I will never buy pre-made store bought salsa again, not even in the dead of winter!

Salsa is so versatile and so good for you too! And although nothing beats the fresh homemade stuff with garden tomatoes, it isn’t very practical during winter in Wisconsin; tomatoes from the grocery store, even organic ones often have little taste and are expensive.  

Store-bought jarred salsa usually contains preservatives, lacks flavor, and is quite expensive- especially the good quality stuff. I don’t care much for the consistency either. Enter: the simple canned tomato; clean and inexpensive, and when you pair it with a few fresh ingredients, you won’t be disappointed!
2 jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, grated with a microplane
½ tsp salt
1 Tbs fresh lime juice
1- 15oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes*
2 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro

1. In a food processor or blender combine jalapeno, onion, garlic, salt and lime juice: pulse several times until ground finely but not quite pureed. 

2. Add in the tomatoes with their liquid and the cilantro and pulse until the desired consistency is reached. I usually run it for about 10-15 seconds; I like it smooth.

*My favorite brand of canned tomatoes is Muir Glen Organic. Get the “fire-roasted” style: it really adds a lot to this recipe. 

This is a pretty flavorful salsa, add less jalapeno and garlic if you like less flavor. But I will say that I think the amounts indicated are needed to fully get rid of the "canned tomato" taste. 

Boneless skinless chicken breast = vehicle for flavor. 

This recipe was quick and really really good. It even got rave reviews from a picky eater who “doesn’t like honey mustard.” 
Feel free to adjust the amounts of maple syrup and mustard if you like it a little more maple-y or mustard-y.  I think the Dijon is a keystone to the sauce, but you could sub the yellow mustard for a different variety, like whole grain mustard. Also, I always either pound out or slice in half lengthwise my boneless skinless chicken breasts, especially if they are larger; this ensures that they cook evenly and don’t dry out. If you are looking for a good meat-pounder, this is the one I have, which I love. 

This chicken goes great with a big, Italian-style salad.

4 small boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbs yellow mustard
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
¼ cup pure maple syrup
pinch of salt
fresh ground black pepper

1. Sauté the chicken breasts in Grape Seed Oil (this is a healthy oil that can handle high heat without burning and creating free-radicals in your body, and it has a neutral and light flavor), or other heat-safe cooking oil. 

2. Let the chicken cool for several minutes and then slice into strips. Put the chicken on a plate and then drizzle it with the maple-mustard sauce and top with fresh ground black pepper. 

Thousand Hills Cattle Company Uncured Beef Sticks
I picked these up today at Fresh & Natural Foods in Hudson, WI. I needed a quick snack- and these were sooo good that I had to write about them right away! 

I got the “Minnesota Spice” variety (there was also “Original” available). These were $3-something, not on sale, which I thought was a great price.  They are made from 100% grass-fed beef, and are uncured so they don’t contain added nitrates or nitrites. One beef stick (0.8 oz.) contains 60 calories, 4 g protein, and no carbs. 

Also important: they taste awesome! If you like a good beef stick/beef jerky, you will like these a lot. And the “Minnesota Spice” wasn’t hot-spicy at all, just a pleasant mellow spice blend; the only thing I could actually discern was just a hint of garlic. The texture was soft and easy to chew and they were not over-salty.  They are gluten-free and the ingredient list is short and pleasing. I ate two sticks and that satisfied me just fine. Highly recommended. 
This is what I call a use-up-what-you have kinda dish. What that means is that although I did specify specific ingredients and amounts that I used, they are extremely flexible. You will need about a cup of “white”- so, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, plain yogurt, or anything similar that you have on hand... A few side notes: I think it is best to use at least two different whites, and definitely don’t use ALL yogurt. And for the shredded cheese, use whatever you have. 

This recipe makes a lot! But it reheats really well, so you can enjoy the leftovers for several days. I like to serve this with venison tenderloin steaks, but it will go good with just about anything!
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup cream cheese
1 egg
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 head fresh broccoli
1 head fresh cauliflower
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 small onion, diced
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds (optional)

1. In a bowl combine ricotta, cream cheese, egg, garlic, salt, and onion powder. Mix vigorously (I like a hand mixer but you can use a whisk if that’s all you have) until everything is smooth. 

2. Cut broccoli and cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and toss into cheese mixture; gently stir/fold until all are evenly coated. Add the diced onion, red bell pepper, shredded cheddar and stir/fold everything together again.

3. Dump the mixture into a 9X13 pan and cover the top with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the veggies are tender. I like to stir it right in the pan after it comes out of the oven in order to release some of the steam and water- which I think makes it the perfect consistency in the end. Top each serving with sliced almonds, if desired. 
Guacamole is an often-overlooked powerhouse food. It is so good for you, loaded with avocado, lime, and fresh garlic. And whats not to like? The problem many people run in to is that they usually eat it on tortilla chips and aren't sure what else to do with it. 

It is so very simple to make, but we'll start with the basics for anyone who has never ventured into the world of avocados... 
Selection: if they are to be used within a day or two, go for the ones that are dark browny-black-green colored and not bright green. Pick one up and give it a gentle squeeze, it should give a little to the pressure of your fingers; this is the one you want. I have been know to squeeze every one in the bin looking for the ones with the best texture! FYI, occasionally there are not any ripe ones available. Of course you can buy green ones and let them ripen on your counter at home, which will take several days. 

Guacamole Ideas to Try:
-a great topping for your grilled chicken breast
-cucumber, celery, and bell pepper slices dipped in it
-fajita bowl: sauteed steak, peppers and onions topped with a big dollop
-a great sweet potato topping
-great for a salad: lettuce + black beans + tomato + grilled corn + shredded carrot + guacamole + vinaigrette dressing
-hardboiled egg cut in half and topped with a spoonful of guacamole (beats mayo any day!)
-fancy appetizer: radicchio or endive lettuce cups filled with guacamole and topped with cheddar cheese
1 Roma tomato, seeded and finely chopped
 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
 ½ cup finely chopped red onion
 1 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped or grated 
½ tsp sea salt
 2 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro
 3 Haas avocados, very ripe*

1. In a bowl combine the tomato, jalapeno, red onion, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and salt.

2. Cut the avocadoes in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon. If it is very ripe/soft you can put it in the bowl with the other ingredients and just vigorously mix everything up. If it is slightly under ripe/hard I will pile it up on my cutting board and use a potato masher to mash it into bits.  

3. Add the avocado to the other ingredients and mix to combine. Enjoy! 

Guacamole doesn’t store too well, so I recommend making only as much as you will use in a day or two. Store it in the fridge and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole in the bowl that it is in. 

*If you have good ripe ones it should form a uniform mash, if they are a little under-ripe they will form mashed up little pieces, which are fine. I do think that very ripe avocados make the best guacamole. 
Water is so very important, we all know this. But how can you get yourself to drink more? Make it fancy! This isn’t quite a “flavored” water…maybe more of a “scented” water, but either way, it  looks fancy and it always helps me to drink more water.

The secrets are these:
1. Use a glass water pitcher and lots of ice- this is what makes it fancy and appealing to drink all day. 
2. Use fresh anything!
It's simple: Keep a bag of frozen cranberries in the freezer and grab a small handful out to add to your water pitcher. Paired with a few slices of fresh orange, this one is wonderful. You can even cut the cranberries in half for more cranberry flavor. 

By the way, you can make any flavor you wish, just used what you have around! Here are some more ideas:
cucumber slices
mint-lime (my summertime favorite)
fresh pineapple (you could use the inedible core for this!)
a few slices of fresh strawberries
pear and fresh ginger
the possibilities are endless!

Just keep your pitcher in the refrigerator. The ice will stay solid almost a whole day in there. Keep refilling the pitcher with water as you drink it throughout the day. Or keep it out where you can see it and add more ice as needed. 

People have been doing this all over for a long time…but I got the idea from Chef Laurel Robertson of the Eau Claire area- she is a personal chef and also holds cooking classes (which are great fun, by the way). 
Thanks Chef! Check her out at: http://www.dinners-on.com/
I know they're not much to look at, but trust me, they are gooood!

The inspiration for this recipe came from a blog called: Chocolate-Covered Katie and her “Fudge Babies” recipe. She has created many different flavors, so check out her ideas too! I have made several different varieties, and this one is my favorite- I love just about anything with almond extract...
If you leave out the chocolate and replace the figs with more dates, you can use this “base” for any flavoring you want. You could make a citrus variety using lemon, orange, or lime zest. Adding in shredded unsweetened coconut is a really nice addition. Replace the figs with dried cherries to make a chocolate covered cherry variety. Oh, the possibilities...

You can double this recipe and spread it into the bottom of a 13X9 cake pan, allow them to harden up a bit in the fridge and cut into squares to make an "energy bar." 

And of course, make sure your dates and figs don't have any added sugar in them- check the labels!

1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw walnuts
6 medium-sized dates ("pitted baking dates")
8-10 dried black mission figs
1 Tbs solid coconut oil
10 drops liquid stevia*
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 Tbs cocoa powder

1. In a food processor, grind the nuts until they are a course texture- pieces the size of coffee grounds to rice is what I shoot for. Roughly chop the dates and figs to make it a little easier on the food processor. Add them to the food processor and whirl them around until they are ground along with the nuts.
2. To the mixture add the coconut oil, stevia, extracts, and salt. Process until well combined. Taste the mixture at this point to see if you need any more sweetener or salt. The mixture should be moist and able form a ball, like the picture below. If your mixture is not moist enough, a little honey, agave, more coconut oil, or a wee-bit of water might do the trick. 

3. Add the cocoa powder and give everything one last whirl in the food processor. That’s it! Form them into balls, and store them in an airtight container. They do best stored in the fridge. 
*I used liquid stevia, but use whatever healthy sweetener you have on hand. If you are using powdered stevia, it will be about two packets-worth. Just keep tasting and adding more until you get it right. 
Long name, I know...but I just had to give credit to all the ingredients! Everything about this salad is wonderful- tastes fantastic (this might just be my new favorite lunch), is exceptionally quick to whip up, and contains only powerhouse ingredients.
To really jazz it up, eat it on top of a bed of lettuce and add some tomato wedges! 
This makes two good-sized and filling lunch servings. Omit the tuna and you have a nice side dish for dinner!

1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed 1*
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds
¼ cup finely diced red onion
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese 2*
1 can tuna fish, drained and flaked
1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano or dill….or both!

Simple: combine everything in a bowl and mix gently until combined.  Enjoy!

1* My favorite brand of beans, by far, is Eden Foods. You may also substitute garbanzo beans in this recipe, but if you haven’t had great northerns, I urge you to try them.

2* If you don’t like feta cheese, you could substitute some finely diced cheddar- that would be good too!

Peeled Snacks Dried Fruit

From the company website: "Our goal at Peeled Snacks is simple: to make you feel good about snacking. By using the highest quality organic and natural ingredients, we bring you the freshest pieces of dried fruit with NO added sugar. Our snacks provide a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and a full serving of fruit. So make snacking a satisfying part of life with a yummy treat that you know is good for you."

This is not yet available at many “regular” grocery stores, especially in my area. If you eat dried fruit regularly you certainly should consider buying a case online. And if you “like” Peeled Snacks facebook page, they periodically offer discount codes. They also have a lot of giveaways, so you may even be able to snag some for free!
As a dried fruit connoisseur, I can tell you that this one is a real winner.  I have tried all of their fruit except for the dates and figs. Dried fruit is especially great for camping, hiking, biking, and car trips and is a great treat for kids. They have individual fruits as well as some fruit mixes available. 

     “Fruit Picks”
     go-Mango-man-go (great, most pieces pleasantly chewy with that great mango tang)
     pine-4-Pineapple (naturally sweet, true pineapple flavor)
     Banan-a-peel (awesome real banana taste, great and unexpected chewy texture) 
     Cherry-go-round (big, plump, juicy cherries with just the right amount of natural sweetness)
     Apple-2-the-core (soft and pliable, typical of a soft dried apple)
     Apricot-a-lot (good, not as soft as “typical” sugared dried apricots)
     raisin expectations (good, sweet, raisiny)

What’s not to like? Organic, gluten-free (but packaged in a facility that also packages wheat items), and the only ingredient is the fruit that is in it- no added sugars , fruit juices, or chemicals of any kind.  Remember that dried fruit, although healthy is still somewhat high in sugar, so be mindful.  
If you haven't tried quinoa yet, you should! This recipe is great as a main dish for lunch, or as a side dish with grilled chicken breast or any type of fish. You could also punch it up with some fresh grated garlic...I like to use a micro-plane grater for that- it grates garlic very finely, and then you could add it right to the dressing mixture and stir it in... 1/2 clove ought to do it for this recipe. I used red quinoa here, but you can use any kind. 
Mmm... This one is so refreshing! 

2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tsp sea salt
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large tomato, chopped
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup chopped fresh spinach

1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs fresh squeezed lime juice
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1. Some people like to rinse their quinoa before cooking- sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. This is best done with a mesh strainer or else one with very small holes. Bring 1 1/3 cups of water to a boil. Add in quinoa and one teaspoon salt. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Make sure there is no water left in the bottom of the pot when it is done...if there is, pour the quinoa through a strainer. Set aside and let the quinoa cool for at least 15 minutes. 

2. In a large bowl combine lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. 

3. To the bowl with the dressing, add the beans, chopped veggies, and cilantro. When the quinoa has cooled slightly (I like it to cool about 15 minutes) add it to the bowl also. Use a spatula to fold all the ingredients together until well combined. 
Serve warm, cold, or room temperature. Enjoy!