Tag Archives: get creative

Homemade granola bars + Make your own vanilla extract

As a simple on-the-go breakfast, post-workout snack, or get-you-through-the-afternoon munchie, I love granola bars! Endlessly varied in terms of type of nuts, berries, chocolate, flavors in them, they are always in my pantry in multitudes.

Usually I buy whatever is on sale, say $1-2 for a box. I have a rotation and favorites, but am not brand loyal by any means. But even at $1 for a box of 6, it can get expensive. So I figured, I already have lots of different types of nuts and dried fruits, and oats. It can’t be hard to make my own.

After googling a bit, I found this recipe for home made granola bars, which is close to what I had on hand. But I didn’t want the chocolate part (shocking, I know!) because I’d be storing them in my book bag and gym bag and don’t want to deal with melty chocolate all over my workout shoes or laptop. So as usual, I took the framework of the recipe and made it my own with what was on hand and the pan size I was working with. The results were splendid!

Ingredients:
3 cups oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
1/4 cup smashed pistachios (I shelled them, put them in a ziplock baggie and smashed them up with a spoon. For reals.)
1/2 cup smashed up candied peanut halves (also ziplock pulverized)
1/4 cup chia seeds (bought a few months ago and had no idea what to do with them… perfect.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Step 1: Mash up the nuts, then mix together oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Stir to coat well, then bake in a flat oven safe pan at 350 for about 10 minutes, to make everything brown and toasty.

Step 2: In a pan over medium heat, stir together butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over the granola mixture, and stir well to coat everything. Bake at 300 for 25-30 minutes, until warm and brown. Remove from the oven and let cool or stick in the refrigerator for a little while. Cut into bars the size you like.

I used a 9×13 pan, and as such I got 16 bars. They are very soft, so I put them in the fridge for about an hour before I cut them up.

I individually wrapped each bar in a plastic baggie, and am storing them in my pantry. They are delicious! The honey makes it so sweet, I don’t think you’d need chocolate anyway. Probably could even have done without the extra brown sugar.

I love these because I can use whatever dried fruits or nuts/seeds I have available. The next batch will include dried apricots and plums. You better believe sometime into the fall I will be making some bars with pumpkin seeds in them! I think I’m going to try experimenting with peanut butter in the honey instead of just butter too.

These are vegetarian, and could easily be made vegan as well. If you go easy on the oil/honey they are quite healthy and filling. And very inexpensive! Buy whatever fruits/nuts/seeds you like on sale, oats are cheap in bulk. This batch probably cost me $5 total?


Speaking of  inexpensive baking, did you know you can make your own vanilla extract from just vanilla beans and vodka? Seriously, that’s it.

A bottle of vodka on sale was about $7, the beans were a bit pricey at $4 for 2. But that’s $11 for about a gallon of vanilla that I can use pretty much forever. If I invested a bit more I could even jar it myself and give it as gifts or sell some. When you get low you just add more vodka and maybe after a year another bean or two. Jackpot.

Easiest steak stir-fry

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Anyone who doesn’t have a personal chef is a fan of meals that are fast and easy to make. Bonus if it happens to NOT be grease-laden, deep-fried, double-wrapped hatred of yourself. Aka some semblance of nutritional value. At least to me that’s a priority.
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This is one of my standby all-time favorite recipes, used from the lowly days of undergrad’s first apartment until the present, it has never failed me yet. Once the individual ingredients are made, they are very versatile, and remain so even after mixing.
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Ingredients:
1 cup rice (I used easy brown)
1-2 cups frozen veggie, any you like
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
*You can stop here for a filling vegan/vegetarian snack or meal, or continue to carnivorize it
2 tbsp sriracha, if you like it hot
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 cube frozen veggie stock or ice cube
1 small steak (or pork or chicken…)
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Step 1: Mix 1 cup water and 1 cup rice, microwave on high 10 minutes. Let sit for 5, then fluff with a fork.

Step 2: Put frozen veggies and beans in a bowl, microwave 5-10 minutes while waiting for rice to absorb the water.

Step 3: Mix rice, beans and veggies. Sprinkle on some garlic salt and enjoy from here, or….

Step 4: Pour on the sriracha and soy sauce

Step 5: Put the steak in a frying pan on medium heat, add extra soy sauce if you like, and the cube of liquid. Cover and cook on medium for about 5 minutes, until nice and brown. Flip and cook on the other side 5 minutes.

Step 6: Remove steak and cut into bite-size pieces. Return to the pan along with the rice, veggies and beans and mix well. Heat through, and enjoy!

This is quite customizable based on what type of vegetables and meat you like, you can use white or brown rice, and mix up the type of beans too. Try Italian seasoning, or garlic salt, or Worchestershire. The sky’s the limit!

Make your own pizza, male and female style

You may think I’m weird for saying this, but I don’t like pizza that much. I know, how un-American of me. I will eat it if it’s around, and I get an occasional craving for a weird one like chicken bacon ranch, but in general if asked what I want for dinner, the answer will not be Little Caesars.
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My current S.O. could literally live off pizza and burritos. So we found a compromise, making our own pizza. That way I can have the things I want on it (veggies) and control the sauce, and he can have what he wants (as much meat as possible) at the same time. This is our version of men are from Mars, women are from Venus, in the kitchen.
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Ingredients:
1 tube pizza dough (about $2 at grocery store)
1 jar pizza sauce (~$2)
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Toppings of choice: Female half
Spinach & mixed greens
Onions & peppers julienned
Zucchini
Mozzarella cheese
Pineapple
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Toppings of choice: Male half
Deli ham
Ground beef (pre-cooked, left over from burritos actually)
Bacon
Mozzarella cheese
Pineapple
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Step 1: Cook the meat if needed, spray a 9×13 oven safe pan. Roll the pizza dough out flat and press to the sides of the pan.
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Step 2: Spread on as much sauce as you like. I don’t like most pizzas because I end up scraping a cup of sauce off my slices, so I put it on thin.
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Step 3: Layer the toppings.

Step 4: Cover in as much cheese as you can handle. Because cheese is sent from heaven to make all foods taste better. Some calories are just worth it.

Step 5: Bake at 425 for ~20 minutes or until crust is brown and crispy and cheese is bubbling.

This recipe is as varied as your imagination, nearly any meat or vegetable can be a pizza topping, so if you like it then go crazy! You can use veggies left over from other meals. It’s easy to make a vegetarian (or even vegan without the cheese) pizza.

You can fold the dough in half to make a smaller deep-dish pizza. Try a bunch of variations and find what you like best.  No matter what you put on yours, its likely to still be much cheaper and healthier than a purchased one.

Easy side dish: Oven-Roasted Vegetables

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This is seriously one of the best side dishes ever! You can use literally any vegetable you have on hand, it takes only a few minutes, and it is super healthy AND tasty. I could eat oven-roasted veggies with every meal and not get tired of it.
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Ingredients:
1 baking potato, diced
1/2 onion, cut into strips
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/2 yellow squash, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
Nature’s Seasoning
Garlic salt
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Step 1: Dice up your veggies. This is the only work you have to do.
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Step 2: Coat your veggies in olive oil, put into an oven-safe pan.
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Step 3: Sprinkle with seasonings. Bake at 350 for ~20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.
You could use any kind of potato here, add broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, bok choi, kale, mushrooms, eggplant, the list goes on and on. Enjoy!


 

Crock Pot Veggie Stew

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I recently moved across America to the great state of Colorado! That explains my lack of posts for a while. However, since my new place has an oven, my repertoire has quadrupled, and thus I intend to make up for it!
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So this post was inspired by a trip to a local farmer’s market. There was so much delicious produce, to be had super cheaply! Then a few days later, I needed to do something with the veggies I hadn’t eaten yet. As many cooks know, fresh is best but it also spoils quickest.
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Another complication I will be dealing with this year is my first year of doctoral classes and research, so I will be gone the majority of the day, 6am – 6pm most days. So you will likely see a lot of make-ahead or Crock Pot meals!
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Ingredients:
1 large carrot, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
3-4 stalks celery, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1/3 of a red, orange & yellow bell pepper (or 1 of any color) diced
2 small heads broccoli, cut into small florets
4-5 green onions, diced
3 cups chicken stock or 3 bouillon cubes + water
Turmeric, chipotle chili pepper, paprika, black pepper, garlic, salt
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I don’t add amounts for the spices because it depends on how hot you like it. I found out after the fact that I added a *bit* too much chipotle pepper, because man did this soup clear the sinuses! I need to make it again mid-winter…

Step 1: This is the only work-intensive step. Dice all the veggies and layer in the Crock Pot.

Step 2: Add spices and broth. If you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, use vegetable broth or plain water instead of the chicken stock.

Step 3: Cook on low at least 4 hours up to 12 hours. The longer it cooks the softer the vegetables will get, but the more flavors will come out and mingle.

You can add really any vegetable you have on hand that you need to use up. If you don’t want to take the time to dice everything, you can buy pre-cut from a salad bar or use frozen vegetables and just throw them in! Couldn’t be easier. Plus it makes quite a bit, so you have several meals for very cheap, and likely enough to freeze for later meals.


 

Chicken Tacos

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So yet again I’m moving soon, and need to clean out my freezer and pantry. I had some chicken quarters I had gotten cheap a while back , and was sick of ground beef tacos. So I decided to make some chicken tacos. It helps that Meijer had a great sale this week, $1 bell peppers and avocados.
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Ingredients:
2 chicken leg quarters
Taco seasoning
Chili powder
1/4 red, orange and yellow bell pepper
1/4 red onion
1 tortilla
1/4 avocado
2 tbsp salsa
1 tbsp sour cream
1/4 cup black beans

Step 1: Put the chicken in a sprayed crock pot, sprinkle with taco seasoning and chili powder. Add 1/4 cup water to keep moist. Cook on high 4 hours or until chicken is no longer pink.

Step 2: Remove chicken meat from the bones and skin, throw it away. Add more seasoning if you like.

Step 3: Cut the peppers and onion into thin strips. I steamed the peppers for about 10 minutes first.

Step 4: In a tbsp of butter or oil, saute the peppers and onion until soft and translucent. Add some taco seasoning.

Step 5: Warm the beans and tortilla. Layer the chicken, peppers & onion, beans, avocado in chunks, salsa and sour cream.

The combination of flavors is amazing: the creamy avocado, the spiced chicken, the crunchy-soft peppers and sweet onions, tangy salsa, milky sour cream…. just mmmmmmmm! And so much protein and veggie goodness! Obviously you can omit the chicken and just use veggies for vegetarian, and add as much or whatever spices you like.

Jealous? You should be.

Vegetarian couscous stuffed peppers

So I’m going to a dinner party, and planned to bring my old standby, stuffed peppers . However, at least one of the guests is vegetarian, and I am also trying to eat a more vegetarian diet. So I decided to get the best of both worlds, and make both! 
Veggie:
3 bell peppers (any color)
1/2 cup couscous
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup broccoli
3 large baby bella mushrooms
1/2 onion
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
Lemon juice, soy sauce (optional)
Garlic powder, cumin, sea salt, olive oil
 
Step 1: Add 1/2 cup boiling water to 1/2 cup couscous and microwave 3 minutes.

 Step 2: Cut up all the veggies while its cooking.

 Step 3: To cooked couscous, add about 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tbsp olive oil. Fluff well & set aside.

Step 4:  Add a tbsp olive oil to a frying pan, and begin sauteing veggies, hardest one first. Broccoli and asparagus, then peppers and onions, and finally the mushrooms. I added a squirt of lemon juice and a dash of soy sauce too.

 Step 5: Add cooked veggies to couscous and mix well.

Step 6: Stuff the peppers with the mixture. Cook in oven at 350 for 1 hour, or a Crock Pot on high for one hour. Sprinkle with cheese if you like.
 
Tonight at the party we will see how well I did! I snuck a spoonful while stuffing though, and it tastes pretty darn good. I included some shots of my meat-eater stuffed peppers too, just to make you drool a little! =)
 


Cooking the meat and rice
Cooked meat & onions, rice, and tomato sauce stuffing!
Scooping the filling into the peppers


Mmmmm stuffed bell peppers!
 

 

Vegetarian Stir Fry

This is one of my favorite go-to meals because: 
a) it is quick
b) it is easy 
c) it is cheap
d) it is different and delicious every time! 
Stir fry is great because it is so versatile. Basically it’s rice and whatever else you want to put in it! I’m sure I will be stir frying a LOT this summer, because I’m working on an organic CSA farm (http://www.facebook.com/schoonerfarms) and will have a ton of fresh veggies once the growing season gets into full swing. Also, I’m trying to eat at least 2 full days a week vegetarian, for health purposes. So anyways, here is the stir fry du jour.
Ingredients
1/2 cup white rice ($2 for 24 oz)
2 large baby bella mushrooms ($1 for the pack)
Handfull snow peas (Free from the farm)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped ($1 for pepper)
1/2 large carrot, shredded ($1 for 1 lb bag)
1/2 cup small broccoli pieces ($1 for a head)
1 stick celery (~1 for 2 lbs)
2 tbsp each soy sauce, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce
Garlic salt
Total cost: ~$2
 
Step 1: assemble ingredients, put oil in a frying pan on low. Boil water for the rice.

Step 2: Dice up all the veggies while the rice cooks.

Step 3: Begin cooking veggies, toughest one first. I put in the broccoli for about 2 minutes alone, then the celery and peppers, then the carrots and peas, and finally the mushrooms. It helps to add a few tbsp water and cover tightly to steam them for a few minutes.

Step 4: Add the cooked rice and sauces, fry everything together for a minute or 2, and enjoy! There are endless variations of this, you can add as much sauce and different kinds or none at all, you can scramble an egg or add meats if you like. This is also very frugal and budget-friendly because you can use up all the odds and ends of vegetables in your fridge before they go bad!

Strawberry Banana Crepes

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I have always thought crepes were hard to make, so never tried it. But when my little sister took French and crepes became a common breakfast at my house, I saw that they were just as easy as pancakes, if not easier. You don’t even need a fancy crepe making machine, a regular frying pan will do.

So when I was searching breakfast recipes and found one for a smaller batch of crepes, I decided to try it. Not sure where I got the recipe from though, sorry. But it made 4 crepes, which is perfect for 2 breakfasts.

They also freeze well I hear, so if you wanted you could make a larger batch and freeze some. I had some left over strawberries and a banana that was turning brown, so strawberry banana filling was the best choice.

Crepe batter:
1/2 c flour
1 egg
3/4 c milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter

Filling:
4 Strawberries
1 tbsp strawberry jam
4 marshmallows
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp cream cheese
1 banana, sliced

Step 1: Mix all the batter ingredients together. Mixing it in a large measuring cup is a good idea to make pouring easier. Then melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan, and pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the frying pan.

Step 2: Cook for about 5 minutes, the batter will start to bubble, and the bottom turns golden brown. To flip, use a spatula or get fancy and use your wrist to flip the crepe in the pan. Cook the other side until golden brown as well.

Step 3: For the filling, melt the butter in a smaller pan. Add the cut whole strawberries and cook a few minutes until soft. Add the cream cheese, strawberry jam, and marshmallows. Cook until everything is melted together.

Step 4: Take one crepe, fill it with the strawberry filling and banana slices. Wrap it up on both sides, and top with strawberry and banana slices. I drizzled chocolate syrup and maple syrup on top!

You can fill crepes with just about anything. I think of it as a breakfast food, but there are recipes that stuff it with veggies, meats, salads, all kinds of things. It can be used in lunch, dinner, or snacks. Just get creative!

Slow cooker BBQ pulled pork

 

Slow cookers are a godsend to any busy cook, I myself often throw ingredients in it early in the day in order to come home after a long day of teaching, research, attending classes and work. But they can also add joy and flavor to a lazy Sunday. As the weather cools, warm and filling foods fill my imagination. This led to inspiration for some slow cooked BBQ pork.

Ingredients:
1 pork loin
5-6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 medium onion
1/2 cup vinegar
2-4 cups BBQ sauce of your choice

Step 1: Cut shallow grooves in the loin and insert garlic cloves. Place in the slow cooker with the vinegar, and the onion cut into chunks. Rub the top of it with the brown sugar, and put on high for 4-6 hours.

This is what it looks like after about 4 hours on high. I cut it into 4 chunks to shred it easier. Drain off the excess liquid and throw out the onion and garlic. Using two forks, shred the pork and return it to the slow cooker. Cover the meat with BBQ sauce and mix well.

Then leave it in the slow cooker on low for another 1 – 5 hours, to let it stew and the BBQ to cook into the meat. 

This is the first way to eat the pork, on a bun with some extra BBQ sauce. I had steamed broccoli and baked beans as side dishes.

However, you usually have plenty of meat left over. Therefore, this post includes a special bonus dish. With the leftovers, a great snack or even full meal is BBQ pork over tortilla chips. Just sprinkle on the pork, add cheese and heat in the microwave. Then add sour cream and enjoy!