carrot cake muffins for breakfast (or anytime)

Ok, so with a name like Carrot Cake Muffins, I bet you're thinking that these are super unhealthy, right? Think again. These orange-crowned little beauties are stuffed with whole wheat flour, flax, walnuts, shredded carrots and crushed pineapple, cinnamon and heart-healthy canola oil. It really is a breakfast of champions, especially because it's not too sweet. A good source of fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants, I topped mine with a dollop of my sister-in-law's homemade fig jam. Delish.

Carrot Cake Muffins
Makes 12
I think I might have made these up ... or it's a recipe that I modified a long time ago.

  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2/3 c dark brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 4-5 medium carrots, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz can crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained
  1. Preheat oven to 350*. Line 12 muffin tins with liners.
  2. Whisk flours, brown sugar, flax, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla. Quickly and lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry with a rubber spatula. (The batter will be very thick and will seem dry at this point.) Fold in carrots, pineapple and walnuts. (The batter will become wetter at this point, but will still be thick.) Add to muffin tins.
  3. Bake 25-30 minutes and remove from tin after 10 minutes out of the oven.
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summer salads, part five: thai chicken salad with peanut dressing

If I could never have peanut butter again, I think I would die. Easily one of my favorite foods, this salad brought it into my life in a wonderful way: a peanut-buttery and coconut salad dressing. Yes, please. This is an easy one to whip up when you have some leftover chicken to use, or just pick up a rotisserie bird from the store like we did. Annnnd the expandable pants make another appearance.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing
  • 6 cups torn romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
  • 2 cups fresh, trimmed snow peas (or bean sprouts)
  • 1 cup carrots, shredded or chopped into thin rounds
  • 3/4 cup sliced celery
  • 2/3 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • 4 lime wedges (optional)
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine coconut milk and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper) in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and cool for 2 minutes. Pour warm coconut milk mixture over lettuce mixture. Sprinkle with peanuts; serve with lime wedges, if desired. Serve immediately.
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lemony chicken piccata with spring risotto

Fancy. And shmancy. And lemony! Have a dinner party with this one, folks.

Lemony Chicken Piccata
  • 2 (8-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/3 cup sauvignon blanc or other crisp, tart white wine
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Split chicken breast halves in half horizontally to form four cutlets. Place each cutlet between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound each cutlet to 1/4-inch thickness, as shown in the photo, using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle cutlets evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge cutlets in flour. 
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add two cutlets to pan, and sauté two minutes. Turn cutlets over; sauté for one more minute. Remove the cutlets from pan. Repeat the procedure with remaining one tablespoon butter and two cutlets.
  3. 3. Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook for one minute or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in chicken broth; bring to a boil. Cook until broth mixture is reduced to two tablespoons (about four minutes). Stir in juice and capers. Serve over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley.
Spring Risotto
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  1. Bring four cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add asparagus, and cook for two minutes. Drain. Bring two cups water and chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan. 
  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, and swirl to coat. Add onion; cook four minutes. Add garlic, and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in rice, edamame, and salt; cook for one minute. Stir in one cup broth mixture; cook for four minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
  3. When you can part the risotto clearly with your spoon, as shown above, add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding more (about 20 minutes total).
  4. Stir in asparagus, cream cheese, and pepper; cook one minute. Spoon one cup risotto into each of four bowls. Top each serving with one tablespoon Parmesan cheese; sprinkle evenly with thyme.


zucchini-parmesan fritters with lemon-basil buttermilk sauce

Summertime is famous for its surplus of tomatoes and zucchini. I happen to be easily swayed by their pretty colors when I'm in the grocery store - so much that sometimes I overdo it. Today was a day with an overabundance of zucchini. I made zucchini bread to start, but still had about two cups of the shredded green left over. I couldn't bear to trash it and it wasn't enough to saute as a full side dish. So I decided to make up my own fritter recipe, which turned out to be a simple mix up of a little shredded veg, Parmesan, a beaten egg and breadcrumbs, fried in a little olive oil. Oh yeah, and served with a lemony-basil buttermilk dipping sauce. The result? "Hubs approved" and no leftovers.

Zucchini-Parmesan Fritters with Lemon-Basil Buttermilk Sauce
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed dry (you can use any shredded squash or carrots instead)
  • 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c shredded Parmesan (or any hard cheese)
  • 2 tbsp fresh herbs, julienned (I used sage and basil from my garden, use what you have)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. In a shallow dish, stir the Panko and some salt and pepper together.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the shredded zucchini, Parmesan, egg, 1 tbsp sage (or other fresh herb) and a small handful of the breadcrumbs until thoroughly combined. Form into 3-4 patties and dip each into the breadcrumb mixture, patting to help them stick. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to help it set.
  3. Over medium heat, add olive oil to the pan and wait until it begins to shimmer. Add the fritters to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. After a three minutes or so, flip the patty, smoosh it down, and allow it to brown on the other side. When browned on both sides (go for a deep, golden brown), remove it onto a paper-towel lined plate. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
In a small bowl, mix 1/4 c buttermilk with 1/2-3/4 c sour cream. Add the lemon juice and basil, as well as some salt and pepper. Stir well and serve atop the fritters.

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summer salads, part four: loaded lentil salad with feta, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette

My mom used to make lentils and being the weird kid that I was, I loved them. I used to skip the second round of steak and instead scoop more of the little green-grey legumes onto my plate. A recent trip to an eclectic cafe & brewery brought them back into my life through a loaded lentil salad, served with a homemade vinaigrette. Simple and delicious, I knew I could make it at home. And for $1.29, I got an entire bag of lentils that should last me a year. Nice.

So, that's what we had for lunch one day this past weekend. We topped a bed of lettuce with cooled, soft lentils, chickpeas, diced tomato and cucumber, walnuts, salty feta cheese and drizzled it all with a homemade raspberry vinaigrette - but, for the record, any balsamic vinaigrette would be delicious.

And for the record, lentils are low calorie, yet jam-packed with fiber and protein (these bad boys give soybeans a run for their money!), folate and B vitamins. Show them no mercy and get creative with them. This salad is just one of the many ways to enjoy them.

Loaded Lentil Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette
Raspberry Vinaigrette (makes enough for about three salads)
  • 1/2 c canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 raspberry balsamic vinegar (or standard balsamic vinegar if you want to skip the fruity dressing)
  • 1/4 c (or less) of sugar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Salt and pepper
Shake the above ingredients vigorously in a small jar with a lid until combined. Set aside and make the salad.
  • Lettuce - red leaf, spring mix and spinach are good choices
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Chopped cucumbers
  • Scallions, sliced on an angle
  • 3/4 c cooked lentils (as directed, just be sure to add a little salt to the water, and cooled)*
  • 1/2 c chickpeas, drained
  • Walnuts
  • Crumbled feta (gorgonzola would be good, too)
  • Pepper
Assemble salad and drizzle with dressing. Serve immediately.

*Note: Cook lentils like you would rice, but don't expect all of the water to be absorbed. You'll need to drain the lentils when they're soft.

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basil chicken in coconut curry sauce

So, I believe I have mentioned several times (like here) how much my husband loves "spicy flakes" (the affectionate term we have given to crushed red pepper) and flaming-hot foods in general. This means that he loves nuclear Asian foods, like fresh Japanese wasabi (his soy sauce mixture is a deep green color and nearly smoking when he's done concocting his ratio) and stir fries, and Indian cuisine. When we visit our local Thai restaurant, he orders a seven on a scale of one to five and then he asks for red-hot chilies packed in oil on the side. We've even had the chef come out and check on him half way through the meal - partly out of sick curiosity and partly to make sure he was still breathing. For Christmas, we got three separate spice packs of all sizzling seasonings.

And then he married me. The medium salsa, the oh-my-lips-are-burning from mild wings, the level-two-Thai-food girl.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like the flavor that comes with warmish foods, but I also I like to  be able to taste other things going on in a dish. To me, heat should add a little something in the background, not overwhelm food. Which is exactly what this dish did. It was flavorful and interesting, while still providing a noticeable heat. Good stuff. And, it gave him the chance to use his spicy seasonings from Christmas. No matter what your preferred heat level, this one's a win.

Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce
(from Epicurious)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (buyer beware: this bottle was almost $8 at Publix!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (a kick-ass superfood!)
  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs (you can use breasts, but the thighs are more flavorful)
  • 1 red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
  • Lime wedges
  • Hot cooked Jasmine rice
  • Red pepper flakes
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, ground coriander, cumin, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground cardamom, black pepper, chili powder and turmeric. Set aside.
  2. Rinse chicken, pat dry. Cut into one-inch pieces. Put into a bowl and sprinkle the spice mix over all the pieces. Coat well and let sit for two hours in the refrigerator.
  3.  In a large skillet heat 1 tbsp oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and jalapeños and cook for three minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Remove the onions, peppers and garlic from the pan and put into a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Use the same pan for the next step.
  4. Add 1 tbsp oil to the skillet and heat on medium high heat. Add one half of the chicken pieces, spreading them out on the pan so they are not crowded. Brown for a few minutes on each side. When the chicken pieces are cooked through, and no pink remains, remove from pan, add to the bowl with the onions. Cook the second batch of chicken pieces the same way. Remove from pan, add to bowl with onions.
  5. Add the coconut milk, minus a couple tablespoons, to the skillet and whisk to incorporate the bits left on the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl, mix the remaining coconut with the corn starch to help it dissolve. Add the dissolved corn starch mixture back to the skillet with the coconut milk. Cook on medium heat and stir till thick and bubbly. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce. Add chicken mixture and ginger. Cook two to four minutes more to cook through.   
  6. Serve over rice with lime wedges and top with basil.