Shweet Potato Stew

Oh is there no end to the wonderfulness of the sweet potato?

“I yam what I yam,” she replies coyly from her bed in the soil.  “You dig?”

Oh I do dig – well not literally, not yet anyway.  I have not attempted to grow sweet potatoes but I should because they are so versatile and good for you, and so darn shweet.  I am afraid to count how many posts Little Sis and I have written about sweet potatoes.  If I count we might have to change the name of our blog to My Sister’s Sweet Potatoes… and that’s a little un-savory.  And that translates to a little Shweet, don’t you think?

This stew tastes complex but it’s quite simple and I know we will be eating it again real soon.  It definitely falls in the category B on Baby Step 7 of recipes that don’t take long but do require a cooking time component.  If you need it faster or Category A of fast, healthy dinners, you could either microwave your sweet potatoes first, or cook them on a day when you have time and keep  in the fridge until you’re ready to make the stew.

The lumpy orange shtew was a big hit (once again – I’m on a roll) with the now TWELVE year old boy, and would have passed the “wants to have it in the thermos for lunch at school test” had there been any left.  We ate all but a measly little portion that nobody could stuff in.

This is based on a recipe by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. Continue reading

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SOTW: Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

While it is sunny and lovely today, we’ve just come through a long spell of cold, colder, and then (my personal fave) cold and wet.  My soup pot has taken up permanent residence on the stove.  There is, simply put, nothing better than soup on a cold day.  Warms the belly and soothes a grouchy spirit (at least it does mine).  So we’ve been having soup as often as I think I can get away with it.  We have one soup detractor in the bunch – yes, the same detractor that I site for most other food groups, but the rest of us really do enjoy a hot bowl of yum.

IMG_8711This particular soup was so delicious, and so simple, that I am declaring it the Soup Of The Week so that I can share it with you with the appropriate verbal fanfare.  The  broth is so warm and comforting and the wild rice adds so much texture and nuttiness that I may just have to make another batch.  I’d thought I’d made enough to freeze some, but the soup’s popularity defeated that plan. Continue reading

Veggie Basics and Dinner

So I’ve had my ear to the ground, well, and to the laptop as it were, and I’m hearing A LOT of conversations about food – real food, healthier food, making changes, and the thing I’m hearing most is folks saying they need to EAT MORE VEGGIES (cue angel choir singing here).  So many wonderful conversations, and it’s so exciting to see/hear that folks are really trying to find some lasting change.

The rest of that conversation, however, is full of questions and frustration.  What should I cook?  What if they don’t like it?  I can’t seem to find a way to prepare these things that anyone enjoys….  This IS where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it.  All of our good intentions are for naught if the food doesn’t follow.  Today’s post is my attempt to give a little basic training on two of my favorite veggies in an attempt to help you find some ways to enjoy them.  Then I’ll show you how I ate them together in the same bowl…. I know, the suspense is killing you. Continue reading

Baby Step 7: Einstein’s Elephant -or- ReCon Convenience

Elephant skin is so tough they call it ‘hide’.  Have you ever wanted your hands to be as soft as ‘hide’?  Ever heard admiration expressed as, “Oooh.  This is as soft as an elephant’s hide!”  I’m guessing you haven’t.  Well, we at the pantry have been pushed up against the side of the elephant in our Baby Steps elephant-hide_kgr-0464kitchen for a while and it’s time for a breather.  And Einstein isn’t as bothered by this elephant as we are because he understands the elephant much better and on a grander scale than do we.

The bumpy, rough-hided elephant of which I speak, is TIME.

“Finally, Bigg Sis, you are going to talk about time….It’s about time because I haven’t got much, and I’m thinkin’ all this cooking you do takes a lot of TIME!”

I hear your shouts of frustration rending the space-time continuum….. Oh sorry, we’ll let some disciple of Einstein address that.  In the meantime, Baby Step 7: ReCon Convenience.  For this step, we are all about figuring out time as it relates to eating healthfully.  One of the major objections that most people have to cooking and eating real food is that it simply takes too long, and one of the reasons most people offer for buying carry-out and convenience foods is that they can get dinner on the table faster.  We want to challenge these assumptions, and help you figure out your own time as it relates to how you eat.  A few questions:

1) Where is my time currently wasted in regards to food procurement and preparation?

2) Where is my time wasted when I think I’m actually saving time?

3) Where will I find the time that is the difference between pulling something out of the freezer and heating it up and preparing something with real food ingredients from scratch.

4) And finally, will the Sis sisters come clean my house for me on a weekly, or I’d even settle for bi-weekly, basis?

I’ll start with the last one.  No.

Okay that was a bit harsh.  We might clean yours if you’d clean ours, It  might at least be more interesting to clean someone else’s house for a change.  Back to Baby Step 7.  We’ve given the other three questions a longer think and want to share some of our thinks with you…

1) POSSIBLE TIME WASTERS

* Too many trips to the grocery store.  (This was a biggie for us).
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Extend the period of time between grocery store trips.  Plan your meals for a period of nights, make a shopping list and get what you need.  We currently aim for 2 trips to the store a week.  One main trip after planning and another trip later in the week for the produce that won’t make it a week and/or the things I forgot!  Better than the previous 3 – 4 times per week.
STEP: come up with a plan for planning.  A time to do it, a system for recording and sharing, and a goal as to how often, or for what period of time.  Here is mine.

* Not making use of leftovers :
Always, always always make extra food and especially extra grain (rice, barley, quinoa, etc.) as these can be used in future meals (including some really fast and healthy breakfasts*).  Leftovers rule!  What is faster – making a sandwich for a lunchbox or placing leftovers in a container.  This can be done while cleaning up the evening meal as well…. 1 for Mom, 1 for Dad and 1 for whichever kid will eat that particular leftover in their lunch.
STEP: Make sure you have containers for holding leftover meals and grains.  Choose a meal to try this with, or a grain to try this with.  If you plan 2 meals in your planning time period that use the same grain you can make enough for both at one time.

* Going it alone – (I am woman, hear me roar and/or ‘nobody else does it right!’)
Make use of your technology and invite help.  My son loves to shred veggies in the food processor.  It’s like running branches through a wood chipper… what could be more fun than that?  I do believe that a food processor is a good investment in saving time in the kitchen. It shreds, it creams, it chops, and many of them are now dishwasher safe.  But honestly they are not hard to clean.  And if you plan ahead you can chop or shred the veggies for the next night’s dinner as well and only clean the machine once.
STEP: Figure out the pieces of preparation that can be done by your child or other adults in the house.  Put on some music everyone enjoys and boogie down while you cook.

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2) ReCon Your “Convenient” Meal

* How convenient is a convenience stop? Sometimes the kids are melting down and they need something placed right in the pie hole before everyone is a puddle on the floorboards of the car.    We’ve all been there and we have to do something, and it might include fast food or snacks from a convenience store.
Try to stock reasonably healthy snacks in your car for just such occasions.
Include knowledge of your schedule when you plan meals.
STEP: A) Time yourself when you make the stop for a convenience meal or a convenience snack, or for a pre-made dinner at the grocery store.  See how long it takes and write it down. So you stop the first place you see and buy some convenience foods.  How long does that really take?  It depends on where you are, but even if something is close by, you have to park, walk in, choose (with much advice),purchase and go get back in your car.
B) Challenge yourself to make a meal, perhaps including leftover grains, or even scrambled eggs and salad in that same amount of time.  For extra fun, compare the price of your homemade fast meal to the price of your “convenient” dinner.

3) DEVELOP A LIST OF QUICKIES

You might be surprised at the number of recipes out there designed to be ready in 30 minutes or even 20 minutes.  There are 2 types of recipes for you to consider:

A) the kind that is actually 20 – 30 minutes from start to finish

B) the kind that is 20 – 30 minutes of prep time but requires some time in between steps for something to boil or roast.  These are still possible if you have someone at home who can start that step for you if you are not there.  Alternately, a crock pot or a rice cooker can go a long way to help some steps be done by the time you get home.

I made stir-fry this evening in 25 minutes and I was not hurrying like I do on nights when one of us is going to an early TaeKwonDo class.  I can make pasta from scratch in 30 minutes.  It’s faster if I saute double veggies and freeze, then that part is done next time around.  You can also have a pasta sauce ready at the touch of a blender button, and as fast as the pasta is ready – you can eat!

I made veggie burgers the other day which took a prep time of only about 15 minutes but then they had to bake for 40.  I made a bunch, froze the leftovers on the cookie sheet they baked on and now we have a stock of burgers on hand for nights with no time.

STEP: Choose one (or more nights) that you are going to try a quick recipe.  Here are a few of our faves – under the A category of 20 – 30 minutes, and the B category of 20-30 minutes of prep time with some boiling, roasting or other timed event in between.

A) Anything Goes, Fast Burrito 

Pesto Pasta with Veggies and Nuts

Mushrooms Pignoli

Noodles with Asian peanut sauce

Varia-Bowl Category A if using noodles or pasta, Category B if using grains -unless you have leftovers 😉

B) Herbed Zucchini 

Kichadi (a quinoa based dish)

Sushi Salad  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Beet Soup (Crock Pot)

Mustard Tempeh  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Lentil Casserole

* Fast and healthy breakfasts: barley, oats, more oatssweet potato

Remember that one of the most important elements of Baby Steps is that it is okay to make these changes a little at a time.  If you eat a healthy fast meal once or twice per week and/or send a healthier lunch once or twice per week more than you do now, then you are improving your health lifestyle.  Everyday brings new opportunities to make good choices about food.  So ReCon commercial convenience! …and find ways to have your own healthy convenience instead! 

Great Grains: Barley and Breakfast

In my post on Cauliflower Steaks, I alluded to making a side of barley to fill up any spaces that might be left by cauliflower steaks (there really weren’t any), and as a failsafe if the kids stonewalled and took the “required taste amount only” position on the main dish. So here I am, returning to the barley, to explain to you why it is ever so lovely to have a container of leftover barley in the fridge.

I am a firm believer in grain variety. It would be very easy for my husband to eat rice every night, and I could probably have quinoa every day without complaint; however, I think a little variety does a body, and a palate, good. One of my favorite grains is super hearty, and super versatile, barley. I bought pearl barley (more about the varieties of barley here, and am curious about other, less processed versions of the grain. Although pearl barley IS slightly processed, the polishing of the grain is reported to leave it largely nutritionally intact. Cooked pearl barley is larger than rice, and soft while not being mushy. It’s a great base for foods, traditionally used in soups, and would be great in a risotto (barsotto?).

I cooked my barley in water with a little salt in a 3 H2O to 1 barley ratio (I started with 2 c dry barley and we had PLENTY). Took about an hour, so it is not quick, but it doesn’t require any effort, so it’s a great candidate for a weekend cook to set up some grain dishes for the week. As an alternative, you could cook it in a slow cooker, which is what I think I’ll do next time.

Regardless of how you choose to cook your barley, be sure to make enough for leftovers, as barley for breakfast is a delight. It’s warm and hearty, filling and nutritious, and it is not gloppy. While I love oatmeal, there are those who’ve expressed to me that the questionable texture of oatmeal and porridge is distasteful – barley may just be answer to these hot breakfast lovers. Barley is not gloppy and is a perfect vehicle for many of the same kinds of additions that can make a steamy bowl of oatmeal so very delicious. I’ll demonstrate with three options I’ve enjoyed this week.

Barley Breakfast 1
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 Tradition Takes Hold: My first barley breakfast was pretty traditional in porridge terms. I added some raisins, some cinnamon, some nuts, and a little shredded coconut (I am decadent, I know).  Someone who is accustomed to a sweet breakfast could add a splash of maple syrup, although I found that the raisins and cinnamon did a nice job of convincing my palate that we were in the sweet enough zone. I also added a splash of almond milk.  Warm, filling, energizing, comforting, and delicious.  Everything a great winter breakfast bowl should be.
Barley Breakfast 2

IMG_8681A Little Lemon Lift:  For my second barley breakfast, I remembered Bigg Sis’ superb soaked oats, which feature a heavy dose of lemon zest.  While I was skeptical about this move when she first described them, I was delighted to find that the zest convinced my senses that it was simply a bowl of grains I was eating, but there was some sort of pastry situation in front of me.  I’m still not sure how that works, but it still works, and so this breakfast included raisins, walnuts, lemon zest, and a splash of almond milk.  Fantastic, and a light refreshing feel that brought a little ray of sun into the winter kitchen.

Barley Breakfast 3

IMG_8693 Gettin’ a Little Exotic:  For my final barley experiment of the week, I turned to another container of leftovers in the fridge.  last night I roasted some sweet potatoes (1 inch cubes, 450 degrees, olive oil and a little salt for about 20 minutes) and then sprinkled them with lime juice and cilantro.  They were stunning, if I do say so myself.  Know what else?  They were a great addition to breakfast.  I used some barley and the potatoes, warmed them and then added raisins, some banana, walnuts, a splash of coconut milk and a squeeze of lime.  If it hadn’t been 12 degrees here at the time, I would have sworn I was somewhere slightly tropical.  Delish!

So there you have it. Three lovely bowls of barley for YOUR breakfast enjoyment. All low in refined sugar, all cheaper than boxed cereal, and all super yum. If you’re looking for a place to start YOUR path to healthier eating, may I suggest you start right at the beginning of your day. Check out our other breakfast options and pull up a chair!

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Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Groovin’ the Cauliflower

I can’t wait to try Little Sis’ cauliflower steaks.  The cauliflower that I got (the same day she did – now entering the cauliflower zone), was already being roasted with potatoes and garlic and looking forward to being mashed.

Now I know mashing cauliflower is nothing new, with or without potatoes, but I wanted the flavor a little different, a little garlicky – and as long as I’m chopping vegetables, why not roast them?  Roasted garlic is a bit more subtle and rich than sauteed, and certainly more so than raw, so I thought it might be good to toss it all together.

This is not a recipe for you to follow to the number, just a guide and my numbers are so you can approximate ratio of ingredients should you desire to make something tasting similar to mine.

Mashed & Roasted, or, Fairly Abused Cauliflower.

Preheat oven to 375

6 medium red potatoes cut into chunks (leaving the skins because it is very convenient to my time crunched self that lots of the nutrients are in the skin, so I SHOULD leave the skins on),

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1 smallish head of cauliflower, also cut into chunks – see the abuse begins already

4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

1 sprig (about 4″) of fresh rosemary clipped into little pieces (about 1/2 Tbsp – use 1 tsp dried) 

2 – 4 Tbsp olive oil.  Use more than you might for plain roasting so the mix will be nice and greasy for mashing.

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 – 1 cup unsweetened milk of your favorite variety.  I used homemade almond milk.

Place all but milk in a bowl or right on the tray and mix it up.

Roast for about 45 minutes or until very tender (times will vary by chunk size and crowding)

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Then I stuck them in the Vita Mix, poured in milk a bit at a time until as creamy as I wanted. Actually my desired consistency of thick was a bit much for my Vita Mix, so, I ended up removing the big white glob with red speckles of skin in it and completing the mashing with a masher.  Not the masher in a raincoat from Carol Burnett – that’s just gross when you are trying to cook!  My good old masher.

Next time I think I’ll use my hand held beaters, or just be more liberal with the milk from the get go to avoid overheating my Vita Mix.

But it was worth it!  Very tasty and the 11 year old gobbled up those ‘mashed potatoes’ even knowing that the dreaded cauliflower was present.  Served here with non-dairy creamed kale which is also very tasty!

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Whatever approach you take to healthy eating, no one denies the importance of vegetables.  See our Baby Step check in about the use of pre-emptive produce (PEP) and…. Rock On with your bad self Ms. Cauliflower.

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Cauliflower Steaks?! Why I’ll Be….

As you can imagine, I get a lot of food coming across my laptop screen.  So many wonderful food bloggers out there and so little time.  The other day, a particular photo caught my eye.  Admittedly part of the reason it caught my eye is that cauliflower is an entry on Ms. Picky Pants list of acceptable foods.  There are, to date, approximately 30 items on said list, give or take a few for “I usually like it, but not today….”  So when a photo of a giant slice of cauliflower browned on both sides danced across my screen, I filed the title away for a night when Ms. Picky Pants needed to be mollified.  I do insist that she try new foods, but I do like to throw her a bone now and then. So “cauliflower steaks” got filed away for my daughter’s sake.

A few days ago at the market, cauliflower was on sale, and boy were they big and good looking.  I scooped one up and now, after several days of solid rejections of my culinary offerings, I decided to throw the kid a bone.  Cauliflower steaks it is.  Of course I wasn’t wise enough to pin, bookmark, or otherwise save the actual post that I was looking at, but a quick search took me to an authority on most things food, and so I took a look through Martha Stewart’s recipe, mimicked the technique, borrowed the flavor profile and, as usual, made it with the ingredients I had on hand instead of going out and buying the ingredients called for (if you’re new you may find this surprising).  I decided to make some barley on the side as I thought the kids would like it and it’s crazy filling, so if things went really awry there would be a little cauliflower, some barley, and some salad.  And leftover barley is not just a good thing… it’s a GREAT thing.  We’ll get to that later.

CAULIFLOWER STEAKS with CAPERED TOMATO SAUCE served 4 with leftovers

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  • 3 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • large head cauliflower
  • 4 Tbs capers
  • 1 c diced tomatoes (or leftover tomato sauce)
  • 1 large red pepper
  • splash red wine vinegar
  • fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400.  Wash the cauliflower and remove and remaining leaves.  Cut the end of the stem, but be sure to leave the core intact.  Cut cauliflower into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices – slice all the way across the cauliflower.  Don’t panic if some florets come off – simply set them aside with the small end pieces.  Warm 1 Tbsp olive oil in each of 2 pans.  Add 1 clove minced garlic into each pan.  When oil is warm, add cauliflower.  Sprinkle with a little salt.

IMG_8669Allow “steaks” to brown (don’t fuss with them too much).  When brown (at least, but not likely longer then 4-5 minutes), flip and brown the other side.  When both sides are brown, move to baking dish and transfer to oven and roast until tender (12-16 minutes). While the cauliflower roasts, add remaining Tbs olive oil to one pan.  While it warms, chop up the reserved florets/end pieces into small pieces.  Roughly chop red pepper.  Add the third minced clove of garlic into oil and add cauliflower.  Allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add red pepper.  Add cauliflower. Add capers and tomatoes and simmer gently until vegetables are tender.  Add red wine vinegar when done.  Serve cauliflower steak with tomato sauce and fresh parsley.  Grin when neither child will eat the sauce.  Grin more when they both love it anyway – more sauce for you.  Delish.

Wondering about the barley?  I’ll let you know sometime after tomorrow morning…

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Baby Steps Check In: Are You HONGRY?

I don’t know about anybody else, but since the holiday season I have been super HONGRY. I want to eat all the time. It doesn’t help that I still have a few holiday treats lingering (like these amazing cookies) that I can just scoop up and pop in without even breaking stride… I’ve slowly cut down on the sugar overdose (that was mild compared to years past, but still – whoa), but I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling SO deprived for just passing up on a cookie. So very, very HONGRY. And then it struck me, the sweets weren’t the only holiday slippage.

BabyStep6CheckInWhen I apply myself to a new initiative, I really go for it. Not much for half measures, this girl. Of course not much for finishing either but that’s a different and way too long to finish – HA- story. So when I made some pretty hefty dietary changes last spring, I really went for it. Eliminated a bunch of things systematically that I thought were making me feel blechy and upped the produce content of every plate and snack by A LOT. It was easy. I didn’t feel deprived. I felt great and I did NOT feel HONGRY. So in examining my habits since the holidays I noticed that I was not only eating more sweets but I was eating less of the things I was snacking on before – veggies and fruit – produce. So I decided to run a little experiment.

For the past few days every time I get HONGRY I’ve grabbed some plant matter (mostly carrots because I really like them and they require so little fuss) and jammed it in my gaping gullet, a little pre-emptive produce (PEP) as Bigg Sis calls it. I haven’t dictated to myself that there will be no more cookies, but I’ve instituted the same policy I have for my kids – if I’m hungry I should eat something REALLY nutritious first. Guess what? The HONGRY has calmed down to just hungry and the cookies are getting easier to pass up as my sweet tooth settles down again. Such a simple lesson that I learned a while ago, and yet in all the crazy holiday-ness I forgot one of the most important principles: your body needs food. If you only give it crap, you will be HONGRY.

How’s it going for you? Shaking off the holiday stupor? Finding yourself feeling deprived or HONGRY? What’s going on the plate as you take the holiday indulgences off? Feed that body; feed it good. And when you’ve done a good thing, and are feeling really proud of yourself – go outside and look at the birds. Rewards are all around us – not just in the cookie tin.

Interested in our Baby Steps Series?  Click above or on the sidebar, or just move straight to Step 1 here.  You’re not late; it’s always a great day to eat real food.

Winter Pesto – Delicious Pasta!

Once mid-August arrived, I was hit by school.  And school did hit me hard with a, “Look at me when I’m talking to you Woman!”

Alas, the fresh, fragrant basil in the garden froze before I made that big batch of pesto to use throughout the winter.  And Holy High Herbs Batman, have you seen what you pay for fresh herbs in the grocery store?  Or for pre-made pesto for that matter?  Yikes on both counts… Truly – “yikes, yikes!”

With the additional problem of wanting to make dairy free pesto (a la the lovely and talented Little Sis), for my dairy free husband, I had to come up with something.  So I bought a big old jar of dried basil.   Gauche?  Perhaps.  Cheap?  Definitely.  A solution? Hooray!

I started with my hybrid sunflower seed / cashew cheese mixture that can also serve as a base for a cheesy flavor inclusion in burritos or sandwiches or right onto a cracker or carrot… This cheese goes either way depending on whether you add nutritional yeast flakes & a little water, or basil and some olive oil.

Here’s the recipe for the sunflower/cashew cheese spread – this time destined for pesto-ey pleasure.

Quick sunflower seed / cashew cheese

This is an attempt to combine some cheesy offerings we have shared in the past (sunflower cheese & cashew cheese) but without the extra work and time involved in making firm cashew cheese.
1/2 cup sunflower seeds & 1/2 cup cashews soaked in 2 cups of water in the frig (put these in to soak in the morning and they’ll be done by dinner)
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 -3 Tbsp. dried basil

Mix all in food processor until creamy, scraping down sides as needed

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I actually split the above recipe between cheesy filling for burritos and this pesto – simply removing half of this cheese BEFORE adding basil and olive oil, mixing those by hand and placing nutritional yeast flakes and water in to complete the cheesy filling.  I mixed the basil and olive oil in by hand:  IF YOU CUT THE CHEESE (okay, okay) IN HALF, ALSO HALF WHAT YOU ADD AFTER CUTTING IN HALF>

DSC07590Taste as you go (always good from many angles), and add basil and olive oil (as above) to preferred taste and consistency.

Place this concoction on pasta of your choice with veggies of your choice, such as…colored bell peppers and swiss chard:
3 orange peppers
1/2 large bunch (about 3 large leaves, stems removed)
1 – 2 cloves garlic
Tbsp. olive oil
Saute the above – garlic first, then peppers, then chard:

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Cook your pasta to package directions.  Top with sauteed veggies and a generous dollop of pesto cheese.

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This was very tasty and it was fun to make the 2 ‘cheeses’ from a base on one night.  The cheese step the second night was then very quick.  I also doubled the pepper and chard saute and froze half of it for an easy base for this or another dish on another night.  I love having those frozen back ups that lack the usual additives of frozen foods.   Cheap pesto rocks!