DIY Kitchen Basics: 3 Easy Scratch Dressings

IMG_1863-copyDitch the  bottled salad dressings. That’s my advice to you, if you want to enjoy better tasting salads for the rest of your life.  Most everyone can benefit from eating more vegetables, and  learning  to make a spectacular salad dressing is  life changing (ok, a  little dramatic, but you get the point!).

This month’s  recipe redux theme is DIY kitchen essentials. I have no better DIY staple then my made from scratch salad dressings.  Classic dressings have a ratio of 3: 1, oil to vinegar. My homemade versions are not only tasty, they’re made with less oil (which also keeps the calories in check). Note: I don’t like to omit oil; some is good because it adds taste and can help you absorb valuable nutrients found in vegetables such as lycopene and beta-carotene, which have been shown to help prevent heart disease and cancer .

Below I have assembled a cheat sheet with my top 3 favorite salad dressings. Start your dressing with an acid (vinegar or citrus),  add herbs and seasonings, and sweetener, (if desired). Then slowly whisk in oil (base). Voila! It takes just minutes to finish a salad that will win over some of the pickiest eaters. The portions listed below will make enough dressing for a large salad that feeds up to four. Get creative by changing the base, acids, sweeteners and herbs to find your  new secret to loving salads.

Be sure to visit the links at the bottom of this post for more DIY kitchen essentials.

IMG_1850.1What’s your favorite salad dressing?

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The Complex Cranberry + Cranberry & Cilantro Quinoa Salad

Cranberries are rich in polyphenolic compounds (i.e. flavonoids) and they taste terrific anytime of year! 


Disclosure: The Cranberry Institute has sent me research updates, cranberry tips, some seasonal recipes as well as dried cranberries. In exchange, I’m  sharing  this information with you.  I was not financially compensated to write this post. Opinions are my own.

Cranberries. What’s the first thing that crosses your mind? For me it’s urinary tract infections (UTI’s). (Pardon my honesty). I personally like cranberries for this reason and  I can cite several studies that indicate their ability to lower the recurrence of UTIs.  The active ingredients in cranberries, proanthocyanidins or  A-type PACs  interfer with bacterial adhesion in the urinary tract. In other words, if the bacteria cannot stick to the urinary tract, they will not grow and cause infection.

However, my husband is quick to point out the other side,  there are a number of studies finding null results between the tart berry and prevention of urinary tract infections.

Truth is, understanding how cranberry exerts its health effects is evolving. Although  the majority of  over 350 research and review articles published about cranberry have focused on the berry’s effect on urinary tract health,  emerging science shows cranberry may have some other possible benefits including:   cardiovascular health, reducing oral diseases including  cavities and gum disease, and gastrointestinal health.

About now you’re asking, how much?… Cranberry juice?.. Sauce?…  Or dried cranberries? Here’s the  caveat:  No one can recommend exact form, dose, or duration of cranberry consumption.  Why then do I advocate consumption of this tiny tart fruit for health benefits?  I have learned to accept the limitations of science. I understand that reference intake values of pythochemcials have not been established, but there is growing concensus that they possibly contribute to promoting health and reducing the risk of disease. Berry fruit, including cranberries,  provide a rich source of phenolic acids and flavonoids that are associated with health benefits. My recommendation is to  choose a broad array of fruits, including berry fruits, to increase intake of these bioactive compounds along with a balanced diet.

That said, I love this fresh, gluten free, vegan salad for spring and summer from the Cranberry Marketing Committee that exemplifies my support for cranberries as part of a healthy diet. Make it for your next pool party, picnic or backyard bbq!

What’s your favorite way to eat cranberries?


Cranberry & Cilantro Quinoa Salad

adapted from the Cranberry Marketing Committee

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 1/14 cups water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup minced carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground red pepper


1. Toast quinoa in a \ skillet over medium high heat stirring frequently until quinoa is fragrant and make a continuous popping sound (about 5- 7 minutes).

2. In a small saucepan, bring water and pinch of salt to a boil over high heat; stir in toasted quinoa, reduce heat and bring to a low simmer. Cover pot and cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes).

2. Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. To the bowl of quinoa, stir in cranberries, carrots, red and yellow peppers, red onion and cilantro until mixed.

4. In a small bowl, mix together lime juice, oil, salt and ground red pepper and pour over quinoa-cranberry mixture; toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Does not have to be served cold.

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Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 150, Calories from Fat 30, Saturated Fat 0g, Trans Fat 0g, Total Fat 3.5g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 115mg, Total Carbohydrate 29g, Sugars 11g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Protein 3g, Vitamin A 40%, Vitamin C 45%, Calcium 2%, Iron 6%

The above recipe has a Southwestern twist, but by swappping out a few basic ingredients you can take cranberries global:
Asian: Swap out red onion, cilantro and lime juice, for scallions, ginger and soy sauce.

Greek: Swap out carrots, cilantro and lime juice for tomatoes, olives and chickpeas. Make it even better- add feta!

Indian: Swap out carrots, peppers, cilantro and lime juice for winter squash, sweet potatoes, pecans and curry paste. Add an extra kick with cayenne pepper!

American: Swap out peppers, cilantro and lime juice, for celery, turkey breast and thyme. Who knows, this could become your new favorite Thanksgiving leftovers recipe.

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Chocolate Plum Frozen Yogurt Float

Enjoy the health benefits of dried plums in this refreshing  frozen yogurt float.

chocolate plum frozen yogurt float

 Disclosure : I received free samples of California Dried Plums mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Dried Plum Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.
I have always championed the idea of protecting bone health. It’s one of the reasons why I mix strength training with my running routine and  consume  3 servings of dairy everyday.  Now I have another weapon against bone loss; California dried plums, aka prunes.
Yeah, I know, I was surprised too! But emerging research shows eating 100 grams of dried plums daily for one year (2 servings or about 8-10 prunes)  was associated with an increase in bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal  women, due in part to suppressing the rate of bone turnover. The most recent study found that consuming one serving of dried plums daily (4-5 prunes, the equivalent of 100 calories) may be just as effective in preventing bone loss in older, osteopenic postmenopausal women.
Dried plums are naturally low in fat and sodium and they’re cholesterol free!  It’s easy to take advantage of their health benefits by nibbling on a handful or incorporating them  into  meals or snacks. Here are some ideas to get you started enjoying the benefits of dried plums everyday:

• Use dried plums to add moisture to meat entrees and baked goods and improve the texture and taste of stuffings, sauces and marinades.

• Toss or add chopped dried plums to oatmeal, on top of your favorite salad or Greek yogurt.

• Reduce the butter or oil in baked goods by substituing the same amount of   prune purée. (Remember to also reduce the sugar in the recipe by almost half because prunes are naturally sweet.)

Last week I made Chocolate Tea Bread with Benefits using prune purée instead of butter. The results exceeded my expectations! This week the weather has warmed up, and I was craving something refreshing after the ho-hum task of pruning (no pun intended) back azaleas.  Then this happened…

I created a  redux of the good ol’ ice cream soda. Frozen fat free vanilla yogurt replaces ice cream, sparkling water replaces soda and a natural chocolate plum purée replaces chocolate syrup.  Enjoy the  summer chilling out with this refreshing beverage that not only supports bone health, but also provides fluid  to rehydrate; carbohydrates to  replenish glycogen stores and protein to tide you over to the next meal.
No bones about it, dried plums are  the answer to adding flavor and sneaking in more nutrition to meals and snacks.  Be sure to visit the links at the bottom of this post to discover more recipes taking advantage of the versatility of   California dried plums.
Chocolate Plum Frozen Yogurt Float (serves 4)

by Diane Boyd


    for the *chocolate plum sauce

    • 18 California dried plums
    • 2 1/2 cups water
    • 3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa

    for the soda

    • 12-16  tablespoons *chocolate plum sauce
    • 8 tablespoons skim milk
    • 12  scoops fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt (about 2 cups)
    • chilled sparkling water
    • 4 Tablespoons whipped cream
    • 4 Tablespoon chopped pistachios


    for the dried plum sauce

    1. Add dried plums and water to a saucepan.  Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes or until dried plums are tender.

    2. Remove dried fruit  (reserving cooking liquid) and add to food processor along with cocoa. Process until smooth adding additional cooking liquid one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved. (I used about 3 tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid).

    for the frozen yogurt float

    1. Place 2 Tablespoons of  chocolate plum puree  in the bottom of each glass.

    2. Pour in 2 tablespoons of  milk and 1/4 cup sparkling water for each serving.

    3. Add 3 scoops of  frozen yogurt to each glass and top with  another 1-2 tablespoons chocolate plum puree.

    4. Fill glasses with sparkling water. Finish with whipped cream and chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

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    Chocolate Tea Bread with Benefits

    This chocolate tea bread is just one example of the delicious baked goods that can be created by using a dried plum purée instead of butter to  reduce fat and calories, add moisture, enhance flavor and boost the nutritional profile.

    Chocolate Tea Bread with Benefits

    Disclosure: I received free samples of California Dried Plums mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Dried Plum Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

    I think I’m obsessed with this bread. That’s what my friend said after April showers forced us to surrender outdoor activites for an afternoon of old fashioned baking resulting in  this mid-day pick-me-up.Chocolate Tea Bread with Benefits My only regret is I don’t have a picture of the surprised look on Ashely’s face when  I told her about the hero ingredient – California dried plums, aka prunes. That’s right, often thought of as a convenient snack, dried plums  are good for your health!  Emerging research shows they  support bone health, and possible heart health, immunity and healthy aging. Because the May kicks off National Osteoporosis Month,  I ‘m showcasing this dried fruit’s bone health benefits along with its culinary versatility. Studies have revealed that eating 100 grams of dried plums daily  for one year (2 servings or about 8-10 prunes) was associated with an increase in bone mineral density (BMD)  in postmenopausal women, due in part to suppressing the rate of bone turnover. The most recent study  found consuming a single serving of dried plums every day (4-5 prunes) may be just as effective in preventing bone loss in older, osteopenic postmenopausal women.

    In my recipe, (adapted from Williams Somona’s Dark Chocolate Tea Bread) a prune purée replaces the butter, reducing the amount of fat and calories while boosting the flavor and nutritional value. Because dried plums are naturally sweet, they also allowed me to reduce the amount of added sugar.  Win! Win!  With Mother’s Day is approaching, bake this   delicious and healthified loaf of chocolate tea bread and turn your  afternoon cuppa into a tea party with Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!

    You won’t want to miss the links at the bottom of this post for more ways to reduce, replace and reward your culinary endeavors with the goodness of California dried plums everyday.

    Chocolate Tea Bread with BenefitsChocolate Tea Bread with Benefits (adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Dark Chocolate Tea Bread)

    serves 12

    by Diane Boyd,MBA, RD, LDN


    • 1 cup California Dried Plums, divided
    • water
    • 6 Tablespoons sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 2 cups sifted cake flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/3 cup unsweetend cocoa
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 30 cm breadmould and set aside.

    2. . Make a dried plum puree by adding 1/3 cup of the dried plums to a small saucepan. Add enough water to cover the dried fruit. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until plums are tender.

    3. Remove dried fruit (reserving cooking liquid) and add to a food processor along with 1 1/2 Tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid. Process until smooth. This should make 1/4 cup dried plum purée.

    4. In a mixing bowl,cream 1/4 cup dried plum purée with sugar.  Add egg and beat well.

    5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa and cinnamon. Add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating after each addition.

    6. Chop remaining 2/3 cup dried plums and stir them into the batter along with nuts.

    7. Scrape the batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes , or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (If necessary, cover loosely with aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes to prevent overbrowning.)

    8. Immediately turn the loaf out of the pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Cut into thick slices. (Delicious toasted or chilled and served with unsalted butter or light cream cheese.)

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    The Vegetarian Flavor Bible: A Book Review


    VEG FLVRBIBLE #2Disclosure: I  received a signed copy of  The Vegetarian Flavor Bible to review and share with my readers. I was not  financially compensated to write this post. Opinions are my own.

    Flavor. That’s Karen Page’s answer to the question,

    Why go vegetarian?

    In her latest book, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, she is compelling.

     The book includes Karen’s personal story,   a history of vegetarianism, and insights from some of the country’s leading chefs, including  techniques they use to enhance flavor and texture in American’s most impressive vegetable-centric restaurants.  But the heart and soul is  dedicated to flavor matchmaking!  I ‘m madly in love with  the  a to z listing of hundreds of healthful, nutrient dense ingredients (vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds) along with their: flavor profiles, peak seasons, botanical relatives, possible substitutes, nutritional profiles, serving suggestions and cooking tips.  Yep, this book is the boss!!!

    Who should own this book?

    Millennials asking the question, Is it time I bought a cookbook?  You’ve been putting off buying one because you look everything up on the internet.  Well, this exhaustive collection of flavor profiles is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND, except in this book. From the familiar, like broccoli and quinoa, to the not so familiar, like fenugreek or nutritional yeast, you ‘ll find an explosion of ideas about preparing a plant based meal or diet.

    Seasoned cooks and culinary experts who have cookbooks to spare. Don’t see how any additional cookbooks can be of value? This one is different. I usually find one or two incredible recipes from every cookbook in my collection of over umpteen books. This  is one resource I am now using on a daily basis, either for creating new dishes  (like  my creamy polenta with oranges & almonds), or  helping my  patients learn to make healthy foods more flavorful.

    Food bloggers,  this one  is a no brainer.  It’s a culinary classic that serves as an indispensable resource for combining foods, developing recipes, making healthy substitutions and inspiring creativity in the kitchen. Yes, it’s worth the $40 you spend,  and remember, it’s a business expense for you.

    Moms and dads, use this as a resource to begin early introduction of the healthiest foods to your children. Learn how  to pack vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains with flavor, so your kids will  learn to love the foods you want them to eat.

    Omnivores aiming to decrease meat consumption will find practical ways to boost vegetable consumption and useful tips that make eating less meat an easy lifestyle change.

    Vegetarians and Vegans,  you will find this book a champion for the lifestyle you choose. With as many as 84% of vegetarians and vegans  going back to eating meat and other animal products (some within one year) and 43% reporting they have a hard time sticking to a ‘pure’ diet,  some words of wisdom are in order. Page delivers with understanding and enlightening advice  “…you don’t have to be a full-time vegetarian to reap the benefits” .

     Where do you fit?

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