Healthier Holiday Fare

I know many of you have had your Thanksgiving meal planned out for a while. I also know, based on the traffic to the markets that I am not the only one who is not finished. Just in case you are still in process, or if you have misgivings about the offerings you’ve planned, I want to share some healthy fall harvest options that are perfect for the Thanksgiving table.

Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin.

Did I get your attention, either because you live for pumpkin spice anything or because you can’t even stand to see the phrase anymore? The lovely thing about Thanksgiving is that it features another fall beauty that can replace pumpkin in most things and is also super versatile. If you’re looking to celebrate all day, and are willing to give the humble sweet potato a try, MindBodyGreen offers up a great all day roundup of sweet potato offerings here. I am admittedly particularly intrigued by the Mexican Chocolate Sweet Potato Pudding.

Thanksgiving Classics?

Meatless Monday has put together a list of great vegetable dishes for Thanksgiving. While I have to confess this list of “classics” never showed up on my table as a kid, many of them do look darned tasty – maybe a new spin on an old favorite would jazz things up a bit.

img_0352If you’re okay with twisting some classics or simply introducing new and fabulous autumnal masterpieces, give our list of Healthy Holiday Dishes (Thanksgiving Edition) a try. It also happens to include some healthy twists on classics that are sure to please your whole tribe.

Even if you’re all planned up and all my healthy advice is for naught, we can all use a few new spins for all that leftover food. I turn again to Meatless Monday for a list of new interpretations of Thanksgiving.

2013-05-08-17-12-09Sometimes our leftovers come in the form of ingredients that we thought we’d use because we thought we’d make enough pies for 3,000 people and had a flash of sanity before actually baking all those pies (a sure sign of advanced holiday zen mastery). It is conceivable at this time of year to find yourself with a whole lotta canned pumpkin. This list over at tries to help you with that… and features Bigg Sis’ fabulous cookies.

img_9171If you’ve got a strange mishmash of leftovers, you can always make a leftover pot pie.  This is a surprisingly easy and VERY popular transformation around here.

So there it is, tons of great seasonal options for you. Here’s hoping your holiday is what YOU want it to be. Traditions are great, and so is recognizing when they are no longer serving you. If you could plan the day without any input, what would you be most grateful for? We’ll be doing things a bit different this year as it has become clear that what we’d be most thankful for is a little quiet time and some rest. Well, rest and some mashed potatoes. ;-) Have a great holiday if you’re in the U.S., and if you’re elsewhere, please don’t be annoyed by our Facebook posts. Eat well, be well friends.


Pumpkin French Toast Bake

As if you need another pumpkin recipe….. but, wait!  You do need this pumpkin recipe because it is a breakfast recipe.  It is not easy to bring vegetables into breakfast in a culture that often considers breakfast to be the 12-hour-after-dinner dessert.  Seriously.  So…. this recipe seems a bit dessert-y but with the touch of sweetness coming from bananas and cinnamon.  Plus you get fiber, vitamin A, potassium and other nutrients coming your way via pumpkin.

It was my original attention to make this in the crock pot overnight.  But I forgot.  Ooops.  The crock pot is (unfortunately) not a magical pot into which you can put nothing and remove something yummy hours later.  However, it did not take long to throw this together, so being the early riser in my household, I threw it together in about 10 minutes and into the oven it went.  The sleepy heads still had to be awakened to enjoy this healthy treat.

Don’t get uptight about measuring – It’s merely a layering job that you then bake at 350 for 35 minutes or so.  I don’t mean to give you too vague a recipe, but the amounts of egg and milk you use is dependent on the thickness and heartiness of the bread, so you’ll have to just feel it out a little.  You want the bread to be a bit soaked so that the resultant dish will be moist, but not floating.

Pumpkin Banana French Toast Bake

Enough bread for 2 layers in a 9X13 baking dish – healthy bread would be ….. healthier ;-)
(I used ezekiel bread and it took 12 pieces)coconut oil (or your favorite oil to grease the baking dish
6 – 10 eggs
1/2 – 1 cups milk
1 – 2 tsp vanilla
about 1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 banana
Handful of walnuts
shredded un-sweetened coconut

Preheat the oven to 350
Grease the baking dish
Beat together the eggs,
Add and mix in vanilla, pumpkin and milk
Lay the bread in a layer on the bottom of the dish
sprinkle walnuts, cinnamon, coconut and banana slices over the bread





Pour about half of the mixture over the bottom layer
Add another layer of bread
Sprinkle more coconut and/or walnuts if you like (I did coconut)
Pour the rest of the mixture over the bread.


Bake until firm (again, depends on amount of eggs/milk and heartiness of bread) .  20151115_080409

There may be banana juice bubbling up, so try to determine whether you are seeing banana juice or egg/pumpkin mixture looking wet.

This was very yummy and did not require any sweetener to make it wonderful.  The banana adds a lot, but you could try it without – or with raisins or dates….. or something else.  Let us know if you try something different!


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family!


The Beauty of the Pretty Good Dessert

Not the description you read in a restaurant menu.  “Please make a selection from our Pretty Good Dessert Cart,” ……… “Our Pretty Good Desserts are a perfect way to end your meal!”

What’s so good about a “Pretty Good Dessert”? It’s a perfect way to fill that little itch for dessert without being too indulgent, AND you don’t have this stuff sitting on table, or counter, or in the freezer which slowly disappears as passersby shave off a little more whenever they find the excuse to ‘pass by.’  I have that problem with pumpkin brownies, because although much healthier than the average brownie….. I can’t keep my hands off of them.

So to go along with the “Pretty Good” Chocolate Chia Pudding that I posted a few weeks ago, I share with you another Pretty Good dessert posted by Snack Girl.  I don’t think she will be insulted by my calling her desserts pretty good.  She is very level headed and I think would agree with the value of a pretty good dessert.

You have probably heard of mug cakes….. throw a few ingredients in a mug and get 1 serving of cake (which avoids the whole passer-by shaving entirely!!).  For some reason this idea has been stuck in my 14 year old’s considerably tenacious craw for some time.  So he was the perfect candidate to give a banana-based mug cake a try.  (Of course I didn’t advertise it that way, but he helped me, so the ingredients were indeed on the table.  And there aren’t many!)

Chocolate Banana Mug Cake

Not a chocolate mug – don’t eat the mug ;-)

This is fast and easy – and makes enough for 2 people


1 medium banana
1 egg
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar

Mash and squish and whisk all ingredients together.

Pour into 2 mugs



Microwave each mug by itself for 1 minute or until firm on top.  Mine was fine after 1 minute.



You can invert it onto a plate (it slid right out) or eat straight from the mug….. You could even make this tonight!  My son wanted to try this again, but not on the same night.  So while it might not knock your socks off,  it will be satisfying and tasty…… and enough.  And that’s Pretty Good!




Re-fried Bean Citrus Lettuce Wraps

I have never been a big fan of meat.  Our mother used to stop me at the door to make sure that I had placed some lunch meat on my sandwich for school (and not just mayonnaise).  So it’s not a big surprise that I am the one that keeps the meat consumption to a minimum in our household.

My boys are not as enthusiastic about keeping the meat consumption low.  So there are some nights when they eat meat and I do not.  They used to fulfill this need when I was working 12 hour shifts and wasn’t even home for dinner a few nights a week, but now we eat together every night, so the blending creates some confusion and ‘togetherness’ in the kitchen as all needs are met.

Recently, I didn’t plan well,…. okay at least once a week or so, I don’t plan well and needing a quick healthy protein substitute for me while the boys ate turkey, I turned to canned beans, sweet onion and a little orange juice.  I was very pleased with the results which I piled into a large leaf of romaine and ate like a burrito.  I was very pleased with the results.  The boys looked suspicious at my lack of interest in their turkey bacon.  Haha!  Their suspicions will be explained soon because I know we will have this again.  Why not?  It is fairly quick, very easy and most delicious.

Re-fried Bean Citrus Wraps

1 sweet onion
oil for sauteeing
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup canneloni beans (or whatever cooked or canned beans you have on hand)
juice of 1 orange
salt to taste

Saute the onions in a little oil.  The longer you saute the sweeter they become… but if you’re pressed for time go until translucent
Add the rest of the ingredientsMash the beans.  I used a potato masher.
Cook down a little so it’s all smushey and the liquid has diminished.
If it gets too dry add a little more juice

20151025_184411Serve on a romaine lettuce leaf….. or on a tortilla…. or on a piece of bread….. or mixed with rice

This is a notion that works for a lot of things and saves you lots of calories.  Unless of course you serve it with potatoes roasted in oil.  Ah but they were really good as well ;-)

What do you like to put in a lettuce wrap?

Chocolate Chia Pudding – Dairy Free

This is going to be kind of a sales manager’s nightmare….
Imagine you are the trainer for a bunch of sales people for chocolate chia pudding.  You’ve taught them all about using tantalizing language; about setting a mood; about convincing the buyer that they deserve to have a treat…..

Mmmmm. Looks creamy and delicious!

Mmmmm. Looks creamy and delicious!

Now imagine that you hear this phrase come out of the mouth of one of your salesmen.

“It’s pretty good.  Yeah, we enjoyed it, it was okay.”

What?  How the heck to you propose to get people to buy this stuff, or in this case try this recipe?  Well, I like to think of this as a “this is better than fruit” kind of dessert.  Now don’t get me wrong…. I love fruit and when there are lovely grapes, raspberries, pineapple or mango around, it makes a lovely after meal treat.

However, my brain AND my son, are products of our culture that clearly states that fruit is NOT dessert.  Fruit is healthy.  Dessert is decadent, rich, super sweet, indulgent, much-deserved and really, again, NOT FRUIT.  A recipe like this one, a less unhealthy but also less decadent, less rich, not so super sweet, less indulgent though equally, if not more so deserved…. fills the dessert bill that both my son AND my brain seem convinced makes the evening better.

So, I give you a recipe totally borrowed from Snack Girl, a biologist who blogs about healthy eating.  It was pretty good.  Yeah, we enjoyed it, it was okay.  I add this to some other recipes that are good enough to enjoy and not too bad health wise, but not SO good that we eat too much of it and further that notion that only a decadent, overly sweet treat constitutes a tasty end to the evening meal.

Chocolate Chia Pudding

Makes 4 – ¼ cup puddings

3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons brown sugar (I used white sugar – a little shy of this amount)
¼ cup chia seeds
1 cup milk (whatever you like – she used 2% cow’s milk, I used plain almond milk)

Blend cocoa powder, sugar, chia seeds, and milk in a blender for 5 minutes until chia seeds are pulverized. Pour into small ramekins and place in refrigerator.  I used a Vita-Mix and Snack Girl commented that hers turned out a little grainy in her regular blender…… but that’s okay.  It’s still pretty good ;-)

Chill for 30-60 minutes and enjoy, but not too too much!  We ate it all!



Cheap, Easy, Delicious: African Lentil Casserole

This is not a new recipe to our blog, but it was posted way back at the beginning and it has played such a constant role in both our menu and Little Sis’ family menu that I can’t help but share a slight variation in hopes that it will catch some people who missed the original,.  Maybe the new spice profile will appeal to those who passed up on the original as well!

As boring as the name is, ‘Lentil Casserole’ packs a lot of bang for the buck…… or maybe a buck and a half.  Literally.  Dried lentils and dried brown rice lay the inexpensive groundwork for this hearty meal that gains great flavor with spices and in this case spinach.  My picky son really likes this and finds it ‘thermos worthy’ (to take to school for lunch).  Both my husband and I like it as well and when I heated some leftovers at work the other day, I was asked 3 times what smelled so good.  Just my little ‘ol cheap-o lentil casserole, no cause for excitement ;-)!

The ‘African’ part of the title comes from Tabil spice mix but this dish can be made with Italian spices, as in the original, or Mexican spices, or whatever you think will get your people’s attention!  Tabil is not necessarily easy to come by, but you can buy it or you can make your own.  Admittedly, using this spice mix can increase the cost of this dish a bit, as if you buy prepared it is expensive, and if you have to invest in the spices, it is expensive at first….. but very worth it in the long run and less expensive than buying.

This can be cooked in a crockpot over about 4 hours or on the stovetop in 45 – 60 minutes.  The beauty of the stovetop method is that once the onions are sauteed and the water is boiling, there is not much more to do, so it’s not a labor intensive hour and therefore gets cooked when we have forgotten to plan but are not yet starving!

African Lentil Casserole

1 – 2 tsp oil
1 & 1/2 c chopped fresh onion
2 clove garlic, mashed
6c veggie or chicken broth (I use ‘Better Than Bouillon – Vegetable‘ or this cheaper make your own version -FYI I don’t use sundried tomatoes when I follow that recipe as they gummed up my food processor)
1 & 1/2 c lentils
1 c brown rice
1 Tbsp Tabil spice mix
2 – 3 large handfuls of spinach

Saute chopped onion and garlic in the oil in a large pot if you are cooking on the stove, in a small saucepan if transferring to crock pot.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot of crock pot except for the spinach
Cook on low for 2 hours, high for 2 hours.
About 15 minutes before eating or being done, add the spinach and stir, let cook until spinach is wilted.

After sauteeing onion and garlic add the rest of the ingredients except for spinach.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 45 – 60 minutes.  Just before serving, add spinach and cook until wilted.

It looks like a lot of spinach but it cooks down into MUCH less.

Pot of steaming lentils, rice and spices

Pot of steaming lentils, rice and spices



Put those handfuls in there….


Then stir the spinach in…..


Not so spinach-y that the finicky will be repelled ;-)

And there you have it.  Cheap. Easy. Tasty.


Balsamic Onion Topper

Winter squash is so reliable and sturdy.  Yikes.  Sounds like a truck – not an appealing description of food is it?  But, really, I’m enthusiastic…. even excited about this time of year when acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash become cheaper and so readily converted into hearty autumn fare.

Spaghetti squash does carry the undue burden of expectation because of that name.  I mean, CAN you do anything else with spaghetti squash besides treat it like a gluten free, healthier version of semolina spaghetti?  Of COURSE you can.  I’m rather transparent, aren’t I?  This idea is one that I am going to visit on other hearty vegetables and perhaps breads as well!

Treating spaghetti squash like the hearty vegetable it is, allows for pairings with other strong and reliable flavors.  Onion, balsamic vinegar and a dash of marjoram did the trick and turned our spaghetti squash into a very special side dish.  We really enjoyed this.

The recipe is really for the onion topping but it was totally created to go on my spaghetti squash without using tomato.  Please let us know if you try this on anything else – I think it has lots of possibilities!

Balsamic Onion Topper

1 Tbsp oil (I used avocado)
1 large sweet onion
1 – 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4/ – 1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 salt

Heat the oil.
Add chopped onion and cook over medium low heat allowing time to become translucent.
Turn up just a bit and add the balsamic, marjoram and salt.
Stir frequently
The longer you cook the more carmellized it gets -a little browning is nice!
Marjoram adds a flowery sweetness.  Don’t overdo it.  It’s surprisingly strong for such a gentle fragrance.

Serve over top of spaghetti squash.  (Spaghetti squash is easy to cook.  Just cut in half / scrape out seeds / place halves in large pot of boiling water and cook until tender, about 20 minutes depending on size of squash).


I will have to get back to you with other possible things to put this on, but I think it would be fabulous in a lettuce wrap with re-fried beans, or other veggies – or on top of mashed cauliflower…. or, or, or?  What do you think?

Very Veggie-ful Piccadillo

If you are saying pica-what o?, then please read on.

If you are saying MORE veggies in piccadillo?, then please read on.

If you have lost all interest then perhaps reading on would still work because I am going to get to a recipe, AND it is quite delicious and healthy.  Who can resist that siren song? ;-)

The story (and eventual recipe begins with moving into a new house.  I am afraid that my ability to judge what is in the pantry is based on years of experience of having lots of things IN the pantry.  This ability under new circumstances has disappeared and I seem to be missing lots of ingredients.  However, although some people have different ideas, it would seem that poor planning is the mother of my invention and at this point I must make lemons from lemonade (that’s a trick) and share this recipe that exists because I was lacking a few things.  Or, I could skip the whole thing and go to McDonalds!  HA!  Just kidding!  That would be a waste of time, money, calories and carbohydrates my friends….

Piccadillo is a cuban chili that, along with the regular chili stuff you’d expect, boasts the flavors and textures of almonds, raisins, green olives and cinnamon.

Do you really need anything else? Shall we just eat now?

It is a delicious combo and a family favorite.  However, with no lentils in the house, and no ground meat (not doing much of that these days), I needed a way to use the other ingredients, feed folks, and not totally screw up my resurrected meal planning system.



20150905_202021-001Zucchini, onions, and quinoa to the rescue.  This trio does not exactly sound heroic, but one can go many places with zucchini, onions and quinoa, and apparently Cuba is on the map!

My original piccadillo post is here, but if you’d like more veggies and less beans or meat – try this one!

Roasted Veggie Piccadillo

1 – 2 Sweet onions
3 – 4 zucchini
1 Tbsp high heat oil (I used avocado)
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 large bell pepper of any color
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes undrained – or about 1.5 cups diced tomatoes if you have fresh.
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup dry sherry (optional)
1 & 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 & 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
1 – 1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 – 1 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped stuffed green olives (In all my coarseness, I simply chop in half)
1 cup toasted almonds
1 – 2 cups dry quinoa (or rice – quinoa is higher in protein)

Pre-heat oven to 400
Chop onions and zucchini into bite sized chunks.  Toss with 1 Tbsp oil and spread on cookie sheet
Roast for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring a couple of times throughout.  Salt and pepper to taste.
While onions and zucchini are roasting, saute garlic in a little oil.
Add chopped peppers and saute for about 5 minutes
Add spices and heat briefly stirring
Add tomatoes, paste, and sugar
Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes
Prepare quinoa according to package directions (or rice)
Add roasted veggies when tender and a bit browned
Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes more
Add olives, raisins and almonds
Simmer for 5 or so more minutes
Serve over quinoa or rice or all alone!

20150901_184512-001Enjoy and tell us where your necessary deviations from the recipe have taken you!!

Weakly Meal Plan

And that is no typo. Despite my best intentions (it being the new school year and everyone being so Gung Ho about all new and resumed ventures… I have run into a stumbling block, and for once it is not one of my own devising. My dear refrigerator has decided that this second week of school is a good time to crap out. It’s not completely fatal, but I am, unfortunately, not equipped to handle the problem. This puts a significant cramp in my meal plan planning. While I doubt the plan I’m about to offer is the most appealing you’ve ever seen, those of you with adequate domestic experience will doubtless recognize it as “one of those weeks.” Here’s hoping all of your appliances are sturdy and easy to fix.

Monday: Leftovers (to prevent waste while fridge is not cold), cut veggies

Tuesday: Potato Squashers, Sunflower Cheese, green salad

Wednesday: Pakistani Lentil Kima

Thursday: Slow and Simple Tortillas, Rice and Beans

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: Dinner with friends

Sunday: Homemade pasta with pesto

Lunchbox Treats: Nut Butter Bliss Balls

Adult Lunches: Salad until the greens run out or the fridge gets fixed


Fast Healthy Breakfasts to Start the School or Work Day

It is so lovely to wake up without an alarm, eat when hungry and at the pace desired.  Ahhhh.  It happened a lot for my son this summer (who had his first summer job and so not everyday), some for Mr. Bigg Sis, and even a little for me.

Despite the beauty of the changing leaves and crisp air and fresh apples, it is a sad fact of Autumn that the opportunities for this type of morning generally are less frequent.  However, as a former teacher, as a mother, and as a human who wakes up hungry, I can attest to the fact that a healthy breakfast sustains better performance in, and appreciation of work and school.  But who has time to make a healthy breakfast?  I thought you might enjoy a list of the fast but healthy breakfast ideas we have shared over the last several years….. and there were quite a few!  This list does not include our many pancake recipes as they do take more time.  I do recommend however that if you make pancakes or french toast on the weekend, make a lot and freeze the leftovers on a tray or plate.  When frozen, remove from plate and place in a plastic bag in the freezer for a supply of fast breakfast during the week!

However, these all are fast, or can be put together the night before and, of course are made from wholesome, healthy ingredients that will keep you and your family members running on full steam until lunch!  Enjoy and please share any fast breakfast tips that you use :-)

Breakfast Ice Cream or Creamy Smoothies For All

Quick Sweet Potato Brekkie & Open Summer Sammie Brekkie  IMG_0097





Barley for Breakfast – 3 varieties

Quinoa & Oats breakfast / Quinoa & Buckwheat Groats breakfast

Crockpot Oatmeal

Veggies & Oats

Sweet Potato, Apple, Oat Nuclear Incident  1108130629-001






Sweet Potato & Rice

Pumpkin Apple Oats in the Crockpot


 Chocolate Crockpot Oats





Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl

Head out the door with something hearty in your belly that does not lead to a sugar crash, headache, fatigue or hunger pangs in a few short hours.  And enjoy all of the benefits of the end of summer and the beginning of a cool, crisp autumn!