Simple Shortcuts: Herb Butter

Simple Shortcuts: Herb Butter - Under the Monkey Bars

Even when life is busy, we still need to eat healthy to keep our bodies and minds nourished. Today I’m sharing the first post in a series of simple shortcuts to save you time when you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table.

Who loves butter? I’m not talking about the kind that comes in a spray bottle or those butter replacement spreads. Unless you have a dairy allergy or follow a vegan diet, eat real butter. And not just any butter. Butter from grass-fed cows that graze on the green pastures of small family farms. You can taste the difference — especially in Kerrygold brand, which is imported straight from Ireland.

Why pastured? Pastured dairy cows yield butterfat that’s loaded with vitamins A & D, iodine, and other essential nutrients. Butter is downright delicious, and it’s a good fat for heart, brain, hormone, and cell function. Everything in moderation though, right?

Today’s simple shortcut uses one of my favorite products: Kerrygold Garlic & Herb Butter. All of our local grocery stores (Market Basket, Shaws and Whole Foods) carry Kerrygold brand, but only Whole Foods stocks the Garlic & Herb Butter. I keep several sticks in the freezer. Yes, you can freeze butter! 

You can certainly make your own herb butter, but today we are using a high quality product to save time. I love using this butter when I bake fresh fish. Honestly, it’s barely a recipe it’s so easy. Add ingredients based on how much time you have and what you have on hand. My monkeys love garlic so I always add a few shakes of Spicely Organic garlic powder. No need to peel or chop a clove tonight, friends. Keep it simple. You could add extra herbs to compliment the blend in the butter, which includes chives, parsley, salt, dill, pepper, and paprika.

Stay tuned for more Simple Shortcuts. Cómelo todo!

Easy Baked Fish
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. Wild caught fish (flounder, cod, salmon)
  2. 1 teaspoon of quality olive oil
  3. 1/2 teaspoon of Kerrygold Garlic & Herb Butter per fillet
  4. Sprinkle of sea salt
  5. Squeeze of fresh lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray a ceramic baking dish with olive oil (I use a reusable stainless steel Misto sprayer).
  3. Cut the fish into fillets.
  4. Add a thin slice of Kerrygold Garlic & Herb Butter, a sprinkle of salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon to each fillet.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes or until the center of the fish is no longer translucent.
  6. Using a pastry brush, spread butter and herbs evenly on the fish.
  7. Serve immediately with your choice of healthy side dishes for an easy dinner.
Notes
  1. Choose sustainable, wild caught fish from a local fish market.
  2. For the 4 of us, I purchase 1.3 pounds of fish and cut it into 4 filets.
  3. Add chopped tomatoes, zucchini, and/or onions if you have extra time. Make sure to increase the cooking time by 5 minutes.
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Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

I just finished making my latest batch of homemade vanilla extract. You won’t believe how easy it is to make it yourself. You don’t need to be at all crafty for this DIY! The taste of homemade vanilla extract is lighter and smoother than the store bought version, and you’ll know exactly what’s in there.

I’ll never forget the first time we made vanilla extract 3 years ago. Sweet Pea and I were on our way to the liquor store to buy vodka when my Mom called. She asked Sweet Pea what we were doing that day. Sweet Pea yelled from the backseat, “We’re going to buy VODKA!” Of course she asked why I was bringing a toddler to the liquor store. I quickly explained through red cheeks that we were picking up supplies to make homemade vanilla. It was that awkward moment though…when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Out of the mouth of babes!

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

Anyway, vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor of vanilla beans into alcohol. Vodka is the best type of alcohol for making vanilla extract because of its neutral flavor. I’ve heard that some people use brandy or rum, but keep in mind the flavor will be different. We use vanilla extract almost daily to flavor plain yogurt, bake muffins, make pancakes, and in smoothies. I wouldn’t want these things to taste like rum. Not for monkeys!

Two items to consider when choosing your alcohol: 1) Pay more for glass bottles to minimize BPAs transferred through plastics. Here’s why. 2) Buy gluten free alcohol if you or anyone you bake for follows a gluten free diet. Store bought Nielsen Massey Pure Vanilla Extract is gluten free, but there’s added sugar on the ingredient list. When you make it homemade, your vanilla extract won’t need any sugar. This time I used two 750 ml glass bottles of Luksusowa Potato Vodka. I found some less expensive corn-based vodkas but thought it would be best to avoid corn since vodka isn’t labeled for GMOs.

There are many choices for vanilla beans. I’ve used Tahitian vanilla beans and a few varieties of Madagascar vanilla beans. I recommend buying grade B Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. These beans are cheaper than grade A beans because they contain less moisture and are not as pretty. The flavor is the same so don’t worry about what they look like. These beans are perfect for a homemade vanilla extract, and will save you some money.

It takes 2-3 months for the vanilla beans to break down in the alcohol. If you get your ingredients asap, you can pull off homemade vanilla gifts for the holidays! Give a beautiful amber bottle of homemade vanilla extract on its own, or add items to make a gift basket. Create a festive gift box with a high end pancake mix, whisk or mixing spoon, pure maple syrup from the farmer’s market, and fun napkins. Homemade vanilla extract makes such a thoughtful holiday gift.

Making homemade vanilla can save you money. I broke even on this batch. Before we went gluten free, I could buy cheaper vodka for less than $10/bottle. If you buy your amber bottles in bulk or reuse them, that will also contribute to your overall savings. To me, homemade always tastes better especially because it’s made with love, and it’s a fun activity for little monkeys.

Got monkeys? They can help! Monkeys can put the halved vanilla beans into the bottles. They can also be in charge of shaking the bottles a few times a week. That’s a fun chore! When the vanilla is ready, ask your monkeys to line up the bottles and hold the funnel while you pour the homemade vanilla extract. Sweet Pea is still my helper whenever we make homemade vanilla. 

I made you a little shopping list of supplies you may not have on hand. Click the links to save you time and minimize trial and error when making your first batch of homemade vanilla:
Stainless steel funnel with detachable strainer
Vanilla beans, package of 25
– Amber glass bottles: 4 oz pack of 12, 8 oz pack of 6, or 8 oz pack of 12 — depending on what size/how much you decide to make
– Handwrite your own dishwasher safe label stickers or order custom “homemade vanilla” labels (I still have a few sheets left from my original order!)
Sharp knife
– Eco-friendly, made in the USA cutting board (I’m replacing all of ours with these)

Like wine, vanilla extract matures with age. You are going to love making your own homemade vanilla extract. Let me know how it comes out!

Homemade Vanilla Extract
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Ingredients
  1. 2 bottles (750 ml) of 80+ proof vodka (40% alcohol)
  2. 24 Madagascar vanilla beans, grade B
Instructions
  1. Using the funnel, remove approximately 1/4 cup of vodka from each bottle to make room for vanilla beans. You can always pour out a little more after you put the vanilla beans in. If you drink vodka, have a decanter ready to save what you pour out!
  2. Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise along one entire side of the bean. Use your sharpest knife and bare down really hard.
  3. Place the beans in the vodka bottle, replace the lid, and shake.
  4. Write the date you made the vanilla on the vodka bottle with a sharpie (so you don't forget!).
  5. Store the vanilla for 2-3 months in a cool, dark room.
  6. Shake the vanilla once a week to agitate the beans and speed the extraction process.
  7. After 2-3 months, pour your homemade vanilla extract through a funnel into six 8 oz. amber bottles or twelve 4 oz. amber bottles. Add labels and store or give!
Adapted from DIY Natural
Adapted from DIY Natural
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

Tuscan White Beans

Tuscan White Beans Recipe - Under the Monkey Bars

Recipe time! Tuscan White Beans is a solid recipe I’ve been making all summer. You’re going to love it – even if you’re not a big bean person.

Tuscan White Beans is a super easy side dish that compliments fish or chicken beautifully with a green vegetable like broccoli or zucchini. Add a little extra water and a handful of leafy greens like spinach or kale to make it a main dish.

You can keep these simple ingredients on hand and make Tuscan White Beans anytime. The dish comes together really fast. Cook it whenever you have time because it doesn’t need to be served hot. I throw it together while I’m baking muffins or cooking dinner. Tuscan White Beans will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days but these beans never last in our house more than a day or two!

The recipe calls for cannellini beans, which are white Italian kidney beans that you can buy in both dry and canned forms. It’s healthiest to soak dry beans and cook them yourself, but there’s not always time. Sometimes you need homemade shortcuts and Tuscan White Beans is just the dish. This recipe gives you the benefits of cannellini beans without the extra steps.

Packed with protein and fiber, Tuscan White Beans are low in fat and contain negligible sugar (just a smidgen from the tomato). The dish is vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, nut free, soy free, and naturally gluten free.

Fresh rosemary adds so much flavor to this dish. I used a ton of rosemary sprigs from our container garden this summer. I’m planning to move the rosemary plant inside this winter. Fingers crossed my black thumb can swing it.

Did you know rosemary has anti-cancer properties? And it’s a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B6. Rosemary also boosts your immune system — for real. It’s that time of year, and frankly, I’ll do anything to boost our immune systems. Bring on the rosemary!

Cooking an easy, family friendly dish like Tuscan White Beans will help you minimize eating processed foods while saving money. Beans are cheap! I buy Eden Organic beans at Market Basket: 2 cans for $5. Make sure the brand you buy comes in a BPA-free can without added salt.

Try making Tuscan White Beans this Fall for your family. My monkeys absolutely love the mild flavor and texture of Tuscan White Beans. It’s perfect to pack in lunch boxes! I brought this dish to my friend’s Champagne and Kleenex party last week and it got rave reviews — even among the toddler set.

Cómelo todo!

Tuscan White Beans
Serves 4
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Total Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 garlic cloves, smashed and lightly chopped
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1 plum tomato, chopped
  4. 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  5. 2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  6. 1/2 cup filtered water
  7. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  8. Sea salt
Instructions
  1. In a medium sized pot, cook garlic cloves in olive oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute.
  2. Add chopped tomato and rosemary. Cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add cannellini beans and cook for 5 minutes, partially smashing beans with a wooden spoon.
  4. Remove the rosemary.
  5. Stir in the water and parsley. Season with salt.
  6. Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil when serving.
Adapted from Food Network Kitchen
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

Perfect Popcorn

Perfect Popcorn - Under the Monkey Bars

While I don’t think corn is that good for you, I do believe that a bowl of popcorn — when made properly — is a healthy, nutritious snack. Everything in moderation, right? Today I’m sharing my recipe for Perfect Popcorn.

We all know that microwave popcorn is a big no-no. Here’s why if you need a refresher. There are some new brands that are cleaner than others, but it’s still always better to make your own. When you need a grab-and-go snack, popcorn is perfect to keep in the pantry. Buddha Bowl is our pick for the best organic, allergen free popcorn in a bag (I often find it at Marshalls for less than $3!). Check your popcorn to make sure it’s non-GMO, organic popcorn with 3 ingredients or less.

I’m sure you all know about GMOs or genetically modified organisms. The long term effects on our bodies is unknown and untested, yet allowed into our food supply by the FDA. Corn is the biggest offender since the late 1990’s when Monsanto patented a corn seed that was injected with genes drawn from bacteria to create a pesticide called Bt toxin within the corn. As a family, we choose to avoid genetically modified foods. If you haven’t already, do some research to help you decide if you should avoid GMOs.

When you make homemade popcorn, you know exactly what’s in it. I found this recipe four years ago when we were going gluten free and cutting out processed foods. It’s really fun to count to 30 with the kids when you take the kernels off the heat! I’m still surprised that almost all of the kernels pop and it never burns. I only had 6 unpopped kernels in my last batch! This really is the perfect popcorn recipe, especially with these kernels.

Popcorn is high in antioxidants and fiber, making it an easy, fun snack that’s healthy too. Adding healthy fats to your popcorn helps your body digest it better. Coconut oil is a perfect match because it’s a high smoke point oil (unlike olive oil) and it has amazing nutritional properties. The flavor is so rich that there’s no need for melted butter on top of your popcorn. Just add some salt! The girls like to shake it up with a little cinnamon, which adds extra antioxidants and lowers blood sugar levels. 

Perfect Popcorn - Under the Monkey Bars

It wouldn’t be a Friday night movie night without homemade popcorn. Last night we watched The Princess Diaries with a big bowl of what? Popcorn! We added some chocolate chips and apple pie spice. Cómelo todo!

Perfect Popcorn
Serves 4
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Total Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 tablespoons Coconut oil
  2. 1/3 cup of organic, non-GMO Popcorn kernels
  3. Sea salt to taste
  4. Cinnamon, optional
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a 3 quart covered saucepan on medium high heat. Add 3 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan.
  2. When the kernels pop, remove them and add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count to 30 seconds. This method heats the oil to the right temperature first. Waiting 30 seconds brings all of the kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are back on the heat, they pop at about the same time.
  3. Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove your pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.
  4. Shake the popcorn around with some salt. Maybe a little cinnamon too!
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

Blender vs Juicer

Blender vs Juicer - Under the Monkey Bars

People ask me all the time which I prefer: blender vs juicer. They say, “Which should I buy? Which one is healthier?” Both appliances will boost your fruit and vegetable intake and add more nutrition to your diet. It’s tough to eat six to eight servings a day without a smoothie or fresh juice. Let’s break it down to help you decide which appliance is best for you and your family.

Blending produce into a smoothie preserves the beneficial fiber of the fruits and veggies. You might hear nutritionists say that fresh smoothies are healthier for this reason. I find it easier to pack a smoothie to go because most recipes keep for several hours and sometimes even overnight. These mason jar tops are perfect for traveling with smoothies! 

Smoothies are a great way to hide veggies! Sometimes smoothies can be more fruit based, obviously depending on the recipe. Be mindful to add at least one veggie to every smoothie. Cucumbers taste so fresh in a smoothie and avocados will  make your smoothy really creamy. No excuses! You can add healthy fats, seeds and protein to your smoothies, like coconut oil, almond butter, chia seeds, ground flaxseed and natural protein powder.

Beware that smoothies can increase the sugar in your diet if you use sweetened yogurt, store bought juice, frozen yogurt, or ice cream. That’s called a milkshake, people!

Juicing can help you transition off store bought juices. This totally worked for us so it can be done! I haven’t bought juice at the store in 4 years. To maximize the nutrients of your fresh juice — especially green juices — drink them within 15 minutes of juicing. And fresh juice is best on an empty stomach, like first thing in the morning or 2 hours after a meal.

Juicing is better at getting larger quantities of veggies into your belly. I’ve never sat down and eaten a raw beet, 8 raw carrots, an apple, 2 celery sticks, 4 leaves of raw kale, and a slice of fresh ginger — but I can drink it in my juice! My monkeys love fresh apple and ginger juice when they’re sick. Much better than a bottle of chemicals (not pointing any fingers but you know what I’m talking about!).

You may have heard that some of the fiber is removed from the fruit or vegetable in the juicing process. This is true. However, you can use the fiber-packed pulp for other things. I don’t like to waste anything so I frequently use my juice pulp to bake, add to soups, rice, or meatballs. When you pay extra for organic produce, don’t waste it!

Which appliance will you will use more often? Don’t let a big blender or juicer take up precious space on your counter if you’re not going to use it. I juice about twice a week and make smoothies at least 4 to 5 times a week. I also use our blender to make sauces, soups, pesto, and pancake mix.

Which appliance will you be willing to clean? My blender is super easy to clean. Fill it half way with cold water, add a drop of soap, and let it run for a minute. It literally cleans itself! On the other hand, juicers are a little more complicated to clean. I rinse the juicer parts off immediately and then wash them by hand when I have a chance, usually a few hours later. It’s not hard to do, just takes extra time. I’m willing to clean it because fresh juice makes me feel so good.

What kind of blender should you buy? I can’t recommend one over another because I have not tested them all. But I can say that I totally love my Vitamix! I have this model. Make sure you buy one that fits under your counter (some don’t!). You can use a high-speed blender to make juice, but it will be very thick and pulpy even with extra ice and water.

What kind of juicer should you buy? I have a Breville Juicer. It’s one of the fastest on the market because of it’s wide feed tube. I can literally drop a whole apple in there — no chopping required! This high-speed juicer leaves less pulp in your juice (perfect for little monkeys!). You do loose a smidgen of the fiber and nutrients with a high-speed or centrifugal juicer, but I don’t have the patience for the slow or masticating juicers. A few of my friends have this juicer and love it. I’m willing to loose a bit of nutrition for speed. It’s literally only a small percentage.

The Verdict? Both appliances serve a purpose in our home. They allow me to mix it up on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. We can make a breakfast smoothie one day, a green juice the next, and a chocolatey treat smoothie another day. Ask yourself: Which would you use more? Do you have room for both? Blending and juicing your fruits and veggies will make sure you get your six to eight servings per day and leave you feeling healthier than ever! You’ll have extra energy and less cravings. Either way, you can’t go wrong.