Better Bites: Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

How was everyone’s weekend? Ours was good. On Saturday we went to Alexis’ art class and then out for lunch and to run some errands. On Sunday Jamison and Alexis went to church and I stayed behind to do my weekly cleaning. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have to stop every two minutes or so to read a book, or play a game! ;oP Jamison and I even found time to watch a few movies this weekend. When does that ever happen??

Yesterday winter came back to our part of Maryland for a bit. It was a bit nippy! We even had a threat of frost last night, but luckily it didn’t happen. I covered all my herbs, veggies an flowers just in case though! Today the high is supposed to be in the 60’s and then tomorrow and the rest of the week we’re supposed to be back in the 70’s. I like the 70’s…I wish they’d stick around a bit longer!

Now let’s talk some tomatoes!

When Jamison’s parents came to see us a month or so ago, Jamison’s dad brought me a big bag of tomatoes from south Georgia! Talk about getting on my good side! ;)) Alexis and I enjoyed tomatoes for a week after they were here…Big, ripe, juicy tomatoes! We had tomato slices, tomato sandwiches and I even made a salad or two. This salad is one that I threw together, but it came out so good!

With just a few simple ingredients you’ve got a fabulous salad that tastes amazing and takes no time to make. There is just nothing like a fresh tomato and when a dish tastes great, but is healthy too it makes it that much better!

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What You’ll Need:
4 cups of chopped tomatoes
2 cups of chopped cucumber
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cups of freshly dill, chopped
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of rice vinegar

In a large glass bowl toss together tomatoes and cucumbers until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Next add chopped dill and toss to incorporate.

In a bowl or canning jar stir or shake together oil and vinegar until mixed. (Note: This is so easy to do in a canning jar. Just slap on the lid and shake and you’re ready!) Pour mixture over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately or let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Notes: As with any salad you make with vegetables and vinegar this really is an eat it now sort of dish. If you let it sit for too long the vinegar starts to break down the flesh of the vegetables. Also you could add in some steamed shrimp or roasted turkey or chicken if you wanted to “beef” it up a bit. I tried it one afternoon with turkey for lunch and it was great!

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

This weekend flew by for us! I’m always amazed at how fast the weekends actually go, especially as of late! There were play dates to be had, an art class for Miss G, errands to be run, chores to be done, church, and so on and on. I didn’t get half of what I hoped to get done, done, but I accomplished some stuff I hadn’t thought I would get to this weekend either, so that’s always good too.

Now let’s talk some quick, delicious, yet healthy tomato soup!

Healthy food doesn’t have to take an inordinate amount of time, nor does it have to taste like cardboard. Healthy recipes can be whipped up in no time and you don’t have to worry about losing taste either. This soup is the prime example. If you like tomato soup you can have a fabulous version in about ten minutes….How great is that?

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What You’ll Need:
2 – 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried basil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium sized pot add tomato sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and stir to mix. Bring to a quick boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Makes roughly 4 servings.

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

Notes: This truly is a whip it up fast kind of soup. It goes perfectly by itself or even better pair it with a grilled cheese on whole grain sandwich!

Better Bites: Cucumber and Carrot Salad

Carrot and Cucumber Salad

All this Easter stuff this past week made me think of carrots, because you know the Easter Bunny, he loves him some carrots! He gobbled up the one we left out for him Saturday night! 😉

Many of you probably remember (and possibly even like) that old timey carrot salad that is mayonnaise based, with shredded carrots, raisins, and possibly sometimes some sort of nut depending on who made the dish. I was never a fan. It looked pretty to me, but taste wise it just wasn’t up my alley.

So I started thinking of other ways you could make a carrot type salad, without using mayonnaise or raisins and I started playing around with ideas using an oil/vinegar base instead. I also wanted to add something else in to compliment the carrots instead of raisins and finally decided cucumber would be just perfect with the carrots and vinaigrette.

Then I had the base of the salad, but I wanted to add in some sort of herb and even use something you might not necessarily immediately think of when you think of brown rice vinegar.

My first thought was rosemary, but I decided that was a bit too powerful. Ah rosemary…I LOVE rosemary! But for this dish it just wasn’t what I had in mind.

I thought briefly of basil, but put that aside as well. I’ll readily admit I’m not a huge fan of basil. I think it is a nice compliment and I like it in things, but I don’t like it that much as the main flavor component. It’s just a bit to strong for me.

I finally decided to go with dried thyme and I was extremely pleased with the result! The thyme brings out just the right flavors overall and blends well with the overall dish.

Try it…I think you will be pleased too!

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What You’ll Need:
4-6 large carrots, shredded
1 English cucumber, cut into fourths and chopped
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of brown rice vinegar
1-2 teaspoons of dried thyme
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large glass bowl toss together carrots and cucumbers. Set aside.

Carrot and Cucumber Salad: Vinaigrette

In a small glass bowl stir together olive oil, vinegar, thyme, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until completely mixed. (Note: I like to do this with a fork.)

Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss to mix. Serve immediately or chill for up to an hour before serving.

Notes: You could add some chopped parsley to the mix if you liked.

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crab Cakes

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes

With the Chesapeake Bay right in our backyard, Maryland is sort of the home of the crabcake. Sometimes though those crabcakes get really heavy because they are either pan or deep fried. A few years ago I decided to try my hand at making a baked version and this is what resulted. Everyone I’ve ever served them to that is a crab cake fan has loved them!

Overall I have to say that I like my crab cakes a little lighter. You still have all the flavors that meld so perfectly together, but they are a little less heavy and a whole lot less greasy! Who says you can’t have your “crab” and eat it too…(Yes I went there! ;oP)

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What You’ll Need:
1 small red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (Note: I usually use 1/2 a red and 1/2 a yellow bell pepper. You can use one pepper of any color or mix it up. It’s your choice.)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of whole grain bread crumbs (Note: You want unseasoned for this dish. If you can’t find whole grain then regular bread crumbs will work too or even panko.)
2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning (Note: I prefer Old Bay, but any seafood seasoning will work.)
16 ounces of crab meat, rinsed and picked over for shells (Note: You can use lump, backfin, claw, whatever you can find. Artificial crab will not work for this.)
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes: Peppers and Onions

In a large skillet over medium heat sauté onion and bell pepper with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper until tender. Set aside to cool slightly.

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes: Peppers and Onions Cooking

In a large bowl mix bread crumbs and Old Bay Seasoning until completely mixed. Stir in cooked onions/peppers and crab meat and mix until incorporated. Add eggs to bind together the mixture and then it’s time to form the cakes.

I like to use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to make the cakes. Spray the cup with non-stick spray and then dip it into the bowl with the crab cake filling. Mash the mixture into the cup to give it good shape:

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes: Ready to Put In the Baking Dish

Then turn the cup over and dump the cake into a large baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray:

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes: Ready to Bake

Repeat this process until you run out of the crab mixture. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes about a dozen crab cakes.

Better Bites: Baked Maryland Crabcakes: The Inside

Notes: These crab cakes freeze beautifully. Freeze them fully cooked and then thaw and reheat and you are set to go! You can serve them all by themselves or pair them with some dill tartar sauce.

Better Bites: Zucchini Lasagna

Vegetable "Lasagna"

First of let me just say that I’m not a fan of “low carb” anything and in fact I didn’t take the noodles out of this dish to make it that. To be completely honest when I hear the term “low-carb” I cringe. Any “diet” (also another word I’m not that fond of…Focus on healthy eating not starving yourself to death on some “diet”!) that tells you it’s ok to eat a slice of fatty bacon over an apple has more than a few issues! All things in moderation and if you want a piece of bacon, then plan for it, but all of that to say I can’t tell you the carb content of the dish…I could figure it out if I wanted to, but I won’t. I can however tell you my way of thinking…I believe in good carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruits) versus bad carbs (refined sugars, flours, etc.). In fact you can make a perfectly healthy pasta dish using whole grain pastas just as easily, but I thought it would be fun to shake things up a bit.

Second, let’s touch on the subject of dairy. Most fat free dairy is just nasty. It tastes like cardboard. The exceptions to this are skim milk, ricotta and some cottage cheeses. Low-fat dairy on the other hand isn’t half bad and in some cases you can’t even tell the difference. It’s still something you want to use in moderation, but then again the key to these sort of things to begin with is moderation.

This dish pairs low-fat dairy, with zucchini to take lasagna to a whole new level. Who says you can’t have “lasagna” when you’re trying to eat right? This is just the dish for you!

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What You’ll Need:
1 – 16 or 18 ounce jar of marinara sauce (Note: Read the label. You want something that is made of tomatoes, perhaps some garlic and some herbs. If it has sugar, or god forbid high fructose corn syrup, put it back!)
3-4 large zucchini, cut in half and then cut into long slices roughly 1/4 of an inch thick
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of sliced mushrooms (Note: I usually slice them myself, but you can buy them sliced if you like.)
1 red onion, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 a small container of fat-free ricotta
8 ounces of part skim mozzarella, shredded or sliced thing (Note: I buy a 16 ounce package and cut it in half and then shred or slice thin. Lately I’ve been slicing it.)
6 ounces of freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Vegetable "Lasagna": Vegetables

In a large skillet sauté mushrooms, onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

(Note: This next step you can follow as written, BUT the next time I make this I am going to roast the zucchini FIRST. When you cook zucchini, as with most vegetables, they let off moisture, so it made the dish a bit most overall. It won’t affect taste, but for presentation value it would be nice to roast it first. To do that you would simply pan “fry” or roast in the oven until tender and then cut the cooking time for the “lasagna” to 15-20 minute to just heat through and cheese is melted.)

Now to assemble the “lasagna”…

Spray an 8 X 8 inch dish with non-stick spray or brush it with olive oil. Layer it with a single layer of zucchini slices:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Ricotta

Next add some ricotta:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Marinara

Then a layer of marinara:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Vegetables

Next add the sautéed vegetables:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Cheese

Next add a little mozzarella and Parmesan:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for the Next Layer

Repeat this process two more times and the top the top of the “lasagna” with the remaining cheese:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready to Bake

(Note: I like to go sparingly on the Parmesan on the in between layers and put the majority of it on the top.)

Bake covered for 35-40 minutes if you didn’t cook the zucchini first or 15-20 if you did. In the last five minutes of cooking take off the cover so it can brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes: You could add in herbs if you like, but the marinara sauce that I used was nicely herbed to start with. You could also make your own sauce. As with anything, even though this is lighter than the original dish, it’s still something to be eaten in moderation, but it’s much lighter than other versions! This is also gluten free.

Better Bites: Black Eyed Pea Salad

Black Eyed Pea Salad

There is a false assumption out there that if something is good for you then it tastes like cardboard, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Since we just rang in the New Year I thought it would be fun to take your basic black eyed pea and kick it up a bit. Black eyed peas are a great source of protein, not to mention various vitamins. They really are a great way to ring in your New Year!

Funnily enough I wasn’t always a fan of black eyed peas. If you told me before I got pregnant with Alexis that I would willingly eat them I would have laughed in your face. I was the same way with pinto beans…I just wasn’t a fan! But when I was pregnant with Alexis I craved beans and peas of all sorts and I’ve never gone back! Now Alexis and I eat beans and peas quite often. She’s a big fan and I must say that I now am too.

Traditionally (or at least in the south) black eyed peas are cooked with some sort of pork product or other type of fat, but really black eyed peas are quite flavorful in and of themselves and don’t need much more than a little salt and pepper. The way I like to cook them is simple…Soak them overnight and then drain and rinse. Place them in a pot, cover with water, cook until tender AND THEN add some sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. You can eat them plain or you can use them in the salad below…You could even use the canned variety if you wanted. Go crazy why don’t you!??!? ;oP

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What You’ll Need:
2 cups of cooked black eyed peas
1 cup of thawed frozen corn kernels (Note: Want to thaw them fast? Run them under a little warm water!)
1 cup of thawed frozen peas (Note: See tip for frozen corn above!)
1 small sweet onion, chopped (Note: I actually had one Vidalia left over from this summer, but any sweet onion will do.)
1 large carrot, chopped into cubes
1/4 cup of freshly squeeze lemon juice
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper (Note: More if you like it spicy, less if you don’t.)

Black Eyed Pea Salad

In a large bowl toss together black eyed peas, corn, peas, onion and carrot until well mixed. Gently stir in lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper until just incorporated. Chill for at least and hour and serve.

Notes: You could add in any vegetables that you like. Mushrooms would be a good addition, or maybe some edamame and/or celery. This dish is also not only vegetarian, but vegan as well.