cooking and meal planning

Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2018

I can’t believe I’m already sitting down to write another one of these posts. It seems like a month ago I was writing my top posts of 2017 and looking back on it makes me realize how far I’ve come in just one year. Yes, I get totally nerdy and over-analytical when it comes to stuff like this.

Blogging can be hard sometimes. It’s this weird balancing act of wanting to create something that resonates with readers and provides a lot of value while also writing about topics that light you up personally. Sometimes those things are not one in the same.

In reflecting over the past year I think I’m finally starting to find my groove and creating higher-quality work that feels good to me and also performs decently well. I was lucky enough to be featured in several national publications this year which means more eyes and and a wider reach. You can see a list of those publications here!

Now for the part you really want to read, my top ten blog posts of 2018 based on number of page views in Google Analytics!

 Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018 on LeanneRay.com

10. Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

This is one of three recipes on this list in which tahini is a major ingredient - does that speak to my favorite pantry staple of 2018?! This wholesome grain salad makes for a delicious light lunch (or dinner side) and I love the mix of textures and contrast of flavors.

9. Some Thoughts on Alcohol + Mocktail Ideas

Alcohol is one of my favorite topics because it’s one that many people struggle with when trying to make some healthy lifestyle changes. In this post I shared some newer research along with how I usually approach questions about alcohol fitting into a healthful eating plan. Read to the end for some non-boring mocktail ideas too!

8. How to Make Kombucha at Home

My friend and fellow-dietitian Maria wrote this guest post and it was hugely popular! Kombucha is certainly having a moment and I think many people are intrigued that you can make it at home. Have you tried it?

7. Perfect Roasted Vegetables + 5 Ways to Use Them

This might be the most practical post on the list! I’m a huge fan of roasting vegetables because they can be repurposed in so many ways (read: you aren’t eating the same thing for three nights in a row). Check out this one for some creative ideas.

6. Spiced Chickpea & Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

This post actually talks about three different ideas for stuffing sweet potatoes (a favorite throw-together meal in my house) with a full recipe for the one named in the title. The texture and flavor pairing is unreal.

5. Maple Tahini Snack Balls

This might be the recipe I personally make most often from the blog. I’ve passed these out at several events in the last year because they are the perfect combination of salty and sweet, are simple to make and a nice change from your usual snacks (I love them pre-early morning workout).

4. How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

There’s a lot of information floating around about protein, so I wanted to set the record straight on how much most people actually need along with what foods you can eat to meet that need. This was a great kick-off to my protein at breakfast challenge back in September.

3. The Easiest Mason Jar Sangria

This recipe is so easy and makes summer entertaining a breeze. The storage container doubles as the glass and it uses ingredients that you’ll actually want to keep on hand (aka no Brandy).

2. Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange-Champagne Vinaigrette

This salad is a must-make once you see strawberries starting to come back into season in the Spring. I love this one for an Easter dinner, but really you can make it all summer long. The ingredients are simple and the homemade dressing really takes it over the top.

1. Breakfast-Worthy Apple Crisp

Oh, the apple crisp! This is my {super delicious} take on apple crisp that is lower in added sugar and higher in fiber from oats, whole wheat flour, walnuts and flax. Because of these add-ins I refer to it as “breakfast-worthy” because I use this as more of a snack than a dessert. You should too! Give it a try and let me know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope you keep coming back for more! I want to keep making the blog bigger and better in 2019 and I can’t do it without you. Have something in specific you want me to cover? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to make it happen!

The Formula for a Seriously Satisfying Grain Bowl

So raise your hand if you love a good grain bowl 🙋

Also known as power bowls, buddha bowls or clean-out-the-fridge bowls. They are pretty much my current lunch obsession and I think you might like them too! Consider this your tutorial to make one that is equal parts satisfying and delicious. If you like meal prepping, you will love these because it’s simple to batch cook a few of the components then totally wing it on the rest.

 The formula for a seriously satisfying grain bowl

A few of these items are on my Power 10 list, which means I tend to keep them on hand for throw-together meals anyway. I swear that even on days when it seems like there’s absolutely nothing to eat, if you keep your kitchen stocked you’ll be able to throw something similar together in 10 minutes. These also make for a quick and easy packed lunch! Just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and call it good.

More importantly than being able to make something on the fly is making something that’s actually tasty and satisfying too.

Similar | The Formula for a Seriously Satisfying Winter Salad

I get peeved when I see Instagram photos of a bowl that’s super impractical. While beautiful, I would rather not eat a bowl of raw vegetables topped with a whole avocado and bee pollen for lunch. We can do better you guys!

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Here’s what you need:

  • Grain, preferably a whole grain (quinoa, farro, rice, bulgur, wheat berries, couscous)

  • Protein (beans, lentils, over-easy egg, rotisserie chicken, canned fish)

  • Leafy greens (salad greens like arugula or leaf lettuce, sautéed kale or chard)

  • Crunchy vegetable (carrots, shredded red cabbage, thinly sliced radish or celery)

  • Fruit (apples or pears, fresh berries, dried cherries, dates, pom seed)

  • Olives or Nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, sliced almonds, honey-roasted peanuts)

  • Avocado or Cheese (smoked gouda, crumbled feta/bleu/goat or parmesan, nutritional yeast)

  • Sauce (balsamic vinaigrette, tahini, caesar, tzatziki, hummus)

The cool thing is that you can customize this based on your own dietary needs and preferences and still end up with something balanced and filling. Perfect for anyone who says salads aren’t worthy of a meal.

 grain bowl formula

Food Pairings

It can take some practice to build a bowl with flavors that pair well together, but after a few tries you’ll be a pro. My main strategy is to pair things that have a more mild flavor, then pull it all together with a super flavorful sauce. Make a full batch of a really delicious homemade dressing at the beginning of the week so you can use it for several days. I really love this tahini ranch from Bon Appetit.

Need inspiration? Here are a few tried and true combinations that you can try building on:

farro + cherries (or dried cherries) + arugula + bleu cheese

quinoa + chicken + berries + feta

brown rice + red cabbage + chicken + peanuts + peanut sauce

couscous + feta + olives + cucumber + tomatoes

Food Prepping

If you want to get ambitious and do some prep for the upcoming week, pick 1-2 items from each of the categories above and make sure everything is prepped and ready to go (cook grains, wash greens, make a batch of dressing, etc.).

When it’s time to eat, it’s as simple as pulling out all of your ingredients and assembling something delicious. Experiment with different combinations until you find your favorites!

If you make grain bowls, leave me a comment with your favorite variations.

Which Cooking Oil Should I Use?

 Is there a best cooking oil?

The Lowdown on Oil

Oil is a key ingredient in the home cook’s repertoire. It’s used in everything from sautéing, roasting and frying to marinades, dressings and sauces. And sure, it’s possible to cook without oil but you wouldn’t be able to achieve that signature browning on fish or crispy edge on brussels sprouts that tastes so delicious.

If there is one cooking-related question that I hear over and over again it’s this one: “which cooking oil should I be using?” I completely understand why there is confusion about this as I’ve read a lot of contradictory articles in the news of late - some sounding rather alarming! As with most things, there isn’t one perfect answer or any one oil that performs well across the board, it’s more of a question of when to use which. So how exactly do you begin evaluating your cooking oils?

There are a couple of key factors to consider when it comes to oils: flavor and smoke point.

The first one is self-explanatory, but smoke point tends to throw people off a bit.

Essentially the more unrefined and delicate that an oil is, the lower the smoke point is. This is the maximum temperature that you should hit when using it because once an oil reaches it’s smoke point, the chemical structure starts to break down which makes for an undesirable flavor and the release of some potentially harmful chemicals.

I wanted to limit this overview to the most popular oils that I tend to see in recipes. So without further ado, here is your comprehensive guide to all things cooking oil!

 Grilled Chicken Kabobs

High Heat (420+ degrees)

Avocado Oil

Flavor/use: Due to the very high smoke point, avocado oil is ideal if you plan to do any frying/deep-frying. You might also consider using it for high-heat roasting. It’s one of the more expensive options (not surprising considering how much avocados cost) and might be a little bit harder to find.

Smoke point: 520 degrees

Peanut Oil

Flavor/use: Peanut oils are great for Asian cuisine like stir-fries and all of the related sauces and marinades. It definitely has a strong peanut aroma and the smoke point is on the high end, so it also works for higher-heat roasting.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Grapeseed Oil

Flavor/use: The higher smoke point and neutral flavor make grapeseed a good option for roasting or grilling vegetables, or in salad dressings if you don’t want the olive flavor that comes with EVOO.

Smoke point: 420 degrees

Olive Oil

Flavor/use: This is definitely the workhorse of oils. I think of olive oil as one of the most used ingredients in my kitchen because I incorporate it almost daily whether it be to quickly saute vegetables, make homemade salad dressings or fry up an egg. It does have a notable olive flavor, but you usually don’t detect it when cooked. Extra-virgin olive oil has a much lower smoke point (325 degrees) so be sure to check which one you have and adjust accordingly.

Smoke point: 410 degrees (regular/pure)

 Chunky Monkey Banana Zucchini Muffins

Medium Heat (350-400 degrees)

Sesame Oil

Flavor/use: The aroma and flavor of sesame oil is incredible! Another great choice for Asian cuisine, especially crisping up tofu and stir-fry. Note that if you buy toasted sesame oil, the smoke point is likely much lower.

Smoke point: 410 degrees

Vegetable/Canola Oil

Flavor/use: These both have a neutral flavor and are great, multi-purpose oils. I tend to use them most in baked goods like muffins and quick breads. I sometimes see rumblings on the internet about how canola oil is a bad choice for your health (read this for clarification on some of the myths and facts). Overall, the research shows that the fatty acid profile is quite favorable to heart health as it provides beneficial anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.

Smoke point: 400 degrees

Coconut Oil (unrefined)

Flavor/use: It has a mild coconut flavor, is solid at room temperature and liquid when heated. Of all of the oils mentioned in this article, coconut certainly seems to have the most media buzz. While it’s perfectly fine to add it to your rotation, I wouldn’t bank on it having any magical impacts on your health. I like it best in vegan baked goods as a substitute for butter, or in cuisines that pair well with the coconut flavor.

Smoke point: 350 degrees

Low Heat (less than 350 degrees)

Toasted Walnut or flax Oil

Flavor/use: Most toasted nut and seed oils are considered to be very delicate and shouldn’t be used for cooking, but can instead add a unique flavor to salad dressings or sauces.

Smoke point: very low (not meant to be heated)

 Summer Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Nutritionally Speaking

When it comes to nutrition, there are definitely some standouts. Here’s a brief overview of which oils have the most research to support any potential health benefits:

  • Olive oil is great source of monounsaturated fatty acids which are known to have a beneficial effect on our blood lipid profile (i.e. cholesterol & triglyceride levels). It’s definitely the most well-researched of the cooking oils as it’s a staple in the Mediterranean diet. Use this guide for helpful tips for purchasing olive oil!

  • Avocado oil is another great source of monounsaturated fatty acids but it’s also on the pricey side, which can be prohibitive to using it often.

  • Walnut & Flax oil (like their whole food counterparts) are both plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids so when it comes to high-flavor finishers and interesting salad dressings, you might consider giving one of these a try.

Remember that oils, while useful in cooking, are still recommended in small amounts relative to foundational health-promoting foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. I like to think of them as a complement to enhance flavor in home-cooked meals instead of considering oils a good source of nutrients. Your best bet is to keep a well-stocked kitchen so you can incorporate a variety of fats and oils into your cooking based on their functional properties.


Join the November Cooking Collective!

Now for a fun announcement! If you found this post helpful, I think you would love being a member of my upcoming (free) cooking accountability group.

I’ve been wanting to get this started for awhile now and luckily, my friend Mallory (<—seriously check her out on IG, her food photos are insanely gorgeous) was willing to co-facilitate with me so we are officially rolling it out November 1st.

We’ll be sharing prompts to keep everyone excited about cooking, especially once the holidays roll around and our calendars get packed to the brim.

Here’s everything you need to know:

  • Dates: November 1-30

  • Goal: to share cooking challenges and wins with the group so we can all benefit from the power of community and keep things fun and exciting in the kitchen as the holidays approach.

  • Topics covered: Meal planning, shopping, weekend food prep, batch cooking, weeknight shortcuts, Thanksgiving (!!) including recipe sharing and re-purposing leftovers plus much more.

  • Prize opportunity: one lucky participant will win one of the following cookbooks of their choosing: Dinner: Changing the Game, Food52 A New Dinner, or Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat! No pressure to track or set a goal, we just want to encourage everyone to follow along and get cooking on their own terms.


Article Sources:

  1. https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/types-of-cooking-oil

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4490476/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24886626