The Zucchini “Problem” and My Vegetti

 photo IMG_0567.jpgThose of you who’ve grown zucchini know that if the plant works, you go very quickly from wondering if you’ll ever get any zucchini to stuffing zukes in neighbor’s mailboxes when they’re not looking to offload some of your surplus. For the past several years my zucchini have been decidedly in the NOT WORKING category, so I’ve not had to force squash on the cul-de-sac, but this year (largely I think because I got ahead of the bugs early), we have zucchini.

While I like zucchini, I admit that even I am not a fan of the traditional sautéed squash, so I’ve become a zucchini seeker. How else can we use this prolific nutritious gift without having it be, well, yucky? Big Sis and I have shared a few zucchini secrets in the past, but I found a new, and perfectly lovely solution, right there in the “As Seen on TV” display. If you just laughed, then you should admit that you’ve been tempted to look yourself. I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw a little gadget that claimed that it would spiral cut my vegetables for $10 and would fit in a drawer, the Veggetti Spiral Vegetable Cutter. I snatched that little sucker up.

And let me tell you what. It works. It actually does what it apparently says it does on TV. With little effort and about a minute of turning I had enough spiral zucchini noodles for 2 adult dinner sized portions – from one zucchini. Nice.
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 photo IMG_0499.jpgBeing fans of Mediterranean food, we naturally concluded that we could put tomato sauce right on those bad boys and call it dinner, but we were feeling a little zesty, so we went in another direction, sort of a deconstructed zucchini chili mac.I simply prepared the fixins that I would normally serve for us to make burritos and instead of wrapping everything up in a tortilla, we served it on top of zucchini noodles. And it was delish. My vote on the Vegetti? A resounding yes, and I can’t wait to make some zucchini noodles for Pasta Sunday. Next time I post I’ll have another fab zucchini suggestion straight from the heart of Maryland. Hope you’re all having a lovely summer!

Buying Healthy at Costo: My Faves

The first time I went to Costco it was with a neighbor. I told her I don’t do well in large stores with lots of different kinds of things to see. “Let me guess; you freeze up?” Why yes, yes I do. She shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. John does the same thing. I’ve got practice. I’ll get you through.”

I like to think that I’ve gotten a little better at managing my scene at Costco. I no longer need a guide or sherpa. I’ve never been tempted by the vehicles or pianos (although I confess camping gear can get a little dicey). I attempt to take a list, and sometimes I even stick to it (silence in the peanut gallery please). At any rate, through all this increasingly disciplined procurement I have discovered that Costco has some remarkable deals on some healthful foods. These have become staples for me that make it easier for me to plan highly nutritious meals or to fake a planned meal with high quality ingredients. While Costco does offer a significant amount of prepared food, they also have a remarkable number of real food ingredients. If you are skeptical, or still in the frozen stage of your Costco relationship, I thought I’d share my top healthful purchases at our local Costco, so you can guide yourself through the onslaught of offers.

1) Produce  photo IMG_0510.jpg

There are a lot of good deals on produce at Costco, although many of them are packaged in ways that I just can’t stomach, so I’m going to focus on the really exceptional, and less poorly packaged, deals here. My favorite Costco discovery is the bag of Power Greens. It has several hearty greens mixed together and is perfect for adding to salads, soups, smoothies, and anything else you would normally add greens to. Don’t forget greens freeze just fine, so the size of the bag shouldn’t put you off. It’s 4.99 for a massive bag of greens that you would normally buy in little piddly amounts in a plastic box. Carrots are also an exceptional Costco score provided you use them a lot. We are carrot lovers and use our 10 lb bag in plenty of time. This bag comes with two bags inside, so it would also be easy to split with a carrot loving friend. Avocados at a dollar apiece? Yes please.

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Frozen produce is also a good deal with organic sweet peas going for just over a dollar a pound. Our Costco also offers frozen organic corn and mixed vegetables. You can find other great deals on dried fruit at Costco. They offer a wide variety of high quality dried fruit at lower than grocery store prices. Just check the ingredients to find the varieties that do not have added sugar. ;-)

2) Nuts and Seeds

While Costco does not fill my raw cashew needs, they manage to answer all my other nut cravings and requirements, and again they do it at prices that consistently beat grocery stores, even those with bulk bins. Kirkland almonds, pecans, walnuts and pistachios are permanent residents on my Costco list. We’ve also gotten pine nuts and chia seeds there (prohibitively expensive at the market, and they do keep just fine).

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3) Grains and Beans

 photo IMG_0546.jpgOrganic brown rice at Costco rings in at 1.16 per pound. Costco also sells sprouted dried beans and organic quinoa at better than grocery store prices.

4) Nut Butters While with the nut prices Costco has, I should really be making my own nut butters, I confess that I don’t. This is one place where I let convenience win the day. Kirkland brand organic peanut butter is a staple in our house. We’ve recently been pleased to also find organic almond butter, both at substantially lower prices than I can find them in the market.  photo IMG_0526.jpg  photo IMG_0528.jpg

5) Pantry Staples  photo IMG_0534.jpg

This is the category for a miss-mosh of ingredients that we buy at Costco and that we’ve found to be higher quality, and less expensive, than any of our other local options. Our Costco pantry staples include: Kirkland maple syrup, Kirkland extra virgin olive oil, dijon mustard, and Kirkland balsamic vinegar.

6) Beverages  photo IMG_0519.jpg

While we no longer buy most of the packaged beverages offered at Costco, we do enjoy the screamin’ deals on snooty coffee. If you are a whole bean coffee purchaser, you should check their prices out. We also occasionally take advantage of sales on coconut water.

7) Bread  photo IMG_0508.jpg

We have had a good experience with whole grain sandwich bread at Costco and have also occasionally enjoyed the gigantic stack of whole wheat tortillas that they sell for the same price as a dinky grocery store package.

8) Better Junk While we typically eschew junk food, the occasional whole grain tortilla chip goes a long way toward limiting the sense of overwhelming deprivation that can consume my kids. Costco has great prices on a few items that I would categorize as better junk. We typically buy one of these for gatherings or vacations and enjoy the leftovers.

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So there you have it, the bulk of my permanent Costco list on my phone (which the children now read and manage in a very dictatorial fashion, much to my chagrin). One of the biggest barriers to healthier eating is the cost of high quality ingredients. If you already have a Costco membership, check out these amazing deals. If you don’t have one, but are now tempted, consider giving it a try – or touring the store and doing the personal calculation of whether or not it makes sense for you, or for you and a friend. I am staring at that picture of chips as I write this… I am weak in the face of chips. Hope you are all having a glorious summer and if you are already a huge box store shopper, what are your favorite healthy (or healthier) deals?

Banana Biscuits – GF / DF

Look at all the lovely letters at the end of our recipes indicating what it is and what it ain’t.  Well these biscuits should be GF / DF / not CB, because they are not like cardboard.  They actually had a little fluff going on, and were really quite delightful.  I do love a biscuit, so one that is low on fat and can be eaten by y GF/DF family and friends is great except that it means less for me.  Ah well.  The problem with good food is that other people want to eat up all those potential leftovers, huh?

One key to a good biscuit is a hard fat that gets distributed without melting too fast or weighing things down with liquid.  No butter allowed over here at my house, so coconut oil placed in the freezer before use served the hard fat need.  Banana offered some moisture / replaced some of the fat, and good ol’ Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix removed the wheat from the equation as well.

We ate these with a little orange marmalade and found that to be quite a treat for a weekend breakfast :-)

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Banana Biscuits (I will definitely double this recipe next time, but if you want to stick your toes in first, try this amount which yields 4 large biscuits)

1 1/2 cup gluten free flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tsp lemon zest
1/3 – 1/2 cup mashed banana (after mashing.  It was a medium large banana)
1/3 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond)
3 Tbsp hard coconut oil (Stick it in the frig the night before – or in the freezer if you forget)

Pre-heat oven to 375
Mix the dry ingredients and zest together.
In a separate bowl (or large glass measuring cup), mash the banana and then mix in the milk.
Cut the coconut oil into pieces and mix in with a pastry cutter or a large fork if you don’t have a pastry cutter.

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Add the mixed banana and milk and stir to combine but don’t over-mix or mash.
Spread out on a cutting board or counter to a thickness of about an inch.

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Use a glass to cut biscuits.
Place on a cookie sheet
Bake for about 12 – 14 minutes or until browning just a touch on top

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Eat warm.

My son ate his with peanut butter….. makes sense, don’t you think?

 

Cold Comfort in a Hearty Salad

The heat is on! Summer is finally really here and so far it’s been lovely. Only brutally hot for a couple of days at a time, lots of play, and good friends all around. While I wouldn’t go so far to categorize my summer as all play and no work, I have been really making the most of time and effort saving cooking strategies to maximize fun time. Let’s face it, when it’s 95 degrees outside and everyone’s been playing as hard as they can for hours, the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven.

Big Sis and I have many times highlighted the importance of cooking extra when we cook in order to create leftovers or to create ingredients that can be used in a later meal. I especially like to do this in the summer. Whenever I cook grains in particular, I try to make twice what I would normally make so that I have some in the fridge for later, and colder dishes.

All of this is leading up to a lovely recipe mash I put together last night, with leftover quinoa playing a secondary, but much appreciated role. The inspiration came from a great dish I made with a great friend last week. She shared a cookbook with me that she had found and after we finished drooling over the pictures (Fresh from the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Storiessuch great pictures), we skimmed for a dinner and came across a quinoa and bean salad that looked like just the ticket. We made it, and it was great, and we had the summer joy of eating it cold for several lunches and dinners.

 photo IMG_0478.jpgUpon my return home, I remembered my big bag of sprouted beans, and a recipe on that bag. It was similar to the quinoa salad, and so I decided to use it as a loose guideline to recreate the quinoa and bean dish. This recipe results in a generous amount, good for a summer cookout or for several days of lunching and munching from the fridge.

Sprouted Bean and Quinoa Salad

  •  photo IMG_0488.jpg2 cups dry beans (any beans would work here, the sprouted bag I have has a nice variety of sizes which contributes to texture for the dish)
  • 1 c cucumber, chopped
  • 1/3 c chopped scallions
  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 c chopped tomatoes (I like cherry or grape for cold salads)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 c cooked quinoa or other grain
  • 3/4-1 t cumin
  • 1 t salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • hot sauce if desired

Cook your beans according to the bag or standard bean cooking procedures. As usual, I highly recommend lentils for quick cooking time. Rinse with cold water to cool off. Add to large bowl with the other ingredients. Stir gently to combine. Yup, that’s it. Delish.

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Oh, and what’s that cool thing that squeezes the lemons (even the strangely large ones) without getting seeds in the food? Yeah, that’s a very cool and sturdy tool very cool and sturdy tool given to me by one of my absolute favorite people in the world. You can have one too, if you don’t like lemon seeds in your salad.

Grilled dessert… with or without chocolate

Grilled vegetables are not new to me, and like roasted vegetables, I never tire of them.  Whatever you have in the garden or the vegetable bin will probably be great coated with a little oil or marinade and then skewered, ka-bob’ed, wrapped in foil, laid right on the grate or tossed in a fancy grilling box to sizzle over the coals for 15 – 30 minutes depending on how big you cut it and how tough it is.  I particularly like to include colored peppers for their sweetness and red onion because it infuses everything with a lovely flavor.  Zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, green beans, whole cherry or grape tomatoes – it’s all good!  Corn is good on the grill also and Little Sis has a no-fuss method here.

The eye-opener for us this summer is grilled pineapple.  After the veggies are done, we just lay rings of pineapple (I’ve used fresh, not tried canned) right on the grate and let them sit until warm or seared – whatever you like!  I do brush the slices very lightly with oil first – I used avocado, but coconut would be awesome as well – both of these are safe high heat oils.  Let them cook about 5 minutes a side, but keep an eye because it all depends on how hot and how close the coals.

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The flavor is amazing!!!  Sweet, juicy and a perfect summer dessert.  The first time we did this the fire was hotter and we got the lovely brown char lines on the pineapple.  Last night the fire was cooler, so no lines, but it was still awesome.  Our guests really enjoyed it.  One of our brilliant guests spied the dark chocolate that the children had rejected for use in s’mores and wondered if the pineapple would be even better with chocolate on top.  Well, very few things suffer from the addition of chocolate, so…. we tried it.

Melt some squares of chocolate – estimate how much you’ll need for the amount of pineapple in question.  We did not have much pineapple left, so I did probably 2 ounces.  Adding a little coconut oil makes it drizzlier, I added very little- probably 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon.

Melt slowly in the microwave (15 – 20 seconds a few times, then less, stirring between), or in a double boiler.

Cut your pineapple into chunks and either drizzle the chocolate over, or let people dip.  Luckily the kids didn’t see what we were doing right away.  Let them have s’mores – I’ll take chocolate drizzled pineapple any day of the week!  Mixed in with friends, kids setting off  bottle rockets, and top it all off with reading beside the fire after the guests were gone and the evening was very sweet all around!

20140705_202014-001Have you got any fruit on the grill this summer?

 

Green Beans, Raspberries and Almonds Oh My!

 photo IMG_0459.jpgSummer is here FOR REAL. Know how I know? It’s not the lack of school. It’s not the calendar. It’s not the heat. It’s not the clothes and toys strewn around the house with wild abandon. It’s the garden. My garden has told me that summer is well and truly here by giving me a glorious bounty of green beans and raspberries.

We planted a small grouping of raspberry canes three years ago. I now have a raspberry thicket that in the last two days has yielded 8 cups of deliciously sweet and fabulous raspberries. And that’s after the Japanese Beetles take a share. I must have found one of those magic spots in gardening, because frankly I’ve not done anything special for these raspberry canes. They are so vigorous that they are taming the mint that somehow got in the ground over there (what kind of idiot would plant mint in the ground… ahem… yeah…).

 photo IMG_0465.jpgMy favorite summer meal game is to look at the produce I have and find a way to put it together and enjoy it. So a few days ago I was staring at a big bowl of green beans and a big bowl of raspberries. Why not? I’ve done beans with oranges, why not berries? Why not indeed?

Green Beans with Raspberries and Almonds

  • olive oil for the pan
  • green beans – as fresh as possible, so much yummier fresh
  • salt to taste
  • raspberries
  • almonds
  • balsamic vinegar

Yes, that’s it. No I don’t have quantities. I feel confident saying that your own preferences can rule the day on this one. Warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the green beans to the pan. The key is to sauté the beans until they are just al dente. They will get a little deeper green and sweat a little. Add a sprinkle of salt. When beans are very nearly to the tenderness you prefer (yes, you have to taste them to determine this), add the raspberries and almonds. Give them some gentle stirs. Splash in some balsamic vinegar and stir gently to distribute. The raspberries are delicate and will disintegrate if you over-bother them. When warm, remove from heat and serve. Eat as soon as possible and with great summery gusto. Delish!
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Quick and Easy Tacos – no spice packet required!

There is a rack in the grocery store that is supposed to make life a lot easier.  Rows of shiny packets full of spice combos or spice / thickener combos that can turn a few ingredients into a spectacular meal, right?  I used to use the taco seasoning mixes to whip up some tacos because everybody loves tacos, but as I started to make more things for myself it struck me that I could probably do this more authentically and without the added ingredients that I probably wouldn’t really want!

You can make your taco base with any number of things: chicken, fish, beans, lentils, or even quinoa!  From there it is another opportunity to offer a little variety of toppings that include crispy fresh offerings of the season or form your garden.

I prepare chicken about once a week, and that is the route I took here.  I really think you could use this on any of the above.  I provide the amount of chicken I used to give you an idea of how to adapt the spices to the amount of whatever you use.

Quick & Easy Tacos
a little oil in the pan (I used avocado because of the high smoke point)
2 tsp cumin seed
1 onion
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (well worth the spice investment – really adds great, smoky flavor)
1/2 tsp salt
1.75 lb chicken meat, cut into bite sized pieces (or sub beans, fish or quinoa)
optional tabasco or cayenne
optional oats for thickening (start low, 1/8 cup whole oats)

 

Toppings of your choice: lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, salsa, red onion, avocado, cheese of whatever variety your tribe eats, etc.

Taco shells – we used Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot & Blue Taco Shells, which are indeed hot, and indeed blue – so I did not use a lot of heat in the sauce, you can add tobasco or cayenne if you like!

Heat the oil in a large saute pan
Add the cumin seed and let heat a bit
Add the onion until almost translucent
Add the other spices for a couple of minutes
Add your chicken or whatever else you are using
When it is almost cooked through, decide if you want some thickening.
Add oats if you do and stir until thicker

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Pile filling into warm taco shells
Put your toppings on…

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and crunch into a big, tasty mess ;-)

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What is your favorite base for tacos?

BBQ Slaw as a Main Dish? Yes, Please (GF,DF)

Summer has arrived and while on the one hand that means veggies are becoming plentiful and delicious and oh so fresh, but it’s also the time for all kinds of food traditions that don’t line up as well with my current efforts. Let me be clear – I am no purist. If the occasion or the offering is adequately compelling, I will ditch my well-honed nutritional guidelines, but in order to have that only be a very occasional complete gustatorial debauch, I am also very much in favor of scratching the craving itch without crossing any health lines.

So one of the things I admit a weakness for is barbecue. Barbecued whatever. It’s typically not as appealing to me as it used to be as I’ve developed some real aversions to the usual carriers of barbecue sauce, but I can still bring the flavor to my mouth just by thinking about it. Oh yes, I can dig some barbecue.

In my family, barbecue meant North Carolina barbecue and I love love love that and it falls into the category of foods for which I will nutritionally sin and that is the end of that. But when it comes to the other kind – the tomato-y kind, that’s the one I’d like to flirt with, but not really take home. This dilemma has been solved. Thanks, in part, to The Washington Post.

Apparently North Carolina Piedmont Slaw is a thing. It’s a regional thing, and I now officially love it. Especially since I tampered with it and made it a meal, not a side. Ditched some of the sugar, and added sprouted beans to make the most powerful summertime party slaw you’re gonna wanna eat. No fear, I’m sure unsprouted beans would also be fine, I just happened to have an enormous bag of sprouted ones (thank you Costco).

Power Barbecue Slaw inspired by North Carolina Piedmont Slaw, Washington Post

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  • 1 medium head cabbage (I used half green, half red)
  • 2 c dried beans of small size, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (read the nutritional label to check sugar content)
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t paprika
  • hot sauce to taste

Why the two colors of cabbage? Because it’s pretty, yup, that’s it. Know what else? Cabbage is CHEAP. This is a veggie where I can let my aesthetic preferences govern the budget. I initially started grating the cabbage in the food processor, but didn’t like how small it was grating, so I only did half of it that way. Honestly, cabbage is not hard to chop as it does a lot of the work for you, what with all those little segments. Moving on, chopped cabbage in large bowl. Add drained, and preferably cool, or at least cooled with cold water rinse beans.

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Mix the next 6 ingredients in a separate bowl. Add to cabbage and beans. Mix gently to distribute. Serve as part of a salad, serve as a side, or do like we did and turn it into a sloppy jane, with a few pecans on top. Oh yes. That’s some good summer eating. Delish.

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Half Raw Veggies, Full On Taste

You know I love stir-fry.  Who doesn’t?  Quick, easy, adaptable, and even most kids will eat it – even though you can hide all manner of vegetables in there ;-).

It was fully my intention on a recent evening to make a Raw Pad Thai c/o Julie Daniluk (Meals That Heal Inflammation).  It’s really delicious but I got started late and forgot scallions, and, well…. in true Sis sister fashion I sort of made something different with what I had.   Usually these forays into the land of scrappy / adapty cooking are good enough, but this was truly amazing… if I do say so myself.   Oh wait!  Mr. Bigg Sis and Very Amusing and Not Yet Snide 13 year old boy also thought it was amazing.  Having just eaten some leftover for lunch, I thought I’d share it with you!

So what’s with the half raw?  Well, I like the idea of using raw zucchini for the noodles in the Julie Daniluk recipe, but I didn’t feel like doing the prep work.  In addition I had some broccoli stems to get rid of and my favorite way to do that is to cut off the too tough parts, shred it in the food processor and add it to stir fry.  The sauce is what rules here.  It is easier than the original and puts the garlic in with the stir fried veggies.  I’m not a huge fan of raw garlic.

Half-Raw Stir Fry

Cook rice of your liking – I used black rice for this

Stir Fry:
1/2 – 1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
broccoli stems or florets (or both) if using stems, shred in food processor
3 – 4 carrots (I shred mine in processor – so easy!!)
1 very small head red cabbage (or half of a larger) also shredded
4 small zucchini (also shredded)
A handful of pineapple chunks if you have it and like it!

Heat oil and garlic until garlic becomes fragrant.
Add broccoli and carrots and stir fry for about 4 minutes
Turn off heat and add zucchini and red cabbage (and optional pineapple).

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Sauce: (adapted from Julie Daniluk’s Raw Pad Thai
6 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp Braggs or soy sauce
1 Tbsp honey
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 tsp grated ginger

Mix all together.  It will be thick.  If you prefer a thinner sauce you can water it down with a little water.

Serve rice with veggies and let each person daub some sauce on top.

Some might like a plate (with some roasted green beans on the side):

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And some might like a bowl (with roasted green beans on the side):

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And one can eat as is, or mix in one’s preferred amount of sauce.

20140619_180528  Because of the raw zucchini and red cabbage it will not keep for a long time as a leftover.  I just had some 2 days after the fact and the zucchini was decidedly less cheerful, although still tasty.

If you are interested in more raw veggie dishes, check out Little Sis’ amazing raw, dairy free, gluten free Italian offerings

Sweet Potato Chili w/ Greens

My garden is not very extensive this year due to other commitments, but ahhh the pleasures of hearty greens!  Swiss chard in particular is easy to start – easy to grow and it keeps on coming back!  Especially when the rain and sun alternate so regularly as they have been doing here in Middle Tennessee.  This was the only plant that I managed to start indoors and then transfer to the ground this year, so it makes me smile every time I look at it.  (I’m pretty easy to please, no?)

Ain't it purty?

Ain’t it purty?

 

One of my favorite things to do with hearty greens (chard, kale, collards, spinach, mustard greens, beet greens – I’m sure I forgot one!) is toss handfuls into soups, stews and chilis.  They are much less offensive to the non-greens appreciators in the crowd that way but still bring a bang of nutrition and some color to any dish.  They also make dinner feel fresh when what you’ve really done is open the pantry door and said, “Hmmmm – I’m not very prepared, what can I throw in a pot and call dinner tonight?”

 

You guessed it.  I was doing just that recently and am about to share the results.  As always, Little Sis and I encourage you to see our recipes as food for thought as well as body in that substitutions are encouraged, welcomed and will probably make it taste better as well ;-)  It takes a village to make a really good meal!

So I give you Sweet Potato Chili w/ Greens Continue reading