Cooking for Irene


IMG_1172Here we are. Irene and I, all smiles, embarking on a culinary adventure together. Irene hired me to prepare 2 weeks of dinners for her and her husband. Fully cooked, ready to heat & eat, and all healthy and delicious!



We had a blast choosing recipes. Irene chose from a few of her favorites and also from The Healthy Edge online library that are all gluten-free and most are also dairy-free. This made it easy to put together a two week meal plan that is healthy AND delicious!


Irene has a well-stocked pantry. We went through all the recipes and pulled spices, canned goods, condiments, etc. that she already had. She also sent me home with storage containers to bring back the food ready to heat & eat.



Sicilian Bean and Potato Salad is one of Irene’s husband’s favorite side dishes. We chose it, but I realized later it wasn’t a good idea because it wouldn’t freeze well. Irene decided to make it herself because with her time freed up not worrying about dinner, she could make a side dish or dessert more easily.


This Indian Curry recipe took the place of the bean and potato salad. I made it with pork (instead of chicken) and pearl barley (instead of orzo). It gave Irene more dinner options which is what she was really looking for.




Back home, I wrote out what was still needed for each recipe. I also put them in order of what I thought is a good 2 week meal plan. From this list, I made the grocery shopping list. Irene already had a beautiful piece of salmon in her freezer so we worked that into the meal plan. What she needed was a marinade/glaze and we found the perfect recipe. All together Irene chose 6 dinner recipes, 2 side dishes and one breakfast. Broken down into individual servings, she and her husband would have dinners and a few lunches for two full weeks and then some!




Irene wanted the flank steak and the salmon marinade for the first part of the meal plan so I delivered those uncooked. The Mediterranean Crunch salad was the prefect side dish for both of these entrees so I delivered that fresh also. Everything else went into the freezer.


Moroccan Chicken with Lentils filled my kitchen with a delicious aroma!
I took very few pictures while cooking. I was focused on getting everything done and delivered in about 3 days. I shopped on a Tuesday, cooked Wednesday and Thursday; and then delivered everything Thursday evening. Next time I’ll take more pictures.


Irene’s freezer! It’s full of items she can pull out for dinner. Some are in individual serving sizes and some are in larger containers for multiple dinners. There’s even enough for lunches. If cooked food is frozen right away, it keeps for about 3 months. When thawed and reheated properly, it’s just as delicious as the day it was made.



Barbecued Salmon was the second dinner in Irene’s meal plan. Since she no longer had an outdoor grill, she used her broiler pan and oven. This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t have an outdoor grill. She told me this salmon was tasty!



Stress-free healthy meals on-hand = Peace of mind. 

Posted in bake, dinner, Food, freezer meal, Fun, Healthy, Homemade, Ingredients, meal plan, onion, Recipes, Salad, Shopping, squash, sweet potato, tomato, Trade Joe's, Veggies, Whole food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Friends with Vegetables








What is this yummy looking dish, you ask? It looks like it’s wallowing in cheese and sauce, but it isn’t.

I came across the recipe last summer.
Here’s the link:









However, I didn’t make it last summer because of the crazy hot weather we had. This bakes for 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven! I saved the recipe because I’m attempting to add more veggies to our daily meals. I finally made it this winter and it turned out fantastic. My husband was extremely skeptical at first, but after a few bites he decided it was worth seconds.









It reheats well so we got more than one meal out of it ~ love that!
Serve it with anything you like. I served it with Trader Joe’s pre-sliced sirloin steak and that also made it a big hit with my husband.

He asked me to make it again. Winner winner chicken dinner!

How do you get more vegetables in your daily meals?

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Can I make it like Ina?


Does mine ever look like hers?

What do you do when you’ve planned to make a new dish for Thanksgiving, purchased all the ingredients, then run out of time to make it (because I insist on getting enough sleep)?

You save the dish for after Thanksgiving. That’s what I did with this Farro Butternut Squash casserole. I’ve wanted to try Farro for a few months but the “right” recipe wasn’t showing up in my life until this one did. It’s part of Ina Garten’s “Make-ahead” menu for Thanksgiving that I found on Food Network’s website.

I like the whole food ingredients. I like that I can use my homemade chicken stock. I like that Trader Joe’s sells butternut squash already cubed. I like that it includes bacon as a way to add flavor and make the dish more palatable to those whose appetites are not used to things like Farro. Other than cooking the bacon, it’s a one-pot dish. So many things to love.

Here’s the link to the recipe:


Here’s a few notes on what I did.

• I used nitrite/nitrate-free bacon.
• I used coconut oil in place of the butter.
• I used 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (not ground) in place of fresh.
• I put the bacon and the Dutch oven into my oven at the same time for the first 30 minutes. I did this based on reading the instructions all the way through.


Here’s a few pics of my attempt:


“Sweating” the onions and the other ingredients are ready.


Applewood smoked bacon going into the oven. This is a great way to cook bacon! Place it on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet.


Simmering the farro in the chicken stock along with the onions.


Butternut squash placed on top of the farro and ready for the oven. The chopped, cooked bacon and parmesan are placed on top after the first 30 minutes of baking.






























Here’s my final result:


Enlarge the photo to see the parmesan 🙂 Do you think it looks like Ina’s?








Mine took longer to absorb the liquid so it went back into the oven for another 30 minutes. I may have goofed and not bought “pearled” farro. Other than that, the flavor was fantastic! We had it for dinner with leftover turkey, then for breakfast with scrambled eggs. Yum!

Posted in Bacon, bake, Butternut squash, Food, Fun, Healthy, Homemade, Ina Garten, Ingredients, Recipes, Shopping, squash, Thanksgiving, Trade Joe's, Whole food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guacamole Skinny-Dip

This recipe is a Trader Joe’s knock-off. I sampled it one day at my friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s. After reading the ingredient list, I knew it was something I could make myself. And I did. I like how the yogurt adds creaminess, protein and makes it go further to feed a crowd.

Guacamole Skinny-Dip

Guacamole Skinny-Dip

This amount works well for a potluck or party. It will keep for a day or two in your fridge but after that the color it turns is un-appealing. So… eat up! Dip a chip in it, spread it on a sandwich or burger, dollop it onto a salad or scrambled eggs, serve it as a side with beans & rice, and enjoy!

If you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s you can purchase the original inspiration called Reduced-Guilt Guacamole Dip. Maybe you want to try it out this way before committing to making it yourself. Maybe you’re in a hurry to a friend’s BBQ party and you’re looking for a recommendation of what to bring.

I’m partial to the homemade version since you get more bang for your buck and a way to use up those late summer garden tomatoes.


A few thoughts on the ingredients…

Avocados: A great source of healthy fat that your body loves. Here’s a short video I did showing how to safely peel, pit and slice your avocados.


Tomatoes: I like romas. They’re less “juicy” so you get more tomato per pound.

Roma Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes







Red Onions: The darker the vegetable, the more nutrients and more flavor you can expect. Red onions are no exception. A little goes a long way to add color and flavor.

Red Onions

Red Onions









Cilantro: Never has a humble herb caused so much controversy. Love it or hate it, it’s going to keep showing up in recipes. Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) says it tastes like soap. Trivia Tidbit: Cilantro are the leaves of the Coriander plant. Coriander seeds are ground up and used as a spice (see my hummus post) and the leaves, called Cilantro, are used as an herb.

Cilantro (leaves of the Coriander plant)

Cilantro (leaves of the Coriander plant)










Green Tabasco: I really like this Tabasco option. It’s milder than the original and I believe it adds more flavor as well as a bit of heat that you would expect. I also use this in my Slow-cooker Chicken Soup (post coming this Autumn).








Greek Yogurt: It’s becoming more popular by the minute. Use it to replace sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and get extra protein with less fat.










4 ripe avocados, diced
2 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the diced avocados in a large mixing bowl and mash with a fork to desired consistency.
Gently fold in the tomatoes, onion and cilantro.
Place the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and gently fold in until combined.
Serve immediately, or cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


When you think of guacamole, do you think of healthy eating?

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Edamame for Grown-ups

Edamame – it rolls on the tongue and bounces off the lips in a fun way.

Exactly what is it? Edamame_labelImmature soybeans. That sounds so judgmental. Let’s call them “baby” soybeans. They are a whole food, full of fiber, as well as an excellent source of vegetarian protein. One cup shelled edamame has 10 grams dietary fiber and 33 grams protein. I choose to buy organic or non-GMO. Trader Joe’s has frozen shelled edamame which saves the time of popping them out of their pods. Any item with the Trader Joe’s label is guaranteed to be free of GMO’s.








Here’s a simple way to serve edamame as a side dish. I like it mixed with tuna or alongside baked chicken. It’s incredibly tasty, healthy and satisfying.


1 bag 12 oz fresh or frozen shelled edamame
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1. Steam frozen edamame in a steamer basket and place in a pot of water, making sure the water is under and not touching the steamer basket. Bring the water to a low boil and steam the edamame for 6-8 minutes. Transfer the edamame to a medium serving bowl.

2. To make the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Pour the dressing over the beans and toss to coat. Serve at once, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 days.

Edamame Salad with Tuna

Edamame Salad with Tuna









Edamame Salad with Chicken

Edamame Salad with Chicken

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Red Beauties

flat of strawberries







Here in the pacific northwest, nothing declares the arrival of summer better than fresh strawberries.

Recently, one of my local grocery stores had a great deal on a flat of strawberries so I went for it. I knew we wouldn’t eat them all at once so I froze them using this simple method.

Wash them, pull off the green tops (or not because they’re edible), place them on a cookie sheet like so…

strawberries on cookie sheet… and freeze them overnight.

Store them in freezer bags so they’re ready whenever you are for a sweet treat.

I like to label mine with the weight and the date.



Have you seen those strawberry & banana “ice cream” recipes floating around Pinterest lately? Have frozen strawberries on hand lets you make that dairy-free “ice cream” any time you’re in the mood. I highly recommend it.

Tell me, what would you do with a flat of strawberries?

frozen bagges strawberries with website


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Plump up your oatmeal without plumping up yourself.

Frozen Oatmeal with website
It’s not the latest Pinterest craze… yet.
What this is, is an excellent method for cooking up a big batch of oatmeal just the way you like it, and freezing it into portions without using up all your freezer containers or an entire box of small freezer bags.

My first encounter with a truly big batch of oatmeal was through Hungry Girl. She has a recipe called “Growing Oatmeal Bowl”. The concept is to get twice as much volume from the same amount of rolled oats by doubling the liquid and the cooking time. What a great idea! Then she came up with a multi-serving version of the recipe. I was sold.
At the same time I came across an idea in my Cook’s Illustrated magazine for freezing oatmeal in muffin pans. Genius! Cook the oatmeal, let it cool a bit, scoop it into greased muffin pans and freeze it overnight. Another way to customize these is to press yummy bits into the top of each portion before freezing such as: granola, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, ground flax-seed, chopped apples, blueberries, etc. You’re only limited by your imagination!
The next day, pop ’em out with a butter knife. If they’re really reluctant to pop out, let them sit out for about 10 minutes, then try again. But don’t let them thaw out too much or there’ll be too gooey to transfer to the freezer container.
I always recommend labeling items with the date which is easy to do with a Sharpie directly on a gallon-size freezer bag. If you’re using a big Tupperware-style container, I suggest applying a strip of masking tape and writing on that with the Sharpie.
When you want oatmeal for breakfast, or any time of the day; choose one, two or three portions. Remember, it’s totally fine to have three of these. That’s the actual serving size! Re-heat in the microwave or on the stove top. 
You can even pack it for lunch! It’ll thaw out on its own and you can warm it up, or not. It’s better for you than fast food, that’s for sure.
Recipe adapted from Hungry Girl’s Big Batch Growing Oatmeal Bowl.
One serving = 1-2/3 cups.
Makes 4 servings, or more if you have less than three portions at a time.




4 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (like Almond Breeze) or any type of milk you like, dairy or other.

4 cups water

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, organic raw agave nectar, or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries; or your favorite chopped dried fruit
(I like cooking the dried fruit along with the oatmeal so it plumps up. It also helps sweeten the whole batch.)

Optional Add-ins: granola, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, ground flax-seed, chopped apples, blueberries, etc.


Combine all ingredients in a large pot, mixing well.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cook about 25 minutes, until thick and creamy, stirring often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pot.

If you like, serve yourself a portion right away.

Pull the pot off the heat and let cool for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Using a large scoop or measuring cup, portion out the oatmeal into greased muffin pans.*

Oatmeal pot and muffin pan1

Press any “add-ins” onto the top of oatmeal.

Transfer muffin pans to the freezer and freeze overnight.




Using a butter knife, pop out the oatmeal portions and place in a freezer plastic bag or container.

Frozen Oatmeal_best







Keep these in the freezer until you’re ready for some awesome oats!

*How many muffin pans you’ll need depends on the size of them. My metal muffin pans hold about 1/3 cup each. My stoneware muffin pan holds about 1/2 cup each. That’s why I use my stoneware muffin pan for these.

What are some ways you make sure you have a good breakfast on hand every day?

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Tabbouleh who?

Labeled Tabbouleh

Why bother with tabbouleh? There’s plenty of ways to mix grains, herbs, veggies, etc. without needing a translator. Here’s why. It’s good. It’s really good. It’s easily made gluten-free. It’s a great way to use up all that parsley you have leftover from the bunch you bought at the store but only needed a teaspoon.
I had the mint growing in my front yard. The tomatoes were getting wrinkled and begging to be eaten before becoming “sun-dried”. I always have olive oil, garlic, salt, and I happened to have a fresh lemon and scallions that also needed to be eaten before “turning”. The only purchases I made for this were quinoa and feta. The feta is optional. I really like feta so for me it’s not optional.

Here’s the recipe I used:

I didn’t have any cucumbers on hand and I chose not to buy one. Okay, I admit it. I forgot to buy one. That’s the beauty of recipes like this. You can skip an ingredient and it’s not ruined, just different.

Instead of following the instructions for the bulgar, I made a batch of quinoa (1 cup quinoa cooking in 2 cups water).
AFTER the quinoa was cooked, I added the lemon juice, olive oil and salt; and let it sit like the recipe says. If you don’t have a whole hour to let it sit, that’s fine because the quinoa is already cooked. You can let it sit for 10 minutes, or longer if you have the time. One of the reasons to do this is to let it cool before adding the herbs. That way the herbs don’t wilt. It’s not that kind of salad.

Gluten-free and protein-packed, here it is:

Cooked (rehydrated) quinoa.

Cooked (rehydrated) quinoa after mixing in the olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Veggies and herbs ready for action.

Veggies and herbs ready for action.

Stirring in the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and scallions.

Stirring in scallions after quinoa cools.

Here comes the herbs.

Here comes the herbs.

Tomatoes are joining the party.

Tomatoes are joining the party.

The vibrant colors of this dish are what drew me to it in the first place.

The vibrant colors of this dish are what drew me to it in the first place.

The way this recipe uses simple, fresh ingredients keeps me coming back.


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Do this with your spinach, and love it.

spinach salad collage2

Spinach. Food of the gods. Popeye’s power boost. Buy it at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or grow it in your own back yard. It’s a dark, leafy green which puts it at the top of the priority list for foods to definitely eat, often. It works great in green smoothies, but that’s a blog post for a different day.

Today we are wilting it. Seems odd, doesn’t it? We go to great lengths to NOT let our greens get wilty. The cool thing about spinach is that it’s really good wilted. If it’s done properly, it’s tasty and easier to eat. Spinach has a high water content so it wilts quickly and reduces in volume, a lot. This makes it simple to get a day’s worth of veggies in one meal.  Spinach: the efficient green.


1-1/2 to 2 pounds fresh spinach leaves, preferably baby spinach, rinsed and spun dry

1/2 pound bacon, cut into bite-size pieces and cooked
–It’s a time-saver to cut the bacon into bite-size pieces first. Put them into a COLD skillet, bring the heat up, and fry the bacon until it’s as crispy as you like. Starting the bacon in a cold pan causes less shrinkage.

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
–I like creminis (baby portobellos) because I’m not a big fan of mushrooms. It’s a texture thing. These are “meaty” tasting and look a bit like meat when chopped.

2-4 chopped or sliced hard-boiled eggs (depending on how many people you’re feeding)
1-2 sliced avocado
1/2 – 1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup dried cranberries (Yum!)

Spinach salad prep


1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (white or dark)
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

balsamic and olive oil


1. Place clean spinach in a large bowl.
2. Get your bacon going as directed above. Once the bacon is as crispy as you like, remove it from the pan with a slotted spatula and place it on top of the spinach.
3. Place prepped mushrooms in the pan with the bacon fat and fry on medium heat. Allow the mushrooms to cook undisturbed a couple minutes before turning them over with a slotted spatula.
Frying mushrooms More


Once they’ve cooked a couple minutes on the other side, scrape them onto the spinach along with any remaining pan drippings.

While the mushrooms are cooking, make the dressing…
4. In a glass bowl or measuring cup, place all dressing ingredients except olive oil. Drizzle in olive oil while whisking constantly until it’s emulsified, about two minutes.
5. Place the pan back on the heat, about medium-low. Pour the dressing into the pan and let it warm up for about two minutes.
6. Drizzle the dressing from the pan directly onto the spinach, bacon and mushrooms.
7. Toss the salad well so everything is coated with the dressing.
Spinach salad tossed

The more you toss, the more wilted the spinach becomes. Stop tossing when it looks good enough to eat.

Serves about 4 as a side dish (or 2 hungry people as a main dish).

spinach salad w:egg Plated1


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Reduced-Guilt Quesadillas

This week I tried a new technique for making quesadillas. It was new to me anyway. I found this technique from one of my favorite food bloggers “Eat at Home”. Here’s the link to her fabulous quesadillas:

Not only was the filling unique, but her way of only filling half of the tortilla, then sliding it into the pan flat, THEN folding it over was totally new to me. I tried it, and I liked it ~ very much! Especially because I chose to use Ezekiel wraps. They are one of the healthiest tortillas you can use. However, because they are flourless and made with sprouted grains, they aren’t as flexible as regular tortillas. They tend to crack when you fold them. Actually, they always crack when you fold them. With this technique of sliding them into the pan while flat, the whole tortilla gets a chance to get warm and softened from the heat and oil in the pan. So when folded in half, they don’t crack. Hallelujah!

Ezekiel wraps

I made the “Eat at Home” recipe for dinner the first day, then the next day I made them for breakfast with eggs, tomatoes and spinach. Today was lunch with eggs, onion and bacon. We had quesadillas for 3 days in a row. Once for dinner, then breakfast, and finally lunch. Would you call that versatile? I do.

Using scrambled eggs for a filling item was my first thought. But scrambled eggs are bulky and don’t lend themselves to a nicely filled quesadilla.
Here’s what I did to make them with eggs:

I used my largest 12″ skillet.

12inch skillet and spatula

First, pre-heat the skillet on medium-high heat.
Then add 2 teaspoons of coconut oil and turn the heat down to medium.

Have your tortilla wraps ready with any other filling items on the side.

While your pan and oil are getting hot, whisk 2 eggs with one teaspoon water, a pinch of sea salt, and whatever seasoning mix you like, or even just a pinch of pepper is good. Whisk those eggs up good. When your oil is hot, but NOT smoking (that’s too hot), pour in the eggs and let them flow all over the bottom of your skillet. Turn the heat down again to medium-low.

You’ll need a large spatula to flip your big flat egg thingy when it’s set on the bottom. When you flip it, tilt your pan up to meet it. That helps. Do your best and don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t perfect. It’s all going into the tortilla anyway. The tortilla hides a multitude of food-prep sins. After flipping the eggs, turn off the heat. There’s enough residual heat in your pan to cook your eggs. Once they’re set on the second side, about one minute, use your spatula to slide your big flat egg thingy onto a tortilla.

Add one teaspoon of coconut oil to your pan and turn it back up to medium.

While your pan and oil are heating up, add your other filling items on top of the eggs but only on one half of the tortilla. Once your pan and oil are hot, slide the flat tortilla into the pan. Let it sit for about 10 seconds, then fold the “blank” side over the filled side and press down. The “blank” side isn’t totally empty because your big flat egg thingy is all over the tortilla. This is a great way to get egg in every bite while allowing the tortilla to be as compressed as possible so all the filling items get warmed up and melded together.

Let it cook for about 2-3 minutes until it gets golden brown on the bottom. Then it’s time to flip it. Use your big spatula and flip it as carefully as you can so not too many filling items go flying across your stove. If some do, just stuff ’em back in. Remember, the tortilla hides a multitude of sins. Let it cook on this side for about 2 minutes. Slide your quesadilla onto a cutting board and cut it into quarters or thirds. Slide it onto a plate and well, eat it!


I apologize that there aren’t more pictures of each step. I was moving pretty fast because I was hungry. I totally forgot to take pictures.

Quesadillas are such a great way to use leftovers. They are also easy to customize for picky eaters in your household without feeling like a short-order cook. Let each person fill their own tortilla. Then let them be amazed at your fantastic quesadilla skills!

If you have any questions about how this is done, ask me in the comment section. I’m happy to help you become a Quesadilla Master!


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