Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Chicken

Remember those Arby’s commercials that ran awhile back promoting roast beef sandwiches on the premise that they were “Good Mood Food”? These ads always drove me nuts, because even before I was a nutritionist, I could tell you that eating processed red meat on a processed white bun slathered with overly sugary barbecue sauce was not going to be put me (or anyone else) in a good mood. In fact, the opposite is true.

Basically every time I eat fast food–no matter how tasty it sounded when I was really hungry–I always end up feeling super gross afterward. It’s one big reason why, in our family, fast food restaurants have become a last-resort destination reserved primarily for road trips. In the words of my husband, “I’m so hungry I could eat at Arby’s.” (Then again, I totally get that for some families, eating out at more expensive restaurants isn’t financially feasible. We all have to make the best choices we can with the resources we have.)

Thankfully, the American people apparently also saw right through this ad campaign, naming it one of the worst of 2011. (Luv’s diapers’ “Poop! There is is!” topped this list–though I find this one kind of disgustingly charming, don’t you?) We all know that, except under certain circumstances like after a REALLY rotten day at work or a beloved cat dying, junk food leaves us full of regret, not good vibes. So thanks but no thanks on the feeble attempt at deception, Arby’s.

Healthy food, on the other hand, does actually have the power to lift our spirits. Research around the Mediterranean diet shows that this eating plan centered around fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and seafood is linked with lower risk of depression. And I for one can say that I feel far better about myself when I’ve made healthy food choices.

That’s where this Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pomegranate and Chicken comes in. My kids and I had this for dinner the other night as an easy, light meal while my husband was out of town. Often, without my husband to feed, I go easy on myself by heating up something frozen or getting pizza. But once this salad was made, I realized it had hardly taken any time and, with its bed of greens, lean chicken, crunchy almonds, pops of juicy pomegranate, and olive oil-based dressing, I actually felt really good about eating it. Plus, I had some awesome healthy leftovers for lunch the next day. I’d say that’s the REAL Good Mood Food.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, this shaved Brussels sprout salad could also make a nice healthy side dish (without the chicken, perhaps) for the main event. I’d love to hear how eating it makes YOU feel!

Print Recipe
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Chicken
A delicious, colorful salad that serves as a light dinner or hearty side dish.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Ingredients
For the dressing:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Ingredients
For the dressing:
Instructions
Make the salad:
  1. In a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, shred Brussels sprouts. (I like to leave some larger bits for textural variety.) Pour into a large serving bowl.
  2. Add diced apple, pomegranate arils, cranberries, almonds, chicken, and goat cheese to Brussels sprouts and toss to combine.
Make the dressing:
  1. In a small measuring cup, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss to combine.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Spend With Pennies.

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Butternut Squash, Apple Cider, & White Cheddar Soup

According to my husband (and various news outlets) this October has been the rainiest on record here in Phoenix. And we are not mad about it. Rain, rain, do NOT go away! While I think I would get sick of overcast skies and waving windshield wipers if I lived somewhere like Portland, where it’s constant, I’m happy to soak it up while it lasts here in the desert. After all, rainy weather is SOUP weather, and who doesn’t love a warm-you-up-from-the-inside-out bowl of comfort? Especially when that bowl contains the magical mix of butternut squash, apple cider, and white cheddar?

Seriously, the combination in this delicious soup is like if someone held a contest for a meal that represents the Ultimate Flavors of Fall. Earthy with squash, rich with sharp white cheddar, with a hint of sweetness from the cider–oh, and did I mention pumpkin ale goes into the mix, too? Mm-hmm. Even my nine-year-old, who claims to hate butternut squash, grudgingly admitted this soup was goooooood. And unlike some soups that need to simmer for ages before they’re ready, this one doesn’t take long to cook. To make it extra quick and easy, start with a bag of pre-cut squash from the produce section of your grocery store. Rounded out with cheesy toast and a side salad, it’s the perfect dinner for a rainy day.

As for me, I’ll just be over here enjoying my soup weather as long as I can…


Print Recipe
Butternut Squash, Apple Cider, & White Cheddar Soup
Cozy up to a bowl of this unique soup with the perfect blend of fall flavors!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add butternut squash, onion, garlic, and salt. Saute until squash has softened slightly, about 8 minutes. Add pumpkin ale, apple cider, and broth. Simmer another 10-12 minutes or until squash is totally softened. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Whisk in white cheddar until melted, then stir in nutmeg.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking For Keeps.

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Decades Dinner Party

In our family, when it comes to birthdays, I usually do my best to make the day special for whichever kid we’re celebrating. The many birthday parties of the last few years have included a Butterfly Tea Party for my daughter, a Star Wars party for my middle son, and a Pokemon-themed party for both my boys. But sometimes…I want a party for me.

To ring in my 36th year, my husband and I invited a group of fun friends to a Decades Dinner Party. Everyone was asked dress in the theme of a decade of their choice and bring a shareable dish from their era. (We promised to be the 1920s.) After dinner, we would have an evening of dancing in the backyard studio my husband recently built to house his musical projects.

I knew it would be an enjoyable time, but I had no idea just how memorable it would turn out to be! Our friends BROUGHT IT. From incredibly creative costumes to spot-on potluck sides, I was thoroughly impressed with their efforts.

So here’s the lowdown on this themed party, with food and decor suggestions for throwing your own Decades Dinner Party!

The Decor

1920s dining room

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the glitz and glam of the 1920s, I don’t own a whole lot of household items that look like they came from a hundred years ago. I condensed everything I could find around the dessert table in my kitchen dining room. In addition to a Tiffany-style lamp and art nouveau print I happen to have, I went for a gold-and-black theme with table decor, plus some candlesticks. Then I tacked pages of 1920s-era posters torn out of an art book on the wall.

1940s bathroom

Much like my lack of flapper-era materials, I don’t own much (if anything) that screams 1940s. Not to worry, however! I deemed my bathroom the World War II zone–don’t think too hard about that–by printing off some funny old propaganda posters that seemed bathroom-appropriate.

1960s living room

The ’60s were a bit more doable for me, since we still have our trusty Yellow Submarine head-in-the-hole board leftover from our Beatles Singalong Party. (It’s not the kind of thing you let go of too easily.) This prop conveniently set the scene, with pictures my kids drew of the Beatles in its windows. From there, a tie-dye table runner seemed only natural. A ’60s centerpiece was a bit more difficult to come up with, but I ended up with this trippy ‘shroom house, a pink cake pedestal, and chunky colorful flower stickers all found at Michael’s.

To complete the look, I made a “Groovy” banner and scattered retro records around the room. (I knew hanging on to my mom’s old record collection would come in handy someday!)

1980s family room

Nothing says ’80s like bits of pop culture like Troll dolls and Rubik’s cubes. These toys graced the mantle in the family room, along with some throwback posters. Instant ’80s!

The food

Okay, I’ll admit I was enjoying the party a bit too much to get food photos. Nevertheless, as 1920s hosts, we provided:

Al Capone’s Secret Recipe Pizza–just pizza with a themed name–an easy main dish!

Waldorf Salad–a concoction from the Waldorf Hotel of apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and a creamy dressing

Shrimp Cocktail–very popular in the 1920s, according to the Internet

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake–also popular in the early 20th century as commercial canning made “exotic” fruits like pineapple readily available

Of course, with the theme of the ’20s, we couldn’t do without some bootleg booze. To let everyone make their own gin cocktail, I provided some mixology instructions and a variety of ingredients.

Though I was expecting mountains of Jell-O as potluck sides, our friends thought way outside that box, bringing sloppy joes from the ’70s, broccoli salad from the ’80s, and apple pie from the ’50s.

The photo booth (and costumes!)

Who doesn’t love a photo booth? We set up a backdrop and photo station so guests could capture their amazing costumes. And they did not disappoint!

Some of the guys

Early ’90s perfection

Ultimate groovy ’60s

Some sweet ’70s

Spot-on ’60s

A ’50s Pink Lady and her favorite Greaser

So many kudos to these friends who came from THE FUTURE!! (The Zombie apocalypse-era is looking gooooood.)

…and your hosts, rocking our ’20s attire

Last but not least, group photo!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the not one but TWO couples who got super creative and showed up from the past (the cave people in front) and the future.

The dancing!

What can I say? To me, dancing makes a party. It was so fun to jam out to a playlist of songs from every decade from the 1920s through the ’90s.

I’d say the blurriness captures the ’60s vibe, amirite?

Apparently my dancing is 90% arms.

Obligatory ladies’ dance circle

My husband and me working on our 1920s moves.

After this party, I really don’t know what I’ll do to top it on my next happy birthday. Thanks again to the dear friends who made it so much fun!

Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce

In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid using tahini. It’s just so expensive, I thought, and what on earth would I do with an entire jar of sesame paste? Sure, I like hummus like any red-blooded Millennial, but I just couldn’t see making that much of it from scratch.

Little did I know that tahini can be used for other things besides hummus.

A few weeks ago I came across this helpful post on Babble that set me straight. Twenty-eight ways to use tahini that AREN’T hummus? The mystery! The intrigue! Turns out the sesame flavor and smooth texture of tahini lends itself to salad dressings, pestos, and even…brownies? While that particular suggestion may be going a bit too far for my tastes, the idea did broaden my horizons. When I ended up buying a jar at Trader Joe’s (for only around $3–far cheaper than I expected) it was with plenty of options on my radar.

This amazing all-purpose tahini sauce started its life as a dressing for a to-die-for roasted cauliflower salad over at Budget Bytes, but in my house, it’s turned into so much more. This week I put it on baked salmon, dipped pita in it, and have been seriously considering its possibilities as a sandwich spread. (With a bit of deli turkey, sprouts, and cucumber, it sounds like Mediterranean perfection.) I could see it working well on grilled chicken, as a veggie dip, or on falafel.

And, if you’re really adventurous, I suppose you could even use it in brownies.


Print Recipe
Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce
A tangy sauce that works perfectly on fish, chicken, or just for dipping!
Servings
(makes about 1 cup)
Ingredients
Servings
(makes about 1 cup)
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a measuring cup, mix all ingredients until well combined. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

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Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites

Energy bites are one of those trendy foods that seem to be popping up everywhere. These golf ball-sized snacks with vaguely nutritious connotations have appeared at bakeries near my house, and my husband and I saw several varieties on display at a cafe on our vacation in England a couple weeks ago. As a bit of a food traditionalist, I tend to shy away from anything that strikes me as super hip (see also: kombucha, golden milk lattes, anything with matcha). So until recently, I definitely had not jumped on the energy bites bandwagon.

Then again, I never realized how ridiculously easy they are to make, or that they don’t even require turning on the oven–two factors that pretty much seal the deal for a snack-slash-breakfast item to add to my repertoire.

This particular Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites recipe was inspired by a mailer I received from my grocery store. Anyone else feel like grocery stores are seriously stepping up their marketing game these days? We’ve long since left the territory of mere boring newsprint circulars. My local store now sends me books of custom-curated coupons that include glossy, colorful sheets of recipes. Though I don’t generally pay much attention to the recipes in these mailers (I tend to gravitate immediately to the 50 cents off of cream cheese, thank you) this one caught my eye. Something about the small size and roundness of these bites made them seem so delightfully poppable, like donut holes, but healthier. Inspired, I even went out and bought flax seed meal just so I could try these. (Ironically, however, I went to a different store than the one that sent me the recipe. Ha.)

Once mixed and molded–with some ingredient adjustments based on my preferences–these energy bites turned out remarkably tasty with a texture I could eat all day–smooth and chewy for the most part, but with snappy crunches of chopped pecan. Everyone in my family was a bit surprised by how they were a bit sticky to handle, but that didn’t stop us from finishing these off in 24 hours. I’ll definitely be making them again for a nutrient-packed after-school snack for my kids (and myself). And maybe from now on I’ll keep my eyes open for more successful recipes on grocery store mailers.

Where do you get new recipes from? Tell me in the comments!


Print Recipe
Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites
A tasty mix of chewy and crunchy gives these apple cinnamon bites their appealing texture. And did I mention they're no-bake?
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients from oats through cinnamon. Using a box grater, grate green apple (complete with peel) directly into the bowl and mix.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Using your hands, form mixture into 1.5-inch balls. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe, inspired by a Fry's Foods mailer.

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