good things : spring groceries

It’s time for another grocery post!!! Here are a few favorite pantry staples this spring:

Theo Cacao Nibs

Cacao nibs are, according to Theo’s website, “bits of unrefined cacao beans that have been separated from their shell and roasted to perfection in our chocolate factory. Nibs are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals. They are also a great source of antioxidants.” Cacao nibs are also, according to me, delicious. I love sprinkling them on my oatmeal, greek yogurt, and banana ice cream! I think they’d be really good in pancakes or waffles, too. Thank you, Wegmans, for adding this product to your already-brimming shelves!

TJ’s Golden Roasted Flax Seeds

I like burnt food. Burnt popcorn especially. I know, it’s weird. But what I like most about these roasted flax seeds is the depth of flavor due to the roasting. They don’t taste burnt…but they almost do. Regular flax seeds I could totally live without. I mean, I like them for their health benefits, but flavor-wise, they’re entirely forgettable. But these! Oh these! These I add to everything. Such a good advancement in flax seed technology.

TJ’s Omega Snack Packs

Apparently all of my omega needs are being met by Trader Joe’s these days. While I usually don’t spring for preportioned snack packs because it just seems too much expense for too much laziness, these have been really handy to have around when life gets crazy and I need food to-go.

Ezekiel Muffins

These are long overdue as a feature but let me tell you, totally worth the wait. I wasn’t going to buy them because it takes a lot for me to purchase a grocery item that costs about $5. Especially when that item is English muffins. But what lured me in was the protein content – 8 grams in each muffin! So I added them to the cart. And I’ve never looked back. I am hooked on these things…so good for you, and SO GOOD! Oh my word, with peanut butter and banana slices…heaven.

Kashi Lemongrass Chicken

Kashi, your frozen meals make my life a better place. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love them. And this Lemongrass Coconut Chicken? It’s like a summer vacation! Love it!!!

Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt

This picture was not taken this morning with all of the rest. Because I had to pull it from my Instagram archives. Because this item is no longer in my possession. Because I had no problem finishing the pint in under 48 hours. I think that’s all I need to say about that.

Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

This stuff is the magic behind the chocolate greek yogurt and the chocolate banana ice cream. And if you want to eat brownie batter for breakfast (and really…who doesn’t?), just add a tablespoon to your oatmeal in the morning and mix it with some almond milk. You get all of the rich luxuriousness of dark chocolate for only 10 calories per tablespoon – no grams of sugar and one gram of protein! Miracles DO happen!

Nature Valley Protein Bars

Something unprecedented happened over the weekend. I swapped the week’s worth of LUNA bars I had already picked out for these Nature Valley Protein bars. Now…hear me out. Ingredient wise, LUNA bars are filled with real, organic ingredients and probably have a quality advantage over Nature Valley. But what swayed me was that, surprisingly, the Nature Valley bars only have 6 grams of sugar per bar along with the 10 grams of protein…and the ingredient list was much shorter…and the price was much cheaper! I still love me some LUNA; they put out so many great products and I support their mission. But for less sugar and less money and great flavor…I’ll be buying these for awhile!

Chobani

Speaking of sugar, I usually prefer to buy plain yogurt and add my own toppings because flavored yogurt just has SO MUCH sugar! However, Chobani has won me over. For quick and easy protein these yogurts can’t be beat, and they’re so good! Add something crunchy on top for texture and you’ve got a great snack on the go.

Celestial Seasonings Sweet Coconut Thai Chai and Fruit Tea Sampler

The Thai Chai, aside from being fun to say, is helping me weather these less-than-springy days we’ve had around here recently. The Fruit Tea Sampler gives me hope that someday, in the far and distant future, fresh fruit will be readily available and iced teas will be brewed with enthusiasm.

Food Should Taste Good Jalapeno Chips

I’m so glad Carolyn suggested this brilliant combination: jalapeno chips and guacamole were made for each other. Oh my word…SO good! These chips are great by themselves or with hummus, too, but they’re really best with a hearty side of guac.

Annie’s Fat Free Raspberry Balsamic Dressing

Fat free and low fat items aren’t my favorite. I feel like the real deal has so many more advantages than disadvantages, satiety being one of the main ones. However, if you’re looking to save a few calories but not lose any flavor (or sleep over fake food), this is one fat free dressing that can’t be beat. It’s made from real ingredients, won’t add any extra fat or many extra calories to your meal, but tastes amazing! Great pick for a healthy dressing or marinade.

And there you have it! These items have been frequent flyers on this season’s grocery list. How about you guys? What have you been buying lately?

staying real : oh, the chicken.

(Late night last night + early morning this morning = no time to blog today. But look what was lurking in my drafts folder! Another embarrassing story showcasing my inability to function like a normal human in public! I’ve got an endless supply, really. Enjoy…and Happy Tuesday!)

This weekend I experienced my first ever bout with abandoned groceries. Which is actually surprising, seeing as how I’m really good at forgetting things. As I was leaving the store with my reusable bag I noticed that I didn’t see a separate plastic bag for the chicken anywhere. I figured the 15 year old behind the register shoved it to the bottom of the reusable bag. I had some choice mental words for him and my flattened chicken.

But alas, when I arrived at home and unpacked my bag, there was no chicken to be found, flattened or otherwise.

There was, however, plenty of crow. My apologies, Register Boy.

So back to Wegmans I went, receipt in hand, already wondering how in the world I’m going to prove that “Yes, I paid for this chicken, and no, it’s not actually at home in my crockpot at this moment.”

But Wegmans…oh, Wegmans…they were so cool. As cool as the cucumbers in their produce stands. And they were Antarctica compared to me. Because I needed to explain my situation in (too much) detail to the poor guy working at the customer service desk before he finally interrupted me to say, “Ma’am…it’s ok. Really. Happens all the time. You can go get another package of chicken.”

Then, for reasons known only unto me, I felt compelled to leave the peanut butter I had just purchased during Trip #2 behind the customer service counter as collateral. I don’t know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It did not seem like a good idea when I returned to the customer service desk after obtaining my replacement chicken to find a new person behind the counter (Other Guy, if you fled the scene while anticipating my return, I wouldn’t blame you) and tried to explain why I taking both a pound of chicken and a jar peanut butter for no apparent reason other than a very long, enthusiastic, exhausting story.

But at least I came home with the chicken this time.

Even though my dignity is still somewhere behind the customer service desk.

beka stays real : kitchen productivity

Oh, Mondays.

Like the rest of the world, once Monday afternoon hits I am in a constant whirlwind of movement until Friday afternoon arrives.  Downtime? What downtime?! Preparing thoughtful, healthy meals?! Psssssshhhh, get out of town.

But over the summer when I was in a constant whirlwind of movement all of the time, I discovered a secret. Do the work once, just once!, and the week will go much smoother.

Case in point: this Sunday.

I usually break the 5 Things rule on Sundays because there is ample time to be productive after church so I try to make the most of it. I do things like returning all calls/texts/emails, paying bills, cleaning, and tidying up in general. Those things all set me on pace to have an effective week. There’s nothing worse than starting Monday in a mess.

But probably the most important thing that happens most Sundays is preparing food for the rest of the week. This makes healthy meal choices so much easier. If When I’m running out the door I don’t have time to put together a huge salad with homemade dressing. I’ll grab a Luna bar and a banana and bolt to work. But by making and packaging huge salads with homemade dressing on Sunday, all I have to do is stop by the fridge on my way out the door and I’m good to go.


See?

Those would have taken at least 10-15 minutes to prepare individually. Which, multiplied by 4, means I’d be working for an hour as opposed to 15 minutes. Not to mention I only cleaned one mess instead of four. Not to mention that during the week I wouldn’t have had time to clean up any of the messes in the first place which is why when I don’t do this on Sundays, my kitchen looks like it needs emergency relief from the Red Cross on Fridays.

Yesterday I spent about 2 and 1/2 hours in the kitchen, start to finish. It wouldn’t have taken quite as long if I wasn’t simultaneously watching the Ravens/Texans game, but hey, at least I had good entertainment. Here’s what I made in that time span:

1. Olive Oil Granola

Alterations: I only made 1/3 of the recipe, substituted apricots for figs and cherries for craisins, and added large flake coconut. Result: AMAZING. I think next time I’ll tone down the oil and agave just because it was a little too heavy for me, but all in all I’m totally enamored by this recipe. If you’ve never made your own granola I’m throwing down the gauntlet: you HAVE to try it! Seriously, it’s so much better than pre-packaged, so (SO) much cheaper, and infinitely healthier (in most cases). Plus, you get to pick all of the ingredients. Win-win-win-win! It’s like we’re living in a dream world!

2. Mixed Berry Lemon Oat Bars (Not Meatloaf…Which is Kind Of What This Looks Like…)

Alterations: I pressed the date mixture into the bottom of an 8×8 pan, then folded it into itself in thirds to create a rectangle, therefore making bars instead of squares (to-may-to, to-mah-to). I’ve done the strawberry topping (as suggested in the linked recipe) before and loved it, but since I already had a bag of Wegmans Frozen Mixed Berries in the freezer I decided to get a little crazy and make a simple compote:

Mixed Berry Lemon Compote:

Simmer until reduced by half. Cool, then spoon on top of bars.

Making your own compote is so gratifying. In addition to being healthier than most jams, it makes you feel like you’ve totally conquered the “I’m An Amateur Cook And I Usually Have No Idea What I’m Doing But Hey This Is GOOD!” world.

Then, to store, I just cut the parchment paper into lines where the bars were laying and folded the long ends over the compote to prevent sticking. I popped them into a container and stuck them in the fridge for a sweet accompaniment to these guys…

3. Avocado Wedge Salads

I decided I was making these salads while perusing the produce section and finding heirloom tomatoes and 3 for $5 avocados! Thanks, Wegmans! Here’s what’s in the mix:

Avocado Wedge Salads:

  • 1 (generous) Cup Wegmans Organic Mixed Field Greens (in bulk)
  • 1/4 Heirloom Tomato
  • 1/4 Avocado
  • 2 Tablespoons Grain Salad Dressing (Cooked Wheatberries, Corn, Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice – quantities to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon Hummus (I used Sabra’s Roasted Pine Nut)

4. This Week’s Dinner Challenge…here’s a sneak preview!

So in 2 and 1/2 hours I made 4 dinners, 4 lunches, 6 snacks, and enough granola to last me for at least a few weeks if not a month. I now know that I’m going to be eating well all week long. It just makes me happier on Monday morning and all throughout the week.

(Another proactive kitchen task that makes me happy on ANY morning: setting the coffee delay and my alarm for the same time. Smelling the coffee brewing keeps me from hitting snooze 18 times. I know it’s better to grind and brew instantly, but this method gets me out of bed in the morning, and really, that makes up for any flavor disadvantage.)

Like the idea of weekend kitchen productivity? Have some tricks up your sleeve that help maximize weekday meal efficiency? Please do share!

good things : winter groceries

I’m interrupting our scheduled 2012 goal-planning programming to bring you a grocery list.

Which, in January, is usually synonymous with a goal list.

Along with the rest of the world I’ve recommitted to not eating pie for breakfast anymore now that the holidays are over. Even though I do think having pie for breakfast every now and again is a good policy, especially when it’s Shoo Fly Pie. But when you have pie for breakfast and cookies for lunch and brownies for dinner it can lead to an overabundance of good things. Namely, a pile of clothing that used to fit.

So when a friend recently mentioned wanting to eat clean for a few weeks, I got really excited. I started thinking about all of my favorite groceries and put together this little list of recipes and pantry staples that I thought might be helpful to the endeavor and sent it off with well wishes. But then I wondered if anyone else who is trying to get off of the Holiday Sugar and Butter Train might want a few new ideas to add to the January’s grocery bag too?

And then I tried to go to Planet Fitness and had to drive around the parking lot 8 times before a space opened up and I came to the conclusion that yes, now is a good time to unleash a healthy eating list upon the blog world.

Here are a few things that constantly find themselves in my kitchen. If you’re trying to get back on track, any of these will lead you down the straight and narrow. (And none of them taste like cardboard. Promise.)

Breakfast:

Breakfast Quinoa
Ezekiel 4:9 English Muffins
Frozen Banana Bowl: My favorite post-workout breakfast! 1 frozen banana + 2 Tbsp oats + 2 Tbsp protein powder + 2 Tbsp liquid of choice (juice, milk, or my new favorite, Vanilla Coconut Almond Milk) – blend/food process and top with fresh/frozen fruit and nuts or granola.
Greek Oatmeal: Another new favorite – half oatmeal, half greek yogurt. Cook 1/3 cup of oatmeal and add in/top with whatever you usually would, then layer 1/2 a container of greek yogurt on top. The heat from the oatmeal warms up the yogurt and makes it nice and smooth and it’s just so wonderful. Add a little honey or agave on top too!
Greek Waffles
Old Wessex Scottish Oats

Lunch:

Apple and Cheddar Sandwiches
Chopped Salad 1
Chopped Salad 2
Chicken Salad
Chipotle Makeover
Grapefruit Salad
Pacific Foods Thai Sweet Potato Soup
Dinner:

Amy’s California Veggie Burgers
Greek Quinoa Burgers
Kashi Lemongrass Coconut Chicken
Stuffed Acorn Squash

Snacks:

Granola Bars
Lara Bars (I’m partial to the Cherry Pie flavor)
Peanut Butter & Co PB (Any flavor, but I love Dark Chocolate Dreams)
Sabra Roasted Pine Nut Hummus

Dessert:

Frozen Banana Cream: 1 frozen banana + 1 Tbsp cocoa powder, blend/food process until creamy, top with 1/2 Tbsp softened peanut butter
Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt
Milk & Honey Chocolate Banana Granola (This is especially good with aforementioned almond milk)

Hopefully this gives you some new ideas next time you hit the grocery store. Anyone have something else to add to the list? And would posting a list like this be a good idea either once a month or once a season? I’m think I might like that idea.

beka stays healthy : new goods in the grocery bag

When it comes to grocery shopping, I’m a creature of habit. Actually, when it comes to life, I’m a creature of habit. But occasionally I break out of my rut and try new items. Sometimes it’s a good decision (see: Barbara’s Chocolate and Peanut Butter Puffins Cereal, Arnold’s Multigrain Sandwich Thins, Sabra Spinach and Artichoke Hummus). Sometimes it’s not (see: Fair Trade Purple Sticky Rice). But from time to time, it’s WONDERFUL. As follows:

Winner #1: Stacy’s Pita Chips

I bet I could finish off an entire bag of these in one sitting. Which is to say that they’re good as-is. But they also make a great topping to yogurt parfaits, oatmeal. or roasted fruit. My favorite so far is the cinnamon sugar, but the gingerbread is a close second!

Winner #2: Seeds of Change Ready to Heat Rice

OH MY GOODNESS. Talk about a time saver! I absolutely love incorporating whole grains like brown rice and quinoa into meals, but they take about a lifetime to cook. Seriously, it feels like I age a few decades while waiting for whole grains to cook. Consequently, I’m head over heels in love with these precooked, preseasoned, microwavable packets for the nights when I don’t have a few extra hours to make dinner. (Which is pretty much…all the time.) I’ve only tried the Seven Grain variety…but good news! There are 5 other kinds to sample…Indian and Caribbean among them! Can’t wait!

Winner #3: Pacific Foods Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Soup + Aforementioned Rice + Kale = Hearty Bowl of Lunch or Dinner Lovin’. (And Cashew Carrot Ginger? Minestrone with Chicken Meatballs? Oh, we’re going to be BFF’s soon. Just you wait.)

Winner #4: Westsoy Chocolate Peppermint Stick

I often wish that the Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks did not have 500 calories and half as many ingredients. And here is the answer to my prayers! This is great straight up cold, warm with a dollop of whipped cream, or – my favorite – mixed with a good cup of coffee.

I might start imposing a one new item per week rule to keep digging out of the grocery-staples rut. It’s for my own good. Clearly!

Have you guys tried anything new lately? Any reviews or recommendations? Do tell!

beka stays healthy : will travel for groceries

I’m in love with a guy named Joe.

Trader Joe.

It is one of the great tragedies of my Western New York existence that there are no Trader Joe’s within a 200 mile radius. Not a one. There’s one slated to open in State College, PA, in 2012, which will be a mere 163 miles away. It’s probably a little over a 3ish hour drive one way which I actually know for sure because I already MapQuested it, but really, that’s a small price to pay for a TJ’s.

Now, me and Joe, we only met a year ago. But it was one of those sweep-you-off-your-feet meetings that does you in forever. I’m now hopelessly devoted to Joe. And while I don’t fault him for not wanting to move into a town so wholly devoted to another (Weg)man, I still wish he’d give it a go. We’re capable of loving both (maybe not equally…I mean…have you seen the Pittsford Wegmans? or read my 87 posts about it? but still!).

The good news is that my parents live less than 2 hours from the Trader Joe’s in Hadley, MA. Consequently we’ve created a new family tradition when I’m home for a long weekend: the Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/Yankee Candle trip. They’re all within 20 minutes of each other! It’s so wonderful!

On our most recent excursion, I picked up the following:

From Whole Foods…

Larabars! Now, truth be told, Wegmans really does have a respectable selection of Larabars and sells them for a reasonable price. However, Whole Foods was running a special, 4 for $5, and you just can’t beat that. PLUS, there were so many flavors that I never even knew existed! Carrot Cake?! Banana Bread?! Gingersnap, Blueberry Muffin, Chocolate Hazelnut?!?! Oh my land. Somehow I’ve managed to pace myself and still have the Carrot Cake and Chocolate Hazelnut left, but the other three were delicious!

From Yankee Candle…

Do you see that restraint? TWO votives, that’s all! Cinnamon Roll and Mountain Berry. The huge jar was a bonus from my parents’ order, a $10 steal. And p.s., I love the new Yankee Candle bags and bottom design. Great job, graphic designers!

And also from Yankee Candle via the internally located Popcornopolis:

The best caramel corn in the history of caramel corn. Each piece is perfectly coated with a crunchy layer of salty sweet caramel. It’s  heaven in a bag.

And now…what we’ve all been waiting for…the spoils from Trader Joe’s!

First, the collaboration of all of my hopes and dreams: S’mashing S’mores. Little squares of graham cracker topped with a marshmallow and covered in milk chocolate, just waiting for a microwave! Though I do love my traditional method of s’more roasting, these are great in a pinch. You know, when the overwhelming need for s’mores arises and it’s too difficult to break a cracker, add two toppings, and put it under a broiler.

Next: Sunflower Seed Butter. I’ve been wanting to try it forever and since it’s been popping up on food blogs everywhere, my craving intensified exponentially. It’s usually a million dollars a jar because apparently most stores charge $1 per seed, but at good ole TJ’s it was a mere $3.99. And worth every penny!

When it comes to these Powerberries, it’s probably a good thing we are separated by over 200 miles. Otherwise, I’d put on 200 lbs. These are SO good. So, so good. They didn’t last long. This bag…or the second one.

Best dried mango ever. No contest. And the packaging wasn’t damaged…I just ripped into it on the drive home. I had to! It was calling out to me!

And quite possibly the biggest draw of Trader Joe’s: the never ending varieties of affordable trail mix. Seriously, I could stock pile this stuff in survival kit quantities and still go back for more. I think this one is my favorite of all though; who would have thought that dried raspberries would be so good?

Now, Joe, let’s talk about franchising opportunities in the greater Rochester area. If you take collateral in the form of promised purchases, I’m all in.