Foodie Pen Pal Fun: Inbound from Florida

Holy heat wave, batman! How did we get to the end of June? The good news about being at the end of June is that I get to share with you the delightful treats that my pen pal from Florida, Adriana from Foodie Be Fit, sent me. These refreshing treats help me forget the triple digit action outside, so I recommend you go right out to get some of them for yourself, too. This month, it’s hard to pick my absolute favorite treat from the box because they’ve all been so great. Adriana asked me great questions and really did a fantastic job of broadening my horizons. Here is the full bounty, minus one poor sacrifice to the mailing gods.

foodie pen pal box

Not included in the photo was a mango that Adriana sent me from her backyard. How stinkin’ cool is that?! I love that she sent me homegrown produce. It would have gone great in my latest summer salad obsession. If you love mango and avocado, you should definitely check it out. I was out of town when the package arrived, so it pretty much baked in my apartment package pick-up area for several days at 100+ degrees. Poor mango, it just didn’t stand a chance. Fellow Foodie Pen Pal Stacy composed an obituary haiku for my homegrown Florida mango:

Sweet, juicy mango
Austin was unkind to you
The thought is what counts.

In every package, I appreciate snacks that I can take to work, and this package certainly delivered.
Snack Bars
I’ve been noshing on the bars and crackers all week, much to my taste buds’ delight. Lara Bars certainly make the Pen Pal rounds, but I’ve not seen an Über Lara Bar before. Last month, I had a comment conversation with another blogger about how she doesn’t like Lara Bars because she likes to see the ingredients in what she eats, and that can be tricky in a typical Lara Bar. Well, my foodie friends, if that is your stance, then the Über Lara Bar is for you. The fruits and nuts in the bar are larger and more identifiable. There are more ingredients in these, it seems, but I’m okay with that. It was crunchy, sweet, and fruity. I’ve never had a Clif MoJo bar either. I’ve seen them in the store, but never committed. Well, I’m committed now. This was nutty, chocolaty; also, you can see all the ingredients in this as well. It has a fair bit of protein and fiber, which is nice. Plus it is 70% organic which goes a long way for a lot of you.

Lara Bar front

Lara Bar front

Lara Bar Back

Lara Bar back

Clif MoJo Bar

Clif MoJo Bar

These crackers have been a staple in my lunch this week.
Pumpkin Seed and Cheddar Crackers
I’ve only had Dr. Kracker once before, and I wasn’t a huge fan because they were so thick that it sort of gave me a headache eating them. These, however, are not obscenely thick and crunchy. They have a nutty and slightly salty flavor between the roasted pumpkin seeds and the cheddar that is baked on. One cracker sheet is a serving and is pretty healthy. I *might* be eating two sheets now and again…don’t judge. 🙂 They are THAT good. There are a bunch of flavors which gives me lots of exciting choices to try.
Dr. Kracker box
Dr. Kracker varieties

The salad dressing has been good on my salads this week and in my snacks for dipping cucumber. I’ve not had a super ton of Green Goddess dressing before, so it’s pretty new to me. It’s quite herbaceous and lemony. I think it will be excellent with some seafood and pasta, perhaps even together. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to use this. If you have tips or suggestions for me, let me know!
Salad with Green Goddess dressing

Y’all, she sent me the cutest gummy pandas! Her pen pal last month sent them to her, and she has continued the chain of goodness.
Gummy Pandas
These are delightful. I like gummy candy now and again, but really my favorite part of these is the grapefruit part. I was slow to come to love grapefruit, but indeed I have come to love this controversial fruit. These sweet pandas are tangy, but not sour, and somehow I am compelled to eat at least two small handfuls every time I open the bag. I will be sad when they are gone, so hopefully I can find more in my neighborhood. These are also certified organic so you can get excited about that!
Grapefruit Gummies

Lastly, the honey-roasted peanut butter was freshly ground at her farmer’s market which I think is so great.
Farmer's Market Peanut Butter
I also received some flavored, homemade peanut butter in my first pen pal box which was tasty too. This peanut butter has a different texture than my nut butter from Sarah. Sarah’s peanut butter was smooth, and had more flavors added into the butter. This nut butter is crunchy, but not chunky-crunchy like store peanut butter. The nut pieces are plentiful throughout which makes it almost like a paste. It is a thicker-spreading peanut butter with far more peanuts to butter, so to speak. I put it on my breakfast toast and immediately fell in love. I scraped clean the container I brought it to work in and then immediately had a large spoonful when I got home. After all this exposure to non-store bought peanut butter, I will be exploring more fresh, homemade nut butters, for sure.
Chunky Peanut Butter

This month, I sent my box o’ goodies to Alexandra over at Healthy Life, Happy Wife. Go check out what great Texas delights I sent her. The tweet I got when she received the package indicated I did a pretty solid job of selecting goodies. That makes my heart happy. 🙂

Foodie friends, if you are not signed up to be a pen pal yet, then let’s get you on board. Visit Lindsay’s blog (The Lean Green Bean), to get the expanded details from the master organizer. The abridged version is that you sign up before day’s end on July 4th so you can get your pairings from Lindsay on July 5th. Then you have 3 days to contact them, find out their food allergies, preferences, etc., and then with a $15 spending limit, you are off to the grocery store. Ship the tasty treats by the 15th, and wait on your own box of goodies to arrive. If you are a blogger, you post on the last day of the month. If you are a reader, you just sit back, eat, and enjoy. It’s pretty much the best food choice you could make, so just pop on over and sign up already. Seriously. All the cool foodies are doing it.

Happy eating!

The Lean Green Bean

Sweet and Spicy Couscous

I’m a little addicted to the combination of avocado and mango. Of all the things in the world to be addicted to, I suppose it’s really not all that bad, and certainly it benefits you, my foodie reader-eater. I’d never eaten the combination before until a visit to a family-owned restaurant in San Antonio called Pam’s. Before then, I wasn’t even sure I liked mangoes, to be honest. But after this visit, I was all in, hook, line, and sinker. Avocado and mango just seem to complement each other very well, and together they can take a fair bit of spicy heat which I also appreciate. With my addiction in mind, in the summer months, I’m always looking for ways to combine the two flavors. After reading some other blog posts on easy summer salads, I thought I could most certainly make a variation on a couscous salad with mango and avocado. The best news is that it can be done in just the time it takes for the couscous to cook! A five-minute dish? Why yes, please, and thank you!

Sweet and Spicy Couscous
Sweet and Spicy Couscous

Ingredients
1 small avocado
2 Ataulfo mangoes or 1 med-large mango of the larger varieties (I tend to use the larger varieties)
1 medium jalapeño
1 serving of couscous (1/3 cup dried couscous)

Steps
1. Prepare your couscous according to box directions.
2. Dice and seed your jalapeño. Some jalapeños are naturally just hotter than others, but you can control most of the heat by seeding the pepper and cutting out the ribs, or membranes, along the sides. I usually go with a small dice. Put into a bowl that can ultimately handle all your ingredients.
3. Dice your mango. I recommend slicing your mango sides off, which will be just shy of where the pit is. Take each half and cut through the flesh lengthwise, but not through the skin, then rotate it 45 degrees to slice across the width without going through the skin, which will create cubes. Pop the center up and you can slice the cubes off. Add to your bowl.
mango half          mango sliced in cubes          mango popped, side view          mango popped, top view
4. Dice your avocado. I use a similar method of slicing through the flesh lengthwise, then widthwise, to have cubes inside the skin of the avocado. To get the cubes out, I gently squeeze the avocado half around in my hand to loosen everything up, then take a spoon and run it around the edges to scoop them out.   However, wait until after you add the couscous to add the avocado.
avocado cubes
5. When your couscous is finished, fluff it and let it cool for a minute. Add it to the mango and pepper. Stir.

cooked couscous

This needs fluffing.

6. Add your avocado, and stir ever so gently so it doesn’t smash up. You want to keep the cubes intact.
mixed up couscous
7. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want or some chopped cilantro like I did!

I’m not entirely certain the kind of mango I use because my grocery store seems to only label Ataulfo mangoes. A Google search turned up several results on mangoes with pictures. However the pictures of the other variations of mangoes look VERY similar to me so I am not sure. The mangoes I use are large, green, red, sometimes yellow, usually kind of firm, and not so fibrous. Either way, I’m certain it will be tasty.

Please remember to be quite careful after handling the pepper. Wash your hands immediately so you don’t transfer the capsaicin oil to your face or other body parts. Ouch! I’ve heard that Cutty Sark (Blended Scotch Whiskey, of all things!) works well to take the sting out if you forget and touch your mouth or nose. This is according to my friend Erin D. I believe she speaks from experience. Sometimes, I will make a paste with baking soda, a touch of dish soap, and water to wash my hands. That helps remove the oil, I think. Using an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, might also help to get the oil off. Alton Brown recommends using plastic gloves, and I have followed that practice on and off through the years.

I haven’t had a chance to try these ideas yet, but here are several variations I’m considering. A finely diced red bell pepper would be a fine addition to this salad as would a minced red onion. I wouldn’t put in a ton of either ingredient because they can be powerfully strong ingredients. Green onion, both the green and the white parts, would work well. Garlic would be a fine addition as might a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Go easy on the vinegar, though. A little goes a long way. You could also substitute quinoa or rice for the couscous; it will just take longer to cook for both of those. Who doesn’t love a recipe that has so many experimental possibilities?! I think it’s so fantastic, myself. It’s also nice in the summer that it’s quick and doesn’t heat up your kitchen that much.

Tell me what your favorite summer salad combinations are! I’d love to try something new. I hope you enjoy sweet and spicy couscous as much as I do. It’s been on repeat in my kitchen several times this summer already. I’m sure it will be on the regular rotation until the ingredients no longer make sense for the season. Happy eating!!

Approximate Nutritional information: Makes 2 generous servings or 3 reasonable servings. Information is for 3 servings.
Calories: 234.5couscous ingredients
Fat: 10.7 g
Carbs: 34.3 g
Protein: 5 g
Potassium: 473.4 mg
Vitamin C: 64.7%

Mango, Avocado, & Quinoa Salad

There is a small culinary crisis in my kitchen…I am out of quinoa. This has been such a go-to side dish for me in the last two weeks. It’s fast. It’s slower than couscous which I actually like. It’s healthy. It’s fun to eat. And I’m out. Rawr. However, it did go out with a bang. I pretty much made this recipe up – and if my memory is correct, it was the first dish I made with quinoa. It’s a tough call, but I might even prefer it to the broccoli-cheese variation of earlier. I’ve learned in the last few years what a delicious combination mango and avocado are so I’m always looking for new additions to that lovely little combo. This one has some sweetness, earthiness, texture, and while I didn’t add any – I believe heat would come alongside quite nicely. Technically it’s probably a side dish and as such could serve 2 – 4. However…as a single gal, I don’t have to share my delicious food unless I want to and I scarfed it all up on my own. Both times. I won’t rat you out if you choose to do the same.

Mango, Avocado, & Quinoa Salad

Ingredients

1/4 cup quinoa
1 med-lg clove of garlic or 2 small ones
1 small avocado (the ones that are 2/$1)
1 small mango (I used green – but I don’t really know the difference in types of mango)
2 medium radishes (could sub red onion or red bell pepper)
Handful of cilantro – to taste (for some of you, this may be none 🙂 )
1 capful of lime juice

Steps

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. This gives you 15-20 minutes to assemble the rest of the salad. Mince/garlic press the clove(s) of garlic into the boiling water so it infuses into the quinoa.
2. Cube the avocado and dump into bowl. My suggestion for cubing: Slice the avocado flesh into cubes, but do not cut through the skin. Scoop the cubes out with a spoon in a circular motion. Out they’ll come.
3. Cube the mango and cut into the bowl. My suggestion for cubing: Cut a portion of the mango away from that crazy large pit. Carefully score the flesh into cubes, but again – don’t cut through the skin. Pop it out (see picture) and carefully cut the cubes away from the skin.
4. Cut each radish in half and slice thinly. Toss into the bowl
5. Pick as many cilantro leaves as you wish, scrunch up into a tight bunch and slice thinly. Toss into the bowl.
6. Add 1 capful of lime juice and gently stir around.
7. When the quinoa has boiled, cooked, and cooled a bit, add it to the bowl and gently fold in.
8. Eat and be happy.

Don’t let the mango intimidate you. They can be slimy, slippery suckers. The score, pop, cut method seems to keep the slippage to a minimum. I have also peeled it with a potato peeler and just cut the flesh away from the pit, dicing into irregular pieces as I went. While there are many things I think one could add to this salad that would be delicious – be careful of adding so many flavors that they become indistinguishable. Texture is a big thing for me in eating so I would most strongly recommend something with some crunch and a bit of tang. I hope you find this to be as delicious as I did. Happy eating!