Recipe of the Week: Chocolate Truffle Peppermint Cookies

6 squares/ounces baker's dark chocolate (I use Ghirardelli brand or dark chocolate chips.)
3/4 cup (organic) butter
1/2 cup (organic) raw sugar
2 (cage-free) eggs
1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup chopped candy canes

1. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a glass bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. When melted, stir together with a whisk.
2. Stir in sugar.
3. Whisk in eggs one at a time, mixing well, until blended.
4. Add flour and baking powder and mix well. (Dough will be very soft.)
5. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
7. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on a greased baking sheet.
8. Bake 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle immediately with crushed candy canes. Cool and remove from pans.


December Menus

Italian Wedding Soup
Baby Greens salad with Asian pears, gorgonzola cheese & carmelized red onions
Sourdough, wheat and cranberry-walnut breads
Pita Piatta pastry

Chinese food out
in San Jose

Christmas leftovers
Twice-baked potatoes
Pot Roast
Maple-glazed carrots

wed - New Year's Eve
Dinner out at Lucy's Lair Ethiopian restaurant
in Fresno

Christmas week has arrived! This is one of our favorite times of year for healthy culinary delights. Dorina's Italian family has lots of cooking traditions like a special family recipe for Fish soup made with Bacalau for Christmas Eve. This soup is a luscious meal in itself and we couple it with homemade breads and appetizers. We also have incorporated some traditions from our brother-in-law Steven's family - homemade ravioli on Christmas Day for the first course of the big meal. We've added our own twist this year by tweaking the traditional ricotta filling. We're trying it with a butternut squash and mascarpone cheese filling. We tried it out for a Cooking Contest a few weeks ago and it was a winner! Yum-o!

Zucchini cakes with Cilantro dressing
Grilled salmon
Corn on the cob
Mashed potatoes

Bok Choy
Green chicken curry over Lemon noodles

Dinner at Mom & Dad's:
Chicken Tetrazzini
Italian Bread

Baked Brie with cranberries & pecans on whole wheat crackers
Italian Fish Soup
Nana's homemade Honey Wheat Bread
Christmas Apple Galette

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
Savory Amaranth Souffle
Tropical Fruit Salad
Eggnog & Hot Apple Cider

Phyllo Sundried Tomato-spinach Triangles (Armenian Cheese Boereg)
Homemade Butternut squash ravioli
Green salad with Pomegranate seeds, Goat cheese and Sliced oranges
Chicken Marsala
Broccoli with maple walnuts
Mint Holiday Trifle
Christmas cookies
Peppermint Hot chocolate & Sparkling Pomegranate Juice

Chinese Chicken Salad
Wonton soup
Apple-Cranberry Crisp with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Gift Exchange Dinner at Mom & Dad's:
Stuffed mushrooms
Roast Beef
Turkey bacon-wrapped Asparagus
Grandma's Rice Pilaf
Chocolate Lava Cakes
Pizzelle cookies with Ice cream

As we go into the holiday season, we're looking for that perfect combination of warm, healthy meals that we can get on the table quickly and show-stopper dinner party fare. This week, our menu includes a mix of both. We're gearing up for the Wednesday Christmas Tree Lane cooking contest at our friends' house and the Saturday Cooking Club party at our house with a French flair.
Bon appetit!

Steamed Zucchini & cheese

Green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers & feta
"More-Please" Meatloaf
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate Seeds

Italian Sausage & Kale Soup
Flaxseed Whole Wheat Bread

wed - Cooking Contest
Butternut Squash Ravioli
with Alfredo Sauce

thurs - Dorina Dinners Special
Teriyaki Salmon with Pineapple Salsa
Brown Rice
Sauteed Bok Choy
Persimmon Cookies

Luscious Leftovers

sat - Cooking Club Christmas Party
Cheese Puffs/Gougeres
French Onion Soup
Endive, Pear & Roquefort Salad
Basque Chicken Stew
Buche de Noel cake

December is here! For our family that means the commencement of a whole season of food and food-creating traditions. The weather here in Fresno still lingers in the 60s but even a little bit of fog and cool air makes me crave comfort foods like soups and stews. This week we're making good use of our turkey leftovers and adding lots of local produce still available at the local farmer's market. Bon Appetit!

Caesar salad with baby greens
Soy-glazed salmon
Michelle's potato casserole
Corn on the cob

Thanksgiving Leftovers:
Turkey & Stuffin'
Green Bean Casserole
Mom's Pilaf

Spiced Apple Cider
Taco Soup
Chips and Guacamole
Harvest Apple Salad

Baby greens salad with gorgonzola, persimmons and dried cranberries
Chicken Parmesan
served over whole wheat rotini Pasta
Chocolate Lava cakes

Sauteed Bok Choy
Teriyaki Burgers
Brown Rice

Roasted Acorn Squash
Wild Rice & Barley Pilaf
Roasted Halibut with vanilla sauce

New World Chili
Italian Foccocia Bread


Homemade Healthy Holiday Gifts

Joan Obra, writer for the Fresno Bee newspaper, shared our Peanut Butter Granola recipe with readers today. We thought we would repost this recipe for all of you as well. We've made it a new tradition to package granola to share with friends and family at holiday time instead of our usual cookies.

Don't get us wrong, we still love cookies and candy but they seem to come in such abundance at this time of year that we thought it would be fun to put a healthy twist on food gifts. The great thing about granola is it can be used as a gift anytime of year. We even packaged it up as granola bars with a "nursing mama" gift for a friend who just had a baby. Oats are supposed to help with milk production.

Meilani, our 2-year-old, loves to help Mama make the 'nola. She gets her hands in the oats, nuts and seeds mix and does her special job of making sure everything is incorporated. When we give the granola away to friends, we encourage them to eat it as a snack or even a cereal with yogurt or milk.


-olive oil spray
-3 cups oats
-1 cup raw peanut butter
-1 cup honey + 1/4 cup honey
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
-1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
-1/2 cup chopped almonds
-1/4 cup flaxseed
-1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
-1/2 cup shredded coconut

1. Spray rectangle cake pan with olive oil spray. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine peanut butter, 1 cup honey and vanilla. Allow to warm until you can mix the 3 together to form a runny paste.

3. In a large bowl, mix oats, seeds, almonds and flaxseed.

4. Pour peanut butter mixture over oat mixture and mix until clumps of granola form. Mix in raisins.

5. Then pour mixture into cake pan and spread out evenly.

6. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 honey.

7. Sprinkle with coconut.

8. At this point if you just want to make granola cereal or snack, stick it in the oven. If you want bars, then use a large metal spoon to pat granola down lightly.

8. Bake approx. 15 minutes or until golden brown on top.

9. Remove from oven and pat down again to flatten if you want to cut it into bars. Otherwise, cool.

10. Allow to fully cool and then cut into bars. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or just serve out of the pan for a snack anytime. These are also great crumbled with yogurt for breakfast.

**NOTES: These are inexpensive to make especially if you buy your oats and honey in bulk at places like Costco and Winco. We especially like Winco's fresh-pressed raw peanut butter. They have a machine that presses it straight from the peanuts while you wait with no additives. Also, they have local raw honey. Winco sells seeds, raisins and unsweetened coconut in the bulk section. Try to avoid prepackaged seeds or peanut butter with added sugar, salt, etc.


Recipe of the Week: Stuffed Manicotti with Tomato Meat Sauce

Looking for a show-stopper holiday meal for your family or company? Why not serve our famous Italian meat sauce over spinach-stuffed shells. Here's the recipe - and don't share it or one of our mafia uncles might have to kill you...

Maria Lazo's Famous Italian Meat Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped
2 12-oz. cans tomato paste (Contadina, organic)
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce (Contadina, organic)
6-8 cups water
1 lb. ground beef (organic)
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 tablespoon garlic powder or 2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons basil, chopped or 4 leaves fresh basil
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon organic sugar (important to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (optional)

1. Saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-style pot.
2. When onions look translucent, crumble meats into pot. (You do not need to brown the meat. It will fully cook while your sauce is stewing and comes out more tender this way!)
3. Add remaining ingredients (water, spices & cheese) and stir.
4. Bring to a boil for approx. 10 minutes.
5. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Approximately 2 hours (especially if you are putting meatballs in the sauce).
6. Serve over your favorite pasta, ravioli or for another dish like lasagna or chicken parmesan.
7. SAVE SOME FOR LATER: Let sauce cool and freeze half in ziplock bags or containers.

Dorina's Spinach-stuffed Shells (Manicotti)

1/2 pot Maria's Italian Meat Sauce
1 12-ounce jumbo shells pasta (could use manicotti shells but they're harder to stuff & don't look as fancy)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey, crumbled & sautéed
1 onion, chopped
1 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 16-ounce package frozen spinach
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Makes about 3 dozen shells.

1. Boil large pot of water. Add dash of salt and olive oil. Cook shells about 8 minutes (a few minutes less than package says) and cool, running cold water over the top. (Be careful not to overcook or the shells fall apart.)
2. In a frying pan, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, sauté meat and onions.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Mix together ricotta & cream cheeses, spinach and spices. Add meat and onions to the mixture. Blend well.
5. Put a 1/2-inch layer of meat sauce in the bottom of a 13x9-inch pan.
6. Stuff shells with as much stuffing as you can get in there and place them carefully in rows in the pan.
7. Drizzle with more meat sauce.
8. Top with mozzarella & parmesan cheese.
9. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese turns a light golden brown. Serve with salad and garlic bread.

Buon Appetito!


Healthy Thanksgiving: It's All About Baby Steps

Are you ready for the feast? Some of you have been putting together your menu for weeks. Others will probably shop in the next few days for the same ingredients for the same dishes you make every year. After all, Thanksgiving is about tradition. Right?

We're right there with you. But we also believe in baby steps toward making holiday traditional meals into healthy fare. Each year we've tinkered with a few recipes and tried new variations to start our own healthy Thanksgiving traditions without going "cold turkey" on the family.

The first year after we consciously started our healthy eating journey we started by looking at our menu and eliminating the "worst" recipes. In our family, that meant ditching the sweet potatoes with a pound of brown sugar and marshmallows on top. We also traded pecan pie, which is basically a corn syrup soup (ugh!) for apple pie using local apples. We also tried out some new recipes like homemade cranberry sauce rather than that canned stuff.

Last Thanksgiving we incorporated more healthy recipes. Mom Lazo tried out whole wheat crescent rolls made from scratch rather than the ones out of the little Pillsbury tube. We also urged Mom to make her pie crusts out of whole wheat pastry flour and real butter (ditching the white flour and margarine/shortening). Ericlee also requested this stuffing that incorporated wild rice (which is known for its high-protein content - double that of brown rice) and goat cheese instead of the usual cubed white bread-based stuffing. (We saw Bobby Flay mix this new version up on a Thanksgiving cooking show.) The stuffing was a wild hit!

For us, these changes in the menu while maintaining the "integrity" of a traditional Thanksgiving are baby steps. We didn't spring Tofurky on the crew. We thought of ways we could make old favorites with organic and local ingredients. We decided to reduce the amount of butter and salt in recipes and use natural sweeteners like honey. This year we're adding a homemade Green Bean Casserole (instead of that canned soup kind) and adding our new fave, Banana-Pumpkin Muffins (a greater starter or dessert that uses no sugar at all!)

There's no convincing Ericlee's mom at this point that we don't need two turkeys. Maybe next year? In the meantime, we're dreaming up healthy leftovers with that excess of bird!

This year's menu:

Gorgonzola & Pear Pizza
Whole Wheat Crescent Rolls
Banana-Pumpkin Muffins
Dorina's Butternut Squash Soup

Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Classic Roasted Turkey with Herbed Stuffing
Paul's Teriyaki-injected Turkey
Wild Rice & Goat Cheese Stuffing
Mashed Pecan-crusted Sweet Potatoes
Pomegranate-pear Cranberry Sauce

Pumpkin Tiramisu
Oatmeal-Nut Crunch Apple Pie
Blueberry pie with Oatmeal crunch with Honey Whipped Cream
Organic Italian Pizzelle Cookies

We're interested in a word from you. What healthy additions or subtractions do you have for your menu this year? What questions do you have about how to make a healthier Thanksgiving meal?


Lip-Smackin' Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey-Lime Soup with Quesadillas

If you're anything like me, you're dreaming about turkey leftovers even before you get to the real Thanksgiving feast. I decided to post my fave recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers so you could get the extra ingredients when you make your rounds to the grocery store before the holiday. Are you in the mood for something to warm up your cold winter day? I created this recipe using ingredients we had in the pantry/fridge after Thanksgiving. Haven't you always wondered what to do with that turkey carcass? Here's a way to use it! This one would even work in the crockpot. Enjoy!

Turkey-Lime Soup
inspired by Chicken-Lime Tortilla Soup served in the Yucatan

Turkey Stock ingredients: (Or skip the stock and just add boxed organic chicken broth)
1 turkey carcass
8 cups water
2 cups chopped celery
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Soup Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
turkey stock (or 2 quarts organic chicken broth)
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 diced red bell pepper
1 29 oz. can organic diced tomatoes (or use fresh ones if they are available and in season)
2 cups chopped turkey
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 thinly sliced limes
2 cups chopped turkey
1 diced jalapeno or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/4 cup cilantro (garnish)
tortilla strips or chips (garnish)

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
2. Simmer 2-3 hours until meat falls off bone and vegetables are soft.
3. Strain broth as a starter for soup and discard bones, etc.

1. Saute onion, celery, carrot and garlic in olive oil.
2. Meanwhile, dice red pepper and prepare limes.
3. Set burner to medium-high heat. Heat broth in large pot. Add tomatoes and lime peel and juice.
4. Add sauteed vegetables and red pepper.
5. Add turkey and boil for 5 minutes.
6. Reduce to a simmer and add the jalapeno/red pepper flakes.
7. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Add lime slices.
8. Serve with cilantro or sauteed tortilla strips on top.

This soup goes great with quesadillas for lunch or tacos for dinner. A wonderful winter treat!


Recipe of the Week: Harvest Apple Salad

Here's an easy Apple Salad recipe I created the other morning. I started off with a Classic Waldorf Salad recipe but decided to add a healthy twist with some ingredients I had at home. The yogurt and honey replace the mayonnaise and give this salad a fresh taste. This is perfect to add to a brunch menu or for a side at lunch or dinner for your Thanksgiving guests. Apples are in abundance at local farm stands here in Fresno so we've been gobbling them up!


4 apples (I like Pink Ladies and the classic green cooking apples)
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped (could use walnut pieces)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup plain yogurt

1. Chop apples and mix with lemon juice and vinegar.
2. Chop celery, nuts and green onions and add to apples.
3. Add pumpkin seeds and cranberries and mix in.
4. Mix honey and yogurt and drizzle over salad mixture.
5. Mix well and serve or chill.


Recipes of the Week: Persimmon Party

Wondering what to do with all those extra persimmons? Have you seen this elusive orange fruit in the grocery store or at the farmer's market and wondered how to employ it in your favorite dishes. According to Eating Well magazine, persimmons provide half the Vitamin C and one quarter the fiber we need daily. The "fuyu" persimmon is like an orange, squatty tomato and firm when ripe. These are great in place of apples or pears in your fave dishes. The "hachiya" persimmon is the acorn-shaped variety that becomes mushy to the touch when ripe and can be squeezed out to use in smoothies or for baked goods like cookies and breads. Here are some of our recipes using the persimmon. (Please share some of your creative uses for the persimmon!)

Baby Greens Salad with Fuyu Persimmons

1 package mixed baby greens or fresh organic greens of your choice
2 thinly sliced fuyu persimmons
1 thinly sliced small red onion
1 container 4 oz. feta cheese or goat cheese

1. Arrange salad in a bowl.
2. Make dressing. Easy Dressing: Add 3/4 salad oil to a small mason jar.
3. Mix in 1 T. apple juice, 1 t. lime juice and 1 t. mixed herbs (1/4 t. basil, 1/4 t. oregano, 1/4 t. rosemary, 1/4 t. mint)
4. Shake jar and pour over salad.

Baked Salmon with persimmon salsa

1 large-2 medium salmon fillets

sea salt & pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper


1 red onion

1 red or yellow pepper

1 orange

1 cup fuyu persimmon

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

1/2 jalapeno or pepper of your choice, depending on how much heat you want

1. Coat 1 large salmon fillet big enough for your family with olive oil. (We get it from Costco or Trader Joe's - You can substitute in the kind of fish of your choice. Mahi mahi is another one of our faves.)

2. Sprinkle with sea salt & pepper

3. Rub on mix of herbs, such as basil, oregano, coriander, garlic, lemon pepper and/or chili pepper.

4. Let salmon sit in a dish or on a platter and prepare the salsa in a small bowl.

5. Chop 1 red onion, 1 red or yellow pepper, 1 orange, 1 cup fuyu persimmon, 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro and 1/2 jalapeno (or pepper of choice) finely minced. Make sure everything is in bite-sized pieces or smaller and stir together.

6. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. (You can make this salsa ahead of time and reserve in ziplock bag)6. Grill the salmon approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on your grill and the size of your fillet. Watch for when the white fat juices start to ooze out the top and the salmon meat is flaky at the touch of a fork. Then it's done. You only need to grill on one side.

7. Top with persimmon salsa and serve with rice or potatoes or other favorite side.

Persimmon & Honey Cookies


1/2 cup butter, organic softened
3/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or other flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup persimmon pulp (2-3 soft & peeled)

1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup semi-sweet or carob-sweetened chocolate chips, optional

1. Cream together butter & honey.
2. Beat in egg.
3. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter mixture.
4. Stir in nuts, raisins and chocolate chips.
5. Lightly grease cookie sheet and drop tablespoons full onto sheet.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown on top.


November Healthy Menus

Looking for ideas for some homecooked meals with a healthy twist you can whip up for your family? This month's menus include some of the fall produce like persimmons, pomegranates, apples and greens. Try adding ground flaxseed to comfort foods like casseroles, stews and soups for that extra dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Dried cranberries are also a rich source of antioxidants for fighting colds and flus. Grab a handful for a snack. Add them to chicken salad for lunch. Or, try sprinkling them over a green salad.

Novebmer 16-22

Italian Wedding Soup
Corn Bread
Green salad with tomatoes, radishes, carrots and cucumbers

Green salad with persimmon, feta and pecans
Broccoli Mac & Cheese with Turkey Bacon
Leftover Soup

Salmon with Persimmon salsa
Black Wild Rice pilaf
Sauteed Chard

Guacamole & Organic tortilla chips
Black bean enchiladas with Green tomatillo sauce
Brown rice

Chili Pizazz
Cheesy whole wheat biscuits
Persimmon & Honey Cookies

Baby greens salad with black olives, cherry tomatoes & Parmesan cheese
Spinach ravioli with Alfredo sauce
Foccocia bread

Luscious Leftovers

November 9 - 15

Salmon with Pepita-Lime Butter
Brown rice
Steamed carrots

Baby Greens salad with tomatoes and black olives
Veggie Ratatouille Pasta

Waldorf salad
Giada's Winter minestrone soup (We subsitute turkey bacon for the pancetta.)
Rosemary bread

More-Please Meatloaf
Mashed sweet potatoes
Broccoli salad

Dorina's Killer Guacamole with organic tortilla chips
Chicken Fajitas with Persimmon salsa
Black Beans
Brown Rice

Small Group Dinner:
Green Salad
Chicken Cacciatore
Whole Wheat Pasta

Luscious Leftovers

November 2 - 8

White Bean & Chicken Chili
Organic tortilla chips with cheese

Honey-teriyaki Chicken
Millet Fried Rice
Sauteed Bok Choy

Deep Dish Potato & Pumpkin Pie
Green Salad with Feta & Fuyu Persimmons

Crockpot Beef & barley stew

Cross Country League Champs
Dinner out with Team

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup
Stir-fried Veggies
Jasmine Rice
Thai-spiced Salmon

Taste of Friendship event:
Spinach-stuffed Manicotti Shells
with Marinara Meat Sauce
Baby greens salad with feta, walnuts & dried cranberries


Recipe of the Week: Harvest Banana-pumpkin Cupcakes with Honey-cream Cheese Frosting

If you're looking for a fun activity to do with your family for Halloween or Thanksgiving, try these healthy-yummy cupcakes and decorate them together. Serve them up for a boo-tiful addition to your harvest party. This recipe also makes great mini loaves that you can wrap in foil and tie with a ribbon for a holiday Housewarming gift or serve at your Thanksgiving brunch.

Halloween Banana-Pumpkin Cupcakes
with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting

3 cups flour (I use 1 cup unbleached white and 2 cups whole wheat or spelt)
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon flaxseed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15-oz. can pumpkin (100% pure)*
4 large eggs
1 cup honey or 1 1/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 medium mashed bananas
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 bag chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1 8-oz package cream cheese
1/4 cup honey (or until consistency you like)

1/2 bag chocolate chips
chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (They sell them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's and they're a great alternative to M&Ms with no harmful dyes!)
mint leaves for the green pumpkin stem

Makes 24 muffins + 3 mini loaves or 2 large loaves (cook 1 hour).

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 muffin tins or use paper cups.
2. Mix eggs, butter, honey/sugar, pumpkin and banana.
3. Mix in dry ingredients.
4. Add chocolate chips & nuts. Do not overmix.
5. Pour into loaf pans and bake 25-30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Cool completely on rack. Meanwhile, add softened cream cheese to mixer. Blend until smooth. Add a bit of honey to the consistency you want for your frosting - not too runny.
7. Frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish with chocolate-covered sunflower seeds or remaining chocolate chips used to make jack-o-lantern faces. Mint leaves make fun all-natural pumpkin stems. (We skip the frosting for the mini loaves so they keep longer.)

*If you'd like to use real pumpkin, check out this technique.

Recipe of the Week: Squash & Corn Chowder

I was perusing some of my old Bon Appetit magazines the other day and I came across this recipe. I like to save my mags according to the seasons and return to them for ideas when new produce comes into our local farmer's market. This chowder recipe showcases butternut squash and corn so I thought I'd try it with a few of my own twists.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2003 issue

Fall Squash & Corn Chowder

10 slices turkey bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons organic butter
3 medium onions, chopped (I used 2 yelllow & 1 red)
2 chopped bell peppers (red, yellow or green work)
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
9 cups chicken broth
4 cups 1/2-inch cubed, peeled, seeded butternut squash (You can use a whole squash measuring about 1 3/4 pounds or get the prepeeled, seeded & cubed packages of squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe's)
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons oregano (original recipe calls for thyme)
2 16-oz. bags frozen corn or 4 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup whipping cream or plain yogurt
2 chicken breasts, boiled/heated in crockpot & cubed (or you can save time and buy a rotiserrie chicken & shred)
1 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1. Cook bacon pieces in large pot until crisp. (If using regular bacon, pour out some of drippings.) Set aside.
2. Add butter to pot and melt.
3. Add onions and 1 of chopped bell peppers. Saute until onions and peppers are soft.
4. Add flour; stir 2 minutes.
5. Mix in broth, squash potatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
6. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until veggies are tender (approx. 12 minutes).
7. Add corn, cream/plain yogurt, remaining bell peppers and simmer additional 10 minutes.
8. Add chicken, turkey bacon, green onions, 1/2 cup cilantro; Simmer 5 minutes.
9. Add salt & pepper.
10. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with extra green onions.

Serves 10-12

Side suggestions: Honey Cornbread Muffins

Here's another Fall squash recipe with that comfort food feel...
My friend Allison served this one at a recent dinner and it was a hit. Here's a great way to get your family to eat a hearty vegetarian meal. None of us missed the meat and you can substitute in whatever vegetables you have on hand.


October Menus

Balsamic-marinated tomato salad with basil
Flat bread pizzas with turkey pepperoni, green peppers & black olives

Eggplant Parmesan
Tomato Meat Sauce

Organic tortilla chips & salsa
Taco Salad with ground turkey, cheddar, cilantro

Sesame Chicken Wings
Brown Rice
Sauteed Bok Choy

Lemon-herb Salmon
Baked Maple Acorn Squash

fri - Happy Halloween!
Green salad with green apples, pecans & goat cheese
Pumpkin Penne Pasta
Chicken sausage

Luscious Leftovers

This week's fall menus include some of the new harvest vegetables from our local farmer's market, including eggplant, pomegranates, fuyu persimmons and a fat butternut squash I found. I love the color of fall vegetables and fruits mixed with the rich food aromas produced by braised lamb and curry dishes.

Chicken & Corn Chowder
Honey Corn Bread Muffins
Green Salad

Maple-Pecan Halibut
Mushroom Risotto
Green salad with fresh wax beans & cherry tomatoes

Pomegranate-Spiced Lamb
Israeli Couscous
Butternut Squash

Baby greens salad with fuyu persimmons & goat cheese
White Bean and Chicken Chili
Crusty Whole Wheat Bread

Eggplant Curry with Cilantro Yogurt
Basmati Rice
Multigrain Naan

Lombardi's Italian restaurant
in Paso Robles
on the road to the Central Coast

Brad's Seafood restaurant
Pismo Beach

One of my fave parts of fall are all the comfort foods like soups, chilis and baked entrees. This week we're bringing out a french fave - chicken cordon bleu, and an Italian standby - stuffed manicotti. Add Asian pears or apples to your salads or desserts now that they are appearing at the farmer's markets. Savor those crisp fall flavors!

Chicken Sausage Jambalaya
Brown Rice

Baby greens salad with Walnuts, Asian pears & Goat Cheese
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Sweet potato spoon bread

Salad with Cherry tomatoes, black olives & parmesan cheese
Spinach-stuffed manicotti
Whole wheat Italian bread

(Small Group)
Honey-Apple-Date Galette

Wheat Berry Salad
Vegetarian pizza with Zucchini, Red & Yellow Peppers, Feta

Pecan-crusted Chicken Dinner Salad
Maple Roasted Acorn Squash
Sliced Fruit

Luscious Leftovers

We're on the border of late summer sun and cooler fall temperatures. We still see an abundance of fresh produce at our farmer's market - plenty of plums, pluots, tomatoes, etc. - but some new "fall finds" are appearing as well like bok choy, apples and persimmons. This week our family has several outings where food is prepared for us. That means making smart choices. It's all about moderation when you're eating on the road. And the real dilemma...how to eat healthy and still have fun at the Fresno Fair...we'll skip the deep-fried twinkies.

(Ocktoberfest Picnic)

Chicken Fajitas on Whole Wheat Tortillas
Organic tortilla chips with Salsa
Rice & Beans

Caesar salad
Gnocchi with Tomato Meat Sauce
Crusty whole wheat bread

Green Salad with Cherry tomatoes & cucumbers
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Sweet potato spoon bread

Lemon-Herb Tilapia
Sauteed summer squash

(Big Fresno Fair)
Chicken Kebob
Cinnamon Roll

(Cooking Club: Whole grains & Beans Bonanza)
Sundried tomato & white bean crostini
Wheat berry salad
Crispy white beans with Spinach
Crockpot tri-tip
Dairyless Chocolate Mouse
Dorina's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies


Recipe of the Week: Moist & Dark Zucchini Muffins

I grew up on Zucchini Bread. Zucchini was in abundance even in our small city garden in Chicago throughout the summer and fall. It's one of those yummy dessert-meets-breakfast or really anytime-of-the-day snacks. Over the last year, I've been experimenting with different kinds of natural sweeteners in an effort to avoid the overprocessed white sugar so often used in baking. I took my mom's classic Moist & Dark Zucchini Bread and put a healthy spin on it. Make it as a quick bread, 4 mini loaves (which make nice housewarming gifts) or 24 regular-sized muffins.

Moist & Dark Zucchini Muffins (or Bread)

3 eggs
1/2 plain yogurt
1/2 cup organic butter, softened
1 cup rapadura or coconut palm sugar (a natural sweetener like sugar that's unrefined & unbleached - Find it at Whole Foods or other stores or substitute in an additional 3/4 honey)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur's or other brand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups zucchini, grated

Garnishes: Chopped nuts, Chocolate chips, Dried cranberries, Chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (found at Trader Joe's), 1 cup ready-made granola, unsweetened coconut.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs.

2. Stir in yogurt, softened butter, rapadura, honey, and vanilla.

3. Blend in dry ingredients and spices.

4. Fold in zucchini.

5. Spoon in greased muffin tins (or use paper cups) or other loaf pans.

6. Sprinkle with garnish of choice.

7. Bake muffins approximately 25-30 minutes, mini loaves for approximately 35-45 minutes, full loaf (9x15) for 55 minutes -1 hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.


Recipe of the Week: Fall Butternut Squash Soup

Looking for something that showcases all those great fall flavors. Try this recipe for a vegetarian main dish or healthy side. It's our tradition for starting out our Thanksgiving meal. You could use it for a Pumpkin or Harvest party or your next Fall Soiree. Enjoy!


1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil or organic butter
2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed (or Trader Joe's does it for you if you don't have time - check out the fresh stuff in the refrigerated section!)
2 tart granny smith apples, grated
1 cup celery, chopped
3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)
2 large boxes (organic) chicken broth (about 50 oz.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish
1/4 cup cream, for garnish

1. Add olive oil or melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 min. until soft.
2. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft.
3. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min.
4. Puree soup using immersion blender or food processor.
5. Serve with cornbread muffins, crescent rolls or other hearty bread.

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.


Cooking Club: Whole Grains & Beans Bonanza

This month's Cooking Club ladies had fun trying out some new experimental "super natural" foods. In other words, we looked for yummy-looking recipes that included whole grains and beans of all varieties. Paula through a tri-tip in her crock pot and the main entree was taken care of while the rest of us worked on the sides and salad.


-White Bean-Sun dried Tomato Crostini
-Edamame Hummus and Pita Chips
-Wheat Berry Salad
-Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens
-Crock pot Tri-tip
-Chocolate Dairyless Mousse

Here are some of our faves from the Cooking Club experiment...

White Bean-Sun dried Tomato Crostini
Adapted from Holiday Theme Parties cookbook


1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

18-20 slices whole wheat French baguette

Chopped fresh parsley

1. Combine beans, vinegar, oil and garlic in blender or food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a small bowl.

2. Stir in tomatoes, salt, oregano, and pepper.

3. Cover bean spread and chill at least 1 hour to let flavors blend.

4. Toast French bread under broiler.

5. Spread bean spread on each slice of toast.

6. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Makes 18-20 appetizers.

Wheat Berry Salad
from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed
6 cups water
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 generous handfuls spinach, stemmed and well rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Salt & freshly-ground pepper

1. Combine the wheat berries, water, and 2 teaspoons salt in large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. (The berries should stay at al dente, and the only way to be sure they're done is to taste a few.) Drain and season to taste with more salt.

2. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts by placing them in a single layer over medium heat. Toss them around every few minutes until fragrant and toasty. Don't walk away or you will burn the batch.

3. Dressing: Combine the orange zest, juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach and pine nuts, citrus dressing, then top with the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.

Serves 6.

Dairyless Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
12 oz. silken soft tofu
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract, optional
Fine-grain sea salt

1. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer.
2. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, in a double boiler (or in a glass bowl over a small pot of boiling water).
4. Add the warm soy milk and silken tofu to the chocolate.
5. Puree with a hand blender or transfer to a food processor and process until silky smooth.
6. Stir in almond extract (if desired) and a generous pinch of sea salt.
7. Taste and adjust the flavoring as desired.
8. Chill in a large serving bowl or individual bowls for at least 1 1/2 hours.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Pancakes

When the crisp temperatures of fall and the colored leaves appear, so do pumpkins and other kinds of squash. In addition to putting them in all different recipes, we love to use them for decoration and craft projects at our house. Pumpkin also happens to be one of those awesome power foods. Pumpkin is high in fiber and iron. It's a beta-carotene king which protects against cancer of the esophagus, lungs, stomach.


1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
2 cups raw milk or buttermilk (even plain yogurt will work)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups pumpkin pureed/ 1 15-oz. can pumpkin (organic)

maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Melt butter in the skillet you plan to use for your pancakes. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, beat eggs and milk.
3. Add flours (feel free to mix different flours as you desire), baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. *Note: If you are using whole wheat flour or spelt, you may want to add more liquid to the batter. Different flours thicken up this batter differently.
4. Blend well. Add pumpkin puree.
5. Pour or spoon batter onto griddle/skillet. Flip when little bubble form on top of pancakes (2-3 minutes).

6. Transfer to a plate and serve with maple syrup and chopped nuts sprinkled on top.

**I love experimenting with squash. Here are some other recipes I've created that use different types of squash. Do you have a favorite fall squash recipe? Please share about it in the comments section!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Banana-pumpkin Mini Loaves or Cake
Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup


Gilmores celebrate National Health & Fitness Day

Did you know Saturday was National Health & Fitness Day? We celebrated by going on a 2.5-mile walk with my mom. Actually, we invited all the Fresno Christian Schools staff but not too many showed up. We need to work to publicize it a little better next year - maybe even invite the whole school. We started at the Jamba Juice at the corner of Shepherd and Cedar. We took the walking/running path toward Woodward Park and then circled back. We enjoyed our walk with Nana Maria (also a Fresno Christian 5th grade teacher). This was a great time to catch up and get the blood flowing Dorina's prego legs...
Meilani and Dorina's favorite part of the day was the finish at Jamba Juice. We shared the Peach Perfection 100% Fruit smoothie and even scored lunch at ZPizza a cool new healthy pizza & pasta place next door. Chicken Penne with Pesto sauce and flat bread: Yummy!


Recipe of the Week: Dorina's Tortilla Soup

Something about fall makes me start craving hearty soups and stews. This is my version of a corn tortilla soup that's been a favorite of our family through the years. We've passed on the recipe to many other families and it seems to be a universal fave. This tortilla soup is a thicker pureed version compared to what a lot of restaurants serve.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 organic boneless chicken breasts,
1/2 jalapeno, minced (1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
6 organic corn tortillas (7”)
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups fresh sweet corn (or 2 - 16 oz. cans of organic white corn or 1 package frozen organic sweet corn)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 - 28 oz. can chopped organic tomatoes)
1/3 cup organic tomato paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper
2 cups water
1 quart organic chicken stock

Sour cream
Blue corn tortilla chips or 5 corn tortillas cut in strips
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-type pot. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with minced jalapeno or crushed red pepper. Sauté in in pot.
2. Chop onion. Add to pot and sauté until onions are translucent.
3. Meanwhile, add three tablespoons oil to a large frying pan. Cut tortillas into one-inch strips. Brown tortilla strips in pan. (Reserve half the strips on a plate for garnish if desired.) Add other half of tortilla strips to the soup pot.
4. Add garlic and jalapenos/red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) to soup pot. Add two cups corn and 5 chopped tomatoes to pot. Mix.
5. Add spices: cumin, salt, black pepper and chili pepper. Add tomato paste.
6. Finally, add 2 cups water and 1 quart chicken stock. Stir ingredients together well.
7. Bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (or transferring to regular blender) and puree the soup. (You can skip this step if you prefer a chunky soup.)
8. Allow soup to continue cooking at a low heat for 10 minutes. Continue to puree until large chunks of chicken and tomatoes are blended into the soup.
9. At this point, you can decide about the consistency. If you like a thicker soup, leave as is and allow to cook longer. If you want to thin out the soup add 1/2 cup water until you are satisfied with the consistency.
10. Add two remaining cups of corn to pot and serve.
11. Put garnishes in separate bowls. Allow your guest or family to add garnish their soup themselves for fun or you can do it and wow them with the presentation.


Menu Planner: September

If you're anything like me, the end of the month means digging in the fridge and freezer to see what's left that I can use. I actually love this opportunity to be creative until the next paycheck comes. Suppliment your meals with some inexpensive garden or farmer's market deals. This week I'm using up our yellow squash from the garden, some carrots I found in the bottom of the fridge, and some of the hearty grains I have in the freezer like barley. Let your crockpot be your friend this week and try out a few new things!

**(Please share your comments if you have ideas you use to spruce up your family's end-of-the-month meals.)

This week's menus:

Week #4

Crockpot tri-tip
Mushroom risotto
Spinach salad with broccoli & carrots

Coconut Curry Chicken (at Stacie & Forest's house!)
Basmati Rice

Dorina's Tortilla Soup
Taco salad with cheese, beans & avocado

Luscious Leftovers = Beef & Barley Stew

Spinach ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Chicken sausage & Sauteed squash
Homemade Whole Wheat Honey Bread

tri-tip sandwiches

Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs
Leftover rice
Zuchinni & Yellow pepper stir fry

Week #3

Teriyaki Burgers
Steamed Broccoli
Sliced Cantaloupe

Peanut Chicken Satay Skewers
Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas
Brown rice

Butternut squash lasagna
Caesar Salad
Whole Wheat sourdough bread

Cumin Honey Grilled Lamb
Brussel sprouts with Walnut-Lemon Vinaigerette
Bulgar pilaf

Grilled salmon
Walnut pesto pasta with yellow squash
Baby Greens salad with goat cheese & grilled peaches

Feta-Chicken Pizza
No-Pudge Peanut Butter Brownies

Luscious Leftovers

Week #2:

Baked Coconut Fish
Brown Rice
Macaroni Salad
Pineapple Cheesecake

Salad greens with parmesan, olives, tomatoes
Organic Spinach Ravioli (new at Costco)
served with Alfredo sauce, chicken sausage and squash
Crusty Whole wheat bread

Rice Chips & Guacamole
Green enchiladas topped with cheese
Refried beans
Mexican rice

Luscious Leftovers*

Chik-Fil-A opens in Fresno!
Check it out & get a free chicken sandwich
or healthy kids' meal...

Cindy's Famous Meatloaf
Smashed Potatoes
Steamed broccoli

Garden Bounty Vegetable Soup
Homemade Whole Grain Bread
Baby Greens salad with avocado, corn and cherry tomatoes

Week #1:

Eggplant parmesan
Whole wheat bread
Green salad with fresh tomatoes and feta cheese

Crockpot Italian Beef Sandwiches
with Green peppers & onions

Grilled honey-teriyaki chicken
Brown rice
Breaded zucchini spears

Simple Summer Pasta
with Cherry tomatoes, olives and Fresh Mozarella
(Chicken Sausage)

Mahi Mahi Tacos
with Cabbage slaw &
Tropical salsa
Brown rice & black beans

Vegetarian pizza
Peach Berry Crisp with
Vanilla Ice Cream

Grilled Turkey-feta burgers
on Whole Wheat buns
with Fresh lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese
Fruit Salad


Recipe of the Week: Cindy's Inspired Meatloaf

When even a touch of cooler weather hits, it triggers that desire for comfort food. I decided to try out an American classic that we've never really made before in our house. (Ok, I made it once the first year we were married and Ericlee didn't like the recipe and told me so. I've never made it since!) My best friend Cindy in Florida made us this scrumptious meatloaf a few months ago and it rekindled all of our love for the classic main dish. The crispy edges and lean meat had us all digging in the pan (and later the fridge) for more. Of course, Cindy cooks like me. She looks in her cupboard and fridge and makes it up. She sent me a list of random ingredients she *sometimes* uses for the meatloaf. I made it into a recipe. Our family loved it and gobbled it up in no time. Here's a great way to get some veggies and whole grains into your family without them noticing. Feel free to experiment and make it your own recipe.

"More Please" Meatloaf

1 pound lean, organic meat (look for the leanest you can find!)
5 eggs
1/3 cup Trader Joe's Smoky All-Natural BBq Sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 large or 1 small red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup wheatgrass, oat bran, bulgar or other grain of choice (optional)
olive oil spray

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray olive oil in 1 loaf pan.
3. In a large bowl, beat eggs.
4. Add spices and veggies to bowl.
5. Blend together mixture with meat, using fingers.
6. Add wheatgrass and BBQ sauce. (The mixture will be very wet)
7. Plop into loaf pan and pat evenly. Cook approximately 1 hour or until edges are crispy brown.
8. Serve with more BBQ on the side for those who like to slather it on.

Makes 1 loaf, serves 4.

Suggested sides: Mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, spinach salad with peaches and goat cheese


Field Trip: Whole Foods brings Local and Organic options to our doorstep

We joined a Mothering & Play Group with some local moms (lots of our friends). On Fridays, we take the kiddos on field trips. Last Friday we went on an educational tour of Whole Foods Market, a national all-natural food chain. We have one a mile from our house and we wanted to explore what they had in the way of affordable healthy foods. The kids couldn't wait to get inside!

Admittedly, the coolest thing about our tour was the SAMPLES we were served in every department of the store. We started off with fresh, locally-grown, organic raspberries. Meilani was a big fan! The produce at Whole Foods is a mix of locally-grown conventional stuff and all-organic. They are very intentional about where they buy produce from and presenting the best quality to customers for maximum taste. This section in particular is pristine and inviting with all the colors of the fruits and vegetables.

One cool fact we found out is the bananas at Whole Foods are from Earth University in Costa Rica. I was really excited about this because I visited Earth University during my semester in Costa Rica in college. It's a cutting-edge place where they are reaching out doing community development and growing and selling fruit. They reach out to women particularly and help them build small businesses through a microloan program subsidized by their organic banana production. Pretty cool!

Next stop: the seafood department. Our guide let the kids touch a real crab and we oohed and ahhed over the prepared salmon cakes and homemade clam chowder. Then on to the Meat department to hear about all the range-free and hormone free beef, lamb, pork and poultry. The guy did joke about the prices telling us that some people call Whole Foods the "whole paycheck" store. That might not be entirely true if you know where the bargains are but you will pay a pretty penny for this high-quality meat.

After sampling soy milk, cheese and artisan olives, we ventured into the "prepared foods" section of Whole Foods. This is a healthy food mecca for people who don't like to cook. They have everything from freshly-prepared sushi to deli sandwiches. They served up slices of pizza made in their special brick oven for our tour group of little ones. Bon appetit!

We also went to the bakery with all its impressive fancy cakes and cream puffs. We sampled organic cookies. We also learned about Whole Foods open package policy. Because they have so many unique and special products, shoppers can ask any clerk to open a package and give them a taste. Unbelievable! We ended up in the cosmetic department (my fave) with all their paraben-free lotions and make-up. I scored some sparkly eye shadow and nail polish. We also went home with free samples of Barney Butter (almond butter) and organic soaps. Whole Foods wholly spoiled us!

Journey note:
We go to Whole Foods now about twice a month for specialty produce items, inexpensive staples (especially their coupon deals or 365 brand) and baking supplies (all kinds of natural sweeteners and whole grain flours). We love the prepared food section but we only can afford it if we have a special gift certificate. Looking for a great lunch date? Check out Whole Foods cafe area. They serve up awesome homemade soups and breads daily.


Cooking Club: Hawaiian BBQ Menu

Tonight we hosted our monthly Cooking Club. Since the temperatures still soar in the 90s here in Fresno but the evenings are pleasant and cool, we decided to host a Hawaiian Luau Barbeque on our patio. Move over L&L Barbeque! We decided to pick some healthy versions of the classic luau recipes. Here's the menu and recipes we featured. A-LO-HA!

Hawaiian Luau Menu:

Chips with Peach Salsa
Tropical Smoothies
Macaroni Salad with a Healthy Twist
Hawaiian Sweet Bread
Grilled Chinese Chicken Wings Appetizer
Coconut Baked Fish
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Tropical Salsa
Sweet Potato (Piele) Casserole
Pineapple Haupia Cheesecake

Chinese Chicken Wings
-2 teaspoons garlic powder
-2 green onions, chopped
-1/4 cup soy sauce
-1 tablespoon white wine
-1/2 cup water
-1/2 cup honey
-12 chicken wings (hormone free, cage free)

1. Combine all ingredients except chicken wings as a marinade. Whisk together in 9x13 pan.
2. Add chicken wings. Allow to marinade minimum 1 hour.
3. Grill and serve.

Coconut Baked Fish
(Adapted from A LITTLE HAWAIIAN COOKBOOK by Kelly Malone)
-4 tilapia or other white fish fillets
-1 small onion, peeled and cut in wedges
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-2 tomatoes skinned, de-seeded and diced
-1 red bell pepper, chopped
-1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1 pinch dried chili pepper flakes (to taste)
-salt & pepper
-1 1/2 cups coconut milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a 9x13 baking dish, arrange the fish in a single layer.
3. Saute the onion in the olive oil until transparent.
4. Add tomatoes and red pepper to saute. Continue sauteing for additional 5 minutes.
5. Add coconut milk and heat until just warm.
6. Pour the coconut-vegetable mixture over the fish.
7. Cover dish and bake 20-30 minutes until fish is flaky.
8. Serve over rice.

Hawaiian Sweet Potato Casserole
(Adapted from A LITTLE HAWAIIAN COOKBOOK by Kelly Malone)
-1 tablespoon butter
-4 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
-4 bananas, peeled and sliced
-4 apples, cored, peeled and sliced into rings
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
-1/2 cup rum
-2 tablespoons mint, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease large casserole dish with butter.
3. Boil sliced sweet potatoes for approximately 5 minutes.
4. Layer sweet potatoes, bananas and apples.
5. In a small bowl, blend coconut milk, brandy and mint. Pour over casserole.
6. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes.
7. Uncover dish for 10 minutes and allow to brown.

Dorina’s Grilled Mahi Mahi with Tropical Salsa
-4 fillets mahi mahi fish
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon pepper
-olive oil spray
-1/2 red onion, chopped
-1 cup mango, chopped
-1 cup pineapple, chopped
-1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
-1 pinch red pepper flakes (to taste)

1. Sprinkle fish fillets with salt and pepper.
2. Spray grill with olive oil spray.
3. Grill fish fillets for approximately 12-15 minutes until flaky.
4. Meanwhile, assemble salsa.
5. Top fish with salsa and serve.


Recipe of the Week: Chocolate Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies

Ok, friends. I know some of you have been begging me for this recipe. I've been on a quest for a long time for a "healthy" but yummy cookie. I think I found one - at least one that passes our family's chewy, chocolatey, yummy test. I have to give a nod to my friend Lisa Pearmain from Arizona who inspired this recipe. She served up her own version this summer. I've doctored it a bit to make it with a healthy twist.

1 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups quick or old fashioned oats uncooked
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup organic raw brown sugar
1 slightly beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup organic canned pumpkin (found in baking section of market)
1 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
3. Mix butter and yogurt then gradually brown sugar.
4. Add egg and vanilla, mixing well.
5. Mix in pumpkin and then stir in chocolate chips.
6. Bake 18-20 minutes or until cookies are firm and lightly browned. Cool then eat or store!

Note: Makes about 3 dozen cookies if you use heaping teaspoon size dough. I double the recipe because one can 15-ounce pumpkin has 2 cups as does a package of chocolate chips. Not to mention, these cookies go fast. Enjoy!


Pregnancy: Trying for Healthy in the First Trimester

By Dorina Gilmore

We have a new healthy challenge in our family. This summer I found out I am pregnant with our second child. We are thrilled. Of course, the beginning of pregnancy never thrills me. For all you mamas out there who have experienced pregnancy before, you know that the first trimester can be a bear. I'm one of the blessed types that feels nauseated all day long for my first trimester - not just for that proverbial morning sickness. Let's just say it was a struggle to keep any food down.

That said, eating is key throughout pregnancy. I don't believe the people who say, "Eat what you want!" During my first pregnancy, I took those secret trips to Taco Bell and ate lots of ice cream. I thought it didn't matter. Now that I'm pregnant for a second time I want to work hard to eat good stuff. I truly believe that walnuts (good omega-3s) are going to make my baby smarter. I've done the research and I know that organic strawberries and blueberries (Vitamin C) are going to build good antibodies. I know oatmeal can help with milk supply for nursing mamas. In short, it does matter what you eat. I'm convinced.

Am I perfect? No way. In those first three months, pounding kale and spinach was not really high up on my list even though I knew the health benefits. My husband suggested salad and I felt like barfing. True confession time: I have to admit I did order a Little Caesar's pepperoni pizza and ate off it for 3 days. Everything else sounded and looked disgusting. Thank God, I made it through that phase.

After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, my husband and I went shopping and started the quest for healthy pregnancy mini-meals. News flash: Pregnancy is time to snack. I can never stomach a full-on meal without feeling the affects of heartburn, indigestion or worse. We decided it was time to find the stuff in the supermarket that looked really good to me and was really healthy for me and our baby.

Here are some ideas...

-Sliced peaches & cottage cheese
-Organic pretzels
-Organic Z-bars or Odwalla bars (always keep a stash in my purse)
-Hummus on pita bread
-Apple slices with peanut butter
-Nuts & raisins/other dried fruit (always keep a stash in the car)
-Mini bagel with cheese or almond butter
-Oatmeal Cookies packed with raisins and dark chocolate and other good stuff
-Kashi cheese crackers
-Organic yogurt
-Dark chocolate-covered frozen bananas
-Egg & cheese burritos

I'd love to hear from you. Any suggestions for great pregnancy snacks or what I call mini-meals? Let's encourage each other on this journey. Daddies, you can help too! I'm on to the second trimester now and I'm reveling in the idea of eating again!


Recipe of the Week: Simple Summer Pasta

Move over Rachael Ray. We've got a new 20-minute meal that's healthy and doesn't have 20 ingredients. This easy-to-whip-up whole wheat pasta dish makes use of fresh produce from the garden or farmer's market. We liked this vegetarian version but you could always add an Italian Chicken Sausage or other organic meat of your choice. Serve it with a nice loaf of crusty wheat bread and a glass of berry lemonade or white wine. It's a perfect end-of-summer patio meal.

Buon Appetito!

-1 package whole wheat penne or other pasta
-2 cups cherry tomatoes
-1 can black olives, sliced
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1 8-oz container fresh ovaline mozarella, cubed
-10 fresh basil leaves
-salt & pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package. Be sure not to overcook the pasta. Go for al dente, not mushy.
2. While hot, stir in olive oil, tomatoes and black olives.
3. Add mozarella cheese cubes (and bite-sized pieces of sausage if desired).
4. Rip up basil leaves with fingers and sprinkl on top.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. (My hubby also likes it with those red pepper flakes that people often use on pizza.)
6. Serve.


Book Review: The pH Miracle

Written by Robert O. Young, Ph.D., and Shelley Redford Young
Reviewed by Ericlee Gilmore

I read a fascinating book this summer about the pH scale of the human body and what happens when it is not balanced. All humans have a pH scale from 1-14 in the blood and tissues. The pH reflects the concentration of hydrogen ions. Similar to a swimming pool, our bodies do everything possible to keep the pH scale balanced at 7.4. If it goes above 7.4 it is too acidic or if it goes below 7.4 it is too alkaline. If the blood or tissue pH deviates too far to the acid side, oxygen levels decrease and cellular metabolism will stop. In other words if cells, die then the human body will die. That definitely made me keep reading so I could understand the process. Here is the summary of the process in my words.

All food digested metabolizes or burns down to ash residue that is alkaline or acid. Over time the acid buildup sets the stage for fungus, yeast, and mold to take over the tissues and blood. These microforms (fungus, yeast, mold) produce acidic wastes when they digest glucose (sugar), proteins, and fats. They don’t produce symptoms in the body, but rather their toxic waste does. Microforms thrive on acidity and they love low oxygen levels in the blood and tissues. The toxins produced in the acidic environment reduce absorption of proteins, minerals, and other nutrients, which in turn weakens the body’s ability to produce enzymes and hormones. The waste of the microforms severely stresses the immune system making it constantly stimulated, overworked, and stressed. The result is chemical and nutritional sensitivities, which are allergic reactions. This is just the beginning of many more chronic illnesses. Here are some of the symptoms that are a direct result of over acidification. They include vaginal infections, menstrual difficulties, impotence, infertility, urinary tract infection, itchy skin, MS-like symptoms, and chronic fatigue syndrome just to name a few.

The fish tank analogy in the book really helped me understand this pH concept. When the water is dirty in a fish take and you notice the fish are looking a little sick, what normally happens next? All of us who own a fish tank would say that you must change the water not treat the fish for illness. THUS, we must do the same for our bodies.

Dr. Young shed some new light on what a healthy environment can do for you. The author claims that unless you have an acidic environment, you will not get sick. Like seeds in soil, germs must have a fertile environment to grow. Disease is a condition of our own inner environment, not something caused by foreign germs. So the quality of the food we eat will determine the quality of red blood cells that determine the quality of bones, muscles, and organs. So yes the old wise tale, “You are what you eat”, is really true!

Here is the reason why veggies are so important. They provide for our bodies chlorophyll, fiber, enzymes, and phytonutrients. Each of these items performs a specific task in the body. Chlorophyll helps blood cells deliver oxygen to the body, which reduces the binding of carcinogens in the liver. Fiber acts as a sponge and as a broom soaking up acids in the body and sweeping out the intestines. Enzymes are needed for every chemical activity in the human body. Here is the reason why raw vegetables are so important. Heat (over 118 degrees) destroys enzymes thus making the vegetable almost obsolete. Finally the phytonutrients help prevent cancers and relieve osteoporosis by binding to the acids thus eliminating them.

The last element of eating alkaline products is wheat and barley grasses. The reason why Jamba Juice sells wheat grass is because it has every mineral and every vitamin in the B complex family. Barley grass provides the body 4x as much vitamin B1 than whole-wheat flour. In addition Barley grass has 7x as much vitamin C as oranges.

Except for avoiding fruit, I have accepted everything Dr. Young has talked about until this. It is not that I do not accept it but I guess I do not feel it is important to do it. This last topic was a little out there for me. Food combining is something that is not considered important. But to have a correct pH scale in your body it is extremely important. Protein digestion requires highly acidic environment and it takes place in the stomach. On the other hand starch digestion requires mildly alkaline environment and it takes place in the mouth and small intestine. So when you eat a starch with an animal protein it is combining acid on top of acid – this creates enough poison to actually shut down the immune system for five hours. In theory when you eat, your plate should have three vegetable servings and one protein serving or three vegetable servings and one starch or complex carbohydrate.

The food products that are most acidic are the following: sugar, all animal products (meat, chicken, eggs, dairy), stored grains, processed food, fruit, mushrooms, yeast products, fermented products, caffeine, soda, alcohol, corn products, peanut products, heated oils, artificial sweeteners and micro waved foods. The food products that are most alkaline are the following: vegetables, nuts, grains (least acidic are millet, buckwheat, spelt, amaranth, quinoa) grasses, raw foods, fresh organic foods, water, soy, fresh fish, sprouts, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tomatoes, and avocados.

In 1988 the Surgeon General’s report on health and nutrition said, “One personal choice seems to influence long term health prospects more than any other – what we eat”.

In conclusion, eat more raw vegetables at all meals (70% of your plate), drink more pure water (70% of your body is water), eat less animal products (if you do eat mean buy only organic and grass fed), avoid sugar at all costs (read labels for high fructose corn syrup), and avoid fast food chains, artificial sweeteners and microwaves like they are the black plague.

The first thing you want to do is to check your own pH levels in your body. You can check it at home with a paper pH strip available at local pharmacies. It is not as accurate as a blood test but it is a lot less painful and less expensive. Change is always slow and gradual. I invite you and your family to start eating more raw veggies and avoid sugar at all costs. That's what we're working on!


Restaurant Review: Healthy Fast Food?

On a recent road trip from Roanoke, Virginia to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, our family stopped in Chapel Hill. We discovered a new "fast food" restaurant called EVOS. We were shocked to find the healthiest fast food we've ever eaten. Their menu includes burgers, wraps, salads, fries and even a special healthy kids menu.

What do they serve? Ericlee wanted to know all the secrets so he interviewed the manager on all menu items. He discovered they chucked all the typical greasy elements of fast food in favor of hormone-free meats and veggie options. Choose from 100% all-beef burgers, soy burgers, turkey and veggie burgers. They even have chicken sandwiches. Don't you worry: you can still get the works on your burger like natural cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato added to your burger.

And we were truly amazed by the french fries. They should be called "french bakes" because they are actually air-baked in a special oven and never dipped or sprayed with oil. That means 50-70% less fat. And yes, they do past the taste test. We also dug the homemade ketchup in four varieties. Ericlee asked twice and it does not have sugar! (or the more popular high fructose corn syrup found in those little packages of othe ketchup brands.) Our two-year-old enjoyed her first french fry (ever!) at EVOS.

Ericlee wanted to kick it up a notch so he ordered the Crispy Thai Trout Wrap. The trout is also airbaked and topped with a spicy peanut sauce and bundled with organic spring greens in a spinach herb wrap. He gave it a 9/10 on the rating scale. When's the last time you had a healthy fish sandwich or wrap?

Dorina's pregnant belly needed a shake. The choices include 100% fruit shakes or organic milkshakes. Mango Guava had amazing flavor and rivaled our favorite all-fruit smoothies from Jamba Juice. For the coffee lovers in the audience, they even make a cappuccino milkshake. Yum-o!

We loved the atmosphere at EVOS. It has a decidely "green" (as in environmentally-conscious) vibe using all recycled energy. It also has this very retro-meets-modern feel. The booths are done up in tangerine orange and avocado green giving a little nod to the '70s. Yet, the restaurant takes the best from popular coffee shops and includes little couches and lounge chairs for customers who just want to "hang."

So the big question is: what about the moolah? Admittedly, you're going to have to lay down a little more cash for all this quality. There's no dollar menu at EVOS. But we didn't mind. We spent $15 on a meal for three, trying a variety of items and we felt it was money well-spent.

For all our California friends, a new EVOS is opening this year in San Luis Obispo near the Trader Joe's on Higuera Street. See the web site for other locations across the country.

Got a hankering for a burger, fries and a shake? Stop at EVOS and you won't be disappointed. And you won't be suffering down the line like you will after eating at those other fast food joints.


Recipe of the Week: Falafel sandwiches with Yogurt sauce & Cucumber-Tomato Salad

We've been experimenting with some protein-packed vegetarian meals. These Middle Eastern pita sandwiches are hearty for the family and light on the budget. Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are a great source of energy and they're very inexpensive to buy. You might try out the bulk section at your local grocery store or find them with canned beans. This fresh salad uses summer produce straight from the garden or farmer's market.

2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (can use dried, soak overnight)
1 egg
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic
2 cups panko bread crumbs
olive oil

Yogurt Sauce:
2 cups plain yogurt
salt, pepper, paprika to taste

Cucumber-Tomato Salad:
1 small cucumber, cubed
1 small tomato, cubed
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon parsley

1 package whole wheat pita bread

1. In a food processor or blender, combine chickpeas/garbanzos, egg, lime and lemon juice and spices. Pulse until blended but do not overmix or the mixture will turn runny like hummus.
2. Spread out panko breadcrumbs in shallow dish.
3. Form bean mixture into small footballs or patties. Press onto breadcrumbs until coated on both sides. Refrigerate if soft for about one hour.
4. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Brown patties on both sides.
5. Meanwhile, mix yogurt sauce. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and paprika to taste.
6. Combine cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in a bowl. Mix in parsley and olive oil.
7. Slice open pita breads. Add browned falafel to each pita bread and serve.
8. Allow guests to add yogurt sauce and cucumber mixture to pitas or serve on side.

Side Dish suggestion: Couscous


Recipe of the Week: Chocolate-Banana Muffins

We just created this healthy muffin recipe that also fulfills that *need* for chocolate. Eat them for breakfast or any old time for a snack. Bon Appetito!

-2 eggs, beaten
-3/4 cup milk
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-2 ripe bananas, smashed
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
-1/2 cup dark chocolate, melted
Garnishes: unsweetened coconut, chocolate chips, chopped nuts

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the wet ingredients together: eggs, milk, bananas.
2. Add the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, evaporated cane juice.
3. Melt the chocolate and add to the mixture.
4. Grease muffin pans or add paper liners. Fill each cup halfway with batter.
5. Sprinkle with nuts, coconut or chocolate chips if desired. Bake approximately 15 minutes.


Menu Planner

This week's menus incoporate some of the summer's fresh produce like eggplant, romaine lettuce, zucchini and carrots. These are great for pizza, wraps and taco fillings. Since we're spending the next six weeks in Virginia, we also decided to check out some local fruit, including peaches we picked up in South Carolina on the way here. They are not quite as big and sweet as Fresno peaches we get at our market but it's early in the season.

Spanish paella
Fruit salad
French bread

Vegetable pizza
Peach Crisp

Whole wheat turkey wraps
with kale and corn salsa
Romaine salad

Chicken Cordon bleu
Garlic potatoes

Thai vegetable curry
Basmati rice blend
Asian cabbage salad

Luscious Leftovers

Buffalo tacos
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