Good-for-you Oatmeal-Coconut-Cranberry Muffins

I love muffins.  They’re one of my favorite things to bake and one of my favorite things to eat.  I can remember one day in particular when I ate a muffin for breakfast, a muffin for lunch, and a muffin for an afternoon snack.  Don’t worry though, I’m pretty sure I ate a real dinner…but only because I was forced to!  Muffins from a mix were one of the first things I learned how to bake, and I especially loved opening that little can of blueberries or cranberries and orange zest that was tucked into the bottom of the box.  Now I try to stick to homemade as much as possible, but occasionally when I’m in a pinch I’ll let myself get a little help from my good friend Betty Crocker…..shhh don’t tell 🙂

Now I enjoy a fresh, moist muffin just as much as the next guy, but the problem is that muffins, which are generally labeled as a breakfast food, are often the equivalent of an unfrosted cupcake.  And when you throw in all the artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives found in muffin mix, all hopes of a nutritional breakfast fly out the window.  There’s nothing wrong with having a treat, but I while I used to love having a muffin for breakfast they now seem more like a dessert.

Enter these muffins, made with oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and no sugar!  A far cry from the butter-and-sugar-laden muffins found in most bakeries, stores, restaurants, and cookbooks, these Oatmeal-Coconut-Cranberry Muffins manage to simultaneously be good for you and still taste delicious!  Even though they contain no sugar, they still get a good dose of sweetness from pure maple syrup, applesauce, coconut, and dried cranberries.  Using applesauce instead of oil/butter results in a muffin that is still perfectly moist, and the whole wheat flour and oats give these muffins a great, hearty texture.  I’ve done a lot of experimenting with healthier muffins, and to be honest I’ve had some pretty cardboardy muffins along the way, but these are a perfect balance of tasting great while still measuring very low in the sugar, fat, and white flour departments.  You can eat these muffins for breakfast, a snack, or any time of day and still feel like you’re getting some real nutrition!  And they’re very adaptable…you can leave out the coconut or cranberries if you like, and can add in nuts, other dried fruit, or even chocolate chips…after all, since the rest of the muffin is so healthy it’s perfectly justifiable to load them up with chocolate!  Right? Right.

Oatmeal-Coconut-Cranberry Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 Tbs baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 large egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, applesauce, egg, and vanilla.  Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients just until moistened.  Fold in the coconut and dried cranberries.

Scoop the batter into muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes or until tops bounce back when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Yield: 12 muffins

(Recipe adapted from Twin Tables)

Summertime Spaghetti a la Emma

The summer before I entered first grade, my parents surprised me with some exciting news.  “Sam and Emma,” they said to my brother and me in the car one day, “We know who your teachers are going to be next year!”  “Who?!” we asked.  “Us!” they answered.  No, they weren’t kidding.  I guess I probably could have mentioned before that both of my parents are teachers, so this wasn’t as big of a surprise for me as it may have been for someone who didn’t have that helpful little piece of knowledge…

Anyway, my parents had been hired as the first-grade teachers for a new Charter school about 20 minutes from our town.  When you added up the facts that I was going to get to spend all day with my mom and dad (remember, this is when I was 7 and not 17!), my best friend from kindergarten was also switching to this school, and I would get to help my parents set up my own classroom, I was one happy kid!

However, teaching full-time in a first-year school while parenting two 7-year-olds is no job for the faint of heart.  Since our school was in a different town, my brother and I rode to and from school with my parents, who got there at 7 in the morning and rarely left before 5 at night.  I know my parents feel guilty for all the time my brother and I had to spend entertaining ourselves, but it wasn’t so bad.  After all, we were surrounded by books, art supplies, lofts, and a playground!

Because we often didn’t pull into our own driveway until 5:30 or 6:00, dinners often consisted of whatever could be thrown together quickly and easily.  This resulted in many, many nights of pasta.  Spaghetti, ravioli, penne, rotini, tortellini, etc. etc. etc.  I got so sick of pasta that year that it earned a place on the same list as spinach, broccoli, canned peas and tofu–things that, like most first-graders, I loathed with a burning passion.  Part of the problem was that, for money and time’s sake, we always ate our pasta with canned tomato sauce and powdered parmesan cheese.  Nothing wrong with that, but after the umpteenth time it can get a little boring.  Actually a lot boring.  Which is why it wasn’t until recently that pasta made a reappearance on my food radar.

I didn’t really get into cooking until my sophomore year, but once I did there was no stopping me.  Once I started to appreciate the multitude of flavors and ingredients that can be combined to make a great meal, I started seeing pasta in a different way.  While before, “pasta” always went along with tomato sauce from a jar and powdered parmesan, now it presented itself with an infinite amount of possibilities.  I started seeing pasta not as something to top with red sauce and call dinner but as a vehicle for all kinds of cuisine.  Penne with pesto and cherry tomatoes, Thai peanut noodles, and Italian Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, among others, graced our table.

Since it’s summer, I’ve been in the mood for light, fresh, produce-heavy dishes, and the other night I decided to incorporate that into a spaghetti dish.  I just kind of went with what sounded good and threw it all together, and the result was a light, summery spaghetti.  The combination of hearty whole grain spaghetti, sweetness from the sautéed tomatoes and basil, the bite from fresh garlic, lemon-marinated chicken for protein, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, all coated with a light drizzle of olive oil, made for a quick, simple, and overall delicious dinner.  Who said pasta had to be boring?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summertime Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Basil, and Garlic

8 oz uncooked spaghetti (I used whole grain)

4 tsp olive oil, divided

8 oz grape tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cups)

5-6 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 Tbs water-packed basil*

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (there’s a time and a place for the powdered kind, but this is not it!)

Chicken & Marinade:

1 medium chicken breast

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

1 Tbs olive oil

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp ground oregano

1/8 tsp salt

Directions:

Butterfly the chicken breast, and slice down the middle to make two thin halves.  Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, pepper, and salt in a small bowl or gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Add in the chicken breast and allow to marinate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the chicken breast halves in a shallow baking dish, cover in remaining marinade, and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until cooked through.  When cool enough to handle, slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add in spaghetti.  Cook for 7-8 minutes, depending how firm you like your pasta.  While the spaghetti is cooking, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a large, deep skillet under medium heat and add in grape tomatoes.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, or until tomatoes are starting to blister.  Remove from the pan and place in a bowl.  Heat another teaspoon of olive oil in the same skillet and add in the minced garlic.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add garlic to the bowl the tomatoes are in.

When the spaghetti is finished cooking, drain it and dump it into the skillet.  Add the tomatoes, garlic, basil, remaining 2 tsp of olive oil, sliced chicken, and parmesan cheese and toss to combine.  Serve warm.  Makes about 4 servings.

*I used jarred, water-packed basil because my grocery store was out of fresh, but if you happen to have fresh basil, then by all means use it!  I would substitute the jarred basil for about 1/4 cup loosely packed, chiffonaded fresh basil.  (For those of you who don’t know, a chiffonade is where you tightly roll up the basil leaves and chop them to create thin strips).

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was just a little baker, before I started experimenting with unusual flavor combinations and more complicated recipes, I baked cookies.  Not fancy cookies, like macarons; not especially pretty cookies like these raspberry-lemon sugar cookies; not health-conscious cookies like the good-for-you oatmeal cookies I make often (recipe to come); I made regular old drop cookies.  Peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodles, and soft ginger cookies.

I didn’t even own an electric mixer for the first five or so years of my baking life.  I used a bowl and spoon to mix ingredients, and I softened my butter in a saucepan, not a microwave.  I had no cookie scoop to form cookies of uniform size; I simply rolled the dough into balls using my hands.  And the resulting cookies, with the exception of a few burned extra-crispy batches, were simple, classic, and undoubtedly delicious.  Now, though it’s fun to challenge myself with more difficult recipes and new types of cookies, I try to not to forget the beauty of regular ole’ drop cookies.  No fancy ingredients, no frills, just classic chocolate chip, oatmeal, etc.  Sometimes, simple is best.

These Peanut Butter-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip cookies certainly fit the bill.  They taste just like something that June Cleaver would pull out of the oven back in the 1950s.  The combination of peanut butter, oats, and chocolate result in a cookie that is a meal in itself.  One bite took me back to times when I sifted through old flour-dusted cookbooks to find a recipe, not Pinterest.  Nowadays it’s easy to overlook classic cookies like these, but don’t!  These cookies may not be fancy, particularly pretty, or healthy, but they are simplicity at its finest.  And when it comes to these, simplicity tastes pretty darn good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup crunchy or creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream together peanut butter, butter, both sugars, and vanilla until smooth, at least 2 minutes.  Add in the egg and beat until well-combined.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Gradually stir the flour into the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Stir in the oats, followed by the chocolate chips.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.  Form dough into balls about 3 Tbs large and drop onto cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are set and lightly golden around the edges.  Cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack.

Yield: about 18 cookies

(Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker)

Blueberry Coconut Cake with Lemon Sauce

Growing up in Colorado, I was able to experience 4 “true” seasons.  In the fall, I would rake up giant piles of red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves and jump into the middle, scattering the leaves and ruining all my hard work.  But it was totally worth it.  In the winter my brother and I would sled down the snowy hill next to our house, heedlessly focusing on nothing but the thrill of flying down the slope atop our blue plastic sled.  Once we nearly gave our mother a heart attack when we couldn’t stop and slid into the road, right in front of a car, and down into our neighbor’s snow-covered vegetable garden.  Pretty sure we scarred my mom–and the driver–for life.  Not to mention the vegetable garden.  Spring, though it often came late, brought sweet-smelling flowers and the occasional bee sting.  I could always tell that spring was coming when the crabapple tree in our side yard turned a brilliant scarlet, full of new blossoms.  Summers were dry and brutally hot, with the exception of evening thunderstorms that shook the house and lit up the dark-clouded sky.  I used to love standing in the front doorway, watching the rain come down in sheets and counting the seconds between the lightning and thunder.  Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Now almost nine years a Washingtonian, I can identify about 10 different types of rain, leap  out of bed like a little kid whenever it snows during winter nights (the number of which I can count on one hand), and have learned to say goodbye to the sun from about October to May.  Don’t get me wrong, there are definite advantages to living in a mild climate, but I’m still a Colorado girl at heart.  However, no matter how much I miss skiing down the Rocky Mountains and inner tubing through the Colorado River,  I can’t help but feel lucky when I hear about the sweltering summer that most of the US has been having this year.  Some of my Colorado friends were on call to evacuate their houses as relentless forest fires swept through the state, and I know that many other states have reached record highs.  Here on my little island, we reached a toasty 66 degrees today, and according to my thermometer the highest temperature we’ve had all summer is a whopping 74 degrees. Jealous yet?

So even though it doesn’t really feel like summer here, and I actually turned the heat on in my car this morning (it was 54 degrees out, okay!), I’m still trying to make it feel like it’s July and not March.  Take this Blueberry Coconut Cake with Lemon Sauce, for example.  Blueberries, coconut, and lemon all scream SUMMER, and this sheet cake is perfect to bring to a group event like a backyard BBQ or a picnic at the beach.  It’s just like a moist, fluffy blueberry muffin in cake form, topped with a layer of toasted coconut and drizzled with lemon sauce.  My dad couldn’t stop raving about how good that “blueberry coconut thing” was, and the lemon sauce was to die for.  It’s good enough to eat by the spoonful!  Not that I know from experience, or anything.  This cake is fast, very easy, feeds a crowd, and best of all, tastes like a little piece of summer.  Maybe if I close my eyes while eating a slice for dessert, I can forget that it’s 55 degrees outside, has been 80% cloud cover all day, and my hopes of maintaining a tan this year are about zero.  The fact that it just started to rain is not helping.  I might need two slices… 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Coconut Cake with Lemon Sauce

Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

1 Tbs baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 cup milk (low fat is fine)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups fresh or unthawed frozen blueberries

2 Tbs flour

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Lemon Sauce:

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbs + 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp lemon zest

1 cup water

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.  If using glass pan, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  If using aluminum pan, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vegetable oil.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and fold in the wet ingredients using a rubber spatula.

Toss blueberries with the 2 tablespoons of flour and gently fold into the batter.  Spread the batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with flaked coconut.  Bake for 20-25 minutes if using an aluminum pan, 35-40 minutes if using glass, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack.

For the sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest.  Slowly whisk in the water until smooth.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking often, and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes at a full boil or until mixture has thickened.  Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in butter and lemon juice.  Keep the sauce warm or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, cut the cooled cake into slices and drizzle each piece with the lemon sauce.

(Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

Biscoff White Chocolate Chip Blondies

As a twin, I often fall victim to embarrassing stories, since my brother and I grew up virtually side-by-side and witnessed many of each other’s most awkward, shameful moments of life.  There is one particular story that my brother loves to tell, one that he deems effective in illustrating his sister’s uncanny ability to make herself look like a complete whack job in public.

Growing up, I got to experience lots of airplane rides.  My grandparents lived in Michigan, and we regularly visited them from our home in Colorado.  When my family moved to Washington State in 2003, we regularly frequented all three states via flying.  One summer my mom, brother, and I took a trip to Michigan to visit my grandparents.  In this particular instance we were flying back home, and the seatbelt sign had just clicked off.  The Delta flight attendant came around, handing out Biscoff cookies and drinks.  I asked for my favorite, cranberry juice, which I had also had on our eastbound flight earlier in the week.  She poured my drink into one of those cute little plastic cups and moved along down the aisle.

I took a few sips, but noticed that my juice had a strange, different taste than usual.  Something just didn’t seem right.  Naturally, to my 9-year-old mind, the next step would be to inspect it more closely, making sure that this beverage was indeed the cranberry juice I had requested.  I bent down over the red liquid and took a little sniff, trying to detect any foreign scent.  Unfortunately, the plane hit a little pocket of air and bumped up a bit, and I ended up with a nose full of juice!  I immediately started spluttering and sniffling, and heads turned as I blew a stream of cranberry juice from my nose into my napkin.  For a good ten minutes I kept sniffing and snuffling, trying to empty my sinuses of (carbonated!) juice and all the while keeping my brother in a state of euphoria as he humored himself with my skills at making a fool of myself.

For years, Sam loved bringing up that plane ride, saying “Emma, tell about that flight when you ordered cranberry juice.”  I would defensively begin with, “Well, there I was, sniffing my cranberry juice,” and my brother would start cracking up.  Unjustly so, because it was only natural for me to be a bit suspicious of that juice.  Which, it turned out, was not the cranberry cocktail I had ordered but cranberry apple juice.  This incident was nothing to laugh about.  It was simply the result of an unusually observant individual (namely, me) who had fallen victim to the unlucky combination of airline beverages and turbulence.

I promise I have a point.  I’m sure that what most stuck out at you through that analogy was the mention of Biscoff cookies.  Right?  Right.  I always enjoy those crispy, cinnamon-graham-cracker-crossed-with-a-gingersnap tasting cookies that seem to only appear on airplanes.  Recently it seems that Nutella, which for a while was the “new” peanut butter in  food blog recipes, has been replaced by Biscoff Spread.  Biscoff Spread has the consistency of peanut butter but tastes exactly like those delicious Biscoff cookies!  It can be easily substituted for peanut butter in almost any recipe, and if you can’t find it at your nearest grocery store you can always order it from Amazon or Biscoff’s website.  It gives baked goods a wonderful warm, cinnamony, cookie-like flavor.  Take these Biscoff White Chocolate Chip Blondies, for example.

These blondies are a great way to incorporate Biscoff Spread into your baking.  Brown sugar and butter are melted together, giving these bars a chewy texture and caramel-like flavor which, combined with the Biscoff Spread and white chocolate, make for one delicious blondie.  They’re fast, easy, and adaptable–you could easily substitute in a different type of chocolate, add nuts, or even use peanut butter instead of the Biscoff.  I highly recommend investing in a jar or two of Biscoff Spread and treating yourself to these Biscoff Spread Blondies!


 

 

 

 

 

Biscoff White Chocolate Chip Blondies

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup Biscoff Spread

1 large egg

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8×8 inch pan and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar, stirring constantly, until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in Biscoff Spread until mixture is creamy.  Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Add the egg to the cooled Biscoff mixture and stir until smooth.  Add in vanilla extract.  Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until well-combined.  Stir in white chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is set, edges are beginning to brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before slicing.  Makes 12-16 bars.

(Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Mango & Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Quinoa (pronounced Keen-Wa) is one of the newest superfood sensations across the blogosphere.  It is actually a seed and has high protein, a low glycemic value, and a wonderful fluffy texture.  I just discovered it about a year ago, and use it as a rice/couscous alternative quite often.  It cooks very similarly to white rice, with a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water at a simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  So far I’ve enjoyed eating quinoa in a multitude of salads, soups, and even plain.  It’s super versatile and a great base for a main dish salad, etc.

I’ve been dying to try this Mango & Black Bean Quinoa Salad for months now, but somehow it kept getting pushed to the back of my new-dinner-recipes list in favor of winter-appropriate stews, chilis, and casseroles.  In the spring I tried this Black Bean and Sweet Corn Quinoa Salad and adored it, and sadly the mango version was forgotten.  Until now, that is!  I was looking around the kitchen, trying to find something to make for dinner, when I came across a perfectly ripe mango just begging to be eaten up.  I happened to have some leftover cilantro in the fridge that needed to be used up and half a lime that I hadn’t known what to do with.  I took it as a sign from the gods that I needed to make the long-forgotten Mango & Black Bean Quinoa Salad right now!  And I’m so glad I did.

This quinoa salad is perfect for a light summer meal.  The combination of mango, green onion, bell pepper, and black beans add a boost of color, crunch, flavor, and substance to the quinoa, and it’s all tossed in a tangy red wine vinaigrette.  My family enjoyed this salad over baked chicken, but the great thing about quinoa is that it’s a complete protein, so you can get away with having it as a main dish if you are so inclined.  So don’t be like me and let this recipe get away from you….make it ASAP!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mango & Black Bean Quinoa Salad

2 cups cooked, cooled quinoa (use 2/3 cup dry quinoa and 1 1/3 cup water)

1 medium mango, peeled and diced

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

4 green onions, green and white parts thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1-2 Tbs fresh lime juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: 

Put cooked, cooled quinoa into a large bowl.  Add in mango, black beans, bell pepper, green onions, and cilantro.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and gently stir to combine.  Chill the salad for at least an hour before serving.

(Recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, originally from Ali Vincent)

Strawberry Mango Salsa

I live in a family of extremes when it comes to spice.  My dad and I are the spice-lovers, him even more than I, and have no problem with adding cayenne, jalapeño, and the like to various dishes.  My mom and brother, on the other hand, can’t stand heat in their food.*  Once I added 1/8 tsp–1/8th–of red pepper flakes to a stew that yielded 8 whole servings, and my mom finally admitted that her throat was on fire.  My dad, on the other hand, can eat a Thai dish with 7 out of 10 stars of spice and not even flinch.  What can I say, genes are funny things!  *Oh, and my beagle, who hates to be left out, would like me to mention that she will eat anything.  Be it spicy, mild, cooked, raw, fresh, rotten, she will eat it.  It’s quite handy for spills, actually.  I’ve trained her so that when I yell “Clean up on aisle 4!” her little claws come clicking into the kitchen and the spillage is scarfed up in a matter of seconds.  But I digress.

During my sophomore year of high school, I took an International Cooking class, which was a lot of fun.  When our Korean food unit rolled around, we were invited to take a field trip over to our island’s single Chinese restaurant, which was owned by a man whose origins were in Korea, to see how the food was prepared and sample various Korean dishes.  After the cooking demonstration we all sat around a huge banquet table and were invited to taste a plethora of kimchi, stir-fries, rice dishes, and more.  I had learned that Korean recipes include a ton of garlic and spice, two things I’ve always loved.  It was fun to try a whole new cuisine and see what dishes I liked and which ones were just too strong–kimchi for instance,which is basically pickled cabbage, may take me another try or two or ten before I can stomach more than a bite.

At the end of the meal, our gracious host passed around tiny slices of jalapeño pepper, just for fun.  Apparently it enhances the flavor of some of the dishes, but when you mix high school boys with an opportunity to simultaneously burn their tongues off while showing off to their friends, you end up with a table full of kids daring each other to eat raw jalapeños by the slice.  I just sat and watched for a while, with a mixture of amusement and disgust at my peers’ self-destructive qualities, before deciding to put my spice tolerance to the test.  I  had always enjoyed a little jalapeño pepper in things like soup and salsa, so why not try a tiny taste of the real thing?  I bit off just a tiny piece of my slice.  Now I can understand why those crazy people on daredevil TV shows get paid thousands of dollars to eat raw peppers for a living!  Just a tiny bite of jalapeño set my mouth on fire, and though it wasn’t terrible it lingered for about an hour.  It didn’t help that someone suggested getting rid of the spice by eating a spoonful of salt…and then spitting it out.  I missed that last little piece of the trick and ended up with the lovely flavor of fiery pepper combined with a whole teaspoon of salt.  I walked away with a throbbing tongue and a bruised identity as a tough spice-lover. Needless to say, jalapeños and I were not friends anymore.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I saw this lovely recipe for Strawberry Mango Salsa on Two Peas and Their Pod, one of my favorite cooking blogs.  The juicy strawberries, sweet, smooth mango, and creamy avocado sounded like an unusual but delicious combination.  The recipe only called for 1 Tbs of diced jalapeño, but I was a bit dubious at allowing my food-foe back into one of my recipes.  However, I decided to suck it up and add the pepper anyway, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  The salsa was a wonderful mix of sweet and savory, and had only the smallest kick from the red onion and jalapeño.  The mango and avocado gave it a smooth, silky texture and the strawberries and lime juice made it one of the most refreshing salsas I’ve ever had.  After a few chipfuls of this, I started to reconsider my fallout with jalapeños.  I’m thinking that maybe we can be friends again.  Maybe.

This Strawberry Mango Salsa takes all of ten minutes to prepare and is a great addition to any summer meal.  This salsa tastes best fresh, so try to eat it up quickly–that shouldn’t be too difficult! 🙂

Strawberry Mango Salsa

1 cup strawberries, hulled and diced

1 medium mango, peeled and diced

1/2 large avocado, peeled and diced

2 Tbs finely diced red onion

1 Tbs diced and seeded jalapeno

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

Directions:

In a medium-sized bowl, gently stir all the ingredients together.  Add salt to taste, and let salsa sit for at least 10 minutes so the flavors can meld.  Enjoy this salsa with chips or crackers, or alongside chicken or fish.

(Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod)

 

 

 

<–Cleo the food thief