How to Make Homemade Tamales

Tamales. I had enjoyed them in Mexican restaurants but never considered making homemade tamales for myself… until my friend, Catherine, invited me over for a tamale-making gathering at her house.

Homemade Tamales with Guacamole

Tamales are packets of corn dough with a savory or sweet filling. They are usually wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed.  Tamale making is often a community event, and we enjoyed our creations with a bowl of vegetarian posole soup and a side of guacamole. Comfort food at its best!

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Corny Bean Bell Pepper Boats are Fun for Kids to Eat

Red, orange, green, and yellow bell peppers remind us of colorful Christmas tree ornaments, so use that to your advantage this holiday season to introduce your family to nutrient-packed peppers.

Colorful bell peppers via

Rich in vitamins C and A, peppers are versatile, crunchy, and filled with big flavors. You can slice them and serve with our Rainbow Veggie Dip, saute and add to pasta dishes, soups, and tacos and wraps …

Corny Bean Bell Pepper Boats via #bean #vegetarian

… or use them as the foundation for these fun-to-eat Corny Bean Bell Pepper Boats.

Our stuffed pepper recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free, and if you leave out the cheese, it’s also vegan.

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Sweet Potato & Chicken Soup + Healthy Soups to Keep You Warm This Winter {Podcast #257}

Warm up this winter with our fast weeknight Sweet Potato & Chicken Soup. It’s gluten free, bursting with kid-friendly flavors, and it’s packed with  vitamin A, an immune booster.

Tune into episode #257 of COOKING WITH THE MOMS radio as we dish about this Sweet Potato & Chicken Soup as well as recipes for Last-Minute Black Bean Soup and Potato Leek Soup.

LISTEN TO COOKING WITH THE MOMS HERE! And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our show on iTunes.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Soup via

And read on for links to even more healthy and hearty brews from The Meal Makeover Moms …

They’re MMM good!

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A Make-Your-Own Kale Salad Bar + Why Kids Will Love Digging In!

Getting kids to try new foods—even kale—is easy if you (a) involve them in the preparation process and (b) give them lots of choice.

Kids eating kale salad via

I work with a program in Lexington, MA called Kids Cooking Green, and last month during this preschool class, the kids made a kale salad, which they happily ate.

Kids making kale salad by massaging in olive oil via

The trick to our kale salad success?: The kids got to (a) get messy by massaging olive oil into the kale leaves (this makes the fibrous leaves more tender) and (b) choose from a number of toppings including hard-cooked eggs, goat cheese, and sliced veggies. And yes, the kids scrubbed their hands first, and yes, evoo smells great 😉

Make Your Own Kale Salad Bar via

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How to Make Cauliflower Steak + Cauliflower Steaks with White Beans

Have you ever wondered how restaurant chefs take cauliflower and turn it into “steaks?” It’s easy, and in this post I’ll show you how!

I’ll also serve up a protein-rich, vegetarian recipe for Cauliflower Steaks with White Beans that you and your kids will LOVE. 

How to Make Cauliflower Steak #vegetarian

It may seem complicated, but with a cutting board, a sharp knife, and a little bit of patience, you can easily transform a head of cauliflower into hearty slices or “steaks.”

How to Make Cauliflower Steak #vegetarian

As a mom and a dietitian obsessed with getting my family to eat lots of veggies, I’m always on the lookout for fun new ways to serve them up.

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How to Make Homemade Focaccia Bread with Fun Spiced Toppings

Learn how to make an easy homemade focaccia bread for your family using store-bought pizza dough! 

Homemade Focaccia Bread using store-bought bread dough #bread

Starting with store-bought pizza dough makes creating your own focaccia bread simple as pie.This month, I joined fellow healthy food bloggers for the following Recipe Redux cooking challenge on Spooky Spices:

You know they are lurking there: Way in the back of your spice drawer. There lie the herbs, spices, or rubs that are getting dusty because you’re afraid to use them… you simply don’t know what to do with them! Well, pull them out and show us a recipe you created to deliciously conquer that fearful spice. (Or maybe the recipe was a flop – and the spice still give you nightmares?!)

When I read this challenge I thought of all the spices that friends have brought back for me when they traveled to exotic places. There’s the za’atar that my friend, Catherine, brought back from Saudi Arabia, the spices my niece, Haley, shared from her time in Sri Lanka, the Maldon Sea Salt Flakes from my colleague, Allison, and the Florida Sunshine Spice Blend that my daughter Carolyn’s friend, Liz, gave me when she stayed with us last summer.

Zaatar, Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, Florida Sunshine Spice Blend, and assorted Sri Lankan Spices

With so many unfamiliar spices, I thought it would be fun to introduce my family to all the new flavors by adding them to a food they already love: BREAD!

Of course my life has been way too hectic to think about making my own dough so off I went to Whole Foods to buy a couple of bags of pizza dough: one bag of whole wheat and a bag of sprouted black bean.

Forming dough rounds for focaccia bread

 The next step was to invite friends over to help me cook. My friend Catherine was ready and willing to get things started. She cut the dough into four pieces and then sprinkled a bit of cornmeal onto my Silestone counter and shaped the pieces into circles.

Brushing olive oil on the focaccia bread

After shaping the dough, we placed the rounds on a baking sheet we had oiled with extra virgin olive oil. Then we made dimples on the dough with our fingers and then brushed the tops with more oil.

Spices to sprinkle on bread dough to make focaccia

Next came the spices. While Catherine was brushing with oil, I found a bag of paprika that my friend Sara, from Oldways, brought back from Turkey so we added that to the mix. Just sprinkle the spices liberally!

Sprouted Black Bean Pizza Dough with spices and olives for focaccia

Here is our focaccia using the sprouted black bean pizza dough with various spices and a few kalamata olives.

Homemade Focaccia Bread

Makes 6 Servings

Making your own focaccia is easy if you start with store-bought pizza dough. Be creative and add new and little-used spices from the back of your spice cabinet.

  • One 16-ounce bag pizza dough, preferably whole wheat
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons assorted spices
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1. Leave pizza dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Cut dough into four equal pieces and place on a counter or cutting board sprinkled with cornmeal. Shape the pieces into thin rounds with your fingers.

2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush one tablespoon of the olive oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place the dough rounds on the baking sheet and make several depressions into each piece with your finger. Brush with the remaining oil, sprinkle liberally with spices, and then top with a few pinches of kosher or sea salt.

3. Place in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the bread starts to brown. Remove from the oven and cut into one-inch slices. Sprinkle with a bit more salt to taste and serve.

Nutrition Information per Serving (about 4 slices): 240 calories, 9g fat (1g saturated), 630mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g protein, 10% iron

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Homemade Focaccia with avocado salad

Homemade focaccia slices with za’atar, turmeric, paprika, olives, and Florida Sunshine Spice Blend. I saved some for Liz to sample the next day along with our avocado, tomato, feta salad. They were all delicious, but my favorites were the ones with za’atar and kalamate olives. My friends and I decided that it would be fun to cut these into bite size pieces and serve with a glass of wine. :)

Cha Cha Cha Chia Meatballs + a Podcast on the Nutritional and Cooking Benefits of Chia Seeds

This low fat, gluten-free meatball recipe is a dinner favorite with busy families. Made with lean ground beef, grated carrot, chia seeds, and fresh basil, they’re nutritious and delicious.  

This healthy, low-fat meatball recipe is made with lean ground beef, chia seeds, carrots, and fresh basil  #family #dinner

We love the flavor of these lean meatballs, and they’re super healthy too thanks to a bunch of nutrient-rich ingredients: lean ground beef, carrots, and chia seeds. We dish all about chia seeds on episode #254 of this week’s Cooking with the Moms radio podcast, and we share this meatball recipe as well as our recipe for Chocolate Chia Pudding.


Chia Seeds Nutrition

Chia seeds have a long list of health and culinary benefits. They’re rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats as well as fiber. And chia seeds are hydrophilic, which means they absorb water. In this recipe, they help to bind the ingredients together, so you don’t need breadcrumbs.

This healthy, low-fat meatball recipe is made with lean ground beef, chia seeds, carrots, and fresh basil  #family #dinner

Meatballs are easy to make. Just place all your ingredients in a large bowl and mix away.

This healthy, low-fat meatball recipe is made with lean ground beef, chia seeds, carrots, and fresh basil  #family #dinner

 These meatballs are gluten free, because the chia seeds replace the usual  breadcrumbs.

This healthy, low-fat meatball recipe is made with lean ground beef, chia seeds, carrots, and fresh basil  #family #dinner

Serve our meatballs with rice for a gluten-free option; If gluten is not an issue with your family, serve on a sub roll or with your favorite pasta.

Cha Cha Cha Chia Meatballs

Makes 6 Servings

Meatballs are one of those recipes we turn to all the time when our kids say, “I’m hungry!!” They’re nutritious, filling, and easy to make when we’re busy but still craving something homemade.

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 medium carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 green onions, white and light green parts, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • One 24-ounce jar pasta sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Place the ground beef, egg, carrot, chia seeds, basil, Parmesan cheese, onions, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix until just combined. Shape the meat mixture into twenty-four 1½-inch balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet and cook until lightly browned, 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the pasta sauce in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. When the meatballs come out of the oven, add them to the sauce, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are fully cooked and have absorbed some of the sauce-y flavors, about 20 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving (4 meatballs): 220 calories, 10g fat (3.5g saturated, 0.7g omega-3)), 520mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 9g protein, 50% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 20% iron

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Tell us how you incorporate nutritious chia seeds into your family’s diet. We’d love to hear your ideas.

A Healthy Pin It Party: Blue Plate Special

Finding healthy recipes on Pinterest is getting a whole lot easier these days thanks to Pin It Parties like the one being hosted by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean.

Healthy Eating Pin It Party at The Lean Green Bean

To participate in the party, we were asked to write a post featuring five of our favorite recipes that we wanted to see on Pinterest, so we chose some of our healthiest and prettiest creations, all photographed on beautiful blue dishes. (If you follow our blog, you probably know by now that Liz is obsessed with blue dishware!)

Why pretty plates and bowls? Well, if you have picky eaters at home, something as simple as presenting your food on an eye-catching dish can convince them to take that first important bite.

Welcome to our Blue Plate Special … and please PIN away!! 

A gluten-free side dish or main meal -- Quinoa with Almonds & Apricots

Quinoa with Almonds & Apricots is gluten free, vegetarian and vegan, filled with flavor, and can be served as a side dish or main meal.

A wild blueberry oat cake with a healthy frosting made with low-fat Greek yogurt

Wild Blueberry Oat Cake with Greek Yogurt Frosting is a treat you can serve at breakfast, snack, or dessert. You’ll never make cream cheese frosting again after you try our healthier Greek yogurt version.

Canned Beefaroni gets a healthy makeover

Is it humanly possible to give canned macaroni and beef dinners (AKA Beefaroni) a healthy makeover? Heck yes! Our Homemade Healthy Beefaroni is hearty, delicious, and features lean ground beef and three vegetables.

A healthy and hearty winter soup with a Tex-Mex flavor

South-of-the-Border Tortilla Soup is one of those quick weeknight recipes you’ll want to make again and again for your family. It’s healthy and hearty and hits the spot when the weather turns cool.

Morning oats topped with Concord grapes, dried fruit, and walnuts

Why eat plain old oatmeal when you can easily cook up our Morning Oats with Concord Grapes, Dried Cranberries, and Walnuts. And don’t forget the Vermont maple syrup!

Do you have a similar obsession with dishes? Do you have a favorite plate or bowl you find yourself turning to again and again? Let us know … and have fun pinning :)

How to Dehydrate Tomatoes + Gluten-Free Fusilli with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Preserve your bounty of summer tomatoes with this easy oven-dried technique, and toss them into this healthy family dinner made with gluten-free pasta and a low-fat cheese sauce.

Gluten-Free Fusilli with Oven-Dried Tomatoes via

Right now, my garden is bursting with late-summer tomatoes, so this month’s Recipe Redux challenge was right up my alley … sort of.
The Challenge: “Whether it’s extra garden bounty or a sale at the supermarket – dehydrating food is a budget-friendly way to stock up for later. You can use a food dehydrator, a low slow oven, or natural sunshine to preserve natural healthfulness. Show us how you like to dehydrate, or a healthy recipe for how you enjoy using dehydrated fruits, veggies or other bounty.

Garden Tomatoes via

Here’s my husband, Don, picking tomatoes from our garden. He’s the Green Thumb in our family; I’m the Sous Chef :)

So how do you dry tomatoes if you don’t own a dehydrator, which was the dilemma I was facing? Well, I reached out to our Meal Makeover Mom Facebook community and asked for their advice, and I did some good old-fashioned Googling. The solution was simple: Use the oven.

How to dehydrate tomatoes via

First, I cut the tomatoes in half and squeezed out most of the seeds and inside pulp. (I was told that removing this moisture would speed up the drying process.) Next, I cut the tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices. This was a bit tricky, but since the tomatoes were being dehydrated, I didn’t obsess with perfection.

How to dehydrate tomatoes via

I tossed the tomato slices with 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and sprinkled with sea salt. (You can also use kosher salt).

How to dehydrate tomatoes via

I read somewhere that cooking the tomatoes between 170°F and 250°F is best, so I decided to use my Kenmore convection oven, and I set it to 180°F degrees. FYI: When using convection, set the temperature 25 degrees lower.

How to dehydrate tomatoes via

When I told Don the tomatoes would probably be in the oven for four hours, he wondered what the cost of the electricity would be! Thank goodness we have solar panels on the roof. The tomatoes cooked and cooked and cooked until finally, after 4-plus hours, I couldn’t take it anymore and removed them. As suspected, they lost most of their moisture and shriveled up.

How to dehydrate tomatoes via

Here’s what 10 tomatoes looked like after they were dehydrated. Don’t you love all the different shapes and sizes? I added about half of these gems to my gluten-free pasta recipe with low-fat cheese sauce, and I’ll probably use the rest to make bruschetta. You can also freeze any leftovers in zip-top bags for up to three months.

Gluten-Free Fusilli with Oven-Dried Tomatoes via #glutenfree #lowfat #cheese #sauce #dehydrated #tomatoes

I decided to make a creamy pasta dish with a low-fat cheese sauce for dinner, and my daughter, Leah, loved it so much, she asked for seconds. (Not bad for a sometimes-finicky eater.) She even helped me style the photo with those gorgeous oven-dried tomatoes on top.

Gluten-Free Fusilli with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Makes 8 Servings

I made this recipe with gluten-free brown rice and quinoa fusilli from Trader Joe’s since my mom is on a low-gluten diet. You can certainly use any type of pasta your family loves, and if you don’t have the patience to dehydrate your own tomatoes, use the store-bought, sun-dried kind.

  • 1 pound Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 2 cups all natural chicken broth
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped dehydrated tomatoes

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat in a large saucepan until the butter melts. Add the flour and whisk constantly until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. Whisk the milk and broth slowly into the flour mixture. Raise the heat and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer and stir gently until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and tomatoes until the cheese melts. Best to serve right away.

Nutrition Information per Serving (about 1 cup): 390 calories, 13g fat (4.5g saturated fat), 380mg sodium, 53g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 16g protein, 10% vitamin A, 30% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Tequila bottle via

When I told my sister, Diane, that I was writing a post on dehydrating, she told me I’d save myself a lot of time if I simply posted a photo of an empty bottle of tequila and told my readers that I drank it and dehydrated myself. Funny, isn’t she? Liz will likely disapprove of this picture, but hey, it’s my blog post. :)

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