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This time of year begs for warm, comforting, hearty dishes that come together quickly.  Who has time to spend in the kitchen when there’s two feet of snow to shovel?  The beauty of minestrone soup is that it’s never the same twice and doesn’t get boring, at least not in our house.  The basic formula does not vary- beans, vegetables, broth.  The specifics, however, tend to change as the wind blows.

Minestrone Revisited

Using the Year of Slow Cooking recipe as my guide, I vary what will go in the soup each time.  Kids can help prep the vegetables, even choosing which to add, and help measure and pour the ingredients.  Even if you put the soup together after your kids have already left for school, they can chop the night before to make your morning smoother.  My kids love peeling and slicing carrots, and who can say no to that?

I love zucchini in minestrone, but it’s not something I tend to have in the refrigerator in the dead of March.  So we did without, and that was fine.  This particular time around, we were shortly post-snowstorm, and I was dipping into the bottom of the crisper and back of the pantry to make dinner happen.  I used red kidney beans, chickpea (garbanzo) beans, a large can of diced tomatoes, lots and lots of chopped carrots and celery, some diced garlic, and dried onion flakes.  Unlike the original recipe, I use chicken broth rather than beef, and canned beans instead of dried.  An hour before serving, I added frozen, thawed green beans, and five minutes before serving, a few cups of fresh baby spinach.  I find the fresh spinach is so much better in the soup that frozen, as called for in the original recipe.  In an effort to keep the carbs lower, we skipped the pasta, but did serve the soup with crusty bread and Parmesan cheese.

We enjoyed the soup after a chilly day outside, and had enough leftover for two days of lunch.  It provides an awesome way to get a ton of vegetables and lean protein.  Naturally gluten and dairy free, vegetarian, and low in fat, it makes the perfect meal.  Everyone feels genuinely happy to see this soup for dinner, which is a nice compliment to the recipe. While the temps are still low, make your family a warm and healthy dinner that comes together quickly, and spend your time making memories instead.  Share your favorite wintertime recipes with our readers, below.

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My favorite recipes are the ones that can easily be gluten free (or not) will little modification.  I find these types of meals more accessible and well-liked.  A friend just recently found out she has Celiac Disease and became gluten free. Chatting with her about favorite cookbooks, resources, and meal ideas got me nostalgic for those early days when the impossible-seeming transition loomed ahead.  Even though it’s been years for us, it’s still fun to discover something new.  She shared this recipe after trying it out with approving results, so I decided to make it for my family.  Hearing we were making Chinese food, my older daughter asked to make lo mein, and my younger one wanted to make her famous honey carrots.  Who can turn down kids who want to help in the kitchen?

Chinese Food Night

The blogger designed her honey chicken recipe as gluten free (cornstarch rather than flour, and gluten-free soy sauce) but it tasted no different than regular Chinese food, and would appeal to anyone who enjoys this type of dish.  My husband was home to clean and cube the chicken (my least favorite part). Meanwhile, my older daughter prepared the glaze for the chicken, and then worked on lo mein.  Our favorite lo mein recipe comes from the original Gluten Free on a Shoestring cookbook.  For both of the dishes above, we substitute coconut aminos for half of the soy sauce, since it has less sodium and we try to consume minimal soy.  Finally, my little one worked on the honey carrots, which come from her favorite kids’ cookbook.  Other than my helping cut the carrots into coins using a sharp knife, this is one she was able to do independently. They come out well, and she’s always pleased to have made the dish herself.

This dinner took a bit of time to prepare. None of it is particularly hard, but the chicken has to be browned and sauteed in its glaze, the lo mein sauce needs to cook down, and carrots have to be steamed. Fortunately, all four of us were in the kitchen and working together. Everything tasted great, so it was worth the wait.  More importantly, there’s such value to opportunities for kids to cook along with their parents, and we had lots of fun.  Give your feedback on the honey chicken, or share your favorite family dinner ideas with our readers.

Stuck inside during this cold weather, I decided to clean out my pantry.  Noticing the boxes of lasagna leftover from Christmas (our main lasagna-eating time) I wanted to use them up but make something different.  This sat in the back of my mind until I was making my shopping list.  I suddenly felt the desire to roll up the lasagna noodles with cheese and spinach.  Lasagna is something I grew up eating, watched my grandma make, and can do from memory.  I decided to go sans recipe and see how it turned out.

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

8 lasagna noodles

8 oz. bag of baby spinach

8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese

8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 c. pasta sauce

Lasagna Rolls

Boil lasagna noodles al dente since they will be cooked further in the oven. Rinse under cold water, and let cool to room temperature.  Get the kids involved, as rest of the steps are simple and require no tools.  Cover the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan with a layer of pasta sauce.  Working on a clean, flat surface, spread out each lasagna noodle.  Divide the ricotta cheese among the eight noodles.  Spread the ricotta cheese evenly on the entire noodle. Layer spinach leaves on top of ricotta cheese.  Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top of spinach.  Holding firm to the end of the noodle, roll each one individually.  Spoon additional sauce onto the tops and sides of each roll.  Cover with foil, and bake for 30 min at 350, until sauce and cheesy are bubbly.  Cool slightly, and serve. Add a tossed salad and your meal is complete!

Lasagna Rolls 2

Now that cold temps and snow have finally arrived, soups, stews, and chili call like sirens from the kitchen.  I’ve shared my turkey chili recipe before, and it’s one that we always enjoy. I typically make a double batch, freeze half for the future, and all’s well.  I came across a different recipe this week that looked delicious, and decided to try it.  My family was surprised when they heard what I was making, “Chicken chili?  Why chicken?”  Yet afterwards, we were all glad I tried something new.

Southwest Chicken Chili

Crockpot cooking offers a great opportunity for kids to help with meal preparation. Especially in a recipe as simple as this one, ingredients are measured, poured, and mixed. Kids can help with every step, and other than using a can opener, there’s nothing sharp or tricky involved.  As always, the beauty of slow cooking becomes evident when you return home from a busy day to find dinner waiting, without the mess of last minute prep.

Creamy Chicken Chili

The biggest difference between this recipe and the one I usually make (other than the chicken) was the addition of the ranch powder and cream cheese.  We make our own ranch powder and keep a jar of it in the refrigerator (using this great recipe), and it worked beautifully.  The only change I made to the chili was to use salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, and I omitted the chili powder as a result.  I used two frozen chicken breasts, and cooked it on low for eight hours.  We ate it with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some crumbled tortilla chips, and it was delicious.  Really, really good. I will most definitely make this again.

Share your favorite crockpot recipe with our readers, especially ones suitable for kids in the kitchen.  Keep warm! Snow’s on its way.

Diabetes is directly related to weight gain.

Milky Way, Mounds Bar and Snickers are my favorite comfort food

We see all the studies that report about the rise of diabetes in our communities. Kids and adults alike. According to the American Diabetes Association over 29 million children and adults have diabetes. I am one of them.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  Not the end of the world, but it did require attention. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.  In 2016, I experienced a year of good health and better blood results, but I wonder if I can continue on this path. The jury is still out.

Follow me on this journey and share your thoughts on what helps you lead a better, healthier life.

Sugar was my comfort food

As a child I always loved sugar. My mom would buy a six-pack of Milky Ways, Mounds Bars or Snickers for my brother and I to have as snacks. Within a day, or maybe two, all six of the chocolate bars would be gone.

“Did you eat them?” my mom asked. “Not me! Must have been my brother,” I insisted.  It was the same script week after week. I love most foods but especially cookies, candy, cake and ice cream. The more the better.

When I was in college, my diet consisted of the “wonderful” choices in the college dining hall: pasta and more pasta,  sandwiches and tuna casseroles. You get the picture.  (This was back in the 60s before food vendors were required to provide healthy options.) I attended SUNY at Albany which was in downtown Albany at the time. And they did not serve dinners on Sunday night. The kitchen staff were off, and we were on our own. With little money to spend my roommate and I would head over to Stewarts. They served ice cream sundaes with all you can eat toppings. Dinner ended up being 3 scoops of ice cream and heaps of hot fudge, marshmallow sauce and sprinkles.

But all this crazy eating style never daunted me. When I choose to wear a fitted dress or tight pants for an upcoming date, I would begin an exercise regimen . You’d be surprised how sit-ups and side bends tighten your waist as well as your stomach muscles…and in a short period of time.

Then I got married and at 24 and 27 I became pregnant. Who worried about anything other than getting through those nine months. I was sick most of the time and actually lost weight while continuing to satisfy my sugar cravings. After all, I was pregnant and felt I was entitled to give in to every food urge you could imagine.

Running gave me a false sense of security

Now I’m in my 30s and my kids are growing up. I became a running nut. Six days a week you could find me out on the roads.  That lasted about eight years, until my knees gave out. During those eight years I could eat anything and everything and still maintain a slim figure. That was a period of pure delight because I could give in to my sugar cravings and not feel the weight gain consequences.

Why the emphasis on weight? According to my endocrinologist, there is a direct correlation between weight and Type 2 Diabetes.

40 pounds later I am a diabetic

It is now 40 years later and I have permanently added 20 pounds, hence the diabetes. At the beginning of the year it was 40 pounds but I lost 30 pounds over the last 12 months.

You may wonder what I think the problem is.

The problem is simple. In five months I gained back 10 of the 30 pounds I lost. So the real question is, ‘what does it take for a Sugarholic to change her spots?’ After all, I could just take medication to “cure” the effects of diabetes. Or could I?

Follow me on this journey and let’s see where it leads.

If you’re frugal like I am, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs on household bills. We want to feed our families good, healthful meals, but organic food can be costly. Starting a garden is a great way to save money, but not everyone has the space. Fortunately, you can grow many vegetables indoors. Better yet, you can regrow them from organic veggies you already bought. Regrowing vegetables is incredibly easy and a wonderful project to undertake with your children.

In this video, I’ll show you some celery, scallions and romaine lettuce I’m regrowing. Here’s how:

  1. Slice off the vegetable base.
  2. Place the base in water in a transparent container where it will get sunlight. Don’t submerge it.
  3. Change the water at least every other day.
  4. After you see significant root growth in about 3-4 weeks, transfer to soil in a pot.

Good luck growing your indoor garden!

Somehow, we always end up with too many over-ripe bananas. In the summer, they’re easy to toss into smoothies, yet this time of year, they pile up. Eventually, I peel and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, but who needs 100 bananas in the freezer?

I’m a recent Instagram convert (don’t ask what took me so long, but now I love it) and discovered the videos on there.  The time lapse videos, to be exact.  In one minute or less, you can learn how to glam up your eyeshadow, upcycle random household stuff into crafts, and cook.  I scrolled across a video that started with two bananas, and had to learn more. Forty-three seconds later, I was copying down the recipe and excited to try it out.

Banana Oat Muffins

Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins came together so quickly (my daughter did most of it herself) and we had fun deciding what toppings to try out.  We settled on blueberries, chocolate chips, and diced apple.  The recipe yielded 18 muffins rather than the dozen shown in the video, so we made six of each kind.  Since oats are used instead of flour, these muffins can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats.  With a short ingredient list and no need for even a butter knife, this recipe can be made entirely by kids.  Leftovers warmed up nicely in the toaster oven, making them perfect for a busy school morning.

Now that I’ve discovered the wonder that is time-lapse cooking, I’m excited to see what is out there.  It’s fascinating to watch new dishes come together right before your eyes, and copying down the ingredients as they flash across the screen offers a fun challenge.  What are your favorite video recipes?  Share with our readers, below.

My girls had a friend sleepover the other day, and they woke up hungry and wanting a breakfast that was “not cereal.”  Fortunately we’re on holiday break, so I could indulge their wishes and save cold cereal for a busy school morning.  I had some other tasks on the agenda, so I looked for something that would come together quickly.  I found potatoes that looked great and would go well with eggs and fruit, so I decided to give the recipe a try.

Breakfast Potatoes

Breakfast Potatoes

The most time consuming part of preparing this recipe was dicing the potatoes. They didn’t need to be peeled, which was awesome.  I always skip peeling unless absolutely necessary.  There are great nutrients in the skin, plus, who wants to peel potatoes?  I expected the recipe to call for browning in a frying pan, but they were able to go in the oven, which saved me the time of standing in front of the stove.  The recipe indicated that they may stick to the pan, and recommended lining the pan with parchment paper.  I think this was key to the success of the recipe, so I definitely recommend following this tip.  The only two changes I made  (of course) were to use fresh rosemary instead of parsley, and I browned them under twice under the broiler instead of once, stirring halfway through.

Breakfast with Potatoes

They were quickly gobbled, with many compliments about their crunchy outside, fluffy inside, and flavor. Definitely kid friendly.  They were simple enough to go with any kind of main dish.  The recipe has been pinned on my Pinterest Breakfast board, and will definitely have a recurring role in our repertoire. Share your favorite breakfast recipes with out readers, below.  Happy New  Year!

It’s no secret that I love a) my crockpot and b) soup.  Combine a + b and I’m one happy mama.  With the busy holiday season and cold days, coming home to a warm, healthy meal that was prepped in the morning is a gift in and of itself.  I was looking to make something different the other day, and had frozen chicken breasts and a bag of potatoes that I wanted to use.  I couldn’t think of anything offhand, so I did some Googling.  The search resulted in a plethora of options, so I read through them until I found one that looked good.  Hearty potatoes, chicken, carrots and celery, some turkey bacon to add flavor-depth… yum. Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I was able to make a decent meal without a trip to the store.  This recipe also had a few steps that could easily be assisted by my kids, which is always a bonus.

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Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken Potato Soup

I followed the recipe almost exactly.  (Anyone who knows me just fell over in shock). There wasn’t anything I needed to omit or modify in order to make it gluten-free, which is awesome.  I used turkey bacon, which I had in the freezer but thawed really quickly by running the edge of the package under warm water in order to separate four slices. After these were crisped in a frying pan, I put the remaining ingredients into the crockpot.  I don’t always like crockpot recipes that require pre-cooking some ingredients as that kind of defeats the purpose, but for certain ingredients, like bacon, I get it. The chicken breasts were frozen (not shredded like shown in the recipe photo), but I knew that’d be fine since ultimately it would break up in the liquid.  Most soup recipes cook all day on low, so I was surprised to see this one call for cooking on high.  Since my crockpot is newer and cooks quickly, I was able to cook it for six hours rather than a whole day, and it was fully cooked.  My kids helped peel and slice the potatoes, carrots, and celery, so I count that as cooking with kids.

After about four hours of cooking on high,  I could tell the chicken breasts had softened up.  I gently shredded them with two meat forks, so that they would absorb the broth. After two more hours, the liquid was bubbly.  I tested the potatoes and carrots, which were fork-tender and ready to eat.  In order to give the soup some depth and creaminess, I ran the immersion blender through it just a little.  I made sure to break up the chunks of chicken and some of the vegetables, but left it very chunky. The soup was extremely hot due to being cooked on high, so it required scooping into bowls for a good cooling period before it was ready to serve.  The recipe photo showed shredded cheese on top, but it didn’t appear to need it, so I skipped it.  I could put cheese on most anything, so that says a lot about the flavor of the soup.  With the diced turkey bacon, it had a richness that seemed complete on its own.

This was a big hit.  My husband can be really picky about soup (he prefers dinner on a plate, not in a bowl) but the turkey bacon seemed to sway him into concluding that the soup was enough to be “dinner.”  My kids loved it, as it wasn’t too spicy and contained nothing that needed to be eaten around (like zucchini, whose presence always offends them when it’s in soup).  It made a wonderful amount- plenty for dinner with enough left over for another night.  That’s always a huge bonus, as another dinner that can just be heated and eaten makes me really happy.  I guess it doesn’t take much to win me over.

Overall, A+.  Easy to make without any fussy ingredients, unique soup (no beans or pasta, as so many tend to have), healthy, gluten-free without any substitutions, and one simple enough for the kids to help prep.  I’m looking forward to eating it again tonight.  My husband would like to add that “pork bacon would bring out a whole different flavor.” I don’t eat or cook with pork, though, so he’ll have to make it himself if he’d like to test that out. Share your favorite soup recipes with our readers below, or your feedback on this one. Happy (almost) Holidays!

Another busy time of year is here again.  That hectic time leading up to the holidays that can overwhelm even the most organized, Zen parent.  School parties, work parties, family parties.  Shopping, decorating, wrapping.  Helping the less fortunate by participating in clothing, gift, or food drives.  All of this, on top of the regular daily responsibilities of being a parent and an adult.  About now, I find myself craving ease in the kitchen, as well as something comforting, but healthy.  I have a love affair with my crockpot, as do so many busy parents.  This baby allows me to make dinner in the morning when I’m cozy in my pajamas, and feed my family at night when I’m frazzled and tired from a busy day.

Chicken and Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice ranks among my favorite soups.  My family loves it, it tastes pure and simple, and it’s super-duper easy to make. In fact, it offers yet another opportunity for kids to help with chopping and measuring.  This recipe from crockpot goddess Stephanie O’Dea is an oldie but a goodie, and customizable as your own.  She encourages any vegetable combination that tickles your fancy.  I typically stick to the very traditional chicken soup veggies (carrots and celery) but this time I also had three zucchinis needing to be used, so in they went.  My kids aren’t zucchini fans (unless it’s inside of bread) so they ate around it, but gobbled up the rest.  It made enough for dinner and two days of lunches, which rocked!

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I make a few changes to the recipe.  I skip pureeing the vegetables, leaving them in chunks since we enjoy them as they are.  I cook the rice separately, scoop it into individual bowls before serving, and store leftovers separately, so that the rice doesn’t get mushy.  Rather than cooked chicken, I put in two raw chicken breasts (often frozen) and shred them before serving.  After 8-10 hours of cooking, the chicken is perfectly tender and shreds easily, as I find that precooked chicken gets rubbery.

No matter how you make this simple soup, I can almost promise your family will enjoy it. Naturally gluten-free, filled with your favorite veggies, warm and relaxing, delicious… the list goes on and on!  Give it a go, share your results with our readers, below, and keep warm.  Chicken and rice soup is perfect for a chilly Fall day.  Before you know it, you’ll be baking holiday cookies!

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