almost no-work whole grain bread

Yes, that's right, folks. I made bread. Ok, so I didn't have to knead and roll and flour it ... but I did have to wait 24 hours. And though it's not really a tall loaf, it tastes like whole-wheat bread should taste like: chewy in the middle, tough and crispy in the crust and moist and flavorful. This Mark Bittman recipe is extra special because it's coated in crunchy cornmeal - an element that gives it that extra oomph.

Now I just need to figure out what to put in its hot little self besides a sliver of butter (which melted just right into the crannies of the warm bread). Peanut butter? Jam? More butter? Yeah. Sounds good.

Almost No-Work Whole Grain Bread
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour, or use 2 cups plus a combination of other whole grain flours like buckwheat, rye, or cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (depending on how salty you like it)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting (optional)
  • Up to 1 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or proofed whole grains (Optional. To proof grains, soak 1/2 cup grain in a small bowl, covered with water, for an hour or so. Drain and add to the dough as described in step 2.)
1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 3/4 to 2 cups water and stir until blended; the dough should be quite wet, almost like a batter (add some more water if it seems dry, up to about 2 cups.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for at least 12 and up to 24 hours (if you didn't plan [again] like me, this can be tucked away in the fridge until you're ready to let it rise). The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Rising time will be shorter at warmer temperatures or a bit longer if your kitchen is chilly.
2. Use some of the oil to grease the loaf pan. If you are adding nuts or anything else, fold them into the dough now with your hands or a rubber spatula. Transfer the dough to the loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula to gently settle it in evenly. Brush the top with the remaining oil and sprinkle with cornmeal if you like. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, an hour or two depending on the warmth of your kitchen. When it’s almost ready heat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Bake the bread until deep golden and hollow-sounding when tapped, about 45 to 55 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer should register 200 degrees when inserted into the center of the loaf.) Immediately turn out of the pan onto a rack and let cool before slicing.


beef & mushroom sloppy joes

Yes, I'm a sloppy joe "packet" girl. I grew up eating it and it was an inexpensive college meal; I can't help it. Unfortunately, I like it - in all its cheap, salty glory - even if I do doctor the packaged recipe up with onions, garlic and sometimes green peppers and mushrooms.

But because I know there are actually good sloppy joe recipes out there, I've been on the hunt for a fresher, healthier recipe. One that hides a little more veg in it. For a long time. (Ask the hubs - I think he's on the edge of hating one of my favorite meals.) Now, on about my fourth sloppy joe recipe, I think I've found it. (And if I find one better, I promise to delete this post and replace it with the better one.) And even this one is doctored up.

Serve it with a bold cheddar and an extra dash of hot sauce. And a dark beer. But don't forget the veggies. After all, it is a lot of meat. But, it's sloppy joe night ... and that's to be expected.

Beef & Mushroom Sloppy Joes
Modified from Cooking Light
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground sirloin
  • 16-ounces cremini or portabella mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano (home grown!)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar
  • 4 (2-ounce) whole-wheat rolls or hamburger buns, toasted
1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add beef; cook for four minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove onto a paper towel-lined plate and add a little more olive oil to the pan.
2. While beef cooks, place mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Once the beef has been removed, add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to pan; cook for three to four minutes or until onion is tender. [Salt and] pepper the mixture. Add tomato paste and next five ingredients (through salt) to pan; cook five minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in pepper and hot sauce. Spoon about one cup beef mixture on bottom half of each bun; top with top halves of buns.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what the side dish is, it's a simple throw-together of steamed carrots tossed with a little olive oil and a good Italian seasoning. That's all. Simple, healthy, delicious.


summer salads, part one: smoked turkey salad with cranberries and bleu cheese

It's summer and that usually means that I want to eat a bit lighter. After all, it's hot where I live and I have a bikini body to keep up with.

My biggest problem is that I'm not really a salad eater, in terms of a meal. I'm down for a fresh, tasty side salad, but usually cringe at the thought of consuming three cups of lettuce, more veggies and a handful of salad toppings. It just seems like such a cold meal. My point is, it has to be a really satisfying salad for me to like it.

Over the next several months, I'll share a few salads that I think are meal worthy – and each is perfect for helping to achieve that beach-ready bod. This is one of them.

Smoked Turkey Salad with Cranberries & Bleu Cheese
  • Almost 1/4 c olive oil
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 4 c lettuce, chopped (I like adding spinach leaves)
  • 6 oz. smoked turkey or chicken, sliced (I prefer home-smoked meats, but used good quality, fresh-sliced deli meat in a pinch here)
  • 1/2 an apple, thinly sliced and/or handful of dried cranberries
  • 3-4 oz. bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tbsp. pecan halves or sunflower seeds
Combine vinaigrette and serve over assembled salad.

Still not satisfied? Try these salad ideas:


strawberry buttermilk pancakes

The minute I opened my eyes this morning, I knew what I wanted. I must have been dreaming about ways to use up the pint of strawberries and jug of buttermilk that have been taunting me all week long from the fridge. Bingo - it all came together in my dreams.

I'd clipped this recipe a while back and pulled it from my recipe "Bible" (the fond name I gave to the bulging recipe binder where I store all my "to make" meals) and set out to make it. The hubs claimed that they tasted like a doughnut when he topped them with maple syrup. While I didn't taste that exactly, I did taste a light and fluffy, delicious pancake. I think it's safe to say these made Sunday proud.

Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes
Modified from Cooking Light
Serves 4
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pint of strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white 
  • Canola oil in a spritzer (or cooking spray)
  • Maple syrup
  • Butter, if you like it, but I didn't think these needed any!
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the first six ingredients (flours through the salt). Add the strawberries and toss gently to coat with the flour mixture. In a smaller bowl, stir together the next four (buttermilk through the eggs). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently stir to combine.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium heat and spritz with canola oil. When the oil and pan are hot, drop 1/4 cup sized piles of batter into the pan. Flip when sufficiently browned and press down to flatten the pancake. Serve when both sides are toasty brown and top with syrup.


white bean chicken chili

The perfect summer chili, I have been making this recipe for nearly six years. It's been a crazy past couple of weeks here and I wanted something easy and delicious for dinner. After a long week on its own account, our nephew was born and suddenly we found ourselves buzzing with visiting family and baby-oriented events, which didn't leave me with a lot of time for leisure (like cooking for myself and writing!). So, when I realized that I had a free Friday, night I knew it was on between me and my kitchen. Pulling out my old trusty recipe notebook, I knew I wanted this go-to favorite when I saw it.

Great paired with a salad and cornbread, you'll find that you have a filling and inexpensive, healthy meal that's easy enough to throw together on a weeknight. A good beer helps to wash it down, too.

White Bean Chicken Chili
Serves 4
  • 2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (4 oz) can chopped green chilies, drained
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 (15 oz) cans Great Northern Beans
  • 14.5 oz chicken broth
  • Chicken seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Toppings: cheese, scallions, sour cream, salsa, cilantro - whatever you like
  1. Heat a deep pot with olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken, sprinkling it with the chicken seasoning like you would salt and pepper, until it's almost cooked and starting to brown. Remove from pan. Add chopped onion and saute 2-3 minutes (adding a little more olive oil, if needed), salt and peppering lightly. Add garlic and saute until the onions are translucent. Add chilies, cumin and flour and stir for two minutes. Add beans and broth. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken and cook until hot.
  2. Serve in bowls and top with cheese, scallions, sour cream, salsa, cilantro, or whatever toppings you like.


smokey black-eyed peas

So, my love affair with black-eyed peas continues. This time, as a side dish, which was put together for a good cause.

The hubs and I volunteer occasionally at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides an inexpensive option for families with sick, hospitalized children to stay. It also feeds these families a freshly made, hot meal for free each and every night, which gives these challenged families one less thing to worry about while their child undergoes yet another surgery or a round of chemo. That's where volunteers like us come into play: we cook the food. I like that I can do something I enjoy that makes someone else's difficult day a little easier.

And, as it turns out, we have been paying it forward in an unexpected way. Our close friends just had a very premature baby in another state and had to stay in a RMH while the child was in the NICU. It just so happens that the new father was the man who did us a favor by marrying us. It was a nice full-circle realization when we heard how wonderful the RMH was for them, and I was super excited to give my time to the organization this week.

So, the theme of this donated meal was Southern vegetables and sides - a mostly meat-free meal beefed up (pardon the pun) with plenty of protein from bean dishes. I was asked to provide the black-eyed peas. I'm not going to lie, before I dropped them off, I dipped out just enough for me to eat as a snack the next day. And I can tell you that they are even better after they sit overnight. Enjoy - for a good cause or not.

Smokey Black-eyed Peas
Adapted from Epicurious
  • 4 hickory-smoked bacon slices, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  •  1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
  • 2 (15-ounces) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  1. Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until browned but not crisp. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
  2. Cook scallions, carrot, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, red-pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in fat in skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Add black-eyed peas, half of the bacon crisps and the broth and simmer five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and top with the remaining bacon. (Or cook in advance and allow them to sit overnight.)


not your mama's meatloaf

In an effort to use up the goodies tucked away in my freezer, I had a pound of beef to incorporate into the menu this week. Tired of tacos (a sin, I know) and sloppy joes (made those last week), I decided it was time to go retro - updated retro - in the form of meatloaf.

Now, as a kid I hated meatloaf. I even still hate the name. A loaf ... of meat. Gross. But what if it was a cheeseburger meatloaf, filled with toasted breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, lean beef, cheesey pillows and other aromatics? That I might like. Bring it on, loaf. And sorry, mom - I'm throwing away the "family" recipe.

Not Your Mama's Meatloaf (aka: Cheeseburger Meatloaf)
Adapted from Cooking Light
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2/3 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup ketchup, divided
  • 4 ounces white cheddar or swiss cheese, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or rosemary (or whatever you have on hand that pairs well with beef)
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs; cook three minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently.
  3. While breadcrumbs cook, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and swirl with olive oil. Add onion and garlic; sauté three minutes. Gently combine the onion mixture, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup ketchup, and remaining ingredients, being careful not to over mix (which can make it tough). Pour mixture into a prepared loaf pan (I prefer a pretty one since it is still a loaf of meat); spread a thin layer of ketchup evenly across the top and sprinkle with parsley to pretty up your loaf as much as possible. 
  4. Bake at 425° for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads that the meat is just done. 
Tip: Allow the loaf to set for 10 or so minutes before slicing into it.

This meal was made healthier with two veggie side dishes - ginger-glazed carrots and roasted broccoli and cauliflower - and because it took about a half hour to cook, we were able to squeeze in a quick post-gym dog walk while it baked. Our dog was happy, too. :)



After a weekend at the lake vacationing with family (and a lot of junk food), I came home craving a healthy and light dinner. With few fresh groceries on hand, but a ton of frozen veggies and pantry-stored dried pasta and canned beans at the ready, this hearty soup was quickly simmering on my stove. The best part is that though it made a lot of soup, the left-overs freeze well and will make another easy, healthy meal when I'm in a pinch later. If you're really hungry, toast up a grilled cheese and call it a night. You won't be disappointed.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery or one bell pepper, diced 
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, or whatever leftover fresh or frozen veggies you have (like corn)
  • 1 tbsp. oregano (or 1 tsp. dried) - home grown!
  • 1 tbsp. rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried) - home grown!
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes (I only had three cans of diced tomatoes, so I pureed two of them in my food processor ... problem solved!)
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 5 to 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth (homemade, stored in the freezer!)
  • 1 15-ounce can low-sodium kidney or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup small pasta, like elbows or shells 
  • 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about four minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the celery/pepper and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Stir in the green beans, herbs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook three more minutes.
  2. Add the diced and crushed tomatoes and the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the beans and pasta and cook until the pasta and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Ladle into bowls and top with the parmesan and chopped basil.


the tacos

Thanks, Roasted Tomato and Corn Salsa with Charred Poblano Peppers.  A little grilled pork tenderloin, some sliced avocado (it's under there, I promise), Mexican cheese and sour cream on a whole-wheat tortilla = crazy good and easy dinner, especially when the salsa is made in advance.