Saute the Squash

30 Jul

I am always looking for something new with my side dishes. At meals, I like to feature more protein, veggies, and fruits than starches. Oh sure, starches are super yummy,  but I tend to opt for fresher options. Since i enjoy cooking, I also like to keep up with food trends and techniques.

That said, I work full-time, am a mom, and have a pretty packed lifestyle. Time is my most valuable commodity. I usually save my big new cooking adventures for weekends when I have more time to tinker in the kitchen. Sometimes I luck out and trying something new can be added into my weeknight “quick cooking” repertoire. Which is exactly what happened recently.

I had a gift card for a cookware store from my sweet sister in law Kathy. What fun! Going into a kitchen store, for me, is delightful and indulgant. But even with a gift card I look for the biggest bang for my buck. In a kitchen store, that means that I would not invest in a “single use” kitchen gadget. What I mean by that is if a kitchen tool only has one use, it has no place in my kitchen. Unitl now…..

I had seen the new trend with sprializing zucchini and squash. “Zucchetti” was the clever moniker, and this new technique for zucchini resembled pasta like spaghetti and lasagna noodles.  So naturally I was drawn to this cool new kitchen tool, and sought it out gift card in hand. Bingo! I found one and couldnt wait to get home and try it.

This gadget was a snap to work from the get go. I spiralized large and small width “Zucchetti”. I sauteed tomatoes to pair with it, and it turned out so well it is now on the dinner table (and lunch leftovers at the office!) quite often. Let me show you what I did.


I placed some freshly washed grape tomatoes into a small saucepan with a bit of olive oil, and let that simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes. The tomatoes got saucy, fragrant, and creamy. After that,  I simply sautéed the spiraled squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I then combined the two, and voila! I finished it off with some fresh parsley and basil from my summer garden. With a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese it was a complete, and completely delicious, side dish.



Zuchetti has become so much more than a simple side dish this summer. I have used this with marinara sauce, a bright lemony shrimp sauce, and other pasta sauces using zuchetti instead of pasta noodles. Whether using this as a side dish or a feature in the center of the plate item, this is a tasty replacement for starchy rice or pasta.

So even though I purchased a kitchen gadget that had basically one function, the flexibility of what can be done with the spriralized zucchini is endless.  Now my zuchetti is a mainstay for light and tasty meals. What can you do with it?



Breakfast Blunder

18 Feb

We have all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what does that mean in terms of good health? Well, it means that having a healthy breakfast is critical to establishing a positive eating pattern for the rest of the day. So bring on the Frosted Flakes. Huh?

If you are watching the sugar intake, and we all need to, then try to choose something low in sugar for breakfast. A poor breakfast choice would be sugar coated cereal like Frosted Flakes, and a good choice to start our day would include yogurt. Right?

Well, not necessarily. Some breakfast cereal has long been considered nothing more than a sugar delivery system by professional nutritionists like myself. So recommending yogurt over Frosted Flakes makes sense. But surprise! Not if you are concerned about sugar.

Let’s start to deconstruct sugar in the diet. Sugar is one of three kinds of carbohydrate: starch, fiber and sugar. It can occur naturally or can be added to foods during processing. Naturally occurring sugars include lactose in milk and fructose in fruit.

Added sugars originate from many plants, including corn, beets, and sugar cane. Those sugars are processed before being added to foods. The body does not always know the difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. But it adds up.

Okay…enough with the chemistry lesson. Back to the cereal and yogurt. We can compare one 8 ounce serving of yogurt and one  3/4 cup serving of Frosted Flakes. These are the serving sizes listed on the label. Which breakfast has less sugar? Lets take a look.

But first,  I am going to let you in on some nutritional math. When looking at grams of sugar on a nutritional panel, keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. Now let’s do some math.

This yogurt has 37 grams of sugar per 8 ounce serving. Soooooo…this “low fat” yogurt, a food generally thought to be a good choice, has a whopping 9.25 teaspoons of sugar. Whoa! Pretty surprising, right?



The sugar coated breakfast cereal has less sugar than the yogurt. How much less? Back to that serving size of 3/4 cup. The breakfast cereal has 10 grams of sugar. Using our math, this equates to 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Quite a bit less than the yogurt. Milk has sugar in it too, so its fair to say that the cereal would increase in sugar if milk is added. Even with milk, though, the cereal is still lower in sugar than the yogurt.


 It’s time to make smarter choices in the morning so we can set our day up for good nutrition from the start. How can you do that? Start reading labels. Take this math to the pantry and to the grocery store. By increasing your awareness of sugar in your food your decision about the most important meal of the day just may change.

Raising a Foodie

11 Feb

Home cooked meals have long been on my family dinner table.  My children take their lunch to school. Buying it there is not an option.  And our family supper table is typically graced by my children and their friends.  Why?

Well, for one thing, I am a good cook.  Good food, home cooking, and healthy choices are really a passion of mine.  That means that my homemade meals are typically nutritious, plentiful, and quite delicious.  I’ve been to many cooking classes in pursuit of my passion, read cookbooks, and am always nosey around a talented chef.  It is just my thing.

I just love the fellowship of cooking.  Being in the kitchen cooking up something brings friends and family close.  It is my connection, my homage to the importance of family.  Cooking, in my home, just brings us together.  This is a pretty big component the happiness of my family.

My children have an interest in food, probably because of the way I am raising them.  They also feel the joy and fellowship of creating food. My middle child, my daughter, has begun to show interest in cooking on her own. She asks questions, watches me cook, and is starting to look at recipes. She is beginning to experience the health benefits, flavors, and creativity of cooking from scratch.

And now, my youngest son is clearly a budding foodie.  He is very self sufficient, as youngest kids typically are, but he knows his palate.  He can cook.  And he is beginning to really enjoy it.

Yup. I am raising a foodie! And loving every second of it.


My son Quinn is proud of his everything bagel meatball sandwich. It smelled fantastic!

My son Quinn is proud of his everything bagel meatball sandwich. It smelled fantastic!



1 Jan

On the eve of 2016, I won’t go to a glamorous party.  I am not heading out to a swanky dinner.  No, New Years Eve, for me, is about quiet gratitude, thoughtful prayer, and personal peace.  This post is a couple of years old, but I am posting it again.  It still feels relevant to life.  Thanks for reading it.  Happy New Year!

It is now 2013. I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I do make some goals. I also reflect on the past, and think about how to improve my future. My journey to love, loyalty, forgiveness, and appreciation continues, as does the journey to discover myself. A goal for my journey is to make it a joyful one. So as I do that this year, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to those who told me I couldn’t. From you I learned that I can.

Thank you to those who gossiped. From you I learned how to hold my friends dear, and how important it is to keep my mouth shut.

Thank you to those with no faith. From you I learned that God is central in my life, and that my faith runs deep.

Thank you to those who told me that I am weak. From you I learned fierce inner strength and confidence. For you allowed me to dig down and discover that I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Thank you to those that told me I was ugly. From you I found my inner beauty.

Thank you to those that put up barriers in my life. From you, I learned how to tear down walls and fight for what I want.

Thank you to those who told me that I am not a good mother. From you I learned that my commitment to motherhood is beautifully imperfect, and perfectly loving.

Thank you to those that put me second (or more accurately third, fourth or fifth) . From you I learn to put myself first.

Thank you to those who are loud and demand attention. From you I learned to be quiet.

Thank you to those who created drama in my life. From you I am learning to truly appreciate peace.

Thank you to those who have an overpowering sense of entitlement. From you I am learning to appreciate everything that I have.

Thank you to those who told me to quit. From you I am learning perseverance.

Thank you to those who brag. From you I learn humility.

Thank you to those that lied to me. From you I am learning the importance of the truth.

Thank you to those who are false and phony. From you I am learning the importance of being genuine.

Thank you to the people who showed me kindness not because I am needy but because you are good.

Thank you to those who extended generosity, for you have enabled me to more openly give to others.

Thank you for those of you that protected me not because I am weak but because you are loyal.

Thank you to those that shared their strength with me during times when I wavered. For you give me the power to be a pillar of strength to someone else.

I am no different from anyone else. I have been hurt. I have felt pain of deceit, the heart break of divorce, cruel disloyalty, and the sting of failure. From that I rise up. Push forward. Continue on. I give thanks to those by my side, and for those that, it seems, turned against me. From everyone whose life has touched mine, I learn. It is easy to be thankful for the great people in your life and to love them. The challenge lies in loving and learning from every body else.

This blog addresses mostly food. Today it is about fruits. The fruits of the spirit.  So I enter this year with gratitude, an open spirit, and prepared to learn more lessons!  I am grateful to everyone that has touched my life and continues to shape the person I am, and the person I am becoming.  So to you I say thank you!

The Next Meal

27 Dec

The winter chill is here to stay for a while. The great thing about cold weather is that it  ushers in the season of comfort food. Warm flavors start floating around in my head. Basil. Tomatoes. Roasted red peppers. Yes…it’s time to make some soup.

Creamy tomato basil soup was on my mind the other day, so after getting home from work I made a big bubbly pot of it from scratch. Grilled cheese sandwiches alongside the soup made a wonderful winter meal. Yummers! It was a belly warmer-perfect for a cold winter night.

Leftover soup was a treat for lunch the next day. But since I made such a big batch, the leftovers were abundant. It’s true that soup freezes beautifully. And it is so helpful on a busy weeknight to pull soup from the freezer for a meal in a snap. But this time I got creative with my soup.

One of the reasons I love leftovers is because they can become another special meal. They can stretch beyond their original purpose. So what next? A whole new meal. My savory tomato basil soup became pasta sauce.

I had some stuffed shells in the freezer. Out they came, and into a glass baking dish. My soup also came out of the fridge. I layered a bit of soup on the bottom of the baking dish. then I placed the shells on top of the soup. Then I poured the rest of the leftover tomato basil soup on top of the shells. Even though the soup was seasoned beautifully, I sprinkled some oregano on top. Tin foil covered the dish and into the oven it went.img_8370

After about 30 minutes covered, I took the tinfoil off of the dish. The shells bubbled away in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, then out it came. I cooked some veggies, and had some delicious french bread. Boom! Dinner was done. Soup to sauce to yum!

So go ahead. Embrace winter and make some soup. Then take your cream of mushroom soup and use it for sauce on your steak. Take your beer cheese soup and top a potato. Use your corn chowder to slather over some roasted root veggies. Day one: soup is dinner. Day two, soup is lunch at the office. Day three, make something spectacular!


Bringin’ back the 70’s

12 Oct

I grew up with one bubbling on the countertop. The warm scent of hearty meat and flavorful vegetables filled the cold fall and winter suburban Chicago kitchen with warmth. As I braved the cold midwestern weather running track in the fall outside after school, my mind wandered to that food. Those dinners. Yum. I carried the essence of the hearty food wafting through my family home and the warmth of my mothers dinners long into adulthood. Then into motherhood.

Crock pots have been a staple of American kitchens for decades. People have a “love hate” relationship with their crock pots, but doesn’t everyone have one?  People love the time saver aspect of cooking in a crock pot, but hate the bland food. So some crock pots are buried deep in a kitchen cupboard, but come on, admit it, they lurk in most every kitchen. Have the courage to grab yours out of hiding and let it find its rightful place on the counter.

Mine was constantly in use as I quickly went from being the mother of one to a mother of three. A working mom. Undeniably, it sure is a time saver. And it really can produce savory meals. What is standing between you and your crockpot? They can produce delicious meals in a snap. So go for it! But…..

Perhaps you are of the mindset that crock pot meals are:

a) SO 70’s, and not in a good way

b) SO boring

c)  SO bland, like beige food

d) decidedly and completely unsexy food

In other words, no F-U-N!

But…..I was short on time the other morning (as usual), and wanted to get a fairly decent meal on the table for my family that night.  So I took a minute before leaving for work and grabbed a couple of things to toss into the-yes I admit it- crock pot.  My intention was to have flavorful and somewhat healthy tacos by suppertime.  So this is what i tossed into the crock pot:

2 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts

4 boneless chicken thighs (so flavorful!)

1 can corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes, with juice

1 can diced green chilis

4 ounces salsa

4 ounces salsa verde (green salsa)

1 envelope of low sodium taco seasoning

1 T. chili powder

1 T. (A generous amount-i love this flavor) cumin

salt and pepper to taste (you can always adjust this upward, so be conservative to begin with)

The chicken was still a bit frozen, but that is not problem for a crock pot.  I put the chicken in the bottom, then just dumped everything else on top.The seasonings went on the top.  I didn’t even stir it.  I just threw it together, covered the crock pot, turned it on and ran out the door.

When I came home, I opened the lid of the crock pot and gave the mixture a good stir.  I used two forks to shred the chicken while it was still in the crock pot, which was so tender it easily broke apart.  I had a quick taste, adjusted my seasonings a bit, then put the lid back on.

When dinner time came, I made some spanish rice, shredded some lettuce and cheese, Chopped some fresh jalapeño peppers, pulled the tortillas out, and dinner was served!  The tacos were kind of an all in one because of the vegetables  added to the mixture.  The dinner was nutritious and relatively low in fat.

This recipe really stretched my ingredients so it was also budget friendly.  It was an easy weeknight dinner.  True it wasn’t sexy, but it wasn’t boring either.  With all of the added vegetables, it was colorful, flavorful, nutritious, and quite satisfying.  What will you add to your crock pot?

Beet the Heat

16 Aug

Beets are the best.  Roasted.  Pickled.  Sautéed.  Cold.  Hot.  Beets are great as a side dish with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese.  They are delicious roasted along side other vegetables.  I’ve even eaten them right out of the can.  Being raised in the midwest, vegetables were always on our dinner table, but somehow beets got overlooked. So how did I get hooked?

My love affair with this herbaceous plant began in adulthood.  The first time I tried beets was a happy surprise.  I was tired of my usual repertoire of veggies and decided to try beets.  In the grocery store one day, I impulsively grabbed a fresh bunch of beets with the intention of simply roasting them.

I brought them home, put the beets on the counter, and stared them down.  Hhhmmmm.  This would be an adventure.  I washed them and laid them on paper towels.  Off came the green tops.  I peeled the fresh beets, placed them on a baking sheet, drizzled some olive oil over them, and into the oven they went.  The beets cooked up beautifully.  One taste and I was hooked.

But the thought of those greens going to waste was unthinkable.  Out of curiosity, I pinched off a green and popped it into my mouth expecting it to be tough and woody.  I was delighted to find the greens tender and flavorful.  Oh heck yes!  I would find a way to eat the greens too!  That was many seasons ago…

Now summer is on the horizon. I am beginning to think grilled, chilled and easy.   I do not want my oven on this time of year.  What is the best way to enjoy beets this season?  Piled on a garden fresh crisp salad!

But first, let’s chat for a second about the virtues of beets.  Some would say they are not a desirable or sexy vegetable, or even a popular one.  But since they are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and so versatile, beets cannot be overlooked.

The health benefits of including beets in the diet are numerous.  They are a good source of fiber, have lots of vitamin C, and are high in folate and potassium.  Beets are also a rich source of antioxidants, compounds that prevent disease and the damaging effects of oxidation of cells throughout your body.  They are very low in fat, and certainly don’t need a lot of added fat to make them taste good.

While they come in many varieties, we most often see the “blood turnip”, or red beet. They are a root vegetable, like a carrot or potato and they like to grow in cool weather.  They are available canned all year long, but we see them seasonally featured in the spring and the fall.

And remember how I said it was not considered a sexy vegetable?  Well think again.  Fruits and vegetables, like herbs, were used in ancient times as medicine.  One of the first known medicinal uses for the beet was as an aphrodisiac in ancient Greece.  There.  I said it.

Anywhoooo….beets are very easy to prepare.  If they are fresh, they can simply be peeled, drizzled with olive oil and roasted.  They are also wonderful diced and  sautéed.  Canned beets are fabulous hot or cold.  Simply open the can, rinse the beets, and toss them on a salad.  They can also be heated and enjoyed as a simple side dish.

Back to those green tops for a minute.  If you have fresh beets with the greens, do not throw those away!  The greens are also a nutrient dense food and adaptable to many dishes.  Like beets, the greens can be enjoyed raw, such as mixed with other greens in your summer salad.  They can also be sautéed much like spinach, in a little olive oil.  Season them a bit with salt and pepper, and you’ve got another phenomenal side dish.

If you’ve tried beets and didn’t like them, try them again.  If you’ve never tried them, its time to add some variety to your diet.  The health benefits  of beets are plentiful, they are budget friendly, and just plain delicious.  Let your own impulses go wild, pick up some beets up at the farmers marker or grocer, and begin your own adventure!

Delicious cold beets piled on a fresh summer salad! Yum!

Delicious cold beets piled on a fresh summer salad! Yum!