Herbed Zucchini Rice – Soopah Fast Dinner

I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are nights when I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. The day gets away from me; I get immersed in work and whatever 12 projects I have going and before I know it, it’s time to meet the bus, which means it’s almost time to start dinner, which means I’m in trouble if the fridge is bare. My inability to consistently plan HAS had the side benefit of forcing me to be creative in a hurry, and sometimes that’s a good thing. On this particular occasion, it worked out just fine. If I were really sneaky, I’d just tell you how I made this dish and act like I’d planned it all along – I’m pretty sure that’s what I told the kids. ūüėČ

This post highlights one of our favorite real food strategies: cooking excess when you cook. The reason I was able to pull this particular dinner together without stress was that I had both quinoa and rice leftover from previous dinners. Any time I make a grain for a meal, I double the amount that I cook. That way I can use it as a base for another meal, for packed lunches, or for hot cereal in the morning. Oh yeah, a little brown rice, some coconut, some raisins, some pecans – warm – but I digress… This is dinner we’re talking about, and it was great.

Herbed Zucchini Rice

  • 3 medium zucchini, grated (no seeds)*
  • olive oil for pan
  • 1 onion, chopped as fine as you prefer
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 4 c cooked grains (I mixed quinoa and rice
  • 1-2 tsp dried tarragon (or herb or your choice)
  • salt to taste
  • dash pepper
  • juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • 1/2 c sunflower cheese (or soft dairy cheese like ricotta)
  • chopped parsley (optional)

* For this dinner I grated the zucchini. ¬†It is important to grate only the skin and the flesh, not the core and seeds of the zuke as the “interior” of the squash contains a lot of water and has a less pleasant texture when cooked, in my opinion. I’ve described the technique in detail here (along with some other zucchini love). The short version is to grate it down to the core, place in a strainer with a little salt and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

While the zucchini is resting, warm the oil in a pan. ¬†Chop the onion, add to the pan and let cook on med-low heat until translucent. ¬†Return to the zucchini and press as much water out as you can with a spoon or squeeze in a towel (over the sink). Add garlic to onion in pan and cook until fragrant. ¬†Add zucchini to pan and saute for about 5 minutes. ¬†Add tarragon (you could use another herb, but the tarragon gave a nice fresh and light taste), salt, and pepper. ¬†Add rice (or whatever) and sunflower cheese (or whatever) to pan and lower heat – you’re warming, not frying. ¬†Stir occasionally. ¬†When warm, add lemon juice and stir through. ¬†We served ours with chopped parsley on top. ¬†Easy, soopah fast, and delish!

Baby Steps 6: New Habits – New Rewards

January 1st is a tough time to make a change. ¬†I mean, how many of us still have Christmas cookies in the house? ¬†Fudge? ¬†Candy canes? ¬†Chocolate…. no wait. ¬†I always have chocolate in my house. ¬†In my defense it is dark chocolate and I limit myself to about 150 calories worth a day. ¬†What? ¬†How can you stop eating chocolate you ask? ¬†I’ll answer that in a second, but would just like to point out that although the holidays bring all sorts of unusual treats into our homes, most of us always have a lot of ‘food’ on hand that is not healthy food. ¬†Food is a habit that is hard to break. ¬†No wait, that sounds ridiculous… Poor food CHOICES can be a hard habit to break. ¬†Habits are hard to break. ¬†Time to develop new healthy habits. ¬†They can be hard to break as well!


That is my segue back to the chocolate. ¬†I used to adore Reese’s peanut butter cups and all manner of sugar-filled treats and candy. ¬†Switching to dark chocolate took time. ¬†I had to start with some in-between chocolate…, kind of dark, kind of milk / wishy-washy Charlie Brown kind of chocolate. ¬†But as I developed new habits for snacks that were lower in sugar I began to find the more sugary versions WAY too sweet. ¬†In fact, when I imbibe in a high sugar treat now I feel really bad in about 10 minutes. ¬†No kidding. ¬†It’s a great motivator to stay away from the crap, but it took some time to develop that sensitivity.

So my answer about having chocolate in the house without eating it is this.  The less sugar in the chocolate, the more deeply satisfying is eating a reasonable amount, AND the less sugar, the less likely to cause craving for more.  That is my experience.  And it is experience that has driven Little Sis and I on our quest to eat more healthfully, and to achieve a degree of success towards that proposition.  Experiences of wellness and satisfaction.  Repeated experience develops habits.  Paying attention to experience helps us develop healthy habits.  We would like to help you have experiences that will drive your own success towards healthy eating.  We suggest that you can develop new habits and new rewards.

If you are new to the Baby Steps series, I heartily recommend that you take a click back to the beginning and follow through the steps we have outlined thus far.  (Brief synopsis to follow)  If you are not new to the series Рscroll on down to the next section which includes some tips for breaking habits.

Baby Steps Series (All offered with love and encouragement during successes and slip-ups):

Introduction: Baby Steps Down the Road to Better Health
a little why should ya for ya and links to recipes

Baby Step #1 – The Ol’ Switcheroo
Swapping out one or more of your worst choices for better ones – One Item, One Switch
some suggestions for where you might make a swap if you’d like suggestions and links to recipes

Baby Step #2 – Be Fearless, Be Honest
Facing up to what you are currently eating – we’ll still love you, I promise.

Baby Step #3 – Pantry Perusal
We help you assess what’s in your pantry. ¬†Taking a hard look at what and why you find what you find.

Baby Step #3b – Peeping in our Pantries
A Peep into our pantries.  What are good items to have on hand for quick, healthy meals along with links to recipes

Go Back Jack – Baby Steps Check in
Encouragement to keep at it, even if you mess up.  Everyday provides new opportunities to make good choices about food.  We are with ya!  Hang in there!

Baby Steps #4 – Adventurous, Experimentation and Gratitude
So you’ve decided to improve your eating and your health, how do you get the rest of the family to come along? ¬†Suggestions here!

Baby Steps #5 – It’s Time for a Plan
The name says it all – helping you make a plan after all your hard work preparing and experimenting.

Baby Steps – Happier, Healthier Holidays
Suggestions to eat as healthfully as possible during the holidays – or anytime when you know you will have tough choices coming your way!

Baby Steps – Don’t Say Diet
Reminders and encouragement that you don’t need to diet, you need to change what you eat. ¬†You can learn to be satisfied and energized by healthy food.

And now Little Sis and I both have some things to say about New Habits – New Rewards….

I heard this guy interviewed on the radio the other day. ¬†He had some really interesting, specific, and helpful things to say about habits. ¬†I immediately thought of changing the way we eat in terms of habits. ¬†So much of how we feed ourselves is habit driven, routine, doing what we’ve always done. ¬†Habits can be hard to break. ¬†We want to help and so does Jeremy Dean. ¬†He gives 10 tips for habit change here that he covers in greater length in his new book¬†Making Habits, Breaking Habits.¬† I was delighted to see how many of his tips sounded like the kinds of things we suggest in our Baby Steps to Better Health series.

Dean’s very first suggestion is “For Big Results, Think Small.” ¬†He discusses the importance of making change in small, incremental, manageable and achievable bits. ¬†Sound familiar? ¬†Other themes that we both stress are repetition, tweaking (the same plan won’t work for everyone), and replacing an undesirable behavior with one that is desirable rather than just trying to suppress the “bad” one. ¬†Yay! ¬†These are just a few of his tips – there are a total of 10 in the article, and like I said they’re all from a larger book. ¬†If you’re trying to make some healthy changes, this guy just might have some insight for you. And there’s nothing like having your advice validated by an official smart guy. ūüôā

Indeed we do like smart guys, don’t we Little Sis? ¬†I would like to add that we have cultural habits about using food as a reward. ¬†We deserve’ a treat at the end of a hard day. ¬†We ‘earned’ a chocolate milkshake by cleaning out the garage. ¬†Only problem is we are hurting ourselves with some of these choices… what kind of a reward is that? ¬†Rewards aren’t supposed to hurt, are they?

Make yourself a list of non-food rewards. ¬†One of mine is to step outside (when possible) smell the air and look for some birds or other wildlife. ¬†That always makes me feel better. ¬†A little break, no harmful intake. ¬†Then if I am really hungry, I can eat something that will nourish me in all my bird-loving glory ;-). ¬†Seriously, make a list. ¬†Little things, little treats… treats you can pay attention to like a cup of flavorful herb tea, a game of cards with your sweetie or friend, a flower or two to put in a vase where you’ll see it, a bath with scented water. ¬†Make a list because options are good and options can help you overcome old, harmful habits.

Another benefit to the list of non-food rewards is that when the habit rears its head, if you go get the list, or read your list, you have a chance to move beyond the initial impulse.  Habits are in a way trained impulses.  Given a little bit of time to think about the consequences of our habitual actions, we might make a better, or less bad, choice.

Close your eyes when you’re sure that you ‘deserve’ that bag of Doritos or Reese’s peanut butter cup, breathe and count to 10. ¬†Then look around you wherever you are and decide what you are going to do next. ¬†Maybe the treat won’t seem so important anymore, or you will acknowledge a healthier choice and ‘treat’ yourself well.

Congratulations for reading a Baby Steps post. ¬†That is a Baby Step right there! ¬†You deserve a pat on the back and a healthier body! ¬†Let us know how you are doing developing new habits and new rewards. ¬†Please also let us know if there is specific information you’d like from us. ¬†The Steps continue down the road to better health.

Anything goes, Fast burrito

We were blessed with such a wonderful holiday full of the people we love!  I certainly hope you all had a similarly loving and wonderful holiday.

As we traveled around the Mid-Atlantic, I confess I enjoyed letting other people be chief cook and instead playing the un-glorified but necessary role of bottle washer.  And when Little Sis and Bro-in-Law are the cooks I am always in for a treat, so I was happy to wash bottles and anything else they dirtied in the process of feeding me.

Now that we’re home I face the same challenges that you do of once again providing healthy meals within the parameters of busy schedule and ¬†budget. ¬†If you are ready to make a change and try to eat more real food (and feel better and lose weight at the same time), check out our Baby Steps series! ¬†We will be adding to the Baby Steps series soon, but in the meantime, you have to eat tonight, right? Here is a simple healthy meal that easily adapts to whatever you have in the house – and also can easily be varied for different tastes.

New Year – new experiments… I thought I’d make first fried bean burritos last night. ¬†I didn’t have re-fried beans, some of them have lousy ingredient lists anyway, but I did have beans… so re-fried beans must get fried twice right? ¬†Why not fry the once, would that be such a problem ūüėČ ¬†Of course I didn’t really fry them…

A few items such as a can or two of beans in the pantry, onions in the pantry, and tortillas in the freezer, along with dairy or non-dairy cheese, any fresh or frozen veggies that you have and salsa if you have it and dinner is served in about 15 minutes.

Start with warmed whole-grain tortillas (I used Ezekiel tortillas which have a very strong flavor and are very chewy – just to warn you if you want to try them , and Ezekiel corn tortillas for my gluten-free hubby).

Then make fillings that your family can mix and match.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 can beans (I used dark red kidney beans)
several TBsp water as needed.
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
dash of chili powder or to taste
dash of salt
Chop onion and heat oil in a skillet..
Add onion and spices & cook several minutes until translucent
Add drained and rinsed beans


Cook on low and mash with a mashing tool of your choice… school books, perhaps? Just kidding. I like school, I like school, I like school ūüėČ
Add water a bit at a time to give your beany filling a little mush

DSC07583Please Sir, could I have more beany mush?

This does indeed resemble re-fried beans which is also a fast option, but I found this to be fresher tasting and cheaper, especially if you are using organic beans vs. organic pre-prepared re-friend beans.  Fresh and cheap works for me!

Option 1: cheese ūüėČ ¬† ¬†Grate some cheese and add it to the burrito assembly line

Option 2: 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 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 clove garlic
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
Mix all in food processor until creamy, scraping down sides as needed


Whatever you have that your people will eat, inside of, or next to, a burrito.  I had fresh red pepper and romaine.  WHATEVER works.  Any vegetable is better than no vegetable.

Line it up on the counter or server or dinner table and let everyone make their favorite.

Of course you can use any leftover meat you have as well, but your family will probably not even miss it with the hearty bean and cheese combo. ¬†It’s a new year and a new horizon…. who knows what they’ll try… especially if it’s what’s on the table ūüėČ

Mine looked like this before I added salsa and ate it quickly.

DSC07587Oh how I love to eat food.  Real food.

I have shared this recipe at 

Top 10 of 2012… DrumRoll Please

So, I guess it makes a certain amount of sense now that the hooplah is over and we are all returning to our usual routine (or at least some approximation of that) to take a moment to reflect on the previous year.

While we’ve not been at this enterprise for the full calendar year, time is certainly passing at its usual breakneck pace and I can’t believe how much writing we’ve done, how many of you are interested (or at least moderately amused), and how very much fun and community we’ve discovered in this bizarre virtual realm. We are oh so grateful to you and look forward to the next year of writing, communing, and discovering fabulous new foods and super ways to enjoy them with the people we love. Salut!

Our top 10 posts of 2012, in countdown order….

Number 10: Souped Up, We Double Dare You

In this post my fabulous sister and I had a bit of a soup off. Two delicious vegetable soups from one of our favorite vegetable gurus, Deborah Madison. ¬† Simple, healthful ingredients, all piled together in a big bubbly pot just waiting to satisfy you. ¬†You don’t need no stinkin’ can. ¬†Perfect for cold weather dining. Delish!

Number 9: A Better (Veggie) Burger

In this post I finally conquer the veggie burger world. While these babies draw from many other veggie burgers I’ve found from wonderful chefs, I just kept tinkering and found the one that works best for us, and for my fabulous sister as well. They really are deeply satisfying. Skip that freezer aisle and make your own. You won’t regret it.

Number 8: Baby Step 3: Pantry Perusal
Step number three from our ongoing series, Baby Steps to Better Health. Here we suggest a long hard look at the ingredients you keep on hand. If you don’t have real food in the house, you can’t cook real food. ¬†We’ll help you make the change if you’re ready – it’s a new year – what’s in your pantry?


Number 7: To Life, L’Chaim

My Uncle Chuck would be so delighted by how many of you stopped by my tribute to him. Uncle Chuck was a wonderful man and we toast him whenever we raise our glasses, or our loaves of bread. A nice warm loaf of homemade bread makes hard things a little easier for a minute. Lovely picture of New England Coast line alert on this one. L’Chaim.

Number 6: Baby Step 1: The Old Switcheroo
The first step in our ongoing Baby Steps to Better Health series makes a simple proposal. Choose one thing you know you shouldn’t eat. Switch it out for something better. One item, one switch, as often as possible. This step is the foundation of the revolution that my sister and I have experienced in our eating habits and in our health. Join us – we promise it will be easier than you think. One item, one switch, as often as possible.

Number 5: “Hot & Hearty” – Better Than Porridge
I can’t speak for you – but I’ll speak for me and my sister (and my son, and a few other people I know), and when we wake up we are HONGRY (which is more than hungry, in case you are wondering). Boxed breakfast cereal is tasty, and there are an increasing number that offer more nutrition than the box they come in, but it’s always a gamble and the fact is that boxed cereal is REALLY expensive, and for me, it lasts about an hour. This fabulous hot breakfast will take you to lunch time with no problem. A few minutes of heat and a stir and you too can be in hot breakfast heaven. You don’t need no stinkin’ box. Come on in, the porridge is fine.

Number 4: Holiday Fudge Pleases Mom and Child
When we talk about changing our eating habits, I see the look of fear that comes into people’s eyes. I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking “These insane women are going to tell me to stop eating chocolate. I have to get away, right now.” There, there. We wouldn’t do that to you. We’ll just find a different, and totally awesome gift-worthy way to enjoy it. Bigg Sis stole the show with this amazing fudge.

Number 3: About the Pantry

Yep, really. ¬†Number 3. ¬†Apparently you want to know all about us. ¬†I’m thinking we ought to add a little more to this page. ūüôā

Number 2: Peeping in Our Pantries
In her generosity my sister offered everybody a look inside OUR pantries – WITH PICTURES. Mercy. I overcame my fear of being judged by all of those super organized people and agreed. Big lists here of the kinds of foods we keep in our pantries so that we’ll always be able to make some real food. Easy, cheap, healthful. Yay!

And finally……
Number 1: Frozen Dairy Dessert, Really Breyer’s?
Believe me when I say neither of us had any idea how much outrage was simmering out there in the ice cream eating population. In case you are a Breyer’s fan and haven’t taken a good read of the label lately, give it a good look – it’s not like you remember. My sister reminds us that reading labels isn’t just a once and done kind of job, and encourages us to demand real food with our voices and our wallets.

From My Sister’s Pantry (and her sister’s pantry) to yours – Happy New Year! May 2013 find you indulging in healthy and satisfying dishes with the people you love most in the world!