal crunch to just about any dish! Atop a bed of plain yogurt with fresh berries, coconut shreds and banana (a chia bowl staple); to really gild the lily, try adding a spoonful of almond butter and a few dots of raspberry chia jam to the mix (available at Whole Foods!). This is one simple meal that will fill you up with great protein and clean energy!

The Basic B Bowl
A snack sensation that doesn't require doing the dishes? Sign me up! Only three ingredients here: my snack time wouldn't be the same without my daily dose of Siggi's Yogurt. Add a sprinkling of raw chia and raspberry chia jam and DIG IN!

That's all for now folks; the beauty of chia bowls is they're entirely up to your imagination! Whichever ingredients you've got on hand will surely do, and feel free to share your renditions with me!

Bon Appetit Y'all! xx,
Mrs. O.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

Happy New Year, y'all!

In the past, I've said "recipe to follow on the blog," and I'm finally fulfilling that promise. Life gets mighty busy, so recipes like this one come in handy! It's delicious when served warm and equally as delicious served cold the next day.

Double-up batches, because you're going to love it!

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Ingredients:
2 cups cooked tri-color quinoa
1 bulb fresh fennel, thinly sliced
4 medium carrots
1/2 medium zucchini, sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup arugula
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly cracked pepper

Dressing:
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly cracked pepper
2 tsp honey (optional) 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425F.

Prepare tri-colored quinoa according to box directions; I prefer using chicken or vegetable broth in place of water - it adds more flavor!

Dice the fennel, zucchini and carrots into 1/4 inch wide strips; add zucchini, fennel and quartered cherry tomatoes to a baking sheet lined with parchment and sprayed with coconut oil. Arrange the vegetables so they're in an even layer across the entire baking sheet. Spray the veggies with a thin layer of coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Roast the veggies at 425F for 20 minutes. (Note: in the photo I used broccoli this go-round in place of the zucchini!)

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While the vegetables roast and the quinoa cooks, make the dressing!

No methodology here - just dump all the dressing ingredients into a food processor or bowl and mix until you've got no lumps left! (By now your kitchen is starting to smell good, right?

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Once the quinoa and veggies are cooked, allow them to rest for approximately 5 minutes (they should be warm, not hot!). Dump the quinoa into one large mixing bowl, and add 1 tablespoon of the dressing; toss until all the quinoa is coated. 

Add the roasted vegetables, arugula and 2 more tablespoons of dressing to the quinoa - keep tossing again until it's fully coated. Spoon yourself a heaping helping into a bowl, and garnish with whatever your hearts desire; I used sliced avocado and slivered almonds, but feel free to have fun with it!

Happy eating! xx,
Mrs. O'Brien

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

 

First blog post - big girl style! 

I made a little piece of Heaven last night - these pumpkin cheesecake bars are positively to die for. A happy accident occurred during their creation; I'll be the first to admit, cake mixes have a time and a place, and this was it! I ventured into Williams-Sonoma this past weekend to return a gift and was practically stopped in my tracks by their pumpkin bars.

Fresh out of the oven, they smelled like a Yankee candle, only the real deal. Tried one - had to make my own. The bottom portion of these bars (crust and pumpkin layer) normally call for eight total tablespoons of butter (don't be shocked, it's what makes them so studly!). In an attempt to keep measurements precise (as half the butter was for the crust, and half for the topping), I put four tablespoons each in two ramekins. I totally forgot to put the four tablespoons into the topping portion, uttered some lovely obscenities and went on my merry way.

In planning this post, I contemplated what in the world would make these delectable bars even better; and then it hit me: cheesecake. DUH! I searched for "cheesecake bars," and happily came across a great candidate (thanks @AllRecipes, you're a lifesaver, as per usual). A few modifications here and there, and a star was born. 

As they baked, my house began to smell like Thanksgiving in October. Despite my anxiousness to try them, I waited the torturous hour for them to cool. It turns out when you top pumpkin cheesecake bars with toffee bits, you've solved the age old question of "what do women want?"

I'll share the recipe shortly, but just had to share. Enjoy my friends!

<3 Mrs. O'Brien