My Weekend at the Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island and a Recipe for Apple and Brie Grilled Cheese

Lately, I’ve been dreaming a lot about summer, and recently, I got a tiny taste of it when my family met up for a weekend away at the historic Weekapaug Inn in Weekapaug, Rhode Island. The Inn comes to life in the summer, but winter at the Inn is also magical. You can bundle up and take long walks on the beach, hit the exercise room, and the menu at The Restaurant stays true to its commitment to local and seasonal ingredients, which is still possible here in cold, snowy New England. Executive Chef Jennifer Backman told me that in winter, she turns to tiny greens from a nearby greenhouse, local seafood, and “storage items” like potatoes, squash, and garlic.

Adult Grilled Cheese at the Weekapaug Inn, RI via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

We arrived at the Inn on Saturday and dove right into lunch. Simon and I split an Adult Grilled Cheese made with grilled apple, Vermont cheddar, Brie, and fig jam on sourdough bread just as my mom and dad pulled in from CT. (Read on for my homemade version of the sandwich …)

Westerly, RI beaches via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Yes it was cold and windy as you can see from my flying scarf, but I still braved the weather as I walked from the Inn to the beach.

Weekapaug Inn, RI via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

The Inn was built in 1899. Its Yankee decor is cozy and welcoming, the surrounding community is cute and oh-so quiet this time of year, and it was the perfect meeting place for my family, located halfway between Boston and Connecticut.

Native Monkfish via mealmakeovermoms.com/kitchen

Chef Backman’s menu is playful and creative, and it’s rooted in local traditions and familiar food favorites. It draws inspiration from the land, the sea, and the sky; this Native Monkfish was served with saffron risotto, grilled pancetta, caramelized fennel, and oil cured olives. Yes please!

Westerly, RI via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

I needed to take a long walk on Sunday morning to build up my appetite for brunch. The three-course menu came complete with “bites to share,” “choice of …,” and “sweets for the table.”

Brunch at Weekapaug Inn via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Check out this brunch starter: artisanal cheese and charcuterie plate, cornichon, pickled onion, mustard chicken liver mousse, and ciabatta.

Apple and Brie Grilled Cheese via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

There is no way my gourmet grilled cheese creation was as luscious as the one I got at the Weekapaug, but Simon and I still loved it. In fact, we’ve had it twice since our visit. I used less cheese, and I didn’t grill the apple; instead, I sautéed it. I think sliced pear would also be amazing. Since I don’t own a panini press, I had to improvise with my kettle!

Apple and Brie Grilled Cheese

Makes 2 Servings

  • Half a medium red apple, thinly sliced into rounds or wedges
  • 2 teaspoons expeller pressed canola oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry jam or fig jam
  • 4 slices whole grain sourdough bread
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 2 ounces Brie cheese, broken up into small chunks

1. Heat 1/2 teaspoon of the canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and cook until heated through and slightly softened, 1 minute per side.

2. To create the sandwiches, spread the jam evenly on each of the 4 slices of the bread. Sprinkle the Cheddar cheese evenly over 2 of the slices and then top evenly with the cooked apples and Brie. Top with the remaining bread slices.

3. Heat 1 more teaspoon of the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Carefully place the sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes. (I don’t have a panini press, so I used a filled kettle as a “weight.”) Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil, flip, and cook until the other sides are golden, another 3 minutes. Slice and serve.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 sandwich): 420 calories, 14g fat (7g saturated, 0.5g omega-3), 570mg sodium, 50g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 15g protein, 25% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Apple and Brie Grilled Cheese via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Our Amsterdam Food, Nutrition, and Culinary Adventures {Podcast #239}

The city of Amsterdam is home to Rembrandt, the Anne Frank House, more bicycles than people, tulips, spectacular cheese shops (Gouda anyone!?), the best Dutch apple pie ever, a food scene that embraces local and sustainably grown produce, and a place where a growing number of chefs has declared themselves, “ambassadors for nature.” (We love that.) Recently, we traveled to the quaint Dutch capital for Food 3000, an annual educational meeting for food and nutrition communicators. We dished about our adventures on this week’s Cooking with the Moms radio show, so tune in and read on for some of the highlights.

Meal Makeover Moms go to Amsterdam

Bicycles, canals, and centuries-old buildings: Hello Amsterdam!

Disclosure: Our attendance at the conference was paid for, in part, by Porter Novelli and various co-sponsors. {If you followed our Tweets and Facebook updates during the trip, we used the hashtags, f3k and spon.} All opinions and insights in this post are our own.

Janice buys cheese in Amsterdam via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

We were off  on Day #1 as we toured the city. Say, “cheese …”

Pickled Herring via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

… and we sampled local favorites like this pickled herring from an outdoor food stall vendor (bring on the omega-3s) …

Eating pancakes in Amsterdam via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

… and we had pancakes from a place called, Upstairs. Those are some of our dietitian pals in the picture: Carolyn O’Neil, author of Slim Down South and Kate Geagan, author of Go Green, Get Lean. And that’s a Valentine’s Day pancake topped with strawberries and whipped cream (just in case you were wondering).

Puccini chocolates via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

We ate spectacular Dutch treats at Puccini Bomboni …

Vermeer

… and feasted our eyes on priceless works of art like The Milkmaid by Vermeer, on display at the Rijksmuseum.

The Grand Amsterdam breakfast via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and The Grand Amsterdam where we stayed put out quite the morning spread of savory dishes—roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, smoked salmon, salads, and cheeses—as well as Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.

We spent the bulk of our days attending scientific sessions where we learned about nutrient shortfalls in the U.S. diet (vitamin E, potassium, vitamin B6 to name just a few), the nutritional power of mushrooms (they’re loaded with antioxidants, and we plan to do an entire podcast soon on our favorite fungi), and we had a lively debate about processed foods and the negative feelings they conjure up. We debated if there might be a better way to frame them or perhaps differentiate them since many “processed” foods are actually quite nutritious (i.e. canned beans, orange juice, fortified whole grain cereals). And after long days using our brains, we treated our stomachs to delicious Dutch meals at night.

Restaurant De Kas via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Restaurant De Kas was originally an old greenhouse, dating back to 1926, that belonged to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery. The menu at De Kas changes almost daily based on the seasonal ingredients from its own gardens. The main dish at our group dinner was roasted guinea fowl with bok choy, cavolo nero (AKA black leaf kale), potatoes and warm remoulade sauce. We love vegetables, so we were very happy. (That’s fellow RD Marisa Moore in the photo.)

De Kookfabriek Amsterdam

A highlight from Amsterdam was a field trip to De Kookfabriek where we had an opportunity to don aprons and bake up traditional Dutch apple pies (along with a few other decadent Dutch treats). We did this BEFORE dinner. Placed into groups of eight, we battled it out to see who could make the best Dutch apple pie. And you guessed it: Everyone was a winner! Oh, and there was lots of butter in the crust. (We’ve been trying to give the recipe a makeover, but sometimes you just can’t mess with tradition.)

De Kookfabriek via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Fabulous RD friends, Jessica Crandall and Regan Miller Jones, founder of Healthy Aperture, were on Janice’s team.

Food 3000 via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

On our last night in Amsterdam, we headed off to the Garden of Amsterdam (The Arendshoeve) for a meal created by Chef Jonathan Karpathios, an advocate for the farm to table movement, author of Real Food, and owner of Vork & Mes. That’s Sharon Palmer in our selfie, author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Cheryl Forberg, dietitian for The Biggest Loser.

the garden of Amsterdam

What a beautiful setting; it felt like we were at a wedding :)

The arendshoeve

This was our appetizer, featuring ingredients sourced from the chef’s own gardens and farm partners: Russian Salad with Vegetable Pancakes and Poached Egg.

Aaron Paul with Liz via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

On a final note, Liz ran into Breaking Bad actor, Aaron Paul at Logan Airport before she flew to Amsterdam. He was kind enough to agree to a selfie. In fact, he took this photo, which he’s clearly done before. Just had to share …

Check out all of our photos on Flickr:
Liz’s pictures
Janice’s pictures

Janice’s Annual Cookie Swap and a Healthier Holiday Cookie Swap Roundup

Janice hosted her annual cookie swap last night in her awesome new kitchen. This marks the 30th year of the exchange. With over a dozen goodies to choose from, Janice made our Chocolate Almond Cookies … but she used walnuts instead of almonds. (So technically, we should call ‘em Chocolate Walnut Cookies!)

Healthier Cookie Swap Roundup via www.mealmakeovermoms.com/kitchen

With cookie swaps on the brain and in the stomachs, we decided to do a round up featuring our best-ever cookie makeovers as well as other better-for-you sweet treats from across the web. Come on. Dig in …

Pictured above (starting at top/left image and going around clockwise…):

Lightened-Up Seven Layer Bars: Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen

Monster Cookie Makeover: Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen

Peppermint Meringue Snowballs: Meal Makeover Moms

Chocolate Almond Cookies: Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen

Granola Crunch Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies: Juggling with Julia

Cherry Chocolate Chip Jubilee Jumbles: Teaspoon of Spice

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Gingerbread Cookies: Yeah…imma EAT that

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti Dipped in Peppermint Chocolate: Healthy Aperture and The Adventures of MJ and Hungry Man

Janice's cookie swap

Here is just a sampling of the amazing goodies Janice’s neighborhood friends brought to the swap …

cookie swap

More cookies!

Random Meal Makeover Mom Musings … and a Recipe for Tuscan Ham & Cheese Melts {Podcast #233}

Our Cooking with the Moms radio podcast this week features random musings about the great restaurants we’ve been to lately, our Thanksgiving dinners complete with sweet potato casseroles and Brussels sprouts (Brussels sprouts are the new black), Liz’s trip to the Chicago area for a tour of the new Kraft headquarters and an insider look at their new-and-improved Singles, and a recipe for Tuscan Ham & Cheese Melts. When we said the show was random, we meant it!

Tuscan ham & cheese melts via www.MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Last month, Liz joined a group of dietitians and food bloggers for the Kraft Singles: Behind-the-Scenes tour in Northfield, IL. Disclosure: Her expenses were paid for, but she was not compensated for the visit. Read on for a few morsels of info from the trip … and this recipe for Tuscan Ham & Cheese Melts, which Liz created with fellow dietitians, Jill Castle and Christine Palumbo.

Tuscan Ham & Cheese Melts

Makes 3 Servings

This recipe was developed during a Chopped-style cooking competition during the Kraft tour. A panini press comes in handy for this recipe, but you could certainly use a nonstick skillet with some nonstick cooking spray, butter, or oil instead.

  • 2 tablespoons olive tapenade
  • 6 slices sourdough bread
  • 3 to 6 ounces low-fat mozzarella cheese slices (1 to 2 ounces per sandwich depending on how cheesy you like your “melts”)
  • 6 thin slices applewood smoked ham (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup caramelized onions, chopped
  • 4 quartered marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
  • 2 large basil leaves, chopped

1. Spread 1 teaspoon of olive tapenade on each slice of bread. Lay half an ounce to an ounce of cheese over 3 of the six slices and then top with 1 slice of ham.

2. Meanwhile, combine the onions, artichoke hearts, red peppers, and basil in a bowl. Arrange the mixture evenly over the cheese and ham slices. Top each with 1 slice of ham and the remaining cheese. Cover with remaining bread slices.

3. Preheat your panini press. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and place sandwiches inside press. Cook until cheese melts and bread is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Slice and serve.

Liz’s group won a Blue Ribbon first prize for their grilled cheese creation :)

Tuscan Ham & Cheese Melts at Kraft via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

While at Kraft, Liz learned about nutrition improvements being made to their Singles. Most notable: In 2014, the first ingredient listed on the label will be Cheddar cheese vs. the ingredients used to make cheese (there are two types of Cheddar used in the Singles), and the company will eliminate artificial preservatives in favor of an all-natural one called Nisin. As for artificial colors and flavors, there are none. That said, Kraft still uses artificial colors in its iconic Macaroni & Cheese (they are removing it in their character-shaped line), and Liz voiced her strong desire to see all food dyes removed from their products.

Kraft Kitchens via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

The tour began with a behind-the-scenes look at the Kraft test kitchens. Picture a pantry like this one filled with ingredients galore and every piece of cooking equipment imaginable…

Kraft Kitchens

The kitchens at Kraft have certainly changed. Back in 1924, Mary Dahnke became the first home economist to be employed by the food industry. At Kraft, she developed recipes aimed at helping consumers cook with, you guessed it, cheese. Today, the brand new kitchens are decked out with a wide array of appliances and equipment and new recipes are developed for the Kraft website, food & family magazine, product labels, advertisements, and more.

Kraft tour

Say “cheese.” The group included Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, Author of Eating Expectantly, Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, RD, Sandy Morreale, RD, Assoc. Director, Nutrition at Kraft Foods, Jill Castle, RD, Just the Right Byte, Barbara Ruhs, RD with Basha’s Supermarket, Robyn Flipse, RD, Kristy Still with Mommy Hates Cooking, Christine Palumbo, RD with Environmental Nutrition, Serena Ball, RD with Teaspoon Communications, and me!

Liz with Mr. Peanut

Just had to share …

A Holiday Recipe for Rustic Pear & Grape Tart {Recipe Redux Cooking Challenge} … And a No-Mess Technique for Rolling Out Pie Crust

The holiday season is once again upon us with its irresistible onslaught of candy canes, cookie swaps, and gooey chocolate treats. While we find ourselves indulging right along with the rest of the crowd, as dietitians we like to add fruit desserts to the mix whenever possible. We’re not pie people—they’re too sugary and gloppy, and as Janice says, “cloyingly sweet”—so to celebrate the season, we baked a rustic fruit tart instead made with pears and grapes, a coconut oil crust, a wee bit of granulated sugar, and a natural, zero-calorie sweetener called Monk Fruit In the Raw. Just say “no” to gloppy desserts!

Rustic Pear & Grape Tart

Disclosure: “We received free samples from Cumberland Packing Corp., maker of Monk Fruit In The Raw. By posting this recipe we are entering a recipe contest sponsored by Cumberland Packing Corp. and are eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. We were not compensated for our time.”

This month, we entered the Show Us Your Sweets recipe contest hosted by The Recipe Redux. The assignment: Adapt one of your signature baked good recipes by reducing sugar with Monk Fruit In The Raw or develop a new lower-calorie creation. We opted for the new creation. Our Rustic Pear & Grape Tart is perfect for your holiday table. It’s delicious, gorgeous to look at, healthy (yes, desserts can be healthy), and kids love it too.

Rustic Pear & Grape Tart

Monk Fruit In the Raw is made from vine-ripened monk fruit grown in China, also called luo han guo. It measures cup for cup just like regular sugar, and it tastes like sugar with no bitter or unusual aftertaste. Sprinkled on top of our tart, it looks like powdered sugar. So pretty …

Rustic Pear & Apple Tart

Making pie crust can be, well, easy as pie if you use our zip-top bag rolling technique!

Rustic Pear & Grape Tart via www.MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

To roll out pie crust using a resealable bag, follow our technique:

> Make your dough, roll it in a ball, place in a gallon-size zip-top bag, and pop in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

> Remove from the freezer and roll out the dough, opening the bag every now and then to remove wrinkles. Roll out the dough so it touches all four corners of the bag. Pop back in the freezer for 3 to 5 minutes to firm up a bit before using kitchen scissors to cut the bag away. If the dough is too sticky, pop it back in the freezer for another minute or two.

> Assemble the fruit filling and set aside in a bowl. Place the crust on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet and lay the fruit mixture on top, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Roll up the sides of the dough to cover the fruit (free-form style), leaving the fruit on top uncovered.

Rustic Pear & Grape Tart

Makes 6 Servings

While we both spend a lot of our time cooking for our families, we don’t consider ourselves “bakers,” which is why we use the simple technique of rolling out our tart crust in a plastic resealable bag. For this recipe, all we used was two tablespoons of regular sugar, drawing an extra pop of sweetness from the Monk Fruit In the Raw. You don’t have to be an artist or a talented baker to turn out a lovely, rustic-looking tart every time. You can change up the filling depending on what’s on hand, and we suggest serving each luscious slice with low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt.

For the Crust:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons Monk Fruit In the Raw
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons cold water

For the Filling:

  • 2 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup red grapes, halved (about 20 grapes)
  • 2 tablespoons Monk Fruit In the Raw plus 2 teaspoons, divided
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, Monk Fruit In the Raw, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse twice until combined. Add the coconut oil and pulse 10 times or until the mixture is coarse. Add the water and pulse 5 more times until a dough forms. Scrape down sides of food processor as needed.

2. Shape the dough into a ball and place in the center of a gallon-size resealable plastic bag. Use your hand to flatten the dough slightly. Place in the freezer to cool, 10 to 15 minutes (but no more). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

3. While the dough is cooling, prepare the fruit filling. Place the pears, grapes, Monk Fruit In the Raw, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cinnamon in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

4. Remove the bag from the freezer, place on a work surface, and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to all four corners of the bag. Open the bag to remove air bubbles and wrinkles and then reseal. (You may need to do this several times). Place flattened dough back in the freezer for 3 to 5 minutes to firm up slightly.

5. Remove from freezer and use kitchen shears to cut the edges of the plastic bag away from the crust. Place the crust on the prepared baking sheet, and arrange the fruit mixture in the middle, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Fold the edges of the crust over the fruit, using the parchment paper to help you along. The crust will not meet up in the center, and your handiwork does not have to be perfect; remember, this is a rustic tart.

6. Bake until the fruit is bubbly, softened, and the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, dust with the remaining Monk Fruit In the Raw, and serve.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 slice):  260 calories, 11g fat (11g saturated), 100mg sodium, 38g carbohydrate, 13g sugar, 3g fiber, 3g protein

Print Recipe

A Recap of the 2013 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo {Podcast #231}

Sensible shoes … professional attire … business cards … check. On October 18th we packed our bags and flew to Houston, TX for the annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We met up with thousands of fellow Registered Dietitian Nutritionists from across the country where we learned about the latest news on nutrition and human health and sampled the newest nutrient-rich food products to hit supermarkets. Tune in to this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast for all the highlights … or read on for the delicious details … or do both.

FNCE 2013

Here we are cruising the exhibit floor in search of new and interesting food products …

FNCE 2013 via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

But let’s start at the beginning. The day before the official start of FNCE 2013, Liz joined fellow RDs, Regan Miller Jones from Healthy Aperture and Janet Helm from Nutrition Unplugged for a food photography workshop. Liz focused her lecture on tips for shooting gorgeous, appetizing “healthy” food photos with a smart phone. Be on the lookout for a follow-up post detailing some of her tips.

FNCE 2013

Janice is the Chair of the Food & Culinary Professionals, a practice group of the Academy, so she was busy moderating panels, introducing speakers, attending receptions at places like the Houston Museum of Natural Science (which is why a dinosaur is about to bite her head off), and hobnobbing with the likes of Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru.

FNCE 2013

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD and James Painter, PhD, RD gave a talk titled, How Consumers Decide What to Eat: Strategies for Making Healthy Choices. This slide was clearly meant as a joke, but Elizabeth used it to illustrate a scary statistic: Americans eat according to MyPlate guidelines only seven days of the year … just 2 percent of the time. To help consumers form healthier eating habits, practical advice was offered such as changing your family’s personal environment where foods like fruits and veggies are more easily accessed (i.e. in a large bowl on the kitchen table) and things like candy are kept out of sight … and where plates, bowls, and even spoons are downsized versus supersized, which leads to eating smaller portions.

The food products in the exhibit hall that grabbed our attention were those that make it easier for families to get more much-needed fruit, veggies, and whole grains on the table. A few examples:

FNCE 2013

Janice had an opportunity to sample the new lineup of Lean Cuisine Honestly Good meals with varieties like Pomegranate Chicken and Lemongrass Salmon. Look at all those vegetables! And that whole grain pilaf with currants :)

FNCE 2013

We’re huge fans of yogurt parfaits, but until we tried this parfait, we never thought about using low-fat cottage cheese. Daisy Brand cottage cheese was on hand with this perfectly satisfying parfait layered with cottage cheese, fresh berries, almonds, granola, and cinnamon. This snack kept us energized while we cruised the exhibit floor.

Uncle Matt's at FNCE 2013

The lineup of organic juices from Uncle Matt’s (that’s Matt and his wife in the background) tasted like fresh squeezed. It was “love at first sip.” We can’t wait to look for their juices in the Boston area.

FNCE 2013

Banana slices covered in dark chocolate. Are you kidding?! Dole is out with these new Banana Dippers featuring frozen banana slices smothered in melted dark chocolate. A snack after our own hearts.

FNCE 2013

Beans count as a vegetable, and there were plenty of bean-based foods being sampled in the exhibit hall. We loved the Eat Well Enjoy Life hummus made with chickpeas—which you’d expect—but also with other types of beans including black beans, white beans, and edamame. Wasabi Edamame Hummus anyone? And then there was Better Bean which bills itself as “rethought beans.” Where to begin? The Uncanny Refried Beans (get it?) would be perfect added to tacos or nachos.

All in all, it was a great conference. Between the lectures we gave and listened to, the panels we moderated, the friends we ran into, and the food we ate, our heads were spinning. We hope you’ll tune into Cooking with the Moms for all the FNCE fun … and then some.

See What Happens When Two Unsuspecting Nutrition Interns Get Ambushed With a Chopped Challenge {Guest Post + a Recipe for Meatless Baked Tacos}

Every Monday, Catherine, a grad student at UNC-Chapel Hill and Stephanie, an undergrad at Boston University intern with us. Last week, we ambushed them with a Food Network style Chopped challenge. The reason: Sometimes we just like to shake things up around here!

Chopped competition via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Rather than pit one intern against the other—Stephanie is a self-proclaimed non-cook—we teamed them up with the following assignment: Make a recipe so delicious, so nutritious, and so irresistible that even a picky 14-year old (who also happens to be a vegetarian) would love it and eat it up happily. Read on for Catherine’s account of the day and the recipe she and Stephanie created for Meatless Baked Tacos.

Meatless Baked Tacos via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

{Catherine’s Post} No day with The Meal Makeover Moms is the same, so when Stephanie and I walked into their test kitchen (AKA Janice’s awesome new kitchen) last week and were asked to trade our text books for a cutting board and sharp knives, we accepted our Chopped challenge graciously!  The Moms handed us four mystery ingredients and told us to “get cooking.”

Chopped challenge via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

The mystery basket included meat free grounds, a Clementine, a yellow bell pepper from Janice’s CSA, and corn tortillas. Meat free grounds were new to us, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t usually care for corn tortillas, but with the pantry open to our use we began crafting a recipe that we would like … and more importantly, one that the judges—Liz, Janice, and her daughter, Leah—would like! The ingredients lent themselves to Mexican food, so off we went in search of the usual suspects: tomatoes and other veggies, spices, beans, and sour cream.

 

chopped competition

We chopped the veggies, sautéed them in expeller pressed canola oil, and added spices and the meat free crumbles. Then we remembered the Clementine! Deciding the citrus would balance the diced tomato and spices, we chopped it up and into the sauté pan it went …

Our mixture smelled delicious, but we still didn’t know exactly what dish we were going to prepare. Tacos? Our toughest judge has braces, so crunchy tacos shells wouldn’t win us points. A casserole? It was past 2 o’clock and we were already starving, so 40 minutes in the oven wasn’t an option. Enchiladas? I’ve never actually ordered enchiladas, much less made them. Uh oh. Clock was ticking. Ultimately we decided to stuff the mixture into the corn tortillas to resemble tacos, but packed them together in a dish like enchiladas. We sprinkled cheese over them and placed ‘em in the oven to melt the cheese.

chopped competition

 Twelve minutes later, we had a vegetarian recipe for Meatless Baked Tacos! And they were delicious. Packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins A and C, we created a dish worthy of The Meal Makeover Moms. And the best part? Our toughest critic agreed!

Chopped Challenge via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here’s the recipe for our easy, super yummy, nutrient-packed, Meatless Monday dish that even the pickiest eater in your house will love.

Meatless Baked Tacos

Makes 8 Servings

  • 1 teaspoon expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • One 12-ounce package meat-free or soy crumbles
  • Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
  • One 15-ounce can fat-free refried beans
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped, optional
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly oil or coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and cook until the peppers are tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the diced tomatoes and meat-free crumbles and cook, stirring frequently until heated through, about 5 minutes.

4. Arrange the tortillas in the prepared baking pan so they resemble folded taco shells. Place 2 tablespoons refried beans into  the bottom of each tortilla. Top each with a sprinkling of baby spinach, as desired. Arrange 1/3 cup of the veggie mixture into each of the tortillas. (You’ll have over 1 cup of the mixture remaining, which is perfect as a salad topper or with rice the next day!) Sprinkle shells evenly with the cheese.

5. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese melts, about 12 minutes. Serve with sour cream as desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 210 calories, 5g fat (2g saturated), 560mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 16g protein, 25% vitamin A, 130% vitamin C, 30% calcium, 20% iron

Print Recipe

Enjoy ….

The Pumpkin People of Melrose, MA … And My Pumpkin Scarecrow Chef Creation

I am lucky to live in a neighborhood where families come together all year long for an array of community-building activities. We have an annual Octoberfest block party, cookie swap, and Holiday party, and for the first time this year, a Pumpkin People Scarecrow Making Contest. The rules: Create a scarecrow with a pumpkin head. An “expert” panel of judges will pick the winner today, and I’m crossing my fingers that my Meal Makeover Mom pumpkin person wins! (The idea was inspired by the Pumpkin People of Jackson, NH., an annual fall celebration.)

Pumpkin People Contest via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Don (with a little bit of help from me) created this scarecrow complete with a Meal Makeover Mom apron, chef hat, muffin tin, and mini pumpkin cupcakes!

Pumpkin People Contest via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

My neighbor, Moe, has four boys and the family loves to ski, so it was no surprise when her pumpkin person ended up on skis.

Pumpkin Plumber via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Guess what my neighbor Billy does for a living? That’s right. He’s a plumber. He and his very humorous family created a pumpkin plumber … complete with a plumber’s “pumpkin crack.”

Pumpkin People via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Gone fishing ….

Pumpkin People

This is the cutest pumpkin-face fish I’ve ever seen.

Pumpkin People via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Go Patriots …

Pumpkin Scarecrow via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

In case you are wondering, this is an Angry Snowshoeing Grandma!

Pumpkin People via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

This scarecrow is reading a book on “Creative Scarecrows.” No surprise that this scarecrow was built by my neighbor, Jen, who organized the event.

Wally the Green Monster, Mascot of the Boston Red Sox via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Meet Wally The Green Monster, beloved mascot of the Boston Red Sox. Let’s hope he brings us good luck in the World Series!

Pumpkin Scarecrow Contest Judges!

These are the esteemed judges who walked around the neighborhood deciding which scarecrow would win the contest. I was shameless, offering up our No-Nut Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins from No Whine with Dinner to the judges to try to influence the voting! Regardless of my tasty bribe, I’m afraid the plumber might “plunge” into first place!

I’ll update the post tonight after I find out who won! In the meantime, if you’re looking for healthy pumpkin recipes for your family, read our latest pumpkin-licious blog post.

UPDATE (Halloween Night): As I predicted, the winner of the pumpkin scarecrow contest was the pumpkin plumber. Hard to compete with the “plumber’s pumpkin crack!” Congrats and kudos to the Hayward family!

billytrophy

My friend and neighbor Billy accepting his prestigious trophy from the esteemed panel of pumpkin scarecrow judges!

More Foodie Adventures from the Pacific Northwest … and a Vegetarian Side Dish Recipe for Cowboy Caviar (Part 2) {Podcast #229}

I still can’t believe my niece, Jennifer, just got married. I can remember the day she was born like it was yesterday …  and not 27 years ago! Jen married the man of her dreams a few weeks ago at the Red Barn Studios in Chehalis, Washington, and I can still taste the fresh shellfish and Northwest flavors from her Big Day.

Jen and Rand Wedding via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here were Jen and Rand cutting the cake. In case you’re wondering, the cake was created with luscious layers of carrot cake, white cake, and a boysenberry filling.

On this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, Liz and I dish about my recent foodie adventures in the Pacific Northwest. I share the highlights here and also in Part 1 of my two-part Northwest food series (which included a recipe for Kale and Berry Health Smoothie).

Chef Xihn via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

 Chef Xinh, all five feet of her, is swift with a knife, and you should see her shuck an oyster! She’s won the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship five times, and she’s now the owner and executive chef of Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House in Shelton, Washington. Lucky for me and everyone else at the wedding, Chef Xinh and Taylor Shellfish Farms catered the event.

Curried Mussels via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

 Chef Xinh’s famous Mussels with Curry Sauce features fresh shelled mussels sauteed in a Vietnamese style curry made with coconut milk, lemongrass, cayenne pepper, ground peanuts and a seafood sauce. She serves it with jasmine rice.

Dad, Mom, Chris, Lori, and Janice at Wedding via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

My sister, Lori (shown here with Dad, Mom, her husband Chris, and me), kept us well fed while we were in Olympia.

Baked Halibut, Wheatberries, Beets, and Grilled Corn via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

 On our first night in Olympia, Lori served us a meal of baked halibut, wheat berries, beets from her garden, and corn on the grill.

Cowboy Caviar -- made with black-eyed peas, avocado, cilantro, and corn

Lori and her husband have a boat, and this is one of the salads she made before we took a trip around the Puget Sound. I know. I know. Rough life …

Cowboy Caviar

Makes 8 Servings

Lori’s friend, Kathy, gave her this recipe years ago, and it’s now Lori’s go-to recipe for picnics and excursions on the boat.

  • One 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • One 11-ounce can shoepeg corn
  • 1 red bell pepper or 2 roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/4 cup expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Combine the black-eyed peas, corn, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and avocado in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, vinegar, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper until well combined.  Stir into the bean mixture.

Nutrition Information: 180 calories, 11g fat (1g saturated, 0.7g omega-3), 290mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 5g protein, 30% vitamin A, 50% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Nancy, Janice, Diane at Wedding via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

I love weddings. Here I am celebrating with my sister Diane (right) and my sister-in-law, Nancy. :)

If you want to see more photos from my trip to Olympia, check out our Flickr page.

My Foodie Adventures in Olympia, Washington and a Recipe for Berry and Kale Health Shake (Part 1)

A few weekends ago, I traveled to Olympia, Washington with my parents to attend the wedding of my sister Lori’s daughter, Jennifer. I loved spending time with my family in a beautiful albeit rainy part of the country!

Flower Arranging for Wedding via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here in New England we say that April showers bring May flowers, but in the Seattle area they have rain all year long, so the flowers are plentiful. For the wedding and reception, a bunch of us got together to arrange flowers in dozens of Ball Jars. And you thought Ball Jars were just for canning …

Reception food has a reputation for being so-so … but not this event. Jen’s wedding featured a veritable ocean of seafood—raw oysters, curried mussels, and geoduck, which you’ll learn all about in next week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast. Lucky for all the guests, Jen works at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, WA, so we were treated to the freshest, most flavorful shellfish you could imagine.

Shigoku oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms

Don’t you think these oysters look like shimmering jewels? The raw bar was beyond beautiful … and it turns out that oysters are also super nutritious. They’re brimming with heart-healthy omega-3 fats, immune-boosting zinc, vitamin B12, iron, and lots more. Despite their nutritional benefits, I’ve never gotten past the ‘yuck factor’ of eating them raw … until the wedding.

I decided it was high time to brave it out, and so I bellied up to the bar for “exclusive” Shigoku oysters, which Taylor Shellfish describes as, a small, dense, cornucopia of an oyster with a light, clean taste of cucumber and salt, and a finish of water chestnut and Jerusalem artichoke. The culinary verdict: I loved these oysters. In fact I went back for seconds … and thirds!

Dad eating Shigoku Oysters

 My dad is an oyster-eating pro. His technique: Top with a bit of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon and just toss ‘em back …

Health Shake
After all the overindulging at the wedding, the next morning my sister offered to make the berry and kale smoothie that she and her husband have for breakfast every day. Feeling brave after a night of raw oyster eating, I happily accepted. Check out all the healthy ingredients in her shake including cod liver oil (omega-3!), berries, and freshly picked kale from the garden. You’d think my sister was the dietitian in the family!

Berry and Kale Health Shake
What a great way to kick start the day!

Berry and Kale Health Shake

Makes 1 Serving

Lori says the mix of ingredients in her Vitamix shake is pretty flexible. Sometimes she adds a spoonful of peanut butter or yogurt for extra protein or swaps the water for 100% fruit juice. If you plan to pack in a thermos or a to-go cup when you’re, well, on the go, you may want to leave out the chia seeds and psyillium powder. The reason: they both tend to make the shake too thick (in Lori’s opinion) if you wait too long to drink it!

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 medium ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries or mixed berries
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cod liver oil
  • 1 kale leaf or a handful of baby spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon psyllium powder, optional

1. Place the water, banana, blueberries, mixed berries, protein powder, flaxseed, chia seeds, cod liver oil, kale, and psyllium powder as desired in a blender and blend until well combined. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 280 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated, 2g omega-3), 10mg sodium, 40g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 20g protein, 150% vitamin A, 130% vitamin C, 15% calcium, 25% iron

Print Recipe

Lori's Health Shake via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Okay, so it’s not a Northwest beer, but it was refreshing and oh-so healthy!

Pumpkin Nutrition … and a Recipe for Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

I woke up bright and early today, packed up a few coolers, and headed to New England Cable News for a “live” TV food segment on Spicing Up Fall with Pumpkins. During the segment (which you can watch on the NECN website), I talked to host Steve Aveson about pumpkin nutrition—it’s packed with vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants like lutein—and showed off three kid-pleasing recipes: Pumpkin Banana Smoothie, Ghoulishly-Good Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin, and Black Bean Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce. (The smoothie and enchilada recipes can also be found on our new family recipe app, Meal Makeovers.)

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Each serving of this luscious smoothie has 100% of your vitamin A for the day. Oh, and it’s also delicious!

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

Makes 2 Servings

When the month of October rolls around, our thoughts turn to pumpkin, a super food packed with immune-boosting vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants like lutein, which is good for eye health. It may seem strange to add pumpkin to a smoothie, but trust us … this smoothie is beyond awesome! We make it with some canned pure pumpkin, protein-rich Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract. And then we add a banana and a few drizzles of honey for a super-sweet touch. Serve with breakfast, as a snack, or for a spooky Halloween treat!

  • 1 small ripe banana, frozen
  • 1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup 0%-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup canned 100% pure pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1.  Break the banana into a few pieces. Place in a blender with the milk, yogurt, pumpkin, honey, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice.

2. Blend until well combined. Place a few cubes of ice in two glasses. Pour smoothie over ice, drizzle with honey as desired, and serve each with a straw.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cup):  130 calories, 1g fat (0g saturated, g omega-3), 55mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 7g protein, 100% vitamin A, 15% calcium

Print Recipe

Planning a TV segment takes a lot of effort—shopping, prepping, gathering props, figuring out what to say!—but it’s worth the effort. I had a blast hanging out with the NECN crew and sharing my nutrition knowledge and Meal Makeover Mom recipes with viewers.

Liz on NECN talking pumpkins!

Lights, camera, action!

pumpkin segment on NECN

NECN prep

Here’s what my house looked like the night before when I was laying out my props. Note to self: Don’t forget the extension cord and the ice….

My Trip to Iceland: Flying, Driving, Swimming in a Geothermal Pool, and Playing Golf When We Should Have Been Sleeping {Part #3}

In Parts #1 and #2 of my Iceland adventure this summer with Simon, I shared highlights from our trips to Reykjavik and the Golden Circle and our stay at the awesome, I-must-come-back-again Hotel Ranga in Hella. On our third day, we did a mega drive from Hella to Kirkjubæjarklaustur and packed in more activities along the way than we typically do here at home in a week! Read on for the highlights … and giving a shout out to Iceland Travel for helping me organize the trip!

Helicopter ride in Iceland

After breakfast at Hotel Ranga, Managing Director, Friorik Palsson, treated us to a helicopter ride over the surrounding countryside, compliments of Norðurflug Helicopter Tours. It was an unexpected thrill and an exciting way to start the day, to say the least.

helicopter ride in Iceland

The helicopter met us in a field. Friorik ran out to greet the pilot before he buckled us in and bid us a cheery farewell. It was surreal!

glacier in iceland

What a view. That’s Mount Hekla in the distance.

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Located in South Iceland, you can hike up behind it, getting wet along the way from the cold glacial spray.

Skyr yogurt in Iceland

Dashboard dining at its finest! Simon was ravenous 24/7 during the trip (growing teenage boy = “I need food”), and Iceland’s own Skyr yogurt saved the day.

Seljavallalaug natural swimming pool

It’s always worthwhile visiting the main attractions when you’re on vacation, but Simon and I decided to drive off the beaten path to check out Seljavallalaug, a geothermal swimming pool at the foot of the Eyjafjoll Mountains. It was built in the 1920’s right into the side of the rocky hillside. You have to drive down a gravel road, park your car, and then hike about 15 minutes to reach the pool.

Near Reynisdrangar pillars in Vik, Iceland

Hanging out on the black, rocky beach just outside the seaside village of Vik.

Golfing at night in Iceland

After a day flying in a helicopter, hiking up waterfalls, swimming in a natural hot spring, and touring around Vik, we checked into Laki Hotel at the Efri-Vik Farm. And guess what? They had a 9-hole golf course on the premises. We rented a set of clubs, and Simon set out with mom as his caddy! It was 9:30pm by the time we finished, and it was still light outside. Notice the black, volcanic sand trap! :) We loved this hotel. Cozy, clean, delightful staff, and a delicious breakfast.

Jökulsárlón in Iceland

Stay tuned for Part 4 of my Iceland adventure. I’ll tell you about our afternoon at the glacial river lagoon, Jökulsárlón, and why we’re laughing hysterically. Check back soon …

Announcing Meal Makeovers, a Healthy Recipe App for Families … Plus, a Giveaway of 5 Apps

Meal Makeovers, a recipe app developed by two registered dietitians with a passion for feeding families a super healthy diet (oooh, that’s us!), is finally finished, and now, anyone with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch can download it. Meal Makeovers features healthier versions of classic recipes families love, and yes, creating this app was just as challenging as writing our cookbooks! We’re giving away five copies of Meal Makeovers. Read on for details on how to enter.

Meal Makeovers App via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here’s the icon for our app!

The app is available for $1.99 in the iTunes store and includes 50 recipes ranging from breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to snacks, sides, vegetarian, gluten free, and dessert. More recipes will be added regularly. Each “makeover” recipe starts with a description of the dish followed by a list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. We offer detailed nutrition information and cool features like a shopping list, searchable tags, and mouth-watering photos. We don’t have plans yet for an Android app, but we’re discussing it!

Screen shot from Meal Makeovers recipe app

Here’s a screen shot from the app showing a few of our family-pleasing recipes.

Meal Makeovers Cooking app on iTunes

Our Have-It-Your-Way Tacos recipe, made with lean ground beef, shredded carrot, black beans and a bunch of other nutritious ingredients is included in the Dinner and Gluten Free categories.

We worked with a company called Mobile Skillet to develop Meal Makeovers. You can visit the Mobile Skillet website if you have questions about app development, etc. And … If you have an opportunity to purchase and download the app, let us know what you think of it. You can leave a comment here or head on over to our Survey Monkey survey to weigh in with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.

GIVEAWAY NEWS: We are giving away five copies of our Meal Makeovers app. The app is available on the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch, so to be eligible, you’ll need to own one of those devices. To enter, tell us about your biggest family mealtime challenge and how you hope our app will help you solve it.

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

> Tweet about the giveaway using the hashtag, #MealMakeoversApp, with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms)

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on September 18th at noon, and as always we’ll use Random.org to pick our winners. Good luck!

Nutty Banana Ice Cream

This recipe for Nutty Banana Ice Cream is available ONLY on our app! Sooooo delish ….

My CSA Bounty and a Recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

I love my CSA (community supported agriculture), and I’ve been a member of the Farm Direct Coop for about eight years. Every Thursday from June through October I pick up my weekly bounty. Sometimes there are choices—pick three items from a table with six options—while other times the decision is made for you—take one pound of peaches and two pounds of apples, etc. I have a fruit and veggie share, and I also get bread from a local bakery.

CSA

One of the fun things about participating in a CSA is that you never know what you’re going to get from week to week, and for me sometimes I’m not familiar with all the items. What the heck is callaloo?

CSA veggies via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Decisions, decisions: Should I get another bunch of kale or an eggplant?!

CSA via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

One nice thing about my CSA is that there are always people who like to give advice on how to prepare things. Here, a fellow member explains that he likes to pit his peaches,  stuff with cheese and herbs, and then roast them. I wouldn’t have thought of that!

Vegetables via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

This was my haul a few weeks ago. I got two beautiful bunches of Swiss chard and posted to our Meal Makeover Moms Facebook page asking for fresh advice on what to do with them. There was no shortage of ideas, but the recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans that Kristin shared really caught my eye. I made it and it was a huge hit with my family.

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

Makes 6 Servings

This recipe originally appeared in the January / February 2009 issue of Eating Well magazine, but I got it from our friend Kristin’s blog.  I didn’t change much, but I did leave out the water and saute the veggies instead, and I added more mozzarella cheese. Chard is in peak season from June through August (did you know there are over 50 varieties?), and it’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, magnesium, iron, and manganese. It’s also high in antioxidants and fiber, and it helps support bone health thanks to the vitamin K.

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • One 16-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi, (see Tip)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 cups chopped chard leaves, (about 1 small bunch) or spinach
  • One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
  • One 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer.

3. If serving immediately, stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. (Tip: If making ahead, keep the gnocchi separate so it doesn’t get soggy.) Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if desired.

Tip: Look for shelf-stable gnocchi near other pasta in the Italian section of most supermarkets.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 325 Calories, 7g Fat (2g saturated), 616 mg sodium, 55g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 14 g Protein

Print Recipe

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

The gnocchi that I used in the recipe came from the new Whole Foods that just opened up in my town of Melrose, MA (yippee!). I used plenty of olive oil to saute the gnocchi which gave it a nice crispy texture!

Sriracha Chard Pickles via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also made Sriracha Fridge Pickles with my Swiss chard stems, as recommended on Facebook by Carol Ann. They were not a big hit around here, because the stems were pretty fibrous and the flavor was a bit too spicy. I may use the onions in sandwiches but probably won’t make the recipe again. It was fun to try though! :)

My Trip to Iceland: The Golden Circle, the Coolest Hotel in Iceland (in my humble opinion), and a Taste of Puffin {Part 2}

In Part #1 of my 4-part Iceland series, I shared highlights from our flight from Boston to Iceland and our tour around Reykjavik. On our second day, we rented a car with the goal of working our way around The Golden Circle … and then south. Initially, I was nervous about driving in Iceland, but I quickly realized that once you get out of the city, the two-lane highway that circles the country — with a max speed limit of 90 kilometers (about 55 MPH) — is a breeze. That’s my kind of driving! Plus, we had a GPS who spoke Icelandic with an English accent, so getting lost was not an option…

The Golden Circle, Iceland

The Golden Circle begins at Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s Viking Parliament.

The Golden Circle, Iceland

From there, we visited Geysir Hot Springs (think, Yellowstone) and the giant, two-tier waterfall at Gullfoss.

Iceland cafe

Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Cafe Galleri in the town of Laugarvatn, known for its geothermal rye bread. (The bread is literally baked in a geothermal oven underground for 24 hours. The slow cooking yields a surprisingly sweet flavor.)

Smoked trout on hot spring rye bread, iceland

For lunch, we ordered Hot Spring Baked Bread with Sliced Smoked Trout and Hot Smoked Trout with Fresh Salad and Hot Spring Baked Bread. After we ate, Simon, my growing teenager, asked, “what’s for lunch.” In Iceland, there’s no such thing as super-sized portions; the food is just way too expensive.

North American suite at Hotel Ranga

Heading south from the Golden Circle, we checked into the marvelous, four-star Hotel Ranga in Hella (south Iceland). To our amusement, they gave us one of their themed suites, which are all designed after each of the seven continents. Coincidentally, we ended up in the North American suite complete with a buffalo head, bear skin, Native American Indian headdress and lots more. Simon said it was the nicest hotel he’d ever seen. Yes, he was like a kid in a candy store :)

Hotel Ranga restaurant, Puffin appetizer

 For dinner, we ate at Hotel Ranga’s restaurant, boasting a menu with local meats, seafood, and produce. Don’t be mad at me, but for my appetizer I chose the Lightly Smoked Puffin served with beer bread and “Cumberland” sauce. I’m not sure I’d order it again (it was a bit chewy), but I wanted to experience something unique to Iceland.

Dinner at Hotel Ranga

The service was superb. Simon and I loved being pampered, and a highlight of the night (if you could call it “night” since it never got dark) was spending time chatting with Friorik Palsson, Managing Director of the resort. I’ll tell you more about Friorik in Part #3 of my Iceland blog series.

Hotel Ranga, barley risotto

We split the Creamy Local Barley served with wild mushrooms and root vegetables … prepared like risotto.

Hotel Ranga, dessert

Dessert!

Hotel Ranga

After dinner we walked along the river, and Simon dreamed of coming back some day so he could fish for salmon …

Sunset at Hotel Ranga

And then, before we knew it, it was 10:30pm and the sun was starting to set. Time for bed before our third day of Iceland adventures …

Helicopter ride in south Iceland

Up, up and away. Stay tuned for a wild ride on day three …

My Trip to Iceland: The Food, The Great Outdoors, The Sights {Part 1}

Last week, I traveled to Iceland with my son, Simon. The reason for our trip: We had a wedding in the UK and decided to lay over in Iceland along the way … plus, I’d heard so many great things about the country (which is quite green despite its name) that I was itching to visit. I have so much to share about this family-friendly destination, so rather than cram it all into one looooooong post, I plan to write four shorter ones instead. To help me plan the trip, I worked with a lovely woman named Iris from Iceland Travel. We focused on a self-drive tour with lots of culinary stops along the way, so that’s what you’ll be hearing about in my posts :)

IcelandAir

From the minute we boarded our Icelandair flight, we were greeted with island hospitality … a bottle of Icelandic water, which tasted clean and fresh for lack of a better way to describe it, and fun facts about the country like this one posted on the back of our seats.

IcelandAir

Simon got busy with his summer reading before taking a break to watch a movie. The flight was about 41/2 hours from Boston. Not bad …

Breakfast at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina

We arrived around midnight — 7pm our time — and it was still a little bit light outside. As you’ll see in the coming posts, during the summer months, there’s only a few hours of darkness each night. On our first morning at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, we were starving (and needed a lot of coffee), and this breakfast hit the spot. What impressed me about the Icelandic breakfasts we ate during our visit were the savory versus sweet offerings: hard boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, rye bread, smoked fish, tomatoes, and just a bit of fruit.

Hallgrimskirkja

We walked from our hotel over to Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland at 244 feet. A short elevator ride to the top revealed views of the colorful rooftops of Reykjavik, the country’s capital. Notice the bright green rooftop in the photo below ….

Scene over Reykjavik

It’s impossible to miss …

Reykjavik house

… and here’s what the house looked like from the street level.

Puffin stuffed animal

Simon wanted to buy this giant stuffed puffin as a gift for his UK cousins. I think you know what I said …

Loki cafe, Iceland

Outside the church is Cafe Loki where they serve traditional Icelandic dishes. We each ordered a small bowl of the Icelandic Lamb Soup for 1,450 Kroner. By the way, there are a lot of sheep in Iceland, hence the abundance of lamb-based dishes.

menu at cafe loki

Here’s the menu from Cafe Loki.

reykjavik

After a long walk along the waterfront, we decided to go on a whale watch. Yup. You can cram a lot into an Icelandic summer day …

Dinner at Slippbarinn in Reykjavik

I think it was 9pm by the time we sat down for dinner. Isn’t this Spring Salad gorgeous? Here’s how it was described on the menu at Slippbarinn, located at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina: Roasted salsify, sunchoke and celery crudite, melted cheese, pesto of spring onions, salted hazelnuts, herbs, aged apple vinegar and thyme oil. It was lovely and filled with interesting textures and flavors. (There were some local strawberries tossed in there too.)

Golden Circle

We hit the road the next day for the Golden Circle (thank goodness for my GPS) and lots of beautiful waterfalls. Check back soon for Day 2 of our Iceland adventure. (Waterfalls at Gullfoss.)

My Trip to Traverse City, MI for the Annual Tart Cherry Harvest {Podcast #224}

Close your eyes and imagine a clear blue lake so vast that it looks like an ocean, a hilltop of trees dripping with clusters of ruby red jewels, and a food that’s tart to the taste buds yet impossibly addictive, versatile, and exploding with great nutrition. Welcome to Traverse City, Michigan, the Cherry Capital of the world. Well, make that the Tart Cherry Capital. I’ll tell you all about it on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast and share a new recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, so be sure to tune in …

Tart cherries, Traverse City, MI

I was invited by The Cherry Marketing Institute to attend an educational cherry harvest event in Northern Michigan. I was compensated with travel and lodging expenses; all comments and opinions are my own.

Two special guests join us on the show this week to highlight the harvest and the nutritional benefits of tart cherries: Phil Korson, President of the Cherry Marketing Institute and Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD.

Tart cherrise in Traverse City, MI

My visit to Traverse City and the surrounding region was magical on so many levels. As a bona fide foodie, the town literally made me giddy with happiness, and I’m not making that up. Everywhere you turn, you see, smell, and taste cherries … not to mention gorgeous views of the lake. From shops like Cherry Republic that sell cherry salsa, cherry jams, and dark chocolate covered dried cherries to cherry-themed aprons, pot holders, and glassware … to cherry wine, the little crimson gem is celebrated by everyone from farmers to families who visit each year for the annual Cherry Festival. Traverse City is charmed with cherries :)

Growing Montmorency cherries in Traverse City, MI

Don Gregory owns Cherry Bay Orchards, and he was our ambassador during the Go Tart cherry harvest tour. Don explained how cherry trees are grown on hills where the temperatures are more moderate (hot air rises!), how they thrive in sandy soil, and how 99.9% of the crop is “processed” … which turns out to be a good thing. The tart cherries (as well as the sweet ones) grown in places like Michigan are fragile, so they don’t travel well. That’s why most are “processed.” After the pits are pinched out, the cherries end up frozen, dried, or as juice or juice concentrate. (Most fresh cherries sold at markets across the U.S. are sweet cherries from places like Washington state where the fruit has less moisture and holds up better when shipped.)

Machine shakes cherries from the trees

Harvest season takes place in July and early August and lasts about four weeks. This piece of machinery literally shakes the cherries off the trees, and during the harvest, trees are shaken 24/7. At Cherry Bay Orchards, 40 million pounds of cherries are shaken off trees each year, and most are the tart Montmorency variety. For a 15-second video of shaking, check out my Instagram page.

Tart cherry harvest

The fragile fruit is quickly submerged into water baths to cool them down and cushion their short journey to the nearby processing facility. Believe it or not, this container holds 1,000 pounds of cherries plus 1,000 pounds of water!

Did I mention that cherry juice is a natural addition at cocktail hour? Here I am at the Boathouse Restaurant with friend and fellow dietitian, Carolyn O’Neil.

Tart Cherries in Traverse City, MI

Eating tart cherries right off the tree was a treat … and no, I did not partake in a pit spitting competition. Pictured above: tart cherries, cherry crumb pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company, cherry guacamole at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, cherry balsamic vinegar at Fustini’s, and snack time at the orchard.

So … moving on to nutrition. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD was on hand to share the latest health news on tart cherries. Here are some highlights:

> Half a cup of dried cherries has nearly 50% vitamin A, and they’re also a good source of potassium and fiber.

> The antioxidant compounds found in bright red tart cherries are called anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation in the body. Those anti-inflammatory properties “cool the fire” of pain and inflammation in muscles and joints.

> Tart cherries are good for heart health. Research shows they help to lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.

> Eating cherries may reduce the risk of a gout attack by up to 35%. Over eight million Americans have gout, so adding tart cherries to the diet could offer some welcome relief.

> Looking for a better night’s sleep? Drinking tart cherry juice (8 ounces in the morning and 8 ounces at night) may reduce insomnia and help people get more Zzzzzzs.

For even more info on the harvest and the latest nutrition studies, tune in to Cooking with the Moms! If you want to see more amazing photos of tart cherries check out the blog post by my RD colleague, Regan Miller Jones, at  Healthy Aperture blog.

 Lake Michigan outside Traverse City

Until next time …

(For all of my Traverse City photos, visit our flickr page.)

To read more about Traverse City and cherry harvest, visit the following blogs:
> Family Fresh Cooking: Very Cherry!
> Healthy Aperture: Ingredient Spotlight: Tart Cherries
> What’s Gaby Cooking: Chocolate Cherry Coconut Cookies
> Nutrition Unplugged: Happiness Does Grow on Trees: Celebrating Cherry Season in the Heart of Cherry Country
> Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Michigan’s Tart Cherries: The Harvest, Michigan’s Tart Cherries: So Proud, Sour Cherry Galette with Cream Cheese Crust
> Family Feed Bag: Michigan Tart Cherry Chutney & Goat Cheese Crostini
> The Kitchn: How Cherries are Shaken off the Tree

A Recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and the Lowdown on Tart Cherries

I recently returned from Traverse City, MI for the tart cherry harvest, and in a few days, I’ll be sharing all about the trip. I’ve never spent time in Northern Michigan (my loss completely), and I certainly hope to return some day soon. While you wait on the edges of your seats for more details on the tart cherry harvest and all the great nutrients found inside this bright red fruit, I thought you’d enjoy my recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. Bake up a batch or two and let me know what you think, and be sure to check back in a few days for my blog post and a Cooking with the Moms podcast devoted to cherries.

Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I was invited by the Cherry Marketing Institute to join them for the Cherry Harvest in Northern Michigan. They paid for my travel, but all opinions on this blog are solely my own. Everyone in the group was sent home with a bunch of goodies including dried Montmorency cherries. So I decided to use them in this new better-for-you cookie.

dried tart cherries

Nearly 100% of the tart cherries grown in Michigan are pitted and then frozen or turned into dried cherries or juice. Dried cherries can be eaten out of hand as a snack, added to trail mix, used in cookies and other baked goods, sprinkled over salads, used in salsas, and lots more …

A half cup of dried tart cherries has 200 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and an impressive 45% vitamin A.

Cherry Chocolate Oat Cookies

Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 24 Cookies

Kids love cookies, but like any sweet treat, it’s best to not go overboard. I’m happy to report that you can feel good about giving your kids these cookies. Made with whole grains—oats, wheat germ, and whole wheat flour—and other nutritious ingredients like dried cherries, pecans, and eggs, they’re an AOK addition to the cookie jar!

  • 2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 3/4 cup pecans, finely or roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and then lightly oil or coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. Whisk together the oats, pecans, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir until just moistened. Mix in the cherries and the chocolate chips.

4. Working in batches, scoop the batter by rounded tablespoon and place on the prepared baking sheets. Wash your hands (it will be easier to work with the batter), and then flatten slightly with the heel of your hand, forming 2¼ to 2½-inch cookies. Leave about 1 inch between each cookie.

5. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cookie):  170 calories, 9g fat (1g saturated), 80mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g protein

Print Recipe

cherry pie at Cherry Republic

Indulging on cherry pie with my friend and fellow dietitian, Janet Helm at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, MI. I’m not much of a pie maker; cookies are definitely more my culinary speed :)

Tart cherry trees, Traverse City, MI

More on the tart cherry harvest coming soon …

A Recipe for Lower-Sugar Strawberry Jam, Summer Vacation Memories, and a Giveaway for a Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker {Podcast #223} — GIVEAWAY CLOSED

Who wants some homemade strawberry jam? We made a few batches recently, and let’s just say they’ve been disappearing quickly from our refrigerators. On this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, we share our latest recipe for Mom’s Strawberry Jam, rave about our new Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker (we’re giving one away, so read on), and tell you all about our vacation adventures in Nantucket and New Hampshire so far this summer. Plus, you loved him on our Composting for Dummies podcast, so Janice’s husband, Don, is back on the show this week to tell us about his childhood jelly-making memories.

Homemade, lower-sugar strawberry jam

In true Meal Makeover Mom fashion, our goal with this recipe was to lower the sugar a bit. We followed the directions in the Ball recipe booklet but then tweaked it a bit by adding a few more strawberries and a little less sugar.

And now … The Back Story on our Strawberry Jam:

Local New England strawberries

Our local strawberry season here in New England comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Lucky for us, back in late June, Janice’s friend Catherine surprised her with a flat of fresh-picked strawberries from western Massachusetts. Coincidentally, Ball had just sent us a complimentary Jam & Jelly Maker to try out, so the berries were immediately put to good use.

Ball freshTech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

Janice and her friends tried two different versions of jam. For starters, they opted for Ball’s “Reduced Sugar” recipe which called for 3¼ cups crushed strawberries and 2 cups sugar. They also tried a version with just 1 3/4 cups sugar plus 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar for added flavor.

Ingredients for homemade strawberry jam

What we finally settled on was a lower-sugar jam made with 3½ cups crushed strawberries, 1¾ cups sugar, and we used Ball’s Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin.

Making strawberry jam in the Ball freshTech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

How cool is this? To make the jam, all you do is sprinkle pectin in the bottom of the pot along with the crushed fruit and a tiny bit of butter or margarine to help reduce foaming. Four minutes later, add the sugar, top with the glass lid, and less than 20 minutes later, you’ve got jam to put into jars.

Homemade strawberry jam

All of the jam and jelly recipes in the Ball booklet offer a Traditional version and a Reduced-Sugar version. Thanks Ball!

homemade jam

Too cute. Makes a great house-warming or hostess gift!

Mom’s Strawberry Jam

Makes 4 (8-ounce) Half Pint Jars (Recipe adapted from Ball, freshTECH Sweet and Simple recipe booklet)

We’ve taken a stab at canning before, but quite honestly, we’re not the most patient home cooks on the planet. That’s why we were thrilled when Ball sent us their in-a-flash jam and jelly maker. Besides strawberry jam, you can also use it for other jams like peach, sweet cherry, pear, plum, apple, and a bunch of jellies. (For more recipes, you can visit the Ball website.) While we would not categorize our jam as a health food—it still has plenty of sugar—it’s made with real, wholesome ingredients and the flavor is amazing.

  • 3½ cups crushed strawberries (from 7 cups whole, stemmed strawberries, @ 3 pounds) * We used a potato masher to crush the berries
  • 3 tablespoons Ball Low or No-Sugar Needed RealFruit Pectin
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar

1. Sprinkle pectin evenly over bottom of the pot fitted with the Stirrer. Add crushed strawberries evenly over pectin. Add butter or margarine to help reduce foaming.

3. Press Jam button (the cook time will automatically default to 21 minutes). Press Enter.

3. Wait 4 minutes for appliance to sound 4 short beeps indicating that it is time to add sugar. Add sugar gradually while Stirrer continues running. Place the glass lid on the pot.

4. The appliance will continue to automatically stir your ingredients while it cooks. Stay within earshot of the Jam & Jelly Maker. The appliance will beep again at the end of the process signaling jam cooking is complete. Press Cancel, unplug the appliance, and immediately remove glass lid.

5. Remove Stirrer using a pot holder. Skim foam, if necessary, from top of jam. (From there, the recipe booklet goes on to describe three preserving methods). We simply filled our jars with the fresh jam and placed in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 tablespoon): 30 calories, 0g fat, 5mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g protein, 20% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Ball Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

Giveaway News: Wouldn’t you love to win the Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker? Well, one lucky winner will soon become the proud owner of one. (Open to U.S. residents only.) To enter the giveaway, tell us why you’d like to win it or share your favorite canning recipe or childhood canning memory.

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

> Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms) or on Facebook.

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on August 2nd at noon, and as always we’ll use Random.org to pick our winner. Good luck!

Disclosure: We received a complimentary Jam & Jelly Maker from Ball, but the opinions and recipe in this post are our own. We were not compensated for this blog post.

My Summer Escape to New Hampshire for a Dose of Relaxation and Some Good Eats!

When life gets hectic and the temperature soars I’m lucky to have a relaxing place to escape to. My parents spend most of the summer at their cottage in Laconia, NH, on Lake Winnisquam and we’re usually able to visit a few times each summer.  The past several years Don and I have found ourselves at the lake over the Fourth of July while Leah enjoys her one-week overnight camp in Maine.

My goal in life is to be as tranquil as this statue!  Watching the sunset over the lake is as close as I come …

When we arrived at the lake, my Dad gave me a present for what he said was, “all my good work.” This statue / business card holder is made of forks and spoons and will now be displayed prominently in my new new kitchen. Best Dad ever!

A trip to the lake wouldn’t be complete without a visit to family friend Mo Gouin’s garden. Mo was a guest on our Cooking with the Moms podcast two summers ago talking about the home canning craze. He grows more vegetables than anyone I know, and this year he extended his bean trellis from 12 to 14 feet high. I brought him a jar of our homemade strawberry jam, and he gave it two thumbs up. The pink banana squash plant in the center photo above should produce squashes that weigh 50 to 70  pounds!

Little Corner Store at Strawbery Banke via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Before we went to the lake, Don and I spent one night in Portsmouth, NH, and we discovered that it’s a truly fun city! We visited the Strawbery Banke Museum where the highlight for me was “The Little Corner Store” showcasing food items sold in the 1940s. You’ll be able to read more about this store in a future blog post.Lunch at Surf Restaurant, Portsmouth, NH via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Fish tacos, sweet potato fries, and local beer on an outdoor balcony at Surf Restaurant overlooking Portsmouth Harbor. I love summer!

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