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!



Weekly Meal Plan 10/19-10/25

Well hello there! We woke up to frozen grass and frosty windows. Seems it’s that time. We’ve still got some warmish days in front of us, but we’ve definitely moved into pumpkin spice everything season. I’ve had a little luck getting my myriad activities under control, although it required that I make a visual aid for a typical week so I could see that it could all actually fit provided I don’t say yes to anything else, ever. So that’s the current stance. If you had planned to ask me for something, you should know that. ;-) While I practice saying no, we will be eating some delicious food.

Monday: Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, Wheat Bread, green salad

Tuesday: African Lentil Casserole, sautéed green beans, green salad

Wednesday: Roasted Cauliflower Wraps, oven fries, cut veggies

Thursday: Half Raw Stir Fry on Crispy Rice

Friday: Homemade Pizza – It occurs to me I’ve never really described this for you…

Saturday: Dinner Out!

Sunday: Homemade Spinach Pasta with Mushroom Sauce, green salad

Adult Lunches: leftover tomato soup from last week

Lunchbox Treats: low sugar graham crackers

One of my unscheduled tasks today is to dig through the winter boxes and get out some gloves for all those who walk to the bus stop. Hope you know where your gloves are… looks like we’re gonna need them!

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.


Weekly Meal Plan 10/12-10/18

Well hey there friends. Gearing up for what looks like a strangely variable week here in Mid-Maryland. The weather map has one of those big dips on it with lots of arrows and color variation. Yeah, so I’m checking highs and lows… Am I the only one who does this to decide what to eat? There are some things I just don’t like when it’s hot. Soup is okay, but stew is out. No stew when hot. It is written… right here… on this blog.

At any rate I’ve got a handle on the weather and I’m beginning to get a handle on our evening activities around here. As I think I’ve mentioned before Mr. Little Sis and I have added some diversions and obligations to our various to do lists and as a result evenings have gotten a lot busier. I recently considered sending everyone on their way with a packed lunch that is dinner sized to justify just having toast and salad for dinner as that’s about all I want by the end of these busy days. I decided pretty quickly that while that would be fine with me, it would be a generally unpopular move that I would then have to discuss…. that sounded more annoying than finding the energy for a legitimate evening meal. So, back to those highs and lows. This week begins Crock Pot week – no it’s not a national Facebook thing, at least not yet. I just mean in my house, the Crock Pot can now legitimately make its grand fall entrance. It’s not going to get above 75, so out comes the Crock Pot to help make sense of the increasingly stupid schedule.

Monday: (Baseball, schedule shift, normally Thursday, band practice for Mom cancelled) Sesame Whole Wheat Pancakes with sliced peaches, cut carrot sticks (every once in a while breakfast for dinner makes people really happy)

Tuesday: (violin and viola lessons, Crock Pot required) Slow Cooker (No Cream) Creamy Tomato Soup; Multigrain Bread, green salad

Wednesday: (Mom has choir) Lentil Bulgur Burgers, Roasted Potatoes, Green Salad

Thursday: (no baseball but conference call for Mom) Zucheesey Noodles, sautéed green beans, roasted cauliflower

Friday: (kids are out of school for no apparent reason, no this doesn’t necessarily affect the dinner, just thought I’d throw it in there for kicks) Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday:  Mee Goreng (an experiment from a new book that if I have my act adequately together enough I will tell you about later… pretty sure that’s how I used to do this)

Sunday: (choir, baseball, and then) Homemade Pasta for friends, Easiest Pasta Sauce Ever and Pesto, Broccoli Meatballs, Green Salad

Adult Lunches: Leftover Potato Squashers from last week

Lunchbox Treats: Leftover Fruit & Veggie Smoothies in these bad boys


Here’s hoping your highs and lows are within your tolerance level and that your curveballs are only temporary deviations! Eat well, be well friends!

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?

Weekly Meal Plan 10/5-10/11

Hey there people! I don’t know what the weather is doing in your neck o the woods, but here in Mid-Maryland, we’re breathing a pretty big sigh of relief as all relevant storm systems head out to sea. Bye bye wind. Bye bye rain. Thanks for taking it easier on us this time. I sincerely hope that wherever you are, and especially if you’re on the SouthEastern seaboard, you made it through this one unscathed.

We’ve got a lot brewing here because for some ridiculous reason, Mr. Little Sis and I decided we didn’t have enough to do. He has added a graduate program to his two jobs and I’ve added some classes, a gigging band, and some freelance work to mine. There, how’s that? Busy enough for you? Why, yes, yes it is. Thank you very much. I am having to very much rely on all my prior thinking about quick real food as we never seem to have enough time to do the slow cooking thing – well at least until Crock Pot season, which is almost here. So forgive the inelegance of these plans, I’m doing my best. And I’m willing to bet there are at least a few of you out there who don’t have enough time to cook for long either – so here we go.

Monday: Tacos with Stupid Fast Chili filling and quinoa, cut veggies

Tuesday: Spinach Chickpea Burgers, green salad, roasted cauliflower

Wednesday: varia-bowls with rice noodles, baked tofu, pickled carrots and chopped veg

Thursday: Kichadi, peas, green salad

Friday: Dinner at the Gig (if you live in MD, head on over to Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick. We play at 7)

Saturday: Dinner at Bigg Sis’ house (Yay!)

Sunday: homemade pasta, green salad

Adult Lunches: Leftover Chili as taco salad, Cold Kickin’ Soup (yep, it’s here – poor Mr. Little Sis)

Lunchbox Treats: Nut Butter Bliss Balls

Here’s hoping your hamster wheel is spinning at a pace that works for you OR that you’re in one of those hamster balls so you’re actually able to go somewhere with your spinning. ;-) Have a great week!

Weekly Meal Plan 9/14-9/20

I began writing this post and realized that I wasn’t in fact writing this post at all, but another one that discusses overcommitment and its toll on our spirits. I’ve saved that and set it aside in favor of meeting this particular commitment, albeit a day late. If you don’t see the irony here, you probably need more rest too. ;-)

In all seriousness, my relative persistence in posting a meal plan is very helpful to me personally. I mean, I hope it helps you as well, but really, when I take the time to do it, I am actually planning our meals – something that doesn’t necessarily happen if I don’t sit down and write a post about it. You are keeping me accountable whether you’re using these or not – look how powerful you are! The exercise is also useful because of its unassailably necessary nature. This is not to suggest that we will expire if I don’t make a meal plan, or to indicate that I am completely unrealistic and believe that it is never okay to fly by the seat of your pants for a day or so because you just can’t do one more thing right now. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m able to make those adjustments from time to time, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we need to eat.

I say it all the time in these meal plans – “here’s what’s going on in our house… but we still need to eat.” No matter what chaos or drama emerges, no matter what the dog eats and requires emergency veterinary intervention for, no matter which car or house part needs fixing or replacing, we need to eat, and when I plan what we eat, all of those other parts work better and are less stressful. It’s a little tiny slice of domestic magic that does not always shine so brightly in the abstract when it’s on a checklist of too many other important things.

So thank you for holding me accountable, reminding me that there IS something I can do right now to make all of our lives easier this week.

Monday: Southwestern Salad, whole wheat bread

Tuesday: Chickpeas, Potatoes, and Tomatoes (very much like this dish); sautéed green beans, bell peppers

Wednesday: Miso Soup, green salad

Thursday: Nutshroom Burgers, veggies for burger toppings, steamed broccoli

Friday: Homemade Pizza (artichokes and onions and no moo for me!), cut veggies

Saturday: Thirty Minute Bean and Bulgur Chili, green salad, rice or taco shells to go with

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever and spinach, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Homemade Smoothie Pouches (these reusable food pouches are the bomb!) – just search smoothie in the search bar, we’ve got lots

Adult Lunches: Cold Kickin’ Soup (It’s coming. I can feel it.)

Here’s hoping your priorities are clear and well aligned with your values… okay, that’s too much. I hope you have a super week.

Weekly Meal Plan 9/7-9/15

It’s hardly fair to post what my meal plan was for today when 1) it has already occurred and 2) I didn’t have anything to do with planning or preparing it, but oh well. Fair shmair, right? Yes I have young children and have little regard for claims about what is fair at this point… I digress…

So we’re still having a heat wave here in Mid-Maryland, and to be perfectly honest, I’m over it. Maybe not as over it as all of the trees and bushes in my yard, but I’m over it nonetheless. I’ve had to dessert my usual total disregard for watering plants other than food generators in the interest of maintaining the living privacy protectors and clean air generators around me. I simply focus on different plants every day and hope it’s enough. The rain barrel will run dry soon, however, so do a little rain dance or something. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could use it. Perhaps if we all did it together? In the meantime I’m going to need to whip up a kid friendly plan this week as Mr. Little Sis will be traveling a great deal and I am simply not up to challenging their palates as much when I don’t have any reinforcements available. Kid friendly food it is!

Monday: Cookout at Sweetie Dad and Super Stepmom’s

Tuesday: Veggie-Full Picadillo (Big Sis’ new innovation on an old favorite), green salad

Wednesday: Tacos (with leftover Picadillo and lots of chopped veggies)

Thursday: Zucheesey Noodles, Broccoli, Green Salad

Friday: Sprouted Pizza Bagels, cut veggies. The ultimate cheat. I buy sprouted grain bagels and the kids make pizza bagels with them. They’re happy; I’m happy. Win Win.

Saturday: Gazpacho, Avocado Toast, Kale salad

Sunday: Homemade pasta with pesto, Spinach salad

Lunchbox Treats: Homemade Applesauce

Adult Lunches: Leftovers, Baked Tofu (I got a deal on some tofu and need to use it up – sounds sinister doesn’t it? “Psst. Hey, you, you want some tofu? I got a deal for you.”

Here’s hoping all your meals are met with great anticipation and equally great praise and that all of your tofu is purchased from legitimate but reasonable retailers.

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