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Homemade Nutella with Almonds

Homemade Nutella with almonds {}

Creamy chocolate-y nutty goodness!  Nutella is relatively new to the United States.  I first tried it while spending a semester in England  back in the early 90’s.  I was hooked!  It was quite a while before I saw it on store shelves here in the US.

Traditionally, nutella is made with hazel nuts.  Which I tried the first time around.  It was delicious.  My children wanted to be able to share with with their grandma who, unfortunately is allergic to hazel nuts.  So I played around with a few variations before I settled on this one – with almonds!  My kids actually like it better.  Almonds are easier to find around here and not as pricey as hazel nuts.


Homemade Almond Nutella
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  1. 1 cup almonds
  2. 1 ½ TBSP coconut oil, melted
  3. ½ cup coconut milk
  4. ¼ cup honey
  5. 4 TBSP cocoa powder
  6. Pinch salt
  7. ¼ tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
  8. ½ TBSP vanilla extract
  1. Add the almonds to a food processor and grind until smooth. This will take a while – 5 – 10 minutes. Make sure they are as smooth as you want them before adding anything else, especially the coconut milk, as they will not grind much more after.
  2. Add the coconut oil and grind some more.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until it is well combined.
  1. About the espresso powder – as a matter of habit I almost always add a little instant espresso (or coffee) to anything with chocolate. Just makes it taste better in my opinion, but you can leave it out.
The Greening of Westford
With the substitution of honey for regular sugar, this variation is practically healthy.  Now that doesn’t give you the freedom to eat the whole jar, but feel better about it.  

We like this homemade nutella on toast, fruit, or as a quick substitute for chocolate in s’mores.

Have you tried nutella?  What do you like to eat it with?


Coconut Rice Pudding


Coconut Rice Pudding recipe

Ever since I was a child, I have loved rice pudding!   Maybe it’s an Armenian or Middle Eastern thing.  Not sure, but it’s so yummy and comforting.  Combine that with my love of coconut – Coconut Rice Pudding.  Oh yeah!

I started making it again a few years ago.  Just as good as I remember, although I miss my grandma making it.  The recipe I used was from an old church cookbook – you know it’s good! 

Of course, I had to add my own little flair.  I also adore coconut.  So I combined the two!  Delicious!



Coconut Rice Pudding
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  1. 4 cups milk
  2. ½ cup rice
  3. ½ cup unsweetened coconut
  4. 1/3 cup sugar or honey or other sweetener of choice
  5. 1 egg (optional)
  6. 1/2 tsp coconut flavoring
  7. 1/8 tsp vanilla
  1. Crack the egg into a dish and let sit – brings it up to room temperature
  2. Put rice, coconut, and sugar/honey in a pan and heat on medium heat until boiling, stirring constantly.
  3. Turn heat down to low, simmer for 30 mins or until rice is tender, stirring frequently.
  4. Turn heat off, add vanilla and coconut flavoring
  5. Add a little of the rice pudding to the egg and beat immediately. You want to temper the egg so it doesn’t make scrambled eggs. Add the egg to the rest of the rice pudding and stir for a few mins. to cook the egg.
  1. Personally, I like the custard-y flavor the egg gives the pudding. It's totally optional and, honestly, not part of the traditional recipe I started with.
The Greening of Westford

Ever had rice pudding?

 This post has been shared at Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Tasty Tuesday


How To Preserve Tomatoes FAST!


How to preserve tomatoes fast!


Freezing Tomatoes Many Ways

I just love the idea of having garden quality tomatoes all year long.  I just have not taken the plunge into canning.  Honestly, it kind of scares me.  I am a simple girl!   I kept hearing more and more ways of freezing tomatoes. I can do that!  And when my local farmer started selling 1/2 bushels, I went for it.  What made this easy, was that my farmer gave me a variety of tomatoes – some small, plum, heirloom.  I could pick and choose which ones fit the methods the best.


Spaghetti Sauce

I made 2 types.  The first was a quick, fresh tasting sauce made by  roasting the tomatoes, adding some garlic and few other spices and simmering on the stove for a bit.  The second way was a more traditional longer cooking method using my slow cooker.   I reused some of my glass jars and in the freezer they went.




Frozen Whole

Yup!   I just washed them and tossed them in a freezer bag as is.  Turns out my Mom and a friend do this all the time.  I’ll use these for any dishes that call for fresh tomatoes that are then cooked.



Pureed And Diced

For the puree, I cored several tomatoes then I just tossed them  into the food processor, peels and all, and blended away.  For the diced tomatoes, I blanched and peeled the skins then chopped.  I love that I can now stop buying canned tomatoes.  Actually I had stopped using the canned tomatoes completely and just didn’t make those recipes anymore.  Some were favorites though so I’m so glad to have these tomatoes to use instead.




Tomato Leek Soup

I happened to have a bunch of leeks that I needed to use so I made some tomato leek soup.  I simmered this mixture for a bit then blended it with my immersion blender.   YUMMY!  This didn’t even make it to the freezer.




Sun-Dried Tomatoes

OK, oven-dried tomatoes.  I picked out the smaller tomatoes and halved them.  Placed them on a baking sheet and roasted in the oven for about 6 hours on 200 degrees F.  I then froze them to keep them fresh.  




Roasted Tomatoes

Sliced a bunch, olive oil, salt, pepper and into the oven they went on 400 degrees F for about 30 – 40 minutes, possibly less depending on the size of the slices..  I have several pasta recipe that call for roasting tomatoes.



And that was it!  1/2 bushel processed almost effortlessly in over about 3 days.

I am so glad I challenged myself to do this.   I have a beautiful variety of tomato products to use all winter.  


Do You Freeze Tomatoes?


This post has been shared at Natural Living Monday, Fabulous Frugal Thursday


The Best Snack Mix Ever!

{The Greening Of Westford} Best Snack Mix EVER

I made more of this snack mix recently and was asked for the recipe on Facebook.  I tweaked a recipe I found on allrecipes and when I went to find the original recipe, it was gone!  My old link sent me to a mac and cheese recipe, which looked great, but not what I was looking for.   Time for a recipe post!  

I started making this when my kids were small.  They LOVE it.  So do their friends.  It is requested a lot.
The actual mix of ingredients isn’t important.  Use what you like or what you have.  Chocolate candies could be added later or even dried fruit.  I wouldn’t add the fruit until AFTER this has cooked.  I have used stale pretzels, plain cheerios and other items that didn’t go over very well.  Once they are in the mix with the seasonings, they are usually eaten.
The Best Snack Mix Ever!
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  1. 2 cups oyster crackers
  2. 2 cups Crispix cereal or shredded wheat (I use the store brand)
  3. 2 cups pretzels
  4. 1 cup nuts of your choice (omit for a nut-free snack)
  5. 3 TBSP butter, melted
  6. 1 TBSP veg. oil
  7. 4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  8. 1 tsp seasoned salt (I use Penzey’s seasoned sea salt)
  9. ½ tsp garlic powder
  10. ½ tsp onion powder
  1. In a large bowl, combine cereals and nuts. In a small bowl, combine butter, oil, and spices. Pour over the cereal mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  2. Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet and spread evenly in a single layer. Bake at 250 for 45 mins, stirring every 15 minutes.
The Greening of Westford
This snack mix rarely lasts more than a day or two in our house.  In fact, I had to make this again just to get a picture!

What are you favorite snacks to make?



Fantastic Falafel

Recipe for falafel

As you may be aware, one of my goals for 2013 is to reduce my family’s meat intake.  There are several reasons for this including environmental, health benefits and budget concerns.  One recipe I found a few months ago has become a favorite – Falafel!  Now, my kids aren’t thrilled with it, but they don’t completely hate it, so it’s a start!

NOTE:  You need to plan ahead!  The active cooking isn’t long, but there are a few steps where you have to let things sit for a while.  Read the whole recipe first.


Makes: 8 patties


1 cup dried chickpeas

1 1/2 cups onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, I use 1/4 cup of each – chopped roughly
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil
Suggested toppings: plain yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta


  1. Cover the chickpeas with water and let them soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight at room temperature.  Drain the water.  The chickpeas will double in size resulting in 2 cups of soaked chickpeas.
  2. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse until chickpeas are ground a bit.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the oil) to the food processor.
  4. Pulse just until everything is combined.  Not more than 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 1 hour.  I have skipped this step when I am in a rush.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350.
  7. Form mixture into 8 patties.  
  8. Place patties into the refrigerator for 10 – 15 minutes.
  9. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Use enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  10. Brown the patties for 3 minutes on each side then place on a baking sheet.
  11. Cook the patties in the oven for another 8 – 10 minutes.
You can serve these with a salad, on buns, in tortillas, pita bread, whatever you like.  
I love the flavors in this falafel recipe and it makes excellent leftovers!  I’ve also tried making the mixture through step 5 and freezing it.  It works OK.  But next time I’ll make completely make the patties and freeze.

Have you tried falafel?

This post has been shared at:  Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Simply Natural Saturdays Simple Meals Friday, Tasty Traditions


Yummy Nutty Homemade Granola

homemade nutty granola

I am a recent lover of granola!  I am by no means an expert or connoisseur.   But I love this simple recipe.  It doesn’t get super crunchy.  It’s more like cereal, but I like that I can mix it with yogurt or eat it with milk.

Yummy Nutty Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup assorted nuts (I like a mixture of almonds and walnuts)
3/4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup real maple syrup (could use honey as well)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F .
  2. Melt coconut oil and mix with maple syrup.
  3. Combine all of the ingredients, mixing well to coat.
  4. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
I have also baked this at a lower temperature of 300 F. It doesn’t get as brown and is way more like a cereal. 
I love eating it with my homemade yogurt and a drizzle of honey!
Do You Like Granola?  What’s Your Favorite?

This post is shared at Your Green Resource


Making Yogurt: It’s All About Temperature!

Making yogurt in microwave
I grew up on homemade yogurt from my grandmother.  I love plain yogurt!  I am Armenian and we eat plain yogurt a lot – not just for breakfast or snacks.  In Armenian households, madzoon (maad – zoon), Armenian for yogurt, is a staple!  We put it on dolma (meat and rice stuffed cabbage or grape leaves).  A lot of people find it too sour.  Commercial plain yogurts can be sour.  With homemade yogurt, you can control the sourness. 
After I graduated from college, I wanted to learn to make my own.  I asked my grandmother and the directions were not clear at all, to say the least!  “Put your milk in a pan and bring it just to a boil” – how much milk, what kind, high heat?????  “However much you want to make.”  And “You know, just so it won’t burn“ were the answers.  “Then let it cool until you can just put your pinky finger into it without it burning”  Really!?  That is the explanation.  I kid you not.  And I have heard this method described by many others too.  Of course, this means burning your finger a couple of times before you get it right!
Needless to say, my yogurt was hit or miss back then.  At one point, I was able to calibrate my pinky and could make yogurt with the best of them! Yum!
I wanted to get back into making yogurt so I tried again about a year ago.  I could not calibrate my pinky to save my life!  I finally gave in and did some research to figure out exactly what temperature doesn’t burn your pinky  – turns out it’s about 115 – 118 Fahrenheit.   But still, no yogurt for me! 
A friend told me about this method and it is working beautifully!  It’s all about temperature!
ingredients for homemade yogurt


½ gallon of milk – I have only tried with pasteurized whole milk
4 TBSP plain yogurt with active and live cultures – you can buy this, or use your homemade yogurt
2  quart-size mason jars
Heat The Milk
1.  Take your starter yogurt out of the refrigerator and sit it on your counter to warm up.
Heating milk to make yogurt
2.  Pour 1 quart of milk into each mason jar (no lids) and place in microwave.
heating  milk to make yogurt
3.  Heat the milk until the temperature of the reaches 180.  Mine took about 15 minutes, but I started with 10 minutes, checked the temp. then put it in for more time.  The temperature needs to reach at least 180 to kill any other bacteria.  Higher is OK as long as the milk doesn’t burn.
Cool The Milk
cooling milk to proper temperature to make yogurt
4. Take the jars out and let them cool to 118 degrees.  I used an ice water bath and it took about 10 minutes.   TEMPERATURE IS KEY AT THIS POINT.  If you wait too long, the milk is too cold for the cultures to culture.  Too hot and they die.  There are loads of websites out there saying that this perfect temperature is anywhere from 100 – 118.  And that different temperatures affect the resulting yogurt’s taste or texture.  Could be.  But grandma used her finger and this feels closer to 118 to me so that’s what I do.
5.  While the milk is cooling, I warm up my oven.  This is where the jars will rest to culture into yogurt.  I turn my oven on the lowest setting (200) to heat it up a bit, then shut it off, and leave the light on.  
Add Active and Live Cultures
6.   Add a bit of the milk (about ¼ cup) to your yogurt starter to thin it out a bit and to warm it up.  You don’t want to shock it when you add it to the milk.
7.  Add half of the yogurt starter to each mason jar and stir gently.
Prep for Culturing
8.   Put the lids on and wrap the jars in a towel.  I used a hand towel, folded and wrapped around the mason jars, secured with rubber bands (thanks to my friend for this idea).
Keep milk warm to culture
9. Place the jars in the warm place you prepped in step 5.   The jars are then wrapped in a huge beach towel.  TEMPERATURE IS KEY HERE TOO! You want to keep the milk at about this temperature throughout the culturing process.  Some sites also recommend using a heating pad, pot of hot water or turning on the oven when needed to warm up.
Let The yogurt Making Begin!
10.  Let the jars sit for about 5 – 7 hours.  The longer you let it sit, the more sour the flavor.  Do not disturb the jars – bacteria like it calm!
11.  Hopefully – YOGURT.  If not, don’t give up.  Try again. 
12. Chill the yogurt completely before eating to improve the texture.
I like this method because it is simple!  Right, simple!  There are 12 long steps.  They really aren’t difficult; it’s that there are a lot of things that could go wrong so I tried to cover those common mistakes.
There is much less transferring of the milk and resulting yogurt than other methods and thus less chance of introducing “bad” bacteria.  I did not sterilize everything I used.  Probably should have, but again, with the jars going straight into the microwave, those get sterilized along with the milk.  The only other item I used was a spoon.

I love making my own yogurt for several reasons:

1) I feel connected to my grandmother and my Armenian heritage
2) It tastes soooo much better than store bought
3) I save money!  I pay roughly $3-4 for a gallon of milk which makes 4 quarts of yogurt.  I would pay $4 for a SINGLE quart of decent plain yogurt at the grocery store.

Next I want to try making yogurt in the slow cooker!


Pumpkin Bread Time!

pumpkin bread recipe

My kids and I love quick breads.  When they were young, my cousin made a sweet potato bread at Easter.  My daughter, about 2 1/2 at the time, devoured it!  I have been making it ever since.  My youngest children even requested it as the special snack at preschool for their birthday. 

With fall approaching, it’s time for sweet potato bread.  I originally made this with – yes, sweet potatoes that I cooked myself.  Then I discovered plain canned pumpkin!   Even organic!  So much easier!  

NOTE:  If you like this recipe, stock up on the pumpkin now.  Most stores only carry it in the fall.

The original recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking – Pumpkin Bread recipe.  I have altered it slightly over the years to add a little more nutrition.

Pumpkin Bread


1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (if you don’t have pastry flour, regular whole wheat or white flour is fine)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

4 TBSP unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (can use sweet potatoes or squash)

1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease a large 9 x 5 inch  (8 cup) loaf pan.  
  3. Mix dry ingredients together, set aside.  Combine milk and vanilla in a separate bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until well blended
  5. Add eggs one at a time.  Add pumpkin, blending until just combined.
  6. Add flour mixture in 3 parts alternating with the milk mixture (in 2 parts).  So, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 the milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, rest of the flour.
  7. Fold in ground flaxseed meal and walnuts (if using)
  8. Pour into prepared loaf pan
  9. Cook until done, about 55 mins.
My kids get so excited when they smell it cooking.  The whole loaf is usually gone in a day!  It is a big hit with anyone we have shared it with as well.

This is particular loaf pan is wider and a little longer than a normal loaf pan.  I had one from my grandmother and found another one at a thrift store!  Yeah!  They are difficult to find in stores so raid your Grandma’s old pans!

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe?

This post has been shared at Snacktime Saturday, Simply Natural Saturdays, Good Eatin’ Hop, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Your Green Resource, What’s Cooking Wednesday




How To Cook Dry Beans

how to cook dry beans
“Why in the world would she want to cook her own beans?  Canned are cheap as “beans” 😉 to begin with!”

Well, yes, beans are a fairly inexpensive protein in the can, but here are many reasons why I cook my own.

  1.  Avoid the BPA.   Most cans contain BPA in the lining.  Until a suitable alternative is available, cooking your own reduces this exposure.
  2. Save Money.  Dry beans are anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 the price of canned beans.  I did a comparison in my area and this is what I found – You can buy a pound of dry Goya black beans at Market Basket for $1.49 which cooks up to at least 6 cups of beans.  This is the equivalent of 3 cans which will cost you about $2.40.  You have saved $0.91.  Now you could take that savings and run.  Or use the savings to buy organic dry beans.  Dry organic black beans in bulk at Hannaford are $2.99 per lb  For some reason I couldn’t find organic canned beans at Hannaford or Market Basket, so from amazon a can of Eden Organic black beans is $1.66.  Again, a little more than 1/2 the price.
  3. I control the ingredients.  There is usually a lot of salt added to canned beans.
  4. Taste and texture.  I can control how soft the beans are by cooking them more or less.  The taste also seems fresher to me.
  5. Reduce packaging waste.  I have been trying to reduce whatever waste I can.  By buying beans in bulk, in my own container, there is another package eliminated!

I know.  It seems difficult and not worth it.  It really isn’t that tough.  Yes it takes a little more planning on the cooking and using (defrosting) end.  When I need beans for a recipe, I cook up at least a pound of beans, use what I need then freeze the rest.  To defrost them quicker, I place the glass jar in a bowl of cool water.  Again, it is not as fast as popping the lid off a can, but close.

I will let you in on a little secret.  Years ago, before marriage and kids, I lived with my cousin.  We tried a few times to cook dry beans and they never got soft, so we gave up.  Well, years later I discovered that you have to soak AND cook them.  We only ever soaked them!  Ah to be young!  

How To Cook Dried Beans

This applies to beans that need to be soaked and cooked.   This method does not apply to lentils or split peas since they don’t need to be soaked and cook very quickly.

Step 1: Prep   Dry beans often have small stones or clumps of dirt in them.  This is normal, but you need to get those out before you cook them.  Sort through the beans, picking out the undesirables then rinse in cold water.

Step 2: Soak   Most beans need to be soaked before cooking.  The larger the bean, the longer the soaking, the longer the soaking the shorter the cooking time. 

Black eyed peas and Adzuki beans do not require soaking – skip this step.

Overnight method:  Put beans in a bowl (I use the pot I will be cooking them in) add enough cold water to cover the beans completely with a few inches of water.  They will absorb the water as they soak.  Let sit overnight (6 -8 hours).

Quick soak:  Place in a pot with enough water covering the beans.  Bring to a boil and boil for 2 mins.  Take pot off the heat, cover and let sit for 2 hours.

Step 3: Cook   Remove any beans that are floating.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in a pot.  Add enough cold water to cover the beans by one inch.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  If cooking kidney beans, boil for 10 mins. before lowering the heat to destroy a toxin in the beans .  Simmer until beans are tender (see table below for approximate cooking times).  When checking for doneness, test a few beans to make sure they have all cooked.  You can add seasoning while cooking, but do not add salt or anything acidic.  Your beans will never cook.

These times are a rough guide.  Depending on the age of your beans and the length of time you soaked them, the times may vary.



Cooking Time

Black Beans


1 hour
Black-eyed peas

1 hour

Cannellini beans

1 ¼ hours

Chick peas/Garbanzo beans


1 – 1 ½ hours

Great Northern Beans


1 hour

Kidney Beans


1 ¼ hours

Peas -split


1 hour

Pinto Beans


1– 1 ½ hours


SAVE the cooking liquid!   Often you will want some cooking liquid when using the beans.  Definitely for chick peas – I always add some cooking liquid when making hummus.  Just add some of the liquid to your storage container.  It will also help the beans from getting dried out.

Beans will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 days.

For longer storage (up to 6 months), freeze them.  Baggies, plastic containers, or glass – whatever works for you!  I freeze mine in 2 cup portions (just like the cans) in pint mason jars with some of the cooking liquid.

Easy peasy right!?  Apparently, you can also cook them in a slow cooker.  That will have to be another post since I haven’t tried it yet.

Do you cook your own beans?

Top photo take by CIAT/Flickr used under Creative Commons.


Healthier Fudge Bars

Healthier fudge bars recipe

I am always on the lookout for quick easy snacks to have on hand.  I have been experimenting with various granola bar type snacks for a while now.  Recently, I have been playing around, combining different recipes and came up with this.  They taste like similar to fudge, but are much healthier.  Or at least not as bad as traditional fudge!

Healthier Fudge Bars

1 cup pitted, unsweetened dates

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cooked quinoa*, cooled
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup chocolate chips
pinch of salt

  1. Put all ingredients in a food processor.  
  2. Blend until ground finely and mixture begins to stick together.  About a minute or 2.
  3. Line a loaf pan with cereal bag liner or waxed paper.  
  4. Put mixture into loaf pan and press firmly into pan with another piece of cereal bag (or waxed paper)
  5. Chill in the refrigerator for about 10 mins.  Cut into 12 bars.

You can keep these in the refrigerator or the freezer.  They are great to add to lunches straight from the freezer.  They thaw really quickly.

* To cook quinoa – place quinoa  in a pot with water in a 1:2 ratio – 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 15 mins.  Let the quinoa cool completely before using in this recipe.  I normally cook 1/3 cup dry quinoa and end up with about a 1 cup cooked.

Using an online nutrition calculator, each serving has the following:

Calories – 127

Total Fat – 4.8 g
Dietary Fiber – 3 g
Sugars – 10.2 g
Protein – 3 g

It seems like a lot of fat and calories for such a small bite.  But consider what a piece of actual fudge has!!!!  It’s like triple.

I have been experimenting with other flavor combinations as well.  More are coming soon!

What are your favorite snacks?

This post has been shared at Monday ManiaFugal Tuesday TipTeach Me Tuesday,  Living Green TuesdaysFrugal Days Sustainable WaysGood Eatin’ Recipe Hop, Penny Pinching Party, Super Link Party, Healthy 2D Wednesday, Weekend Link Up Party, Snacktime Saturday, Simply Natural Saturdays.


Cheesy Spinach with Quinoa

Cheesy Spinach with quinoa recipe

I was fascinated when I discovered quinoa (keen-wah).  A grain that has protein.  Cool!  It tastes great too. Not a strong flavor so you can put it with almost anything.

I found a recipe for Cheesy Quinoa Pilaf with Spinach.  This was more of a quinoa pilaf with some spinach added.  I was (and am still) trying to add more vegetables to my meals, so I adjusted this recipe to be more of a spinach side dish with some quinoa.  It has now become one of my favorites.  The ingredients are easy and most can be kept on hand.

Cheesy Spinach with Qunioa

½ cup quinoa

1 cup of water (to cook the quinoa)

2 TBSP olive oil

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

4 cloves garlic, minced

5 -6 cups spinach, organic if possible

1 TBSP lemon juice, or more to taste

2/3 cup grated parmesan

1.  Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa, and cook until the quinoa is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

2.  Heat oil.  Stir in the garlic, and cook until the garlic softens and the aroma mellows, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cooled quinoa and spinach; cook and stir until the quinoa is hot, and the spinach has wilted. Stir in the lemon juice, and all but a pinch of the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted. Serve sprinkled with the remaining cheese.

I love this as a side dish or all by itself for dinner or lunch!  It been a great way for me to go meatless a bit more.

You can really use any combination of cheese and nuts that you like.  I have also tried feta with pine nuts. Very tasty as well, but Parmesan is my favorite so far.  I would suggest a relatively strong tasting cheese.  Hmmmm  I wonder how blue cheese and walnuts would be.

Have you tried Quinoa?

This post is shared at Your Green Resource , Healthy 2Day WednesdayFrugal Days Sustainable WaysTiny Tip TuesdaySeasonal Celebration Sunday and Whip It Up Wednesday.


Why I Chose To Cut The Crusts (Homemade Breadcrumbs)

Why I Chose To But The Crusts {Homemade Breadcrumbs}
I never thought I’d be a Mom who cut the crusts off their children’s bread.  What’s the difference?  I figured if I just didn’t start doing it, then my kids wouldn’t know the difference?  They eat wheat bread and really, to this day, don’t know too much about white bread.  
So I continued not cutting off the crusts.  As my oldest turned 2, I noticed that she would leave large parts of her sandwiches uneaten – the parts around the crust!  For almost a year, I refused to cut the crusts figuring she would get used to it.  Well, she didn’t.  Finally I gave in.  And you know what?  She ate the whole sandwich.  If I just cut off that tiny edge, I avoided wasting more of the sandwich.  She would always leave a huge margin to ensure her lips did not touch the crust!
Now, if I was organized, I could have managed to do something with the crusts as well, right?  At that point in my life, I had a toddler and infant twins.  If I could manage to keep us all feed and relatively clean for the day I was doing great!  So the crusts were tossed.
When things calmed down a bit and my second daughter began baulking at the crusts too, I was ready to save them.    BREADCRUMBS were the answer!  Along with all those leftover ends that no one eats or bread that goes stale.   The trick is to use your freezer to make the whole process more doable.
Save the ends, crusts and other bread “crumbs” in the freezer until I have enough and some time to make the breadcrumbs.  

Dry out the bread.  I usually do this when I’m making granola or snackmix.  I use the oven on a very low setting – like 250.

Homemade Breadcrumbs
Let them cool completely.  Otherwise, they might get soggy from the steam when you grind them.  
Grind them in a food processor or blender until they are the consistency you like.  The nice thing is that you can grind them as coarse or fine as you like.
Store the breadcrumbs in freezer.  I keep my breadcrumbs plain and add seasoning depending on what I am making.
I use any kind of bread we happen to have left and just mix them together.  Usually that is wheat bread, the occasional hamburger bun or pita.  I have also added crackers or tortilla chip crumbs as well.  I bet certain cereals would work too!
The first time I used my homemade breadcrumbs to make “chicken nuggets”, my husband said they tasted even better and asked what I did differently!

Have you ever made your own breadcrumbs?  What else do you make yourself instead of buy?

This post has been shared at Your Green ResourceSimple Lives Thursday, and Frugally Sustainable.


Fabulous Chewy Granola Bars!

OK, OK, you caught me.  Yes that was me buying Fiber One Chewy Granola bars by the case!  

Fabulous Chewy Granola Bars recipe
The best chewy granola bars ever!

I have been trying to find an alternative to Fiber One Granola bars for a long time now.  I hate buying them because of the ingredients and the waste of individual servings.  But they are so darn convenient!  I have tried other homemade granola bars, none of them passed my kids’ taste test – at least not for long.

Until these!  I combined several recipes I found across the web and did some tweaking myself.  I am happy to say I have been making these at least once a week for the past 2 months – they go so quickly and my kids don’t ask for the others anymore.  The hard part is keeping enough  around.

Seriously, it’s difficult at times to get my kids to eat healthy, so if they like them, that is saying something.

There are 2 versions of this recipe.

Method #1 – Thanks to Betsy from Eco-Novice’s recipe for granola bars,  I tried this variation with success.  Essentially you make granola first, then use that in the bars.  They are not as crumbly and are more crunchy

Method #2 – .is a little quicker, but results in a more crumbly bar.   It doesn’t affect the popularity!

Both are amazing!


3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups brown rice crisp cereal (I have only found them at Whole Foods, but you could use “Rice Krispie” type cereal too)
1/4 cup flaxmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds – I really crush these so my kids don’t see big nut pieces
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (for method #1 only)

4 TBSP butter
1/3 cup peanut butter (I use all natural)
1/3 cup almond butter (could use peanut butter)
2/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional, could use dried fruit)

Method #1

  1. Mix all dry ingredients together, except the chocolate chips, if using and the rice crisp cereal.  
  2. Combine the dry ingredients with the melted coconut oil and bake in a 325 degree oven for 20 mins, mixing every few minutes.  When done, let cool.
  3. Add brown rice crisp cereal
Method #2
  1. Mix all dry ingredients together, except  the chocolate chips, if using.
For either method used above, 
  1. In a small pan, melt the butter, honey, peanut butter and almond butter over medium heat.  Once everything is melted, cook on low for 5 minutes.  Add vanilla.
  2. Mix wet ingredients with dry.  
  3. If using chocolate chips, let the mixture cool  before adding so they don’t melt.
  4. Press into a buttered 9×13 pan.  Press really hard!  I use a piece of wax paper cereal bag on top to help with the pressing.   Let set up in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
You could use all peanut butter or all almond butter.  If you need to be nut-free, try soy nut butter and skip the almonds.  I haven’t tried, but dried fruit could be added as well if you like.
Do you make your own granola bars?

This post was shared at The Green Phone BoothTeach Me TuesdaySeasonal Celebration SundayVintage MauveFrugally SustainableFrom Dream To RealityFabulous Friday and Snacktime Saturday.



Preschool Teacher Approved Playdough Recipe

Preschool teacher approved play dough recipe
(Photo Credit: Gina Guillotine/Flickr)

When my kids were little, they loved playdough.  Actually who am I kidding, they still love it!

Because I love to cook and so do my kids, we used to make our own playdough often.  They loved picking their colors.  Sometimes, we would scent the playdough with vanilla or peppermint extract.  Smelled so good.  Of course, I wouldn’t do this with very young children who might be tempted to eat the dough.  But then again, with these ingredients, it probably wouldn’t be that bad!

We always used this recipe from their preschool teacher.  Preschool teacher approved!  It doesn’t get any better than that.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup cold water
1 TSBP oil
coloring of your choosing

1) Sift flour, salt and cream of tartar.
2) Put all ingredients into a non-stick sauce pan and whisk together until smooth and creamy
3) Cook over medium heat stirring until a ball of dough forms (about 1 – 2 minutes)
4) Remove from heat.
5) Knead for 5 mins.  Store in airtight container.

Cream of tartar can be expensive.  I tried cutting back to 1 tsp.  It’s OK, but the cream of tartar gives the dough it’s smooth silky consistency.  If you buy cream of tartar in bulk, it is so much cheaper.  Try Whole Foods bulk bins, Penzey’s, or other bulk spice companies.

As for the coloring, when we made this dough, I was not the greenie I am now.  We used Wilton icing color paste.  Probably not the best choice.  Now I would try some natural dyes like the ones I did for Easter eggs this year replacing the water with the dye.

Have you ever made playdough?

This post is part of Vintage MauveJillify It and Frugally Sustainable.


Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally: Lessons Learned From Our First Attempt

In our family, we always have reddish-brown Easter eggs.  We are Armenian and the Armenians dye their eggs this color using yellow onion skins.  My aunt still does this every year.  It’s not the most exciting for kids though.

This year I finally took the plunge and made my own natural dyes.  It was a lot more work!  But the eggs came out pretty cool.

First of all, plan to prepare the dyes early in the morning or the day before you decorate the eggs.  The dyes take a while to make, plus they will need a few hours to cool.

Choose Your Colors

There are plenty of websites out there listing different spices or veggies that make certain colors.  

We kept it pretty simple this year and did 4 colors.

RED – 1 can of beets and cranberry juice (in place of water) – Lesson #1: Ours turned out more ugly brownish grey.  Next time I wold try using fresh beets and more of them.

DARK ORANGE – 2 TBSP chili powder – Lesson #2 – Use more Chili powder

YELLOW – 2 TBSP Turmeric

BLUE – ½ of a head of red cabbage (chopped) Lesson #3 – Turned out great!

Other color choices:

GREEN – spinach, blueberries

BROWN – strong coffee

PINK – cherries

Anything that stains your hands could be used.
Note:  If you remember your preschool color combinations, you should be able to make green by combining yellow and blue, purple with red and blue.  I tried to do this, but totally forgot my color combos and mixed red and yellow thinking it would make green!  Oh well, on the bright side it did make orange. 
Make the Dyes

Lesson #4 – Definitely plan on doing this early in the morning or the day before.
Add the color ingredient of choice to 2 cups of water and 1 TBSP vinegar.  Simmer on the stove for 20 – 30 mins.  Strain the liquid and let it cool to room temperature.

Lesson #5 – Turmeric “stains” your pot.  I think it’s actually that the turmeric is really hard to get off.  Make this color last!

We used rubber bands to create stripes.  We tried to use white crayons to draw on the eggs before dying them, but that didn’t seem to work so well.

Lesson #6 – Rubber Bands worked well, white crayons not so much

Our Results

From left to right – Red cabbage, Turmeric, chili powder, beets.
None of us were impressed with the beets.

Lesson #7 –  The red cabbage dyes the eggs pretty quickly.  The rest we let sit in the coloring overnight in the refrigerator.  Turmeric did well, but something weird happened with the others, especially the beets.

Lesson #8 – Would totally do this again!

For more green Easter ideas, check out Big Green Purse’s Easter Blog Carnival!

Have you ever used natural dyes?

Update 4/7/12:  For more ideas on how to dye Easter Eggs naturally, check out Kelley’s Passion for Nutrition.

This post is part of Frugal Days Sustainable Ways and Crunchy Betty’s Outside the box Tuesday.


Change The World Wednesday – Homemade Granola Bars

OK OK, yes I know it’s actually Monday.  I am writing this in response to Reduce Footprints Change the Word Wednesday (CTWW) challenge from last week.  Here is the challenge:

This week, make your coffee or tea at home. Getting coffee/tea out every day not only costs a lot but also generates a lot of waste. Make it at home instead. And don’t forget … both coffee grounds and tea leaves are great in the compost bin.

Or …

If you don’t drink these beverages or always drink them at home, choose one other food or beverage, which you typically buy at either a restaurant or grocery store, and make it yourself at home. And, of course, we’d like to hear all about it!

I almost always make my coffee/tea at home, so does my husband.  We compost the grounds and tea leaves.  We use one of those “gold” reusable filters.  I even buy loose tea and fill reusable tea bags.  However, we get coffee out every Sunday morning.  We don’t use reusable mugs.  Bad, I know.  I will work on this one.

It does somehow taste so much better when they make it.  It must be their machines.  If you do get coffee/tea out a lot, try to reduce the impact on the environment and your wallet.    Instead of committing to making your own at home ALL the time, reduce slowly over time.  Start with once a week.  Or bring your own mug.   Many places, like Starbucks, will give you a discount for bringing your mug.

I have actually already been working on the second part of this challenge.  Granola bars are our downfall!  We buy these by the case.  It kills me.  I know they are not good for you, even though I try to buy the healthiest ones I can.  And the packaging waste!  Again, we upcycle the wrappers, but still.  Reduce is the best option.


I started playing with recipes last week.  I have a couple that are very promising.

Chewy Granola Bars – I found this one on  Here is my version:

3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cup brown rice crips (these can be difficult to find,  regular rice krispies could be used as well)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine oats, flours, baking soda,vanilla, butter, applesauce, and honey.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Lightly press the mixture into the pan.  Bake at 325 for 18 to 22 mins. or until golden brown.
  4. Let cool for 10 mins, then cut into bars.  Let them cool completely before removing from pan.

These are pretty good.  They are a little more cookie-like in texture.  But I like that they didn’t have as much sugar (the recipe actually called for honey) or butter as other recipes I saw.  They are crumbly though. Need to work on that.  You can add any mixture of dried fruits, nuts, or chocolate for the last 3 ingredients. 

There is another recipe for granola bars that have peanut butter.  They are promising, but need to be tweaked as is.  They were way too sweet even though I didn’t even add the chocolate chips.  I love the peanut butter and the texture.

This post has been submitted as part of Frugal Days,Sustainable Ways at Frugally and Snacktime Saturdays.

Have any recipes to share?  


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