Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vegan Walnut Chili

How is your week going so far? We have been experiencing some very fall like weather. I would actually call it more of a squall. We've been hit with about 48 hours straight of cold, windy, very wet weather. I've been fighting a bit of a cold, so the climate just makes me want to cozy up under the blankets and sleep. It is nice to have this chili on hand to quickly heat up and serve over some comforting baked potatoes.


As I was looking over past recipes, I came across a few from my "Pinspiring" Menu Post back in March of 2013. In this menu post I had tested out several recipes I had "pinned" but had yet to try. In one of my favorites, the Vegan Taco Salad, I used a lentil and walnut mixture in place of ground beef. I thought, "Why not try the walnuts in the chili?" So, I did. The Bear didn't even know the meat was missing. Besides the fact he had no idea about all of the heart healthy antioxidants and healthy fats he was eating. Winner, winner, meat-free dinner!

The trick to substituting the walnuts for the ground beef is to soak the nuts in water for at least 8 hours or overnight. The nuts absorb some of the water and soften. When lightly processed and simmered in the soup, the texture magically transforms into that of ground meat. These vegans really have some great tricks up their sleeves!

Vegan Walnut Chili

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups English walnuts, soaked in water for 8 hours or overnight
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can chili beans in chili gravy, undrained
1 15 oz can chili ready diced tomatoes
4 12 oz cans low sodium V8 vegetable juice
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. While the vegetables are softening, drain the walnuts. Pulse in a food processor until the nuts become the consistency of ground meat. Add the nuts to the vegetables. Stir. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Lower the heat to a simmer. Let the chili simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45-60 minutes to let the flavors marry together. Remove from heat. Serve with all of your favorite chili toppings or over baked potatoes with all of your favorite baked potato toppings. This would be a great recipe to accommodate for your vegetarian friends or as a healthy alternative for your family!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pan Roasted Chicken with Garlicky Tahini Salad

Now that I caught you all up on getting ready for our transition and our big move back to Iowa, I thought I'd share some of the things I am loving about living in the great City of Marshalltown. For those of you who are unfamiliar with small town Iowa locations, Marshalltown is located just a little east of the center of Iowa.

Marshalltown is home to around 30,000 residents. The city will surprise you in the way of commerce.There are your staples- Hy-Vee, Aldi, Fareway, Super Walmart, and several dollar stores; but, satisfies your need for global fair with some stellar Hispanic and Asian markets. While Marshalltown will always show up as being spelled wrong according to spell check guidelines (this annoys the heck out of me), there is a great restaurant scene. I will expand more on restaurants in future posts as I want to give all of the kind people who have shown us great hospitality plenty of justice:).

The other cool thing about living in Marshalltown is the Iowa River. The river does cause my husband some headaches in the way of flooding. At the same time, the Iowa River brings many great species of wildlife to the area. One of my favorites---da da dah (that's my version of a trumpet fanfare) the American Bald Eagle. I love eagles! While driving through the vast central Iowa farmland today, there was a bald eagle feasting on roadkill in the middle of the road. Gross, I know, but it took my breath away when I saw it take off and fly over the corn fields. Truly amazing! I know I sound a little juvenile, but can you blame me when being in the presence of something so majestic?!

Okay, enough on my sale's pitch to try and get people to move to Marshalltown, Iowa. On to the recipe... Last night's meal was a simple favorite. Whenever I feel the need to keep things simple and reconnect with sitting down for dinner, I always think of chicken. Chicken, the humble family meal. While I was originally going to serve just the chicken and the salad, I found a couple of sweet potatoes in my pantry that desperately needed to get used. This rounded the meal out nicely. After washing and drying the sweet potatoes, I simply chopped them up, tossed them in a little grapeseed oil, and roasted them along side the chicken. Nothing fancy. The chicken and dressing for the salad dressing are also just as simple, but are not short on flavor. It was a great Sunday evening meal.

Pan Roasted Chicken

2 teaspoons grapeseed or olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 white wine or chicken broth

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. While the oil heats, pat your chicken breasts dry with a paper towel. Discard the paper towel. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over both sides of the chicken. Place the chicken in the skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until one side is lightly brown. Flip, cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place on a plate. It is okay if the chicken is not fully cooked through. It will finish cooking in the oven. Add the shallots to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes or until the shallots have softened. Add the wine and stir to scrape up any browned bits. This will create a flavorful sauce in which to finish cooking the chicken while it is in the oven. Add the chicken back to the pan. Place the pan in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads at 165 degrees. Remove from the oven. Let set 5 minutes before serving.

Garlic Tahini Dressing

1 tablespoon grapeseed or olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup tahini paste
1/8 cup water (can add more by tablespoon if you prefer a thinner dressing)
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over low heat. Add the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients until combine. Cool slightly before serving with delicate greens. If you are using kale or sturdier greens, feel free to toss the greens right in the pan if you'd like to cook them down a bit. When completely cooled, this dressing would also serve as a great make-ahead salad dressing base without wilting sturdier greens. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moving Day Recap & a Menu Post

Hello A Nickel's Worth of News Readers!

Little did I know how crazy things would get when we started our Iowa adventure. I knew things would get a little wild, but really did not think things through when it came to the blog scene. Now that we are working towards getting settled in our new home and we have a steady internet connection, hopefully I will be able to connect with you all more. To catch you up on life with the Nickels, here is the rundown:


We moved into our new house a little over a month ago. We were so happy to finally get the keys! We ended up closing a day early, but could not take possession of the house right away as the former owners were struggling to get everything out. They were a sweet older couple, looking to retire and move closer to their grandchildren. I'm sure it was hard for them to say goodbye. We were incredibly blessed to receive the home in such great condition. It is a great match for us and we look forward to entertaining friends and family in the future.



After we were able to take possession, the moving truck arrived with all of our stuff that had been on hold. There ended up being a little bit of a time gap between closings. Fortunately, our moving company gave us a flat rate on the hold. The movers also did an amazing job in taking care of our home goods as well as our new house. Mats were laid down on all of the hard wood floors. Carpeted areas were covered in in plastic wrap and all wood-work such as the staircase were wrapped in padding. They even vacuumed our floors when the moving was complete! We could not have asked for better service!

Since we moved in, every weekend has been packed with some special occasion- I ran the Diva Dash again in Des Moines, we celebrated my 15 year class reunion, I ran another race, we helped my sister and her husband move into their new home, and finally this weekend we celebrated Iowa State's homecoming, October birthdays, and my dad receiving the Alumni Achievement award.




It is great to actually live in the same city in which you work. When I have an office day, it takes me less than 10 minutes to get to work. Same goes for Justin; however, I typically have more travel days since he is usually needed at city hall. The traveling isn't so bad as there is plenty of beautiful Iowa scenery. I am slowly beginning to achieve a balance in planning our menu for the week for days when I know I may be home a little late.

With that being said, how about a menu? I attempted back in August to get things rolling again, but failed miserably before striking the traveling balance. This week's menu is filled with some of our favorite meals from the past, but with some new twists. Tonight will be a simple pan roasted chicken dish served with salad and a flavorful garlic tahini dressing.  On Monday and Tuesday I plan to make My Veggie Chili with a new filling addition served over baked potatoes. Later in the week, we will enjoy some slow cooked meatballs and spaghetti squash for a fun gluten free change up from traditional spaghetti noodles.

Sunday 10/12          Pan Roasted Chicken with Garlicky Tahini Salad

Monday 10/13        Veggie Chili over Baked Potatoes with Broccoli

Tuesday 10/14        Leftovers

Wednesday 10/15   Spaghetti Squash with Slow Cooked Meatballs

Thursday 10/16       Leftovers

A few of the items you will need to make this all come together are...

1 lb. lean ground beef
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion
1 shallot
1 head garlic
1 lemon
1 bunch green onions
1 green pepper
1 bag carrots
1 bunch celery
1 bag russet potatoes
1 bag romaine lettuce
1 jar tahini paste
1 can onion and garlic diced tomatoes
1 can chili ready diced tomatoes
1 large can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can chili beans in chili gravy
1 6 pack of low sodium V8 vegetable juice
1 jar beef base (such as Better Than Bouillon)
1 16 oz. bag English walnuts
1 container fat free or light sour cream
1 bag shredded fat free cheddar cheese

Pantry items you will need...

Extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
Chili powder
Ground cumin
Dried Italian herbs or herbes de Province

I hope you all enjoy the remaining hours of your weekend! I look forward to sharing with you throughout the week. It feels great to be back!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Welcome Back Menu Post!

I know it has been quite some time since my last post. Two months to be exact. I am excited to say I started my new job yesterday. I am so grateful to have a new laptop to work from! So, what else have we been up to these last 2 months? It has been a summer of transition and we aren't over with it all just yet. Justin started his job on June 9th. I stayed back and frantically finished up the never-ending to-do list to get our house market ready. Just when I thought I had completed that list, the stager came and added literally 22 more things to my list. The funny thing is they were all things I had told Justin we needed to do to update our home if we were ever going to put it on the market. These requests or suggestions were always met with a "No." The Bear has learned his lesson. These would all have been totally doable projects that could have been completed over a few weekends; however, I needed to get it all done in a week. Thankfully, my sister, Erin, came to the rescue. We worked our tails off. Usually starting promptly at around 7:00 in the morning and working throughout the day until sometimes 1:00 the next morning. In one week we packed the entire house, rearranged the furniture with the help of the stager in a beautiful fashion, thoroughly cleaned, replaced all of the hardware throughout the house, replaced a few light switch covers and vent covers, painted the man cave project (eh hem Bear), hired a carpet guy to stretch the carpets upstairs and install carpet in the stairwell to said man cave (thank you Mr. Charles Doolittle), repaired wall cracks, painted wall cracks, hired Classic Carpet Cleaning to clean the carpets, installed a new chandelier with the help of my neighbor, cleaned the gutters, laid 33 bags of mulch around all of the landscaping outside, and gave the lawn a manicure. Whoo! I feel tired just reliving all of that in one paragraph! We then were ready and put the house on the market.

Good news, we are now under contract and hope to close the end of the month. We have also found our new home in Marshalltown, Iowa; however, cannot move in until September 5th. I feel like we scored big time on our new home. It was built in 2006, has four bedrooms, 2 and a quarter baths, a beautiful kitchen, a lovely outdoor deck and patio, and plenty of room to grow. In the meantime, my father and his wife Brenda have graciously let us into their home. So, we are currently residing in their basement. Don't worry Chris and Brenda! We will be out of your hair soon! I don't know what I would do without my family. Many, many thanks to Erin, my Mom for having a listening ear and so much home advice, and my Dad and Brenda.

While I have not been up to too much cooking since we are sharing space, I have been able to come up with some new meals. Marshalltown has a lot to offer in the way of culinary life. Really, I can't wait to share it all with you! I will be traveling A LOT for my job, so I had to put a lot of thought into this week's menu post. I guess there will be more to share on how I handle a gluten-free diet while traveling back and forth. There will be so much to share! One can come up with good material while on a two month hiatus. Here is this week's rundown:

Sunday 8/3          Carne Asada Tacos with Summer Black Bean Salad

Monday 8/4         Hummus Wraps with Cucumber Salad

Tuesday 8/5         Leftovers

Wednesday 8/6   Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata and Green Beans

Thursday 8/7       Leftovers

Sharing a kitchen and refrigerator space has been interesting while living in our new quarters. We try to only buy what we need as space is limited. Therefore, grocery lists for what you will need for the week will return after we are settled in our new home. Truthfully, with all of the changes I had to just get back to blogging. You can rest assured I am happy to be back! I look forward to sharing these tasty, easy dishes throughout the week. Enjoy your weekend!    

Monday, June 2, 2014

Updates and Such

I know I've been off the grid lately. Trust me it is all for good reason. While I was in the hospital having my gall bladder removed last month, the Bear accepted the Director of Public Works/ City Engineer position for the city of Marshalltown, Iowa. Yes, we are moving back to Iowa!! While life had to settle down a little bit for me to recover, it really has been nothing of the sort. As soon as I was up and ready to go back to work, I had to let my school know that I would not be back. It was so bittersweet. I loved my time serving the community, families, and students in Turner. The good days were so amazing. On the bad days, and trust me as a special education teacher there were many rough days, sometimes weeks; the support of my colleagues and students kept me going. They were my family and support when mine was so far away. The good news, the very same week I came back and had to share my news, I had letters of recommendation coming my way and an initial interview with the Area Education Agency 267 that same week. Soon after packing up my classroom, saying my goodbyes, I was off to Marshalltown for my second interview. More good news- I GOT THE JOB! Say hello to one of your new Consultants for School Improvement Iowa! I am so very excited! It is a huge relief to know that while we are relocating we are both employed. Woohoo! 

Now that I am physically back in commission we've been getting our house market ready for someone new to call it their home. We've been working diligently to finish those never ending DIY home improvement projects, cleaning, and packing, and cleaning and packing some more. This little room is actually so cleared out it is echoing as I hit the keys on the keyboard. Only problem is we haven't found a new place in Marshalltown to call home. The Bear starts June 9th, which is a week from the day I am writing this post. So, on top of everything else, I've been a good wife and worked hard to get in contact with the people that can help us get the job done in Marshalltown. It is all just so crazy, but at the same time I have to pause and love this moment in life. It's been yet again very intense, but I know we can handle it. 

In the meantime, have no worries! This blog will not come to an end. When we get settled into whatever place we call home, I have so many new and exciting recipes to post. While things have been crazy and intense, I cannot wait to get back to you all. Wish us luck!! It is a new adventure:)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why that Beautiful Menu Never Happened

I know some of you have probably wondered where I've been the last week. I had such a beautiful and healthy menu planned for last week. Unfortunately, this all went down hill starting Monday night. After forcing myself out on a run, I started to not feel very good. My stomach sounded like a water cooler with slight shooting pains on my upper right side. I felt that nauseated on again off again feeling. I attributed this to gas as I had been eating a fair amount of veggies throughout the day. After only eating about half of my dinner, I just decided to take some ibuprofen and go to bed.

I slept, sort of, then woke up in another bout of pain. After laying in bed, listening to my gurgling bowels, I took more ibuprofen and sort of fell back to sleep. When I woke up, I was still in a little bit of pain and still felt a little nauseated, but decided to tough it out and go to work. I ate a little bit of my breakfast and then headed out to teach third grade math. Within the hour, the pain came back. This time it was far worse. The kids, started noticing my rosy cheeks turning completely white. At 9:15, I bee-lined it to the bathroom and threw up. That's when things went even further south. I could not stop throwing up. When I thought there would be a little break, I told my principal and the head secretary that I needed to go home. And then had to quickly leave that conversation to go throw up again. I could not even drive home.

So, trash can in hand, my principal drove me home while the assistant principal followed us in my car. I was throwing up on and off the entire time. I'm thankful they helped me out, but totally embarrassed I threw up in her car. If I could make them a thank you card it would start with something like, "You know you have amazing bosses when..." I don't really remember much, but she did call my husband on the way and told him to meet us at the house as I was refusing that she take me to the emergency room. After climbing up the steps and blacking out in the bathroom, the next thing I remember is the Bear picking me up, placing me in the car with the trash can from work, and heading to the E.R. They gave me a good does of anti-nausea medication and pain meds, drew some blood, and did an ultrasound of my abdominal region. Since I do not have my appendix, they were thinking it might be my gall bladder. The ultrasound did not show any signs of gall stones, however, my liver enzymes were elevated. So, I was admitted into the hospital.

The following day, they did a pipida scan. A pipida scan is a CT scan where they intravenously give you some dye. Next, they intravenously feed you the equivalent of a Thanksgiving meal to see how your liver and gall bladder react. Things got real. In the middle of the scan, I was in the same amount of pain I was in the day before. I thought I was going to die. Turns out my gall bladder was very inflamed and only functioning at about 10%. Thus, messing with my liver and causing bad things to happen. So, the gall bladder came out later that day. The next day I went home and here I am recovering from all the craziness. I am still in a lot of pain from the surgery, but believe it or not, I am feeling so much better. Looking back, I think my gall bladder had been causing me a lot of issues. This past year, holiday meals even while gluten free, were not as enjoyable. I always felt terrible after going out to eat. I tried curing these issues by eating healthier and healthier, which was not a bad thing; but, no matter what, my faulty gall bladder needed to go.

On top of the gall bladder removal, the doctors have diagnosed me with a full fledged gluten intolerance after my appendix and gall bladder issues. Before, it was a just a sensitivity, but now it is legit. I am to remain on my gluten free diet as well as a fairly low fat diet. I can start adding more fat back into my diet in about a month or so as it will take my digestive system a while to adjust to no longer having a gall bladder. This week I plan to take time to recover. I hope to be back at blogging again soon! Until then, please enjoy any past recipes and menu posts. Have a great week!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pineapple-Cilantro Slaw

I've been making the same Cilantro Lime Slaw for quite some time. It is a staple side dish in the Nickel house and pairs incredibly well with BBQ, Tex-Mex, and even seafood. Last night, I thought I'd give it an update. I think this version would stand up well to any BBQ, Tex-Mex, seafood, or even Asian cuisine.


Isn't it just beautiful? This week's foods are all about slimming down and feeling good. If you are having a bad day or maybe feel a little negative, you can look at this colorful salad and maybe feel a little better. You don't even have to taste it. I feel happier just looking at it. Here sunny shiny pineapple gives the cool and creamy cilantro dressing a sweet surprise. Not too sweet though. Just enough sweet to let you know its there and summer is right around the corner.

Pineapple-Cilantro Slaw

1 bag shredded cabbage or cole slaw mix
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped into small cubes
2 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro (if you are not a fan, feel free to use less)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Zest of 2 small limes or 1 large lime
Juice of 2 small limes or 1 large lime
1 teaspoon stevia (optional if you do not like your dressing on the slightly sweet side)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage, red pepper, and pineapple. Set aside. In a blender, mix together the buttermilk, cilantro, green onions, lime zest, lime juice, stevia, and salt until smooth. This dish can be made ahead of time if you are taking it to a party. Simply store the dressing separate from the salad. When you are ready to serve, pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until everything is well coated.