Cranberry Walnut Trail Mix

The last few weeks have been hectic as I rush around trying to pack up my life for five weeks on the road. I love to travel, but there is an insane amount of work that needs to be done before I leave if I want to enjoy some down time and disconnect from my digital life. I haven't taken a real vacation since Christmas, so I could really use a few days to recharge my creative batteries.

To keep everything somewhat organized I've made lists. I've even made lists of my lists and for the next three weeks I'll be slowly ticking off items so I can enjoy my vacation without any worries. First up I decided to tackle a problem that has been nagging me... what I'm going to eat while I'm traveling. 

It used to be I would stop for road trip treats at the gas station and call it a day, but now that my son has joined me on my travels I've been packing a cooler with healthy snacks. Neither of us really needs that family-sized bag of twizzlers, no matter how good they taste.

I didn't want to spend a lot of time cooking, so I decided trail mix was the way to go. I picked up jumbo bags of walnuts, peanuts, and cranberries, as well as a small package of m&ms, then made enough to last a few weeks. That's one item I can successfully check off my list.

In a fit of genius I mixed up a second batch to leave with my husband (we're leaving him at home this time.) I know that if I don't leave him something healthy while I'm gone he'll revert to his college days and chow down on chicken circles and frozen burritos the second I walk out the door. At least this way I know he's eating something nutritious, in addition to every bit of junk food I don't allow in the house, but I'm not going to think about that (much) it is his vacation too.

Cranberry Walnut Trail Mix

Cranberry Walnut Trail Mix
makes 12 servings

Ingredients

2 cups English Walnuts, unsalted
2 cups peanuts, lightly salted
1 cup sweetened cranberries, dried
1 cup m&ms or other chocolate candy

Directions

  • In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Mix until evenly distributed, then portion out into half cup servings.

Notes

If you're having trouble finding unsalted nuts try looking in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips. 

October #Unprocessed - Week 3 Update

Week 3 Update:

This week was less of a struggle and I attribute that largely to having a good menu plan in place for all of our meals and snacks. Having our menu planned out in advance gave me more time to experiment in the kitchen since I wasn't standing at the fridge wondering what I was going to fix for our meal. I used that extra time to try a few things, one of which was substituting plain Greek yogurt for mayo in some of our condiments. I wasn't really a fan of using Greek yogurt in my tuna salad sandwich, but I thought it was a great way to lighten up my buttermilk ranch recipe. I used the lightened up ranch dressing on a salad for lunch and with cut up veggies for snack. Before I knew it we were out of ranch dressing again so I'll have to buy some more spices and make it again for next week.

I also had the opportunity to try a few more recipes using the white whole wheat flour I bought during week 2. I found that in my pizza crust and pita recipes I could use it as a substitute for all-purpose flour without any problems. In fact, my husband didn't even realize I had made a change to the recipe and he's normally the first one to notice when I've messed with his favorite dishes. This goes down as a win in my book and I'll likely be making the switch permanently. 

It's Not Easy Staying Unprocessed

There were a few times this week were I didn't stick to eating unprocessed. My husband decided he didn't like the flavor of yogurt cups I bought him for work. They're getting to the point where we need to eat them or throw them away, but we have a rule in this house in regards to food waste. We don't waste food... period. Even during the challenge I wanted to stick to this rule, it's very important to me, because every time I have to throw food away I know I'm throwing away money. It may have been the healthier option to throw them away, but that would have been $2 I had wasted. That may seem like a small amount, but over time it really adds up. As a compromise I decided to split one of the yogurt cups with my son for a snack, but it was so sweet I couldn't finish more than a bite. This tells me that my tastes have readjusted themselves this month, which was something I had been hoping for. I've worked very hard to limit sugar during the challenge and the hard work has paid off. I decided to dilute the remaining yogurt cups with what was left of the vanilla yogurt I bought last week for my breakfast. While my snack won't be entirely unprocessed, I will be consuming less sugar. As I've said before sometimes less processed is the best you can do and I'm ok with that.

There were a couple of other instances of not eating unprocessed this week, one of which was our yearly trip to the fall festival. We spent the afternoon at one of the local farms picking pumpkins and going on hay rides. One of the highlights of this trip is always stopping in for a treat, picking pumpkins is hard work! Besides, they have the best apple cider doughnuts I've ever had. While I was tempted to pick up a box to take home I limited myself to one (and let me tell you, that was really hard.) It was delicious and I knew I didn't need to feel guilty about this once a year treat, because it was just that, a treat. We ended the day with a trip out for Chinese food and while I didn't make a healthy decision about what I ate, I did decide to eat a smaller portion and bring the rest home to split with my son for lunch the next day.

Fighting Food Cravings

I was really fighting food cravings this week and I contribute that largely to stress and lack of sleep. I'm stressed out over the price-tag for my upcoming dental work and the pain is keeping me from getting a good night sleep. When it comes to food cravings I'm a firm believer ignoring them is not a good idea; that typically leads me to binge eating unhealthy food. I decided to go out and buy a loaf of bread to feed my carb cravings. I could have made a loaf, but sometimes I want the convenience of not having to make it myself. I was able to track down a loaf of bread that was unprocessed and I was surprised to find out it wasn't any more expensive than a regular loaf of bread. I ended up eating PB&J sandwiches for breakfast all week, slathered with my home made pumpkin pie spiced apple butter. 

Budget Impact

I didn't see an impact to our budget this week. My only extra expenditures were for a loaf of bread and a jar of natural peanut butter. This little splurge cost me under $6 and is something I may have bought anyway. Now apples being on sale for $0.68 per pound, that had a huge impact.  I bought nearly 30lbs so I could make caramel apples, apple pie filling, and more applesauce. That, however, wasn't related to October #Unprocessed... it was one of those deals you just can't pass up since we seldom see apples under $0.99 per pound.

Next Week:

We'll be having a Halloween party so I want to come up with several more #unprocessed party foods. I'll be making Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with pita chips and serving a cheese platter, but I want to try and unprocess my Caramelized Onion Dip recipe. All I need to do is make mayo from scratch, but that is something I've never done before. I'll also need to decide what I want to serve for dinner, we should probably be responsible adults and eat something other than the candy the kids bring home.

October #Unprocessed - Week 1 Update

Week 1 Update:

The first few days of the challenge went smoothly. I focused on making small changes to some of our favorite recipes, many of which only needed minor tweaking to be considered unprocessed. Not only did it help me ease into the challenge, but it will help me maintain these changes in the long run. I find that small changes are easier to stick to and I want the changes I make to our diet this month be for the long haul, not just while we're participating in October #Unprocessed.

Breakfast was by far the easiest part of the challenge since I tend to rely heavily on oatmeal or another whole grain hot cereal to keep me feeling full until lunch. I can easily customize it for individual tastes and it can be made in advance, which is perfect for a non-morning person like me. I did use this as an opportunity to experiment with less processed sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. One of my goals this month is to reduce my sugar intake, but I found that I really missed adding brown sugar to my oatmeal; I really do prefer the taste. Ultimately I decided to switch to Sugar in the Raw (Turbinado sugar) and reduce the amount of sugar I put in my oatmeal. Hopefully over time my tastes will change and I'll stop craving brown sugar.

Lunch has proven to be more of a challenge that I anticipated. I don't always give it the same amount of consideration that I do other meals. More often than not I rely on things that can be tossed together quickly and wrapped in a tortilla – I've really missed tortillas this week. I decided to do some menu planning for week 2 to help me with lunch planning and make our mid-day meal run a little more smoothly.

Eating on the road:

Going in to the challenge I knew that this week would be the most difficult. Not because eating entirely unprocessed required more thought and scrutiny about my food, but because there would be three whole days when I had little control over what I ate. We made the trip back home this past weekend to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of my husband's grandparents. That meant meals prepared by others and a lot of eating out. I decided before the challenge that I would focus on eating smaller portions and making healthier decisions when I could rather than scrutinize every ingredient in my food. Sometimes less processed is the best you can do and it's important to realize that it's ok to eat out occasionally. For me the ultimate goal is to make healthier decisions every day.

What healthier decisions did I make?

We skipped the drive-thru at McDonalds and made a quick stop in at Subway for a veggie sub (although I did give in to temptation and have a cookie too.) 

I packed healthier alternatives to our favorite road trip treats. Instead of picking up a king sized snickers bar, I opted for a small package of dark chocolate covered almonds. While I brought along Twizzlers for my husband, they're his one necessity to survive the fourteen hour round trip drive, I didn't eat a single one. That's a huge accomplishment for me because they're one of my biggest vices and I can easily put away half a package on a road trip.

We went to a winery to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. Instead of ordering a full meal we settled on house made whole wheat pretzels and an artisan cheese and sausage platter that we shared with my parents. I focused on eating until I was full and not munching away at the extras because I hate to waste food.

Fighting food cravings:

Now it's time to come clean and admit the fact that I gave in to my cravings for fast food on the return trip home. I ate a Sourdough Jack from Jack in the Box and I enjoyed every last greasy bite (and probably licked my fingers clean too.) I've always felt that it was better to feed my cravings when I have them instead of completely restricting myself from junk food. I'm more prone to overeating unhealthy food when I choose to ignore my cravings. Now, when I crave chips I don't feel guilty, instead I buy a snack-sized bag and enjoy them. I recognize it's a treat, a very unhealthy treat, but I no longer deny myself. In the case of my burger craving, I recognized that my need for unhealthy food came from the stress of a long drive and lack of sleep. I think that it is incredibly important to determine why you are craving unhealthy food and work to eliminate the types of situations that trigger these cravings if possible. In this case, I can't eliminate my monthly trip home to visit family, nor would I want to, so instead I focused on making healthier decisions during the trip. I ordered a burger, I didn't order a value meal with fries and a soda.

What's in store for week 2?

I've made a list of healthy snack and lunch ideas. Hopefully planning my lunch and snack menus in advance will help me cut down on some of the late night cravings I've been having this week.

Tonight I'll be looking for unprocessed alternatives for some of the ingredients I've pulled out of my pantry for the month.
 
What's on the list?
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Taco Shells
  • Corn Starch Alternative (arrowroot powder or potato starch)

I'll also be experimenting with white whole wheat flour. I'll be altering my pizza crust and pita bread recipes to make them unprocessed. I'm looking forward to bringing back our Friday pizza night.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus #MezzettaMixer House Party

In honor of my son's third birthday I thought I'd share a recipe for one of his (and my) all time favorite snack foods. We go through an obscene amount of hummus in this household. Our flavor choices tend to run a pretty wide gamut, but we always seem to come back to roasted red pepper. When I decide to make up a batch it's generally gone in under ten minutes.

We can be such gluttons sometimes (please don't judge me!)

I've been slowly tweaking the recipe and my latest addition, a combination of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, really makes the flavor stand out far above anything you'll find at the supermarket. It's absolutely addictive and comes together quickly (which is doubly dangerous if you're a glutton like me, I just thought I should warn you.) It's great for last minute company, or can be made a few days in advance for the times you have a mass of hungry people descending on your home. I'll be whipping up a double batch to feed the hungry hoard we have visiting for the party and I bet it's gone not long after it hits the table. This is one dish that never has leftovers.

I would like to thank Mezzetta and House Party for the awesome box of goodies they sent me for the Mix it Up with Mezzetta House Party on Saturday, 27th September. I was able to experiment with ingredients I haven't worked with before and my guests got to go home with some pretty nifty swag. Keep your eyes peeled for my Antipasto recipe, also using Mezzetta ingredients, I'll be posting it soon.

RedPepperHummus.jpg

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
makes 4 servings

Ingredients

15 ounces canned garbanzo beans, no salt added
1 cup Mezzetta roasted red peppers or roast your own pepper (see notes)
3 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
2 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon cumin, ground
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, ground

optional

1 teaspoon parsley, dried
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  • Drain and rinse garbanzo beans, be sure to remove any skins that remain attached.
  • In a food processor or blender combine the garbanzo beans, red peppers, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. Pulse or blend until smooth.
  • Optional: top with additional red peppers, dried parsley, and olive oil. If using olive oil you'll want to add it just before serving since olive oil turns cloudy and hardens when refrigerated.
  • Serve with pita chips, flat bread, or an assortment of fresh veggies.

Notes

If you don't want to used jarred roasted red peppers you can roast your own. Substitute 1 whole red bell pepper (peeled and chopped) for the cup of Mezzetta roasted red peppers.

Disclosure

In an effort to be open with my readers I want to let you know that House Party and Mezzetta have provided me with free or discounted products that I've used to create this recipe. As always, all opinions are my own.