Reader Faves of 2013

My sister is here! My sister is here!!!!!!! You may have wondered what on earth has happened to the Sis sisters during the last week – well, we’ve been together, and having so much fun talking and playing with our kids and the rest of our family.  We hope your holiday has brought you joy, good company, and at least a few lovely meals.

As the initial hubbub begins to subside, I find myself reflecting on the year that has passed.  Much has stayed the same, but as always there has been the steady, and sometimes welcome, march of change. We’ve said goodbye to some old and furry friends, welcomed new pals, made new human friends and deepened our bonds with others.  We’ve reluctantly learned new home repairs, occasionally admitted our domestic shortcomings, had grand adventures with friends and family,  and begun to create new goals and visions for the future. It both sounds like a lot and like a mere scratching of the surface in describing these lives in this year for which we are so grateful.

We are also grateful for this space, and you lovely people who come and share our journeys toward healthful and satisfying real food for our families and ourselves.  We never imagined that this little experiment would mean so much to us, or that it would mean so much to other people – a delightful and flattering surprise.  We love hearing from you and your preferences are the highlight of today’s post.  To wrap up our reflection on 2013, we’d like to review the top 10 reader favorite posts.  Drumroll please……

10. Veggie Basics: What to Put In There

I have to confess that I was a little surprised to discover that our 10th most popular post this year was our tribute to kale.  Just in case you haven’t heard… it’s really, really good for you.  You can also get it just about everywhere now.  If you haven’t given it a try yet, check out all the reasons why you should along with a bevy of suggestions of what to do with it once you buy or harvest it.  Kale IS what to put in there.  Feed that body.

9. Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato Soup

This lovely soup came together when the twins were taking swim classes last winter. What could be better after a cold car ride home than a hot slow cooker full of creamy tomato soup just waiting to be eaten. Rather than being thickened with cream or milk, this version is made creamier with one of our favorite legumes, chickpeas.  It is made more complex and delicious with a little smoked paprika.  Yummers and just perfect for the cold months ahead.

8. Great Grains: Barley and Breakfast

In this post I played around with barley, and it was a fabulous little set of experiments.  Barley is largely forgotten in modern everyday American cooking, but it really is a delicious grain that is super versatile and very hearty.  This post gives three options for quick breakfasts made from barley cooked in advance.  Fast, frugal, and fantastic.

7. Baby Step 8: You Deserve Real Food

This post, a step in our Baby Steps to Better Health series (click on the category in the sidebar if you want more info or additional steps), explores the relationship between the way we think about food, the words we use about ourselves and food, and the food that we eat. Changing our eating habits can be really challenging, particularly if we see healthier eating as a punishment and beat ourselves up for our imperfections. There’s always time to take a step toward healthier eating. Maybe today’s your day.

6. Slow Cooker Vegetable, Bean, and Barley Stew

Our sixth most popular post this year was a bit of a sleeper. You all forgave the crappy phone picture (some days the technology just doesn’t cooperate) and saw to the beauty of this little hearty number. Another great use for the barley purchased to make the hot breakfasts above, this stew is simple and yet amazingly flavorful.  And who can turn down slow cooker soup, really? Oh, dinner’s ready? How delightful.

5. Cocoanutty Good Bars (aka Big Sis’ Birthday Cake)
Dreena Burton’s Eat, Drink & Be Vegan has become a staple cookbook for me and this dreamy dessert is no small part of the reason why. Gather a bunch of folks with differing food limitations, add a whole lot of sun and fun, a few key ingredients and a food processor and you’ve got yourself a heck of a healthy birthday celebration. I served these “bars” in wedges as birthday cake and it was absolutely delicious. Bigg Sis has no idea how little work I did to celebrate her birthday… well.. I guess she does now. 😉

4. Roasted Chili Lime Nuts

Got a football game to watch? Having a party? Have a hankering for something savory? These nuts fit the bill for so many different occasions and they are easy peasy lemon squeezee. Forget the chips, break out some nuts, some coconut oil, and some seasonings and you are in business.  I’ve been eyeing these up for a while now and I think it’s high time for some seasoning experimentation – what other flavors would rock your savory boat? I have a vision of little bowls – all filled with different flavored nuts…  and children munching away on all that healthy nutty goodness.  Yes, I’m weird.

3. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

These gluten free babies are a perfect follow up to holiday madness. If your taste buds are anything like mine, they’ve gotten a pretty big dose of super sweetie sweetness. These cookies, with their lower sugar and healthful ingredients will help you soothe that sugar craving and ramp all that holiday madness right back down for you. AND they’re super yum – how about that?!

2. Walnut Crust Apple Pie 

Bigg Sis is a master. Mr. Bigg Sis is a pie fan, like a huge pie fan.  But gluten is not on the list for him, and so what did his wonderful life partner do? She up and made a gluten free pie crust with walnuts, just like any great super genius. If you’ve not given a walnut crust a try, you really should.  It’s absolutely delish!

And finally, the single most popular post of 2013….

1. Veggie Basics: Roasted Cabbage

Can I just tell you how very happy I am that our most popular post of the year was about cabbage? This is SO easy and so yummy, if you haven’t tried cabbage, or you haven’t tried it since you ate it at your aunt’s house and then fed it to the dog under the table, now’s your chance to give this lovely cold weather veggie a fair shake. Cheap, easy healthful food is just an oven away.

So there you have it, our readers’ favorite posts of 2013.  And what a year it’s been, from kale to cabbage, the eating’s been healthful and delicious. As we tromp in to 2014, I wish you all good health, good friends, good weather, and at least one pair of great shoes (that last one is for my old friends, so they know I’m still me after all).

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Naturally Sweet Sweet Potatoes

Sitting here between these two holidays and all of their associated traditional dishes, I find myself scrambling pretty regularly to get some non-holiday food on the table between chores in preparation for family, friends, and food. Last night I ran an experiment that just may change my holiday table forever – it certainly gave us a pleasant surprise for dinner.

IMG_0439I love sweet potatoes.  We’ve gushed about this nutritious tuber here before, and found ways to work it into so many different meals and treats (breakfast, soup, more soup, brownies, cookies, dinner). I know that many families have a tradition of holiday sweet potatoes that include all manner of sweetener from maple syrup to marshmallows. I confess these preparations have rarely appealed to me, but I wondered if there wasn’t another way to go with that sweetness – to enhance the natural sweetness in a nutritious way.  Looking around the kitchen I spied an overabundance of ripening bananas and it occurred to me that I might be on to something.  A quick google search told me I could, indeed, roast bananas.  One small step for me, one large step for sweet sweet potato dishes. Continue reading

Roast to Soup – the Whole Chicken

So you know that some pretty nasty stuff goes on at so-called factory farms.  (If you don’t know, please watch Food, Inc. because even though you don’t want to know….. you really DO want to know.  And if you’d like a short piece of the film about chicken farms, you can watch one here.)  We have not eaten beef or pork for a very long time, and further decided to only eat ‘clean’ chicken and turkey.  Well, as I’m sure you all know, ‘clean’ poultry costs a lot more.  We have 2 solutions for this.  We eat less meat: less often, and less of it on the plate when we do it eat it, and I buy whole chicken and make soup after an initial meal or two from the roasted chicken.  It’s really not that hard and there is nothing like homemade soup, so if you’ve never done it, here we go….. from raw to roasted to really delicious soup! Continue reading

12 Healthy Cookies, Treats and Giftables

It’s that time of year.  Lots of lists, lots of tasks, and hopefully a good dose of merriment to go with those lists and tasks.  I don’t know if it’s a sign of my age, but I’ve found that an increasing number of people on my gift giving list don’t really seem to want or need a present from me. They want my presence (which is flattering), and I’ve found over the last few years that if my presence is accompanied by something to eat, the greeting I receive is all the warmer.  In looking back through our posts, I see we have quite a collection of treats that are great to share with friends and family and that still provide some nutrition during this season of culinary madness (check out this post for some healthy holiday tips).

And so a bit of a roundup for those of you who are preparing to get baking, who need some ideas for gift giving, or who are invited to all manner of holiday celebrations at which you do NOT wish to arrive empty handed.  Healthier treats galore!

Perfectly Packable Gifty Treats

1. No Bake Brownie Balls (GF,DF)- dark chocolate taste, low sugar joy, great gift for a dark chocolate loving adult

2.  Healthy Pumpkin Cookies (GF,DF) – sweet enough to feel like a treat, healthy enough to do the bod some good

3. Sweet Potato Cookies with Walnuts and Dark Chocolate Chips  (GF,DF) – fantastically delish healthy cookies

4.Crancherry, Almond, & White Chocolate Cookies  (GF,DF) – slightly sweeter than many of our other cookies – a great starter cookie for a lifetime of healthier treats

5. Intensely Good Banana Bread Mini-Loaves (DF) – not your grandmother’s banana bread (which I’m sure is divine), this puppy packs some molasses for a spicy edge and an iron boost.  Lovely gifted in mini loaf pans (because WHO doesn’t want mini bakeware?!)

6. Healthier Holiday Fudge (GF,DF) – Oh yes, it’s that good. Nobody will call you a health whack for this one…

7. 2 Ingredient Caramel Fudge (GF,DF) – WHAT DID SHE SAY?!  Yes, 2 ingredients.

8. Roasted Chili Lime Nuts (GF,DF) – I’ve heard tell there are folks who prefer savory snacks.  Ok, I admit it, I’m even related to a couple.  A tin of these babies will knock their unsweet socks off.

9. Nut Butter Bliss Balls (GF,DF) – Pleasing normal treat eaters everywhere… or at least in parts of Tennessee and Maryland

If You’re To “Bring Dessert”

10. Cranberry Apple Pecan Crumble (GF,DF) – Easy for you, delish for everyone.

11. Cocoanutty Good Bars (GF,DF) – No it’s not your imagination, I served these bars as cake and it was a huge success.  Drooling a little, and I guess you didn’t need to know that.

12. Pumpkin Pudding (GF,DF) – Bigg Sis wondered what would happen if you stopped worrying so much about the pie crust… and it was good.

Well, there it is.  Now you have a pretty good idea what’s going to be going on at my house for the next few weeks.  Here’s hoping your house is full of delicious and healthful food and wonderful people.

Nut Butter Bliss Balls

Ooooh boy these are some good little cookie like thangs!  There is no baking involved and lots of goo on the fingers to lick off when you are done.  What could be better than that?

Did you think I wasn’t going to tell you what was better than that?  Well!…. These lovely little sweets were consumed, enjoyed and complimented by folks from all ranges of the baked goods and sugar consumption spectrum.  In other words, as my son would say, both the health whacks like his dear old Mom and the normal people liked these cookies.  This is not always the case with the sweets that come out of my kitchen.  In fact, both of my sweet offerings were appreciated.  One of them, Healthy Pumpkin Cookies, was shared earlier in the blog and now, because I am so nice and generous and love to toot my own stolen horn, I will share the Nut Butter Bliss Balls recipe with you!  I hope these recipes (along with the list of healthier holiday foods from our blog that Little Sis is working on) will help you party with folks from all over the spectrum this holiday season.  ‘Tis the time of year for sharing, right?

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So back to tooting my own stolen horn…. I didn’t steal a horn, I adapted a horn, er…  recipe, from the wonderful Diana Herrington at Real Food for Life.  She calls them Peanut Butter Bliss Balls.   Mr. Bigg Sis doesn’t do peanuts, so I made them both with almond butter and the original way because my son and I LOVE peanut butter.   They are heavenly either way.

Nut Butter Bliss Balls
1 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 cup nut butter (I have tried almond and peanut – you can cheaply make your own almond butter – with or without chocolate!)
1/2 cup honey (original is 3/4 cup – I found 1/2 to be awesomely sweet but chickened out and added another Tbsp tothe1/2 cup for my guests batch)
1/4 cup coconut (unsweetened, flaked)
1/4 – 1/2 cup almond flour (original coconut flour which is costly) but you could also use oat flour
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

First off – if you don’t have toasted nuts and seeds, I toasted the sunflower seeds at 350 for about 8 minutes – just keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, and the sesame seeds for about 5 minutes, again, watch them as ovens are different, pans are different, it’s a beautiful variable world!

Secondly – the reason for the wishy-washiness of the flour amount.  Peanut butter and almond butter (beautiful variable world consideration again) have varying consistencies, and honey is hard to measure accurately, so the stickiness of your final product is affected by these variables.  I use almond flour which is the dried out leftovers from making almond milk, so it may be a bit lighter than store bought almond flour.  Basically you want a dough consistency that is sticky enough to hold together and pick up a coating of sesame seeds but not too sticky to eat.  Start with the lowest amount of flour and add more until you like the consistency.  Taste tests are totally appropriate and recommended.

After you’ve toasted the sunflower seeds, place them in a bowl with all of the other ingredients except the sesame seeds and smush it all together, preferably with a purple spatula 😉

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Pour your toasted sesame seeds onto a plate, form edible size balls (this of course will be affected by the wonderful variety of mouth sizes…. I make mine large) and roll them in the sesame seeds.  For more variety you can roll them in unsweetened coconut.

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I am singing a happy song of variety….. and one must try all of the varieties to be equitable (after eating your pre-emptive veggies of course!)

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Breathe, enjoy the season, and as Little Sis says when I worry over pleasing guests that are coming…. “It’ll be fine.  They’re your friends!  They love you.”

Peace and love to you and yours in this world of infinite variety and possibility.

Apple Cheddar Quickbread (DF, yes really)

In our house, nothing rounds out a simple meal like fresh bread.   The problem with this preference is that I am, as previously disclosed, not a great planner.  If there’s one thing fresh bread needs it’s a little planning time – a little forethought, unless of course you’re talking quick bread.

I don’t know who made the first quick bread, but I suspect it was someone like me who had simply run out of time and decided to see what would happen if you skip the yeast part and make do. If you’ve not tried to make a quick bread (and chances are you have but didn’t think of it that way – i.e. cornbread), it is simply a “bread” that is honestly more like a cake in texture. Denser and more moist than yeast bread, quick bread is not sandwich material, it’s something you put on a plate and occasionally have to eat with a fork because, well, it’s more like cake – and last time I checked that was a good thing.

One of my favorite quick breads is this spicy banana bread (molasses is great for the iron deficient crowd), but for this particular meal I needed a less sweet quick bread – one that was definitely suitable prior to dessert.  Cookbook scrambling and a desire to use some of this fabulous vegan cheddar cheese from our friend Somer led me to a recipe for a zucchini cheddar loaf, but zucchini in winter just ain’t happening.  I subbed out apples and applesauce (zucchini holds a lot of moisture so I thought the applesauce would help fill this role).  The result? Delicious, hearty, slightly sweet and savory.  Warm and hearty apple cheddar bread was a perfect companion to leftover mashed potato and leek soup.  Bring your cold, winter, we got it covered.

Apple Cheddar Bread (DF) – adapted from Zucchini Cheddar Bread in The All New All Purpose: Joy of Cooking

  • 2 c whole wheat flourIMG_0411
  • 1 c rolled oats
  • 4 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c applesauce (I prefer unsweetened)
  • 1/2 c chopped apple
  • 3/4 c chopped or chunked sharp cheddar (I used this vegan cheddar which is FANTASTIC)
  • 3 T chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 c coconut milk (or whatever you prefer)
  • 4 T olive oil

Preheat the one to 350 with rack in center position. Oil an 8 cup loaf pan (about 9 by 5 inches).

If you’re making flax eggs, do this now so they can set up while you do everything else. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl – stir a couple of times to mix. Add the next four ingredients to the flour mixture and toss to separate all the bits and coat them with flour. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl, stir, and then add to the dry ingredients.  Stir just until there are no dry ingredients. Transfer to loaf pan and bake 55 to 60 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan for at least 10 minutes before taking out of pan and allowing to cool on a rack, or stuffing in your face, I mean cutting yourself a slice. Serve with other weather-taming foods for a delish and hearty meal.

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Leftover Mashed Potatoes Make Great Soup…

It doesn’t matter who we’re having or what we’re eating, if I’m cooking for more than our little clan, I just can’t get the amount right.  Faced with a holiday dinner, I routinely make about twice what is actually required, sure that I may not be making enough.  In my mind every guest is a 14 year old athlete with a limitless metabolism and elastic waistband.

Thus our recent Thanksgiving dinner left us with a giant container of mashed potatoes in the fridge.  Now normally I am just fine with lots of mashed potatoes around, but truth to tell I am the only REAL mashed potato fanatic in the house.  Mr. Little Sis likes them, but can’t eat them for days and the kids are just not into them at all – there’s only so much a girl can do faced with all that mash.  I hated to think of it going to waste… surely there is another way.

While I could have made mashed potato pancakes, we’d had latkes just a few nights before, so no dice there. After being tired, cold, and a little lonely after the long weekend playing games and watching movies with the family, soup just seemed like the thing to do.  And what could be easier than making soup from mashed potatoes, especially if you have a leek.  This really doesn’t merit a recipe, but I’ll write it out that way to make it easy to follow.  You’re welcome.

Leftover Mashed Potato Leek Soup with Wilted Spinach and Basil

  • olive oil for the potIMG_0404
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts cleaned and chopped *
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes (I used these non-dairy beauties)
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 t salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 c coconut milk (or whatever you prefer)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • About 5 ounces of fresh spinach (or as much or little as you like – it DOES shrink a lot)
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • small handful of fresh basil, chopped

* Leeks are dirty little suckers.  When they grow up through the soil, they bring quite a bit with them, trapped in the layers.  Cleaning them can be tricky.  I simply cut the portion of the leek I intend to use into quarters  the long way.  I think place those quarters (they will separate – it’s okay) into a bowl of water, let them sit while I prepare other bits, swish them around and then rinse.  Works like a charm, every time, and I learned it at fancy cooking school, so it must be right, right? 😉 I can say that the bowl of water is always cloudy and dirty – so it seems to do the trick.

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Warm olive oil in the bottom of a soup or stock pot, place chopped leeks and a sprinkle of salt in pot, sautéing and stirring occasionally until the leeks are tender and the white parts are a little translucent. Add the mashed potatoes and stir to combine.  Add water and salt and stir to combine. Here’s where we’re gonna have some variation.  If your mashed potatoes were perfectly cooked, had no lumps and were smooth as silk, you will only need to bring your pot of yum up to temp.  If, like most of us, your potatoes were delicious but slightly less than perfect, you may want to bring the pot to a gentle boil to cook the potatoes just a little bit as the flavors mingle.  When potatoes have reached the texture you prefer, add the coconut (or whatever) milk and ground pepper.  While the soup comes back up to temp, prepare the spinach.

Warm olive oil to low-medium in a pan (I used cast iron). Add spinach, a sprinkle of salt, and the garlic to the pan.  Turn/stir spinach frequently to encourage wilting throughout.  When nearly all wilted, add the fresh basil. Stir for a little while longer. When all spinach is wilted and bright green, remove from heat.

Serve soup with a few forkfuls of spinach, some lovely bread (ours was a non-dairy apple cheddar quick bread which I’ll share soon), and a salad.  Delicious, satisfying, and a great way to use too much comfort food. Hope your holiday provided you with memories, laughter, and leftovers you love to eat over and over again.

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