Made Monday: Pepper Salad wtih Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ready to have your "I need to do something with the abundance of the end of summer produce I am up to my eyeballs in" world rocked??

Follow along. Because I am about to share one of my favorite salads (that is nothing like a traditional green salad) and my favorite ways to eat said salad. 

{It should be mentioned, a favorable opinion of peppers is required for this one to have world-rocking power over you}

This recipe is fresh (SO fresh!) and light and packed with flavor and nothing like a boring tomato, red onion, craisin and whatever else you happen to have in the way of produce, over greens and drizzled with dressing. No offense green salad, because you are great and all, but I sorta get tired of you about a month into summer. Don't worry though, it's not you. It's me. Friends?

(Are you sensing the silly mood I am in??)

This salad sings... to a totally different, very fresh, very Italian tune. I can't sing opera, but I can make this salad, and it can sing opera... to my tastebuds. Maybe? (Did I mention my silly mood?)

Peppers, Tomatoes, basil, red onion, and fresh mozzarella, combined in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. It should be mentioned that one can say they have much more fully lived after experiencing fresh mozzarella. (Have you experienced it?? You kinda need to... YOLO?)

I started with this recipe and somehow convenience and speed led me to the one I now enjoy. Both are good. One is less work and has fewer ingredients :)

Pepper Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette:

  • 5-6 large sweet peppers thinly sliced (Make it pretty! Use different colored peppers!) (I prefer using mini sweet peppers, but I have never counted how many I use... 15-20?? or so??? I buy them in a bag at the store and just use the whole bag.)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced.
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes 
  • 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella. Use pearls or cut into small cubes.
  • 8+ Fresh Basil leaves 
  • 3 TBS of balsamic vineagar
  • 6 TBS of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

 1. Cut the peppers and onions into very thin slices. (very thin!) Combine everything but the fresh basil and fresh mozzarella into a bowl and allow to marianate in the fridge for an hour before serving. (Note: this isn't necessary, it's just best this way)
2. Add mozzarella and basil before serving. (Note: this salad can last up to 3 days in the fridge provided you only add the basil and mozzarella to whatever you are using.)

My favorite ways to enjoy this salad:

1. With crustinis. [By the way: a crustini (crus-tee-nee) is just an Italian word for a thinly sliced, toasted piece of bread] Makes for a great hors d'oeuvre!

2. On a sandwich.

3. On top of that boring green salad we were mentioning earlier. Boring no more!

4.  Like this:

With grilled chicken and flat bread.

5. Like this:
This is a sort of deconstructed version of the salad. The peppers and onions were still tossed in vinaigrette but I served with a slice of mozzarella, a thick slice of tomato, and topped with some basil. I put all that on top of some grilled chicken and slice of garlic french bread. I served it along side a simple spring green salad topped with tomato and pepper/onion in vinaigrette. This was one of the hardest sandwiches I had ever tried to get in my mouth, but I would eat it again in a heartbeat--mess and all (DELICIOUS!!!)

Hope this Made your Monday!


sharing this here:


Good Morning! Good Breakfast!: Baked Steel Cut Oats

Today I wanted to share something from the kitchen. This recipe has SO improved our mornings, especially my husband's. He is in an intense schooling program, that is both physically and mentally exhausting. He works full-time and is in school full-time. While breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, he simply doesn't have the time to have a decent one...


I discovered steel cut oats. (Yep. I said steel cut oats. Keep reading if you want to see how he has time for them in the morning.) They are healthy. They are high in fiber. They are minimally processed. They are a low-glycemic food (which means it takes the body a long time to absorb them, making you feel fuller longer, and giving you energy for longer). They are packed with carbohydrates to jumpstart a morning. They are chewy. (I know, the last item on my list of nutritional benefits doesn't seem to fit. But I do like things to taste good. And the chewier the oatmeal, the better... at least in my mouth).

By the way: feeling any weight from all those crunchy granola, steel-cut-oat women turning their nose up at you, the instant-oat woman. No need to! Steel cut oats are only slightly better for you. Really for me, it comes down to a flavor/texture preference and ... alright, a strange, crunchy-granola tendency to avoid over processed foods. But don't feel bad if you choose to stick to old-fashioned oats, the only extra process is rolling and steaming (and extra cutting if they are instant.) Oats--steel-cut, old fashioned or instant--are ALL so good for you! 

I have always had a thing for baked oatmeal. It's THE BEST way to have oatmeal. YUM-O! I found this recipe and adapted it to suit my family. Baked Oatmeal is SO tasty. I make it on Friday (our closest thing to a weekend at the moment) and serve it up with some eggs, bacon and fresh squeezed OJ. I package up all the leftovers and our little family has 4 days of leftover oatmeal squares that are super easy to reheat and take on the go... just in time for Michael's physically intense weekend.

Baked Steel Cut Oats. (Link will be provided at end of this post as well.)
And bonus for mommies with little ones: Baby Cereal Bars

1: Soak oatmeal overnight in water with tablespoon of plain yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir. This is not absolutely necessary, it's just a really good idea. Grains contains phytic acid, which prevent you from being able to absorb all of the grain's nutrition. Phytic acid also make grains harder to digest. I even read that soaking grains can help a person with a mild gluten allergy be able to eat some different types of grains.Yogurt, buttermilk and kefir all have natural enzymes that neutralize the phytic acid.
2. Drain oats in mesh collander. There is no need to rinse, just get rid of extra water. Put back in bowl.
3. Chop some nuts. I got almonds and pecans going in my concoction... mostly because that's what was available in my stash. (anyone else say AHH-monds and PEE-cans like I do???)
 3. Whisk it, and whisk it good. Whisk together the eggs, milk and maple syrup until nice and frothy. (This made me feel out of shape... my arm kept needing breaks... and by the way it takes less than 2 minutes to get to frothy... yeah, you really need to start working out again, Amanda.) If you can't afford maple syrup or don't feel like going to the store to get it, substitute brown sugar instead... same amount. Though I will say, everyone should make a way for maple syrup every now and again. It's GOOD :)
4. Add egg mixture to oats along with fruit. I have some blueberries and raspberries in this one from my frozen fruits stash. Add cinnamon and canola oil. You could add nuts here too (unless you are making baby cereal bars too), but I just sprinkle mine on top. (They get toasty this way... yummy)
Tip: I always keep at least a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer. Fruit is a healthy way to make a last minute dessert on the fly without adding too much sugar. Frozen fruit keeps for a really long time in the freezer, and its great to have a last minute dessert/sweetener on hand (pancakes, crepes, crisps... oh my!) Also, if fruit is on special and in season, I buy extra of it, rinse it, and store it in the freezer in freezer bags. Money saved. Happy tummies. Win!
 5. (Optional.) I have a little guy (10 months today!) who will eat just about anything (yep. broccoli, peas, carrots...) so long as he gets to be the one who puts it in his mouth. This has made me have to be creative in how I feed him. Since this has little sugar in it and is minimally processed, I decided to make him his own batch of cereal bars. I just pulled out a little bit, put it in the food processor (to make it easier to eat... he doesn't have many teeth to handle the chewy oats), didn't include the nuts, and put in a little mini bake dish. (Do double check with your baby's pediatrician if you have concerns about whether your baby can have this... My baby can, but all babies are different, the allergen advice keeps changing, and I am no doctor)
 6. Place mixture in oiled pans. Sprinkle nuts on top. Bake in a 375 preheated oven for 20-40 minutes. It's done when a toothpick comes out clean. It's easy to tell when it's done: it will not have any liquid left. I used a 8x8, a 9x9 and a 3" circle (my little circle was done in 20 minutes and my two pans in 30 min. When I made this all in one pan and it was thick, it took 40 min). Side note: I am missing my big pan and have been for years now... I should probably get a new one. Ha!
 Hmmm... Hearty, Healthy, Wholesome, Hungry (alliterations for this creation... I know, I am a nerd)
Serve warm with eggs on a Saturday morning. Important: Drizzle oatmeal with maple syrup or a homemade fruit syrup like this one.)
 Big man approved. Little man approved too.
 For easy breakfast throughout the week: place each square on a piece of foil.
7. Wrap up. Store in fridge. Early each morning, pull out, unwrap (leaving it on the foil), place in toaster oven for 5ish minutes while you are finishing up getting ready for your day, wrap back up in foil, take with you, and eat on the go. So easy! Even my husband can do it! HA!
And in case you are unfamiliar with this math fact: toaster oven > microwave  :)
Husband LOVES his healthy, home-cooked breakfast each morning. I like not having to get up to make it for him.

Baked Steel Cut Oats Recipe

Open Recipe in Google Document for easy printing (Just click link):
Baked Steel Cut Oats

3 cups Steel Cut Oats
1 TBS plain yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir
½ cup chopped nuts
3 eggs   
1 cup of milk                       
½ cup dried fruit or 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit
1 TBS cinnamon
2 TBS canola oil
2 TBS maple syrup

  1. Soak oats overnight. Place oats in large bowl, fill with water till water is an inch over the oats, place a generous tablespoon of plain yogurt in bowl.
  2. Preheat oven to 375. Grease pans.
  3. Drain oats in colander and place back in bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and maple syrup until frothy.
  5. Add egg mixture to oats along with fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and oil. Fold until combined.
  6. Pour into pans.
  7. Bake for 20-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean or oatmeal has no liquid on top.
  8. Serve with maple syrup. 

Baby Oatmeal Bars: 

Prepare just like above, except omit nuts, and place in food processor before putting into baking dish. 

Oatmeal Bars on the go: 

Prepare as above. Cut into individual servings and store each serving wrapped in foil in the fridge. Unwrap and place in 375 toaster oven for 5 minutes before eating (or eat cold).

Some yummy variations:
blueberries and raspberries
can of peaches, drained and cut, and blueberries. Omit cinnamon. Add tsp of vanilla
Sprinkle toasted wheat germ on the top for some nutty nutrition
dried apricots and dried cranberries as suggests
your imagination: keep the oats, milk, egg and oil ratios the same and play around with the fruit, seasoning/flavoring, sweetener and nut combinations :)

Hope your Monday is Made!


Who says healthy has to taste bland?: Red Pepper Pesto Sauce

I made this last night for dinner. Sometimes, I like to produce a fantastic meal for my family that tastes amazing and is very involved. Most of the time though, I just like easy, simple and tasty meals that are nutritional for my family. I happen to be a mom that is against the over-usage of over-processed foods, at least in my house and strives for well-balanced nutrition. So when I stumble across something that easily takes my boring and healthy protein, starch, vegetable combination to the next level with great ease, heck-to-the-yes, I am trying it!

I found this recipe in a recent issue of Cooking Light (which, by the way, is one of my new favorite recipe magazines). The red-pepper pesto sauce isn't spicy but rather warm and bright tasting. It is packed with enough flavor to make your healthy, low sodium food sing. It adds "BAM" to your bland. And best of all it takes 6 simple ingredients and less than a minute in a food processor to make. It tastes great with salmon, but any non-oily, flaky fish will do. It could even top grilled chicken breasts. I pair that with a healthy brown rice blend and some green beans cooked with chopped red onions, peppers, and almonds.

Red Pepper Pesto Sauce:

1/3 cup Roasted red peppers in a jar, rinsed
1 Tsp Olive Oil
7 Almonds, blanched
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs Tomato paste
1 pinch of salt

  • Place ingredients in food processor and pulse until combined and almonds and peppers are in tiny pieces.

(Serves 4... enough to top 4 pieces of salmon, so if you are serving 4 and want to add on top of your starch too like I do, double the recipe)

If you are an experienced cook, take that sauce recipe and run with it. But if you want a couple more tips and how to put together the whole meal, timing and all... keep reading.

Red Pepper Pesto Sauce Salmon and Brown Rice with Red Pepper and Onion Green Beans:

Red Pepper Pesto Sauce (See above)
4 Salmon Steaks
Enough Brown rice to serve 4 (usually one cup unprepared)
Green Beans about 1-2 cups (I like extra thin, fancy frozen green beans)
White onion sliced 1/4 inch thick and roughly chopped, about 1/4 cup
Red onion sliced 1/4 inch thick and roughly chopped, about 1/4 cup
7 more blanched almonds sliced
Olive oil

  • Start by making your rice since this will take the longest to cook if you are using unprocessed food. Try using a blend of wild and brown whole grain rice. I am a huge fan of the Lundberg Wild Blend (this can be found in Raley's bulk bin or packaged at Walmart Superstores) and Trader Joes's brown rice blend. And on a side note, if you happened to be used to instant rice-a-roni, I challenge you to take your healthiness one step further. Lower your sodium intake and increase your whole grains. If you don't like the flavor of whole grain rice, I don't blame you, it is quite "grainy" in texture and a bad blend can taste a bit like, well, cardboard, but studies show it takes your taste buds one month to "adjust." So, try it for one month. If I can't get you away from the boxed rice quite yet, try the "Far East" brand. They have lots of healthy options and their ingredients list includes only what you want to be inside that box... just dehydrated. And hey, if just simply cooking for your family is your challenge, by all means, use the Rice-a-Roni boldly without shame! Cook what you can and choose the un-processed food battle another day!
  • Follow the rice's packaged directions. (For this meal, I just use water, a splash of olive oil, and a pinch of salt for my rice as the pesto sauce will add your flavor)
  • While your rice cooks, check your facebook, love on your babies, read a magazine article, organize a cupboard, put the dishes in the dishwasher... do whatever pleases you until the rice has 15 minutes cook time left.
  • Get out the rest of your ingredients, heat up your pans to medium heat for the salmon and your green beans, chop your peppers and onions, and blanch your almonds. (Blanching simply involves throwing the almonds in boiling water for a half a minute to soften them up so they can chop easily)
  • Put oil (1 Tbs) in your pan, lightly sprinkle pepper over your salmon, and throw it into the pan.
  • While the salmon is cooking (about 5 minutes on each side depending on thickness), make your red pepper pesto sauce. Place all of the ingredients for the sauce into the food processor and process until sauce is combined and almonds and peppers are chopped into tiny pieces.
  • Flip your salmon after 5 minutes. Put a little oil (1 Tbs) in your second pan. Put your green beans, onions, and red pepper in the pan and cook for about 4 minutes. Add your almonds and cook for one minute longer or until done (done=vegetables should be hot, crunchy, and have some browned marks on them).
  • Plate your food! Serve pesto sauce over salmon and rice. 10-15 minutes and you are done (plus the time it takes to cook rice)!

Here it is in pictures: