Friday, September 28, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Soccer and More Soccer

With R and G both on soccer teams this fall, and with SPH coaching R's team, we're in full soccer mode.  I'm loving meals I can make-ahead and keep warm now more than ever.

Phew, we're busy!

Anyone else?  Yeah, thought so.

Here's Next Week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Slow Cooker Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup, Cornbread, Orange Segments

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna, Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries

Pasta Carbonara with Peas, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Apple Slices

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce and Lime, Refried Beans, Mango

Chana Masala, Quinoa, Naan, Fresh Pineapple

Chicken Parmesan, Steamed Broccoli, Bread, Pear Slices

Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Arsenic and Rice

There has been a lot of news stories about a recent Consumer Reports study that showed higher-than-expected levels of arsenic in rice.  This is how I felt when I heard about the study:

“I give up.”

Knowing many who are trying to limit their gluten, and also thinking that when I purchase organic anything (rice included) that I am doing the absolute best to try protect my family’s health, hearing about arsenic in rice was at best, disheartening.

True, arsenic is present in dirt and water, but it is also a component of fertilizer too.  But if arsenic were just a result of fertilizer, then you wouldn’t expect organic rice to contain arsenic (it does).

Until there are more studies on arsenic in rice, here’s a couple tips:  rinse your rice before cooking, as this can reduce arsenic; buy Basmati Rice, which appears to have generally lower arsenic levels; and use quinoa as a rice replacement if you’re gluten-free and orzo pasta if you are not.

I have copied a table form below that shows the levels of arsenic in certain brands and types of rice.  After all, information is power. 

Life is sweet,


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

10 Real Food, Real Good Slow Cooker Recipes

In September 2011, I created my Top Ten Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes list.   In the last year I've developed a bunch of new slow cooker recipes, all with *real food,* no condensed soup allowed.

**One special note:  if you have a newer slow cooker, the times on these recipes can be reduced.  How can assure slow cooker accuracy?  Check out my tips on slow cooker cooking times.

Without further adieu, here is my 2012 Ten of the Best Real-Food Slow Cooker Recipes:

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili (a top-three finalist in a local chili contest!)

Light Jambalaya  (think you can't do seafood in the slow cooker?  think again!)

Rosemary Chicken, Slow Cooker

Roasted Chicken, Slow Cooker

 Pork Loin with Apple and Sage (can be made in the slow cooker)


Pork Tacos, Amazing Slow Cooker 

Lentil Soup, Slow Cooker

Chicken Pot Pie, Slow Cooker (**Can also be made chicken-less)

Pumpkin Butter, Slow Cooker
Slow Cooker Gumbo

Are you hungry yet?  :)

Life is sweet,

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fresh Basil and Walnut Pesto

Got basil?


Chances are, if you planted basil this spring or summer, you have a plentiful amount growing in your garden.  And even if you don't have any growing if your backyard, you can pick up a bunch at the store.  Either way, this pesto recipe is another tasty way to enjoy fresh basil.

Making pesto is super easy and can be made at a fraction of the cost of jarred pesto. A store-bought jar of pesto can easily cost 4-5 times the cost of making a batch of fresh pesto at home. Use this fresh pesto recipe for a dish now, and freeze any extra for future use.

Want to know the best part?  Pesto is one of the easiest ways to get dinner on the table...use it as sauce for any protein, as a spread on a gourmet sandwich or wrap, or as a different way to serve a simple pasta dish.

Fresh Basil and Walnut Pesto

1 cup (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup walnut pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
zest of 1/2 lemon
3-4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients (using the lower amount suggested for the garlic, cheese and water), except the oil in a food processor.  Pulse a few times, scraping the sides of the processor between pulses.

Once the basil is well chopped, add the olive oil through the hole in the top of the processor while it is running.

Taste the pesto and season with additional garlic, cheese or add more water if necessary.

Making pesto is more of an art than a specific recipe, so keep tasting until you think you have the flavors to where you like them.

Reserve some pesto for immediate use, freeze the rest in either ice cube trays or a cookie sheet for future use.

Makes about 1 cup.

Toss some of this delicious pesto with spaghetti for a quick dinner.

Lastly, if you have some fresh basil sprigs after you make the basil, place them in a glass of water and watch the roots grow.  Voila!  A fresh basil seedling for you to plant and make into a brand new basil plant (for indoors during the winter, perhaps?)!

Life is sweet,

Friday, September 21, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Tomatillos!

No tomatillos on the menu this week, but a tomatillo miracle, right in my backyard...that I just had to share real quick...

I bought one tomatillo plant this spring and while it had hundreds of flowers, no ripening fruit as of August.  I did some research and it turns out that tomatillos are one of the only "self-infertile" vegetable plants, ie, it can't produce offspring without a partner plant.

Just as I was about to rip out the tomatillo plant in August, I discovered what seemed to be a small tomatillo ripening and look what I harvested this week...

Somewhere in our neighborhood there must be someone growing tomatillos, or perhaps I've witnessed a tomatillo miracle.  If you love tomatillos, you'll love this amazing Tomatillo Dip, which is great for a new tailgate dish, or as a dip with some grilled shrimp.

Tomorrow Autumn is here, so how about some healthy meals inspired by the cooler weather?

Next Week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili, Tortilla Chips, Apple Slices

Pizza Margherita , Mixed Greens Salad, Plums

Five Spice BBQ Pork Tenderloin,  Napa Asian Slaw, Fresh Mango
Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce, Fresh Pineapple, Brown Rice
Chicken and Orzo Soup, Perfectly Simple, Oranges Sprinkled with Coconut


Chicken Sausages, Sauerkrat, Store-bought Pierogies, Green Beans

Bonus Idea:  Pumpkin Spice Dip

Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tips to Maximize Your Garden Harvest Before the Frost

With the arrival of autumn, I switch gears in our vegetable and herb garden toward trying to maximize our harvest prior to first frost.

As much as I love the changing leaves and cooler temperatures, the shorter days of autumn remind me that our garden's days are numbered.  Save for a couple perennial herbs, it will soon be time to pull out most of our garden and surrender the joy of harvesting food mere steps from our kitchen.

Through the years I've picked up a few ways to get the most out of the waning days of the growing season.  Here are some tips to maximize your harvest before the growing season ends:

Prune Any New Blossoms:  Pruning blossoms that have no hope of maturing before the frost will help concentrate the plant's energy to maturing fruit or vegetables that are close to harvest.  Look for little flowers like these and try to be ruthless:

Prune Any Blight or Yellow Leaves:  Pruning yellowed and wilted leaves likewise will concentrate the plant's energy to producing healthy fruit or vegetables:

Prune the Top of the Plant:  Again, doing so will concentrate the energy to the fruit and vegetables below:

Continue to Pick/Harvest Herbs to Prevent Flowers:  Once a herb plant, such as basil, mint, or thyme grows flowers, it signals to the plant that the growing season is complete, and herb growth will halt.  Herbs will produce more if you continually harvest them. Pick basil before the first threat of frost and make pesto, which freezes great!

Allow Herbs to go to Seed:  Some herbs, such as dill and cilantro, produce seeds that you can use in the kitchen (dill seed and coriander seeds, respectively).  However, I like to leave some seeds on the plant in the garden.  These seeds often produce new plants in the spring.

Plant Fall Seeds:  In our area it still isn't too late to plant fall crops like greens, beets, carrots and more, all of which can often last after the first frost:


Here's to a successful end of growing season and a plentiful harvest!

Life is sweet,

Friday, September 14, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Last Week of Summer

As I type I can feel the cool air seeping in through our open kitchen window.  Ahh...fall is almost here.

Fall is my favorite time of the year, with the cool evenings, crisp mornings and all the changing colors.  I love everything about games, sweaters, sleeping with the windows open, comfort food and soups...even the shorter days, which encourage me to slow down and have a bit more down time.

And while it feels pretty fall-like today, this coming week is the last week of summer.  So how about one last summer weekly menu?

Next week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Black Bean and Avocado Tostadas (have you tried these yet?  they are super fast!), Mango

Fancy Grilled Cheese (usually with gourmet cheese and greens, bacon or tomato),  Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup 
Shrimp and Grits, Green Beans, Orange Slices
Falafel with Yogurt Tahini Sauce, Hummus, Raspberries
Quinoa with Sauteed Kale, Chef Salad, Fresh Pineapple
Chicken Paprikash (Slow Cooker), Sauteed Broccoli, Apple Slices

Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Garlicky Smashed Tomato and Arugula Spaghetti

Earlier in the spring, my friend Erin shared some special heirloom Black Cherry and Chadwick tomato seeds.  Bought from a local farm, every single seed sprouted and the plants have been sharing their delicious cherry tomatoes with us all summer.  (Thanks Erin!)

I love cherry tomatoes, and this recipe highlights them in a rich tomato sauce that is offset by some fresh arugula before serving.  Using a recipe I saw on television for Bruschetta Puttanesca, I created this idea for a pasta that is healthful, quick and most of all:  delicious.  This recipe is easy for a weeknight but special enough for company.

Garlicky Smashed Tomato and Arugula Spaghetti

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
8 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovy fillets, chopped (optional, but they add a great depth of flavor and saltiness to this dish, and sort of "melt" when they are cooked)
2 pints (about 4 cups) grape or cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 generous handfuls of arugula (or baby spinach)
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil.  Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet.  Heat to medium high and add the garlic and anchovies.  Cook 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, capers, olives, pepper and additional 1 tablespoon oil and stir well to combine.

Cover and cook 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and allow the mixture to continue simmering until some of the extra liquid has evaporated.  Smash any tomatoes with a wooden spoon that haven't "exploded" on their own.

Drain pasta.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and the tomato mixture.  Let cool 1-2 minutes and add the arugula.  Toss well and serve.

Serves 6.

Life is sweet,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Garden Cucumber Salsa

Who doesn't love an easy-to-prepare, no-cook and healthy dish?  I sure do.

So here's one of my favorites:  it can be served with chips, on top of grilled fish or meat, or as a side salad.  Cucumbers are prolific this time of year, so use some fresh local produce and whip up this tasty salsa!

Cucumber Salsa

1 medium cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup red or yellow pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well.  Taste.  Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Tastes best if allowed to marinate 1 hour or more before serving.'

Makes about 2 cups salsa.

Life is sweet,

Friday, September 7, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Eat Together!

I love all the sorts of crazy "National Day of ___this or that___" or "International Month of ______."   I did a quick google search and found out that September is both International Square Dancing Month AND National Papaya Month.  Huh.

(Side note:  I checked and today is also National Acorn Squash Day, in case you want to celebrate.)

But on a serious note, next week is National Eat Together Week.  Why should we celebrate eating together? 

Did you know the more often families eat together the less likely the kids in the family are to smoke, drink, experiment with drugs and have emotional health issues, all while being more likely to succeed in school and life?

So try eating together as a family more often this week...without the television on, without any technology at the table (yes, that means you too), without any distractions.  Just eat.  And talk.  Need help getting the ball rolling for your conversation?  Try a simple question of "what were your highs and lows of today?"  You may be amazed at what you discover.

For the meal plan this week, I kept it simple.  Less time in the kitchen prepping, more time at the table talking. 

This week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Vegetarian Taco Soup 
 Mom's Oh-so-good Tilapia, Greens, Brown Rice, Fresh Peaches
Home Run (Mediterranean) Pasta Salad, Fresh Pineapple

Paninis,  Marinated Green Bean and Red Onion Salad, Red Grapes

Slow Cooker Moo Shu Pork, Mango
Cherry Tomato, Basil and Corn Pasta Salad, Apples dipped in Peanut Butter

Snack Idea:  Watermelon Salsa


Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sweet Potato and Chard Cakes

I am thoroughly convinced that sweet potatoes and greens, paired together, are one of the most underrated flavor combinations.  The subtle sweetness and richness of sweet potatoes offset the slightly bitterness and earthiness of the greens.

I love the flavor profile of these two vegetables in my Sweet Potato and Spinach Enchiladas, so I tried a new application, Sweet Potato and Chard Cakes.  Oh.  my.  You want to know the best part?  Not only do these flavors rock, they deliver one powerful nutrient punch.

Sweet Potato and Chard Cakes

1 medium or large sweet potato
1/2 cup packed, chopped Swiss Chard (or spinach, kale, collards or even beet greens)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon smoked (or regular) paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup whole wheat (or all-purpose) flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Using a food processor if you have one, grate the sweet potato (you do not need to peel it, just clean it well).  Alternatively, you can use a grater, but the food processor makes quick work of the job.

In a large bowl, combine the shredded sweet potato, chard, eggs, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and baking powder.  Mix well.

Add the flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until you reach about 1/2 cup and the mixture has a thick consistency.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

Once the pan is warm (let it preheat for 3-4 minutes), scoop about 1/3 cup of the sweet potato mixture and place on the skillet, flattening slightly.  Repeat until the skillet is full, but do not over-crowd the cakes, as this will lessen the browning.
Cover the skillet.  Let cook 4-5 minutes.
Flip the cakes and cook an additional 3-4 minutes.

Remove and place on a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up any residual oil.

Add the additional tablespoon of oil to the skillet and repeat.

Makes about 8 cakes.

Life is sweet,