Gift Guide: Bells & Whistles for the Instant Pot Obsessed

I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have the traffic analytics to prove it, but there’s no denying it… pressure cooking is hot. And I’m not just talking about the elevated boiling point of water inside the powerful, pressurized contraption that you’ve been convinced to invite onto your kitchen counter! Trust me, you won’t regret it. Since I first got acquainted with Instant Pot a couple of years ago, it’s been a constant companion in my cooking adventures. My pressure cooking recipes weren’t always the biggest draws on this site, but these days things are different; I can tell I’m not the only one obsessed with this multi-talented cooker.

Since it looks like there are a lot of people enamored with their new toys this season, I’m taking a moment to help you spread some holiday cheer. If someone in your life is hooked on cooking under pressure, show them some love with these must-have tools and accessories.

(Please note: I’m just a fan, no sponsorship or other relationship with Instant Pot or any of the manufacturers of the products below. I am, however, using Amazon affiliate links. flavorrd is a member of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, and earns a commission for purchases made through the following links.)

            
First things first: the cooker! When I started shopping around for an electric pressure cooker, Instant Pot was the obvious choice for me – stainless steel liner, programmable cooking, even yogurt modehere’s my review if you want to read more about how great it is. I have Instant Pot DUO, and since my purchase they’ve also released Instant Pot SMART, which has the benefit of fully customized cooking programs controlled via Bluetooth from your smartphone. Fancy!

                           

If your cooker didn’t already come with one, definitely spring for the glass lid – it’s a nice alternative to the pressure lid for slow cooking and keep-warm mode. It’s also nice to have an extra gasket, as they wear out over time and can have a tendency to retain strong cooking odors. Another surprisingly handy tool is an extra inner pot; it makes it easier to use your IP for multiple courses (eg. after slow-cooking an entree, you can swap out the extra pot for a quick batch of rice to serve alongside).

You can really expand your pressure cooking options with a simple steamer basket. Practically anything you would steam on the stovetop (veggies, dumplings, artichokes) comes out faster and with more flavor locked in under pressure.

                         

If your gift-ee is a fermented foodie like me, they’ve got to be excited about Instant Pot’s yogurt maker mode! Enhance your yogurt endeavors with a set of glass jars; you can make yogurt in any sized container you like (including right in the pot itself) but my favorites are pint-sized jars with a wide mouth. You’ll need a thermometer for ensuring the milk has cooled enough to add the cultures after scalding, and canning tongs are also really useful for removing hot jars from the cooker. If your favorite Instant Pot Fan prefers their yogurt Greek style, this special strainer will help them concentrate their home-made yogurt into thick, creamy perfection.

Not into yogurt? How about expanding their healthy cooking repertoire with some fancy dried beans? Pressure cookers make short work of dry legumes, and Rancho Gordo offers the best heirloom varieties. This sampler pack has 5 exotic types of beautiful beans.

                

Finally, let’s not forget about books: my top two picks are Hip Pressure Cooking and The New Fast Food. The former, by our generation’s top pressure cooking guru Laura Pazzaglia, provides a wealth of information to help new users get their bearings, along with plenty of fresh recipes with a chic European aesthetic. The latter, by the Veggie Queen herself Jill Nussinow (a fellow registered dietitian!), focuses on healthy vegetarian recipes, so it’s a great resource for my favorite kind of everyday cooking. The only caveat is that Nussinow prefers traditional stovetop pressure cookers over electrics, so for use with Instant Pot, you’ll have to be mindful of the cooking instructions and make some adjustments. It’s not that difficult once you get the hang of it, but it may not be the easiest choice for beginners.

I hope these picks will help make some spirits bright among my fellow Instant Pot devotees. Readers, if you’ve come across any other tools or accessories that make pressure cooking more fun, please share! Anything else you would add to the list?

[Sourdough] Whole Grain Pumpkin Pancakes

The Universe has a way of keeping us humble, doesn’t it? Take for example the time I fell hard for The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, and mused contentedly about what an adept contender I could be. Naturally, my next baking session was an epic screw-up. I’m claiming distraction as the reason behind the embarrassing disaster, but seriously: it involved boxed cookie mix, BOTH of my apartment’s smoke alarms, and a full hour spent the next day scrubbing the bottom of my oven. So, right, I was not Star Baker this week.

(Undoubtedly my worst mishap since the Great Kombucha Eruption of 2015.)

Similarly, look what happens when I promise you a newly developed recipe. Here we are nearly a month later, and I’m just now getting back to you because of an extended string of lackluster trials in my test-kitchen. Lucky for you guys, I don’t give up too easily.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

The plan was to cap off my sourdough baking series with a special weekend breakfast combining the flavor/benefits of sourdough with the seasonal charm of pumpkin spice. But I soon realized that this pairing would require a bit of trial and error, as pumpkin puree and sourdough can both complicate efforts to optimize the texture and density of baked goods. After wrestling with a series of adaptations to the basic sourdough pancake formula from King Arthur Flour,  I decided I might be better off seeking insight from my favorite online community of super experienced and skilled bakers at The Fresh Loaf.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

Lo and behold, those good bakers know exactly what to do: I was just one blog post away from a foolproof formula. To create my perfect sourdough pumpkin pancake, I spiked the recipe with buttermilk, brown sugar and a sprinkle of spices; I also swapped in whole wheat pastry flour to take advantage of its delicate crumb. The pancakes are tender, lightly sour, subtly spiced… and we couldn’t have done it without that bubbling, fermenting colony of our favorite friendly microbes.

Nothing like a good recipe success to recover from a streak of kitchen fails… What a relief! Happy cooking, everybody. I’m off to put that sparkling clean oven to good use.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

(No sourdough starter? How about some tasty steel-cut oat pancakes instead?)

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Approximately 20 5-inch pancakes

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

1/2 cup sourdough starter ("unfed" starter can be used)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch salt
spices: 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + a hearty sprinkle each of ginger, allspice and nutmeg (or an equal amount of your favorite pumpkin pie spice blend)
1 to 1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or substitute mostly milk with a dollop of plain yogurt)

Combine the starter, eggs, brown sugar and pumpkin puree in a medium bowl. Then add the dry ingredients and whisk in just enough buttermilk to create a pourable batter (the amount can vary based on the density of your starter), mixing until just combined..

Let the batter rest at room temperature while you heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, coated lightly with butter or oil. When the surface is hot, spoon the batter into pancakes of your desired size. When the upper surface is bubbled, and the bottom is golden-brown, flip and continue to cook the second side. Place cooked pancakes in a warmed oven, or on a plate tented with aluminum foil until all pancakes are ready.

http://flavorrd.com/2015/11/sourdough-pumpkin-pancakes/

My Weekly Sourdough Ritual

We’ve been culturing a deep appreciation for sourdough here at flavorRD! We started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits, followed by the how and WHY of getting your starter started. This week, I’m finishing the series by walking you through my weekly sourdough baking ritual, and sharing some of my favorite recipe successes from my experiments so far.

My Weekly Sourdough Ritual

Since the feeding and maintenance of a sourdough starter requires you to set aside a portion to “discard,” it only makes sense to synchronize feeding time with a weekly baking session. Make that starter earn his keep! Once you’ve grown a sourdough culture, no matter what tempting treats are on your “to bake” list, they all start with the same simple steps that make up the weekly ritual:

  1.  Take the starter out of the fridge, pouring off any liquid that has accumulated on top (this is alcohol from the yeast’s slow fermentation!) and giving the rest a quick stir.
  2. Divide the starter into two halves – set one aside for baking, and leave the other in your ‘crock’ (FYI: mine is just tupperware) to continue your culture.
  3. Use a kitchen scale* to weigh 4 oz. flour** and 4 oz. water, and stir them into the remaining starter in the crock until smoothly combined. Allow it to sit, covered but not airtight, at room temperature for 2 hours before returning it to the fridge. This gives your microbial friends some time to eat before going back to ‘sleep’ for the week.
  4. Take the other half of the starter that you set aside, and use it in a tasty recipe! It can often be used in this “unfed” state (ie. in baked goods that either don’t need to rise much, that involve a pre-ferment, or in quickbread type recipes that include another leavener like baking powder/soda), but if you want it to be powerful enough to leaven bread, you’ll want to give this half its own feeding as well. To give it some extra “oomph,” feed the discard starter with 4 oz. flour and water just like in the last step, and let it hang out for about 12 hours before baking. If I’m planning to bake bread on Saturday, I usually take my starter out on Friday night, split it, and feed both halves. Then after 2 hours, I put one half back into the fridge for next week, and leave the other half out overnight to continue fermenting until I’m ready to bake the next morning.

NOTES:

* I actually use this inexpensive + very precise pocket scale!

** I usually feed my starter with unbleached all-purpose flour, which yields the most reliable results. But once every few weeks I prefer to liven things up with a feeding of whole-wheat flour instead.

Highlights of my Sourdough Baking Rotation

And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… the recipes!

Pizza Crust: I’ve already mentioned (and teased on Instagram) my obsession with crafting the perfect whole grain sourdough crust for pizza night. Recipe testing is still in progress, but you can definitely look forward to seeing the results here once I get it dialed in.

Pancakes + Waffles: Weekend breakfast turns your sourdough ritual into an opportunity to show your household some love. This basic recipe from King Arthur Flour has an overnight rise with buttermilk, and comes out superbly light and fluffy. I substitute whole-wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose stuff, with great results, and it’s also a good foundation for customizing variations with your favorite mix-ins. In fact, I have a new seasonal specialty coming your way soon!

Biscuits: I’ve only experimented with sourdough biscuits once so far, but they definitely warrant further study! I tried a variation on this cheddar biscuit recipe from Cultures for Health (great resource for all things fermented), and although it came out a little more like a dinner roll than a fluffy/flaky biscuit, we still ate them enthusiastically. The dough is marbled with sharp cheddar, black pepper and garlic, which I was compelled to enjoy savory-sweet style: topped with a drizzle of honey. Next, I’ve got my sights set on these cheddar-chive beauties.

Seed Bread: When I wrote last week about my motivations for starting a sourdough habit, there was another bullet point that I should have included: because I am addicted to sourdough seed bread! I first got hooked on the version they sell at the bakery department at Sprouts, and then when I found this recipe from Smart Nutrition (one of my all-time-fave RD bloggers) I’m pretty sure it was seriously the tipping point that inspired me to adopt my new sourdough pet. I add hemp seeds to mine, and it is outrageously good.

Those are the baking basics that have stood out as the house favorites during my first couple of months experimenting with my new sourdough ritual, but I look forward to baking plenty more healthy, fermented grainy goodies. You can keep up with ongoing updates on my baking inspiration on my Sourdough Recipes Pinterest board (next on my list: those popovers and those donuts!)

Readers, now it’s your turn: tell me about your sourdough! What are your best tips and must-try recipes?

The Magic of Sourdough, Part II: The How and WHY of Getting Your Starter Started

flavorRD is on a sourdough baking kick! Last week we started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits. This week, it’s all about getting your own culture started.

Want to know the coolest thing about getting started experimenting with sourdough in your own kitchen? You don’t need to have connections with a veteran baker or buy a special culture – the microorganisms that make up sourdough are all around you, just waiting to forge a symbiotic relationship with you and your baking habit. Wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria live on the surface of flour granules and in the air around us, and when you provide them with the right conditions, they’re happy to set up shop.

How do I capture a culture?

All it takes is a container of flour and water mixed together on your counter. At regular intervals, you feed the culture with more flour and water, after first removing some of the mixture before feeding time (in addition to making sure you don’t end up with a giant doughball that takes over the city, this basically serves to keep acidity in check and to cull the herd, allowing a smaller population of microorganisms to eat what you feed them and multiply with less competition, and fewer byproducts of metabolism that might slow their growth). Simply follow the feeding schedule, and you’ll have your own thriving culture in about a week!

I’m not going to break down a step-by-step schedule here, because it’s been done well many times on the web already. When I started my starter, I mostly followed this guide by the people at King Arthur Flour, with the benefit of some extra insights from Smart Nutrition and The Kitchn. The simple flour/water/time protocol yielded a healthy, happy starter that just chills contentedly in my fridge all week, and unfailingly springs to action when I take him out to play.

OK, but remind me again why it’s worth it to take time from my busy schedule for the care and feeding of a living baking ingredient?

Excellent question. With the word-count I’m saving by outsourcing the how-to, I’m choosing to dig a little deeper into the why-to. Home-baked sourdough bread is a nice way to enhance a happy-healthy life, but it does take a little effort. You might think of it in the same light as other “healthy habits” that you’re motivated to work into your life, like taking time on the weekend to chop up a surplus of your favorite veggies.

So let’s consider motivation. Sourdough’s health benefits are a good reason to incorporate a starter into your baking repertoire, but honestly, I knew about those facts for months before I mustered up the will to get started. Motivation is about a personal, emotional connection to your goal. If you feel like you want to do something, take a moment to think about WHY you feel that way. Once you can define your motivation, you can use that connection to fuel your inspiration, to decide that it’s worth your effort to start it up and stick with it.

Sound like a chore? It’s really just about getting in touch with the good feelings you have about your aspirations. Allow me to demonstrate with the easy-breezy answers that come to mind when I ask myself the question:

Why Should I Start a Sourdough Habit?

Because it makes me feel like a baking wizard. Or at least, you know, some kind of baking MacGyver. I can’t diffuse a bomb with a paper clip, but I can make a mean loaf of bread with just flour, water, salt, and time. Knowing about traditional methods of food production is a valuable life skill; we come from a long line of humans before us, and it’s good to be in touch with our roots. During my weekly baking sessions, I often think about my post-apocalyptic survival skills, and how my camp will still be enjoying the pleasures of leavened breads as long as we can get our hands on enough flour!

Because science is fun. It’s good to be curious, and science is really just organized curiosity. Some of my reasons for creating this blog centered on joining like-minded readers in the joys of paying attention to the wonders of the world around us, and working with sourdough is a great opportunity to learn something cool. I love that my sourdough science project takes me back to my college days in microbiology class, except even better (ie. instead of cramming for exams, I’m cramming baguettes in my mouth. science rules!)

Because life is too short for bad bread. Before I took up my sourdough project, I often settled for some pretty uninspiring grocery-store bread to keep up with my household’s carb appetite. Now, since almost every weekend yields a batch of awesome home-made sourdough baked goods (often with leftovers to bank in the freezer) I’ve cut way back on the riffraff. Good bread makes life better!

Starting a sourdough starter is really a pretty easy, foolproof project – it’s amazing what you can do with just a little flour, water, time, and motivation! If you have your own culture or plans to cultivate one (or if you could use a little more inspiration first), don’t miss next week’s post: I’ll be talking about the simple steps of my weekly sourdough ritual, and the best recipes in my baking rotation.

The Magic of Sourdough, Part I: Ancestral Biotech with Nutrition Benefits

Say hello to my doughy little friend.

It’s a bubbling, fermenting colony of bacteria and fungi that lives in my fridge, but it’s nothing to get squeamish about… it’s just sourdough! I started my first starter about 3 months ago, and I’ve been experimenting with this ancient form of baking biotech just about every week since then. It’s been a fun learning experience, and now I feel like I’ve gotten enough of a handle on it that I can share my dietitian/baker perspective. This post is the first installment of a 3-part series covering the ins and outs of the process, along with the reasons why you might be motivated to start up a habit too!

What is Sourdough?

To give a satisfactory answer to this question, let me break it down into two parts:

The History Lesson: If you peer far enough into the past, you’ll find a time when all breads were sourdough breads. At the dawn of agriculture, humans began eating their newly cultivated grains, ground and mixed with water as porridge and flatbread. When these simple batters were left out long enough, they created a moist & cozy home for the local wild yeast and bacteria. That’s when our neolithic ancestors discovered the magical leavening and preserving qualities of sourdough.

The Science Lesson: The sourdough culture is a symbiotic community of microorganisms that naturally grow on the surfaces of grains and in the air around us. These microbial friends include wild yeast (whose fermentation of starches/sugars yields carbon dioxide gas, which creates the air bubbles that leaven bread) and lactobacillus bacteria (whose fermentation yields lactic acid, which keeps the medium acidic enough to resist spoilage, and which also contributes to sourdough’s signature flavor).

Sourdough is Healthy?

If you only think of sourdough as a tangy flavor in specialty breads, you may be surprised to learn about all the attention it’s been getting lately for its nutrition benefits. Research has been revealing some fascinating facts about sourdough, and it’s all due to the probiotic cultures living in this fermented food.

  • Increased mineral bioavailability. Whole grains are full of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron – that’s why dietitians are always on your case to eat more of them! But grains also contain compounds called phytates that bind to these minerals and inhibit their absorption in the gut. The lactic acid created by the bacteria in sourdough breaks down phytates, and consequently increases your ability to absorb the minerals in your bread.
  • Lower glycemic index. The lactic acid in sourdough alters the starch/protein microstructure that forms during baking. The resulting bread has starch that our bodies digest more slowly. Slower breakdown of starch means a less dramatic glucose response, preventing undesirable spikes in insulin. (If you want to really dig into the science, this paper is fascinating.)
  • “Probiotic” benefits. Although our microbial companions are not able to survive their trip through the oven, their byproducts hang in there, providing a variety of the benefits associated with fermented foods. Before they check out, the good bacteria are nice enough to leave us a selection of antioxidant, cancer-fighting and immune-boosting compounds.
  • Elimination of gluten. Enzymes from both the wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria work together to degrade wheat flour’s gluten proteins into smaller peptides. The microorganisms are so good at this, that researchers have measured certain sourdough breads as having gluten concentrations of just 12 PPM… that’s legally gluten-free! This is good news if you have trouble tolerating gluten (and tolerating the taste of gluten-free breads).

Is your interest piqued? Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be back to talk about getting your starter started!

NEXT: Sourdough, Part II: The How and WHY of Getting Your Starter Started

Easiest Seasonal Treat: The Apple Turnover Ice Cream Sandwich

Seasonal cooking gets tricky when the calendar says it’s Fall, but the weather does not. This is a treat that can ease the pain of being stuck in that awkward limbo between seasons – when you’re dreaming of warm spices and baked goods fresh from the oven, but what you really need is something out of the freezer. If you’re drawn to the autumnal charms of apple pie, and you agree that it’s at its best when a la mode, you’re way overdue for an inside-out twist!

Join me in lazy-cooking bliss by buying a box of apple turnovers from your local bakery. Freeze them, slice them in half, and admire the airy void between the pastry and the filling. Soften a tub of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and use it to fill the pocket, gently pressing a spoonful at a time to create an even layer. Pop your stuffed triangles back into the freezer to firm up, and look forward to blowing your mind.

Each stuffed triangle is a perfect hand-held package, but it’s a rich dessert, so keep portion size under control by choosing smaller pastries. I’m on the hunt for mini-sized turnovers, because this would just be such a killer finish for a dinner party!

Apple Turnover Ice Cream Sandwich

Need another easy way to indulge your cravings for Fall flavors? Check out last year’s suggestion: The Easiest Seasonal Pumpkin Treat (Dark Chocolate Edition)

[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad

When most people think about pressure cooker recipes, they tend to conjure up images of stews, braises, and other sorts of steamy, stick-to-your-ribs one-pot meals that enjoy the spotlight in the colder months. But don’t forget that an electric pressure cooker is also a valuable tool for summer cooking: because everything is self-contained, cooking under pressure doesn’t heat up the kitchen. So don’t neglect your Instant Pot just because even the thought of your favorite soup recipe is making you sweat… think outside the box! It may sound crazy, but this week I used my pressure cooker to make salad. I only wish I had tried it sooner, because you’re looking at an instant summer staple.

I think this was my first time eating wheat berries, and definitely my first time cooking them. These are the same kernels that they grind up to make whole-wheat flour, just kept intact and cooked thoroughly, resulting in a plump, chewy, flavorful grain, almost like a more robust short grain brown rice.

[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad

Because September is Whole Grains Month, the dietitian in me is compelled to take a moment to chat about the special benefits of intact whole grains. I’m talking about whole grains consumed in their least processed form: merely hulled of their fibrous husks, but with the bran, germ and endosperm all in their natural state (examples include wheat berries, brown/wild rice, quinoa, farro, millet, hulled barley, and buckwheat groats). You can think of these as the ‘gold standard’ of grainy goodness. While processed whole grains (like whole wheat flour) still have the same richness in nutrients (fiber, protein, B vitamins, a bit of healthy fat, and essential minerals like magnesium), intact whole grains have the perk of an extra-low glycemic index. This ensures a slow digestion process, keeping you fuller longer and minimizing spikes in blood sugar that can contribute to chronic health problems. For more details, get a healthy dose of carb common sense from the Whole Grains Council.

So, wheat berries have a lot going for them. Now that I know how tasty they are, how super cheap they are in the bulk bins, and how easy they are to cook in the Instant Pot… I’m hooked!

This recipe started with a craving for Smitten Kitchen’s feta salsa, which I’ve made a few times as a party appetizer. I knew the rich flavors would be well suited to bulking up with hearty whole grains, and I figured fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of my best balsamic would kick it up to the next level of juicy summer freshness. What was once an indulgent treat is now a balanced meal, with just enough fat and salt from the feta and kalamatas to keep things interesting. Just the way we like it around here!

(You can, of course, make this without my loyal kitchen companion, Instant Pot. Just boil the wheat berries in 4-5 cups of water (add more if needed) for about an hour, until they’re tender, then go on with the recipe.)

[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad

[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 6

[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad

For the wheat berries
1.5 cups wheat berries (hard red winter wheat kernels)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cups water
1 pinch salt
For the salad:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1-2 oz. feta cheese
1 large handful each of fresh basil and fresh parsley, chopped

Begin by toasting the dry wheat berries to emphasize their nutty flavor: add the olive oil to the pressure cooker to cook over medium heat (press the 'Saute' button to begin cooking at medium saute heat). When the oil is hot, add the wheat berries and cook, stirring frequently. When the wheat berries are fragrant (after about 5 minutes) add the water and salt, then cook under high pressure for 30 minutes (press 'Cancel' to stop saute mode, then close the lid and press 'Manual' to select 30 minutes).

When the cooking time is complete, allow 10 minutes for a natural pressure release before opening the valve and lid. Drain the wheat berries in a colander and rinse with cold water to cool the grains.

Transfer the wheat berries into a large bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

http://flavorrd.com/2015/09/instant-pot-wheatberry-salad/

Instant Pot Recipe Index

Avocado Fudgesicles

This summer, I’ve had two recipe-testing obsessions. The first involves whole-grain sourdough pizza crust*, and although it satisfies my endless curiosities into both bread baking and home fermentation, it also makes me feel like a crazy person every time I insist on turning on my oven. The other fixation is much more seasonally reasonable: the quest for the perfect healthy fudgesicle.

I’ve been dreaming of a deeply dark chocolate pop, lightly sweetened, and I had my heart set on achieving a rich and creamy texture from nutrient-dense avocado. I also set high standards for a classic fudge flavor (ie. I didn’t want this thing to just taste like chocolatey guacamole). It took a few tries to get it just right, but this is it!

Depending on the size of your avocado and the type of dark chocolate you use, this recipe comes out to about 200 calories per serving (with about 13g total fat, 4.5g saturated, and 13 grams of sugar). So it’s a legit dessert – but one that is built from real food ingredients, a dessert that will give you real satisfaction in addition to its richness in nutrients. You can also cut the portion size if you have smaller popsicle molds – my squeeze-pop molds hold about 1/2 cup of liquid.

I wasn’t about to waste my weekend trying to create beautiful images of tubes of brown goo, so you’re stuck with the quick pic above. They may not be photogenic, but they have a lot of good qualities that should convince you to try the recipe: a short list of simple ingredients, healthy fats, antioxidants, limited sugars, fiber (5g per serving!), vegan-friendly, and a super-easy technique that will leave you with plenty of time for summer fun.

*Posts on my new sourdough habit are coming soon! In the meantime, get your fermentation fix on my sourdough pinboard.

**Need more healthy frozen desserts to beat the heat? Try my Fresh Strawberry Frozen Greek Yogurt, or the whimsically named chocolate cookie variant: Joe-Joe Fro-Yo

Avocado Fudgesicles

Avocado Fudgesicles

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 popsicles

Avocado Fudgesicles

2 oz. dark chocolate (~1/3 cup of chips/chunks)
1 small/medium ripe avocado
1 cup almond milk (or substitute coconut milk)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

Place the chocolate in a small bowl or measuring cup and gently heat in a microwave (taking it out to stir after each 20 second increment) until smooth. Combine all ingredients in a blender (or attach a mason jar for easy cleanup). The chocolate will re-solidify, but it will still be soft enough to blend. Puree until very smooth and pour the mixture into popsicle molds. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours or more, depending on the size/shape of your molds.

http://flavorrd.com/2015/09/avocado-fudgesicles/

What I ate in Seattle

I had the pleasure of spending last weekend in Seattle, WA. My brother and his wife live up there, and they hosted Grant and I for a trip so jam-packed with local fun and amazing food that we are ready to move into their guest room permanently! In the same vein as my last food-focused San Francisco travel report, read on for my top highlights from the weekend.

We started our festivities early on Friday with breakfast at Morsel in Ballard. If you want the best, freshly-baked, big-as-your-face biscuit sandwich you’ve ever had, this is your place. I chose one of the daily special arugula-garlic biscuits as the foundation for my rendition of “The Goat,” which pairs goat cheese with thinly sliced cucumber and tomato jam. I opted to add a fried egg (good decision). The guys made a good decision too, both ordering “The Spanish Fly” with egg, manchego, prosciutto, arugula and pepper aioli. We also had the first of many flawless cappuccinos and lattes (Seattle, you are really on point with that business).

What I ate in Seattle: Morsel

We walked off that deliciousness by trekking all over the city. We started downtown with a stroll through Pike’s Place, took in the views from the Columbia Center, made our way to the international district (where else can you find mocha and pina colada flavored fortune cookies, straight off the factory lines?), the U district, Green Lake Park… each place with its own unique local flavor, totally fascinating.

After all that, we picked up a late lunch at Un Bien – they sell INCREDIBLY GOOD Latin/Caribbean style sandwiches. They’re made on a fresh crusty baguette with cilantro, pickled jalapenos, caramelized onions, lettuce, aioli, and whatever protein you choose (sirloin for me) with a magical citrus-y marinade.  I was too busy digging in to take a photo myself, but if you look at their Yelp page I think you’ll get the idea.

That night, we headed out to Ballard Beer where they have a wide selection of local brews, and beautiful community tables that are welcoming to both dogs and board games. We took advantage of both.

What I ate in Seattle: Ballard Beer

Next door, Lil Woody’s makes a mean grass-fed burger too!

The next morning, my sister-in-law secured her position as Hostess with the Most-ess by surprising us with pastries from Cafe Besalu (buttery, flaky, and graced with peak-season summer fruits – this place definitely lives up to its reputation) and firing up their espresso machine for homemade lattes!! Seattle hospitality at its finest!

After that, we escaped from the city with a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. On top of the natural beauty and small-town charm, the trip is worth it just for the lunch at The Harbor Public House. Do yourself a favor and relax on their scenic patio with some epic local seafood. I ordered the smoked salmon tartine: mixed greens, a slice of whole-grain sourdough, goat cheese, and their incredible house-smoked salmon topped with tomato, red onion and capers. I’m still dreaming about it.

What I ate in Seattle: The Harbor Public House

After making our way back to the mainland and seeing a few more sights, we decided to refuel with a quick healthy dinner. As a health-food-nerd, I was excited to check out a co-op market that I’ve heard a lot about since my brother started working at their offices: PCC. I was not disappointed – it was like Sprouts on steroids, with a prepared food section that puts Whole Foods to shame. The spread below includes their curried tempeh/veggies, pesto tortellini, Emerald City Salad, quinoa tabouli, Moroccan eggplant, and a sesame-glazed chicken wing. All freshly-made, healthy and delicious!

What I ate in Seattle: PCC!

We had an early flight Sunday, so before heading to the airport we had time for one more epic vacation brunch at Chinook’s. We had a beautiful waterfront view, and every breakfast is served with a basket of freshly baked scones with orange butter! Charmed again by the local produce, I ordered a stack of huckleberry pancakes. A sweet finish to a delicious trip!

What I ate in Seattle: Chinook's

After having such a great time, I know I’ll be back again soon. If you have suggestions to share, let me know with a comment!

My Top 5 On-The-Go Weekday Breakfasts

Let’s talk about breakfast. Weekday Breakfast, to be specific, which is an entirely different animal than the leisurely, unhurried, coffee-sipping pleasure-breakfasts that we get to enjoy on the weekends. Weekday Breakfast, for better or worse, is about taking care of business: supplying ourselves with an adequate amount of the right balance of nutrients to fuel ourselves for the workday, and doing it quickly.

To be honest, I struggle with Weekday Breakfast. When I drag myself out of bed for work, I don’t have much of an appetite. It’s just hard to get my morning-brain interested in the fuel that I know my body needs. The good news? Recognizing a problem is the first step in doing something about it. I started with a dedicated Weekday Breakfast Pinterest board to help inspire my efforts. I also took a critical look at my morning routine, and found that although it may not be the best approach for mindful eating, I really have the best success when I schedule my breakfast time either during my commute or at my desk (whatever works!). And there’s one other critical element that should go without saying: that healthy breakfast also needs to be a tasty treat… otherwise, what’s the point? So now, after some brainstorming and field-testing, I’m coming here to share my top 5 healthy, quick, on-the-go balanced breakfasts that keep me powering through my weekdays!

The Mix 'N Match Box

1. The Mix-n-Match Box

This is sort of a DIY version of the protein bistro box from Starbucks; I developed a taste for those during my time-crunched grad school days, but this make-at-home version is a lot easier on the budget. It also works well for my breakfast ambivalence because I can pick at little nibbles of this and that, and I still end up with a balanced meal.

My basic formula is whole grain bread (the seed-packed sourdough stuff pictured above is my current favorite), cheese, fruit, and a boiled egg – but the mix-n-match system is a good way to use up whatever odds and ends you have on hand. Pack it all into a medium-sized tupperware container, and you have a balanced snack-breakfast, wherever your day takes you.

The Quesa-Pita
2. The Quesa-Pita

This is a really common fallback weekday breakfast for me, for two reasons. First, I pretty much always have these 4 ingredients stocked in my kitchen, and second, it’s something that will actually pique my meager morning appetite.

Use a slice (or half slice) of regular or lite cheese of your choice to cover half of a whole-grain pita bread. Place it under a broiler or in a toaster oven until melted/crisp, then add a handful of spinach and a vegetarian sausage patty (I cut mine up into a couple of slices to cover the whole sandwich). Fold it in half, wrap in a paper towel, and you’re good to go!

The PBJ Yogurt

3. The PBJ Yogurt

Have you been disappointed recently by the new PBJ flavored Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s? If it sounded really good in your head, but didn’t meet your flavor expectations, it’s time to take things into your own hands.

I already talked about this perfect combination of plain yogurt, PB/J, wheat germ and chia seeds in my post on Eating Well After Oral Surgery, but it truly has earned a space among my go-to morning meals/snacks. For an extra-special breakfast, try it with my favorite banana jam recipe!

The Loaded Veggie Bagel

4. The Loaded Veggie Bagel

Here’s another savory sandwich that will help you get a head start on your daily servings of veggies. Baking a weekend batch of my garlic kale & feta bagels will give you an even ‘veggier’ foundation, but most of the time I use the whole wheat sprouted sesame bagels from Trader Joe’s.

Toast a whole-grain bagel (or bagel-thin, for a lower-calorie breakfast). Schmear with light cream cheese or hummus, and top with whatever fresh veggies you like or need to use up. The combination pictured above is a personal favorite, baby spinach + cucumbers + shredded carrots, but other tasty choices to mix and match include alfalfa sprouts, avocado, tomato, arugula or baby kale.

Steel Cut Muesli, California-Style

5. The Mason Jar Muesli

To finish with something sweet, here’s a simple make-ahead breakfast that happened to be the #1 most popular recipe on my blog last year. In this Steel-Cut Muesli, California-Style, the oats are soaked overnight in the fridge and eaten chilled, so they’re a great way to enjoy the benefits of oatmeal during the warmer months. In these photos I used a re-purposed jam jar, but it also works really well with half pint wide-mouth canning jars like these. They’re compact to stack in the fridge, so you can make a whole week’s worth in just one quick prep session!

So that’s what I’ve been into for breakfast lately… but I can’t finish without an appeal to you, readers: come on, help me with my breakfast problem! How do you fuel your weekdays?