When you hear the word ‘Holidays’ what is the first thing immediately that comes to mind? Family? Traditions? Food? Or perhaps all the above.
For many, this word conjures up traditions and family time spent together. For me, it is all the above taken up a notch. Throughout the year there are two very Holy, very Religions holidays that are uniquely special, both quite similar and yet different. But both holidays are times to pause, reflect and embrace moments together surrounded by family and chalked full of cultural traditions passed down for generations.
The two holidays are none other than Christmas and Easter. I mentioned in a previous blog about my family’s Ukrainian/Italian traditional Christmas Eve dinner but today I’m inviting you all to our traditional Ukrainian Easter celebration. One of the many reasons it’s time for a celebration and not just a typical dinner is because each day leading up to Easter Sunday are specific days of fasting, reflecting, and preparation.
Easter is the Holiest day in our Catholic/Christian faith and the preparation that takes place is meant for us Christians to reflect on the life of Jesus and to know the love He has for us even after his death over 2000 years ago. He gave His life for us on the cross so we would have salvation through Him. So in our traditional custom that means fasting, it means looking at the good in your life that God has blessed you with and preparing for time spent with family.
Easter week begins with Palm Sunday leading up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally the glorious celebration of The Resurrection or Easter Sunday.
My mother was raised Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Byzantine Catholic), however, my father and my two older sisters and I were raised Roman Catholic. For those of you who may not know or may not understand the difference, both are Catholic and both Greek and Roman Catholicism are under the Pope in Rome. However, Greek Catholics are considered more strict in many facets of the religion. When my mom and dad got married my mom just followed my dad’s religion thus raising us Roman Catholic. Generally, during these holy holidays in the year, we follow my mom’s Greek Ukrainian Catholic customs and traditions all the while incorporate my dad’s Italian customs too.
During these 3 days, are days spent attending church mass, preparing and consuming food that is generally allotted only for this time of year as well as spending quality time with family. These 3 days, leading up to Sunday are days of fasting; or sacrificing giving up things you otherwise would enjoy like specific food, not listening to music or whatever it may be, reflecting on what Christ did for us, and the overall preparation; cleaning, meal prep etc. During this preparation, we abstain from consuming meat and dairy also called a Black Fast, in addition to the other "things" we have been giving up for Lent are observed during this time. Luckily for me, I don’t consume dairy so that has been easy to incorporate especially during the ‘Black Fasting” days in the Catholic Liturgical calendar.
By the time of Good Friday a Black Fasting day, my mom will have most of the food prepped and ready for the final cooking process, is getting the time-honored Blessing of the Easter Basket ready for Holy Saturday. This is a tradition where a small sampling of each food is included in the basket and taken to the church for the priest to give a special blessing followed by sprinkling Holy water over the baskets on the altar. The food within the basket is consumed as breakfast on Easter Sunday Morning.
Before Easter mass on Sunday, my family gathers for a small breakfast that includes the Blessed food.
These foods prepared for the blessing are symbolic within the Ukrainian tradition:
Baked kielbasa-God’s generosity and favor
Pickled eggs- Resurrection of Christ representing new life
Baked ham- Easter celebration of joyful abundance
Easter cheese- Moderation that Christians should show and display in life
Paska (Ukrainian for Easter)- Represents Christ, Our Bread of Life. This bread which is a traditional and slightly sweet and very rich bread has quite a bit of egg in it, giving it a dense yellow color bread when cut.
Horseradish- The passion of Christ
Butter- Christs Goodness, generally in the shape of a baby lamb
Salt- Our duty as Christians to help others
Candle- Symbolizes Jesus, "the light of the world"
Colored eggs- Both colored and uncolored eggs symbolize hope, new life and Christ rising from his tomb
Wine- Blood of Christ
We all take part in the Easter Egg contest where each person at the table takes a turn smacking someone else’s egg, with their egg. The person with no cracked ends or with one un-cracked egg is declared the winner. The food that was Blessed on Easter Saturday is now eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast and then, of course, any leftover Blessed food will be included in the large early afternoon dinner. Food that is Blessed has to be eaten, but if it is not all consumed then any crumbs including the broken eggs shells from the Easter egg cracking contest must be buried. This custom is acknowledging that this food was blessed and any blessed food must be buried and or burned to be returned to the early elements.
With all of these amazing smells filling my mom and dad’s house I can’t help but recall back to when I was a little girl enjoying these same foods that even now are so special to eat. Everything about any holiday where customs are preserved is so special for me whether it’s from seeing familiar faces or partaking in religious customs is something I have never taken for granted and I am Blessed my mom and aunt have continued on with these wonderful traditions. I can remember when we would all gather at my Grammy and Pop Pop’s house and the various relatives “popping” in and out to spend time with one another has forever been imprinted in my heart and in my soul. With those memories of loved ones who are now no longer with us, makes these holidays that much more special. I want to hold these precious moments, preserve these occasions on days when I yearn to be back with my family.
It’s these moments and unique but special traditions I will always remember and since this is the first Easter without my beloved Pop Pop, it’s even more special to be a part of these traditions. Enjoy today with your family and friends because tomorrow is never guaranteed.
And as they say in Ukrainian, I say to you: “Khrystos Voskres” (Christ is Risen) and in response “Voistyno Voskres” (He is truly Risen).
I hope you all take this time to make beautiful memories you can one day look back on and cherish.
I hope you all have a very Blessed and Happy Easter!
Ooey, Gooey, Chocolatey Peanut-Butter Oatmeal No-Bakes: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
No-Bake Cookies instantly bring me back to my childhood days. There is nothing quite like the smell of melting peanut butter combined with chocolate and a hint of warm vanilla filling every corner of your home. Talk about hitting all the high notes for a sweet treat.
So naturally, I wanted to change the original recipe I grew with, to replace the foods I am unable to tolerate with foods that I can, all the while keeping its delicious texture and flavor.
If you are making these for any holiday, event, or birthday party just double or even triple the batch!!! They will definitely go quick and you might be wishing you quadrupled your recipe!! Since these no-bakes are slightly different than the original, these will need to be refrigerated or placed in the freezer to keep their form. If they are kept out too long they will become a little squishy and sticky.
I hope you all love this version of No Bakes as much as I do and I WOULD LOVE to hear from you!
In a large pan add the unflavored coconut oil, pure vanilla extract, organic peanut butter and organic maple syrup. (To be honest, I added a bit more peanut butter, because well it’s peanut butter and I thought if it’s full of peanut butter maybe my husband wouldn’t know the difference!)
While this was heating, ripped off a large piece of parchment paper to place on my counter top for my cookies.
Once the ingredients start to melt, continue to stir the glorious concoction until you can no longer see the peanut butter swirl.
Then add the 2-2.5 cups of gluten-free quick oats and continued to mix the oats until thoroughly coated.
Spoon out the no-bakes and place on the parchment paper to cool.
That's it, you're done.
I would suspect most people some time in their life have food cravings and can’t exactly pinpoint what they’re taste buds really want? Chocolate IMMEDIATELY comes to mind for some people. Yet, others want a creamy texture like peanut butter, still other want the satisfying salty crunch of a potato chip. But sometimes those quick fixes are often times just a band-aid for what the underlying craving really is like perhaps real food.
It’s often times in the quick fix cravings our bodies are trying to tell us we are low in some vital nutrients and minerals and the quick go-to-food can quell the craving but doesn’t always fix the problem. Kind of like if you really cut your finger you certainly don’t just want a band-aid to “fix” the wound you most likely need stitches because the wound is deep. The superficial quick fixes of food is similar. There is a real underlying issue for building back up your bodies reserves in nutrients and minerals and the junk food just won’t cut it…pardon the pun.
One of those cravings I have is eggplant. Now, most of you are probably like….WHAT???? Do you crave eggplant? Surprisingly, yes! Eggplants have a long laundry list of nutritional benefits, one in particular of reducing symptoms of anemia…which is why my body craves this vital fruit…err vegetable. Technically, eggplants are a fruit because they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds and are a member of the nightshade family. Eggplant, grow like tomatoes mannerly speaking, being they hang from vines of plants that grow several feet high.
Some additional health benefits of eggplants:
So on the menu tonight is my ‘Baked Eggplant with Marinara Sauce over quinoa pasta’ which is a savory, nutritionally dense yet VERY flavorful satisfying dish!
Ahh…this weather has been so erratic lately with snowstorms, severe rain, to above average temperatures suddenly plummeting overnight dipping back down to below freezing. My immune system needs a jump start.
So the other week when I was grocery shopping I kept noticing butternut squash on sale in two separate grocery store, from prepackaged cut cubes to frozen individual bags of squash. This immediately got me thinking about adding butternut squash to my next recipe. And that is EXACTLY what I did.
Most of you already know that I cannot tolerate any gluten or dairy and I do not always have a desire to eat meat, call it changing taste buds, I just don’t care to eat a lot of meat. BUT, I wanted to make my stew with Angus sirloin. The funny thing about this recipe is that I initially started off making this a soup but then I decided to make this into a savory stew instead.
I started this recipe the same way I would if I were making a soup. I diced, onion and celery, and carrots in some olive oil and sautéed them until they were translucent. I then added my butternut squash, because I had the frozen version, and I wanted to brown the outside of the squash to give the stew more flavor, as well as kinda crisp up the squash so it wouldn’t be too mushy when I was finally done with the stew. At this point, I also added my canned tomatoes and grated turmeric. Once the vegetables were almost done I then added my beef broth and vegetable broth and fresh thyme to season the stew.
So, at this point, I have butternut squash soup, but I wanted to make this a stewy-version. Since I always keep “staple foods” on hand I added a gluten-free quinoa flour to the “soup” and it quickly “thickened” up to more of a stew-like-consistency. Again, however, you prefer to make it!
I also, don’t mind sharing my mishaps too, but I totally forgot to add frozen green beans to the stew which was not a big deal, but the thing is, with soups or stews you can literally add anything as much or as little as you like and really do no wrong. It’s whatever your preferences are or whatever vegetables you have that you want to use up.
I hope you all enjoy this dish!
Potatoes or should I say the dirt-dwelling spuds, always seem to get such a bad rap for being that other “white, high starchy carb” on the “I’m never ever to eat from this list” list.
Potatoes are SO much more then what they are given credit for. I mean some of your fondest memories probably date back to a summer picnic eating hot dogs and French fries? Okay so maybe not the best example illustrating their high nutritional value but you get where I’m going. Potatoes are quintessentially part of the American fabric and are generally a weekly staple in most households. Spuds usually get overlooked, and for good reason. Potatoes get fried, sometimes fried again, slathered with butter or margarine, and then finally smothered with additional cheese. No wonder a person’s blood sugar and blood pressure spike! Yikes
If you strip away all the fluff and take a closer look at our friendly spud you soon realize the health benefits of potatoes (with the skin on of course)
Here are just a few of the many benefits:
My recipe for seasoned baked potatoes wedges with avocado aioli was a no-brainer for me to make up especially since I wanted to create a sauce that was dairy-free had a creamy consistency and was full of flavor. I have made these for almost every occasion; Super Bowl parties, summer barbeques, Labor Day weekend gatherings, to Holiday parties these wedges are easy to make and have as an appetizer anytime.
Aioli Dipping Sauce
Guys that is it! Your appetizers are done! Enjoy
Who doesn’t love Puppy Chow? Or maybe you grew up calling it Muddy Buddies, either way, this easy, quick and almost perfect snack hits all the high notes from just enough sweet to a creamy; peanut buttery chocolatey crunch!!! Basically, the perfect, okay downright IRRESISTABLE kinda snack!
How can something this good have a healthier version?
Never fear, I would never talk about one of my ALL-TIME favorite snacks/treats and NOT give you a healthier version that even your absolute toughest critics would ever know they were actually eating something healthier. This snack is great for on the go or snacking at home, to holiday or birthday parties to after-school treats this snack is truly a WIN-WIN for everyone!
This particular version of ‘Puppy Chow’ is not only EASY to make, and Amazingly delicious, BUT it’s also Dairy Free, Gluten-Free, and Vegan...BUT still equally Delicious!! However, if you choose to go the traditional route, the recipe is very easy to swap out any ingredients and replace ingredients of your choice!!!
For my ingredients, I did choose organic and dairy-free options. By no means do you have to use these exact ingredients?
9 cups of Rice Cereal (basically 1 box)
2 cups dairy-free chocolate chips (or if you do not have a dairy issue use regular Chocolate chips)
2/3 cup Organic peanut butter
¼ cup Organic coconut oil
3-4 cups Organic powdered sugar (I like mine less messy and sweet)
1.Measure out your rice cereal, dairy-free chocolate chips, peanut butter, coconut oil, and powdered sugar. Also, this would be a great time to get out a gallon sized plastic sealed bag. The bag is very useful when it comes time to evenly distribute the powdered sugar over every square!
2. Make sure you have a large enough pan you can easily combine the melted chocolate, peanut butter, coconut oil, over the rice cereal.
3. Add the 9 cups of rice cereal in the pan and try to make sure the chocolate and peanut butter are covering all the rice cereal.
4. Taking small batches of the chocolate rice cereal I placed the mixture in the gallon sized bag and poured in small amounts of the powdered sugar. Seal the bag and shake generously until the powdered sugar is covering the cereal. Repeat until you’re finished.
*You may want to start off will a lesser amount of the mixture in the plastic bags so you can evenly coat the rice cereal with powdered sugar.
Are you looking for a quick, delicious yet satisfying meal? Or maybe you have a refrigerator full of vegetables you bought with the intention of making something else but didn’t want to or forgot and now you need to use these veggies pronto before they all go bad??? Sound familiar? Trust me this happens far too often but I have a meal that can help you use up those delicious vegetables tonight!
When life gets hectic and time is precious the last thing on your mind is meal prepping for the week. Even though you had all the good intentions of making a list, buying the produce, now comes time to actually prepare the meal. Oh yeah, and not to mention, you may have to navigate around picky eaters you have in your household.
I have made this meal so many different ways from steak, to chicken, to kielbasa; and although they all were good and unique in their own right, I sometimes want a meat free dinner. I feel the older I am getting the less I choose to want to have meat for every meal or even every day. Sometimes, the flavoring of vegetables and spices is all I need in a dish without the ‘block in my stomach’ feeling meat tends to give me after I eat.
So I challenge you all to go and throw whatever you have from your refrigerator and experiment, use it up, have fun with making dinner if not tonight then sometime in the near future. Make up your own dish and see how it turns out.
In my refrigerator, I had red and green peppers, portabella mushrooms, and broccoli. In my pantry, I always have my staples like garlic and onions, but for this dish I only used one medium yellow onion and vegetable broth.
As I was slicing my veggies, I had brown rice cooking so it all finished around the same time.
You might be wondering at this point; ‘…so what’s the benefit of a Meatless meal?’
If you have been on social media lately you may have noticed a movement called “Meatless Monday” which is one day designated during the entire week you don’t consume any meat or meat products, rather you increase your consumption of plant-based proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Why, you might ask? Cutting back on your consumption even just once a week may actually be a protective barrier that may reduce your risk of chronic preventable diseases like, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
In addition, to getting increased fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, you’re also cutting out extra unwanted calories, as well as learning how to make new dishes with a twist!
**I did not include an exact recipe because I literally just put it all together with random vegetables I had in my frig.
It’s officially after the Holidays and for many the New Year brings new resolutions. Many people scour the web for not only healthy recipes but recipes that taste delicious; recipes that don’t appear as though you’re trying to eat healthy especially if you have picky eaters in your house, recipes that actually taste amazing with little effort in prep time. This recipe has many fan favorites that are sure to be enjoyed by even the pickiest of eaters; like smoked bacon or pancetta, apples, and other herbs and spices to add flavor not fat.
When I am preparing any type of meat I always choose healthier and leaner options so the overall fat content is relatively low. For this recipe I marinated the chicken overnight. Now, most of you may see this and say ‘I don’t have time for that!’ That’s’ perfectly fine if time is of the essence then marinate 15-25 minutes. Also, make sure your chicken is cut in thicker pieces so it does not dry out baking in the oven. In preparation for the marinade I used a large bowl because I wanted to make sure the chicken was submerged in the bowl to properly marinate. I used a mixture of olive oil, Himalayan sea salt, paprika, garlic, thyme, lemon zest and lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar.
As the chicken is marinating you then have time to cut the apple slices, Brussels Sprouts, and bacon to the mixture. I also used pre-cooked bacon since I had it available in my freezer. On a side note I personally, did not add the bacon the second time I made this meal and it turned out fine.
Once everything was cut I placed and spread out the Brussels sprouts, Apples, and Bacon on the largest baking sheet I had that was lightly sprayed with cooking spray. I then strategically placed all the marinated chicken with the marinade over the sprouts, bacon on the baking sheet. Finally, I added additional fresh thyme, lemon zest, and craisins for more color and flavor!
**Optional, you could place the cookie tray of Brussels sprouts, Apples, and Bacon in the oven to bake for 10 minutes before you add the chicken, allowing the vegetables, apples and bacon crisp up for further flavor.
When my husband and I were in Chicago this past summer visiting family, my sister-in-law and I went grocery shopping to pick up necessary items for the fourth of July holiday and she picked up a container of candied pecans.
I knew I could make these sweet treats, but I wanted to make them according to stricter food preferences and I wanted to see if my version of candied pecans, tasted just as good or better than the store-bought version.
I must say I am by no means a baker, but I enjoy baking especially for special occasions or if we are having company over. These candied pecans were seriously, the easiest sweet treats or anything actually I have ever made. Now, it made my life a lot easier because I already had all the ingredients in my pantry so that was very convenient!
If you do not have the ingredients it’s not hard at all finding them in the health food section of the grocery store. And really the only ingredients that might not be with all the other baking ingredients would maybe be the coconut sugar and coconut oil. However, the other ingredients should already be located in the baking aisle. On a side note, when I was making this recipe it not only doubled as a sweet treat and but also as a festive holiday air freshener!!
I actually made a double batch and froze the majority of the pecans and took some home for Thanksgiving and kept the other batch in the freezer. These candies will last about a month and are great to make ahead of time for any parties or to use in a cookie/candy gift exchange!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
O' the weather outside is frightful.... but the kitchen is so warm and delightful and since we have NO place to go let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!
In between this wonderful time of the year, the hustle and bustle from Thanksgiving to Christmas have always been magical. I am not trying to be cliché, but this time of year has always been enchanting, to say the least. From attending Christmas parties to buying and wrapping presents, making Christmas cookies, spending quality time with family and friends, and above all celebrating the birth of our Lord, Jesus. These moments help us to detach from the daily grind and remember what is truly important in our lives. In the end, it’s these moments in time we reflect back on and remember the good times.
And isn’t that what the Holidays are really all about anyway???
With great memories being made, food is always front and center for any holiday party or get together you are invited too. Sometimes ‘all of this amazing food’ can be a bit much to handle over the holidays. And sometimes you want comfort food that is both hearty and healthy. My husband and I love to make a large pot of chili, freeze most of it and pull it out during this time of year to warm the soul.
Chili is one of those versatile meals and can be tailored for even your pickiest of eaters. You can make it any which way you want; from white bean chicken chili to a vegan chili. The possibilities are endless but sure to be absolutely delicious!!
So today, I’m sharing my chili recipe with lean ground beef.
1.5 lbs. of ground beef
3 cloves garlic
1 medium to small onion
2 large diced tomatoes (keep juice)
2 cans of tomato paste
2 cans of beans (chili beans or brown/black kidney beans)
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 tsp. Sea Salt
¼ tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1.Cook ground beef in a separate pan. This can help cook off additional fat from the chili before it’s all combined.
2. In the actual pot you will be using for the chili; add chopped onion and garlic and chopped celery to the pot and sauté.
3.Drain any excess fat from the meat before adding it to the onion, garlic, and celery mixture.
4.Add your rinsed cans of beans, tomato paste, water, and tomatoes and turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or longer allow the flavors to blend and heat up.
5.Add salt, pepper, and chili pepper and continue to allow the chili to heat up.
**Optional you can add other ingredients to your chili like corn or make macaroni to add to your bowl and scoop a cup or two of chili on top of the noodles.
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