Nothing warms my heart more than when I hear my children talking with their friends and explaining something (anything) I have taught them about life, faith, science, nutrition etc… It means they ARE actually listening! So it was pleasing to me when I heard my daughter explain to her friend the difference between a treat and a snack. When my daughters friend said she was hungry and suggested they eat some chips, my daughter responded “chips aren’t a snack they are a treat, let’s have an apple.” So they both ate an apple, laughing the whole time because they both only have half their front teeth, then they shared a small lunch-size bag of Doritos.  Now sure, I would love to say my kids don’t eat things like Doritos, but this is reality and they ARE going to eventually… So I am glad it was in my estimation only about 6 chips per girl and of course the apple first!
This concept of treats vs. snacks is something I work hard to keep consistent in our lives, so that my children understand that when they are hungry they need to nourish and feed  their body  with a healthful snack , preferably one that came from the earth and still looks like it did when it was in nature. I also recognize the need to satisfy a craving for something sweet or salty, so we call those treats and we typically don’t eat them when we are hungry, but rather when they sound good and in moderation. This is an important lesson for children, especially with all of the prepackaged “food” labeled as snacks, but really containing little to no sustenance, only empty calories which ultimately leave kids hungrier in the end.  I am not a fan of taking a healthy a snack like an apple, and then covering it in caramel or chocolate just so kids will eat it. If you are going to turn fruit into a dessert, which we do all the time, then call it what it is so kids learn to differentiate between treats and snacks.

Now sometimes I like to turn something with good solid nutritional value into a treat, especially on Sunday mornings! This last Sunday I made our family favorite Sunday morning breakfast treat; Caramelized Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Pancakes. Doesn’t sound nutritious you say? The base of these pancakes has no butter, dairy or sugar and boast nearly 20 grams of fiber! I use a 50:50 ratio of whole wheat to white flour to keep the pancakes from being too dense, and I eliminate the need to use butter or oil by adding ground flax seed. I use almond or soy milk to replace the dairy and raw agave nectar to eliminate the need for sugar.  Caramelizing the bananas really adds depth to the flavor of these luscious pancakes! And as if you need to explain why dark chocolate chunks make these pancakes just that much better, well the bitter sweetness of the dark chocolate adds an earthy balance to the sweet caramely bananas which altogether transform this healthful breakfast into a dreamy Sunday treat! Pair the pancakes with a 75:25 egg white to egg yolk scramble, some turkey bacon and fresh fruit and you have a healthy breakfast topped with a delicious treat! Enjoy!






Caramelized Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Pancakes   

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
3 tbsp ground flax seed
1 ½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups almond, soy or non-fat goat or cow milk
3 tbsp raw agave nectar (or ¼ cup raw unfiltered honey)
½ tbsp neutral oil (I use vegetable)
2-3 ripe but not mushy bananas, peeled and cut into rounds
½ cup dark chocolate chunks or chips (75% or higher, I use Valrhona but I’m a self professed chocolate snob)
What to Do:
Heat oil in large sauté pan, add bananas in a single layer and cook on medium-high heat until they begin to caramelize, about 5 min on each side. Remove bananas from pan and set aside.  Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Mix eggs, milk and agave nectar or honey together in another mixing bowl. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix with a wood spoon just until the dry ingredients are all incorporated. It is important to not over mix this batter or your pancakes will be tough and dense. Gently fold in the bananas and the dark chocolate.  On a non stick griddle or in a nonstick pan lightly sprayed with oil, I use vegetable oil sprayed from Misto, spoon batter in about ¼ cup scoops. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve warm with butter and honey, or syrup or nothing at all because they are that good!! Enjoy!

I have water in my kitchen (finally)! It is nice to be back at my range doing what I love to do, cook! I, like all chefs, am obsessed with food and I am constantly thinking about blending flavors and coming up with new dishes. I am equally as obsessed with nutrition and making sure I teach my kids, and my husband for that matter, how to eat well and eat right, which technically isn’t always the same. Most of the food I cook for my family and my clients is low-fat and low-calorie but high in nutrition and full of flavor.  I love to cook with tons of fresh herbs and I am always looking for ways to add more fiber and protein to meals without making them too heavy and meat centered.
In my quest to figure out the best way of eating for me, I have been a raw vegan, a vegan, a vegetarian, a pascatarian and a full on meat eater! These days I find the best way of eating for me and my family is based on balance. My dishes aren’t centered around meat, but rater seasonal produce and other fiber rich complex carbohydrates.  We typically have a different protein source each night for dinner and always eat at least one vegetarian dish per week. I find by making fiber rich complex carbohydrates and seasonal produce the star of the show you can nicely balance the flavor profile with whatever protein source you choose to add.  

One of my favorite protein and fiber packed complex carbohydrates to use is lentils.  Lentils, a small member of the legume family, are so underused in everyday cooking in the United States! They are extremely inexpensive ($1.77/pound at Whole Foods) and full of nutritionally beneficial, properties, not to mention they add a wonderfully nutty and earthy flavor to a variety of dishes. They provide cholesterol-lowering fiber which also is beneficial to those who have to manage blood-sugar disorders.  Their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal, which both helps those with weight-loss goals as well as those with blood-sugar disorders. Lentils are also packed with vitamins, minerals and protein and still only weigh in at 230 calories per cup!
One of my other favorite go-to protein packed meal stars is shrimp. Nutritionally shrimp are very low-fat and low-calorie, but high in protein.  4 oz of shrimp weigh in at only 112 calories but boast just over 23 grams of protein. Shrimp also provide an excellent source of selenium and vitamin B12. I have heard from so many people that they just can’t cook shrimp without over cooking them. Try this method of roasting the shrimp with lemon and thyme. By oven roasting the shrimp you are keeping them at a perfectly even cooking temperature which will help to avoid over cooking.  Also, by roasting them with flavorful lemons, garlic and herbs and serving them over rich earthy lentils you have no need for the typical butter and pasta which is commonly used to turn the naturally low-fat, low-calorie shrimp into a calorie laden carb-overloaded meal! Enjoy!

Shrimp Roasted with Lemon and Thyme

1/3 cup olive oil
1 lemon, zested then cut into thin wedges
3-4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 pound medium-sized shrimp, shelled and deveined
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp honey
1-2 heads Belgian endive, core removed and thinly sliced root to top (lengthwise like matchsticks)
3-4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced root to top (lengthwise like matchsticks)
What to To:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In an 8x8 baking dish combine olive oil, lemon zest and thyme. Add shrimp, toss in the oil mixture and season liberally with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes, you want to watch them closely, check every few minutes (they are done when they are curled up and pink with some caramelization.) Add the honey to the liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the baking dish, toss to dissolve. Tent until ready to assemble.

Red Wine Braised Lentils

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper, or to taste
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, I use 2 Buck Chuck
1 cup French green lentils
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
What To Do:
In a medium sized sauce pan or Dutch oven over med-high heat add the oil  and let it warm, then add the onion and cook until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook while stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add water and wine, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add lentils and salt, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 40 minutes. Taste lentils and adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. 

To Assemble

Transfer cooked lentils into large wide family style serving bowl.  Arrange shrimp and lemon wedges on top, poor all shrimp liquid over the dish and top with thinly slice Belgian endive and scallions. Enjoy!

Waste Not Want Not Tip:

Tip #1)
Kitchen garden experiment via Pinterest! I love this, haven’t bought scallions in a few weeks! Just place the white root end of the scallion in a clean glass jar and fill with enough water to cover the roots and place it in the sun; mines in my kitchen window. In only days you will see the green portion of the scallion regenerating! Change the water often to avoid a funky onion smellJ
Tip #2)
When you are picking the leaves off your fresh herbs, like parsley and thyme, save the stems until the end of the week then throw them into a pot with some mirepoix and whatever other scraps you have saved and make veggie stock! I save all of the stems of my mushrooms in a baggie in the freezer, and any onion or carrot scraps I get from making even knife cuts. You can use the veggie stock right away, leave it in the fridge in a sealed container for up to five days, or freeze it to use anytime in the next six months.

Classic Vegetable Stock

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, including the leaves!
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
8 sprigs fresh parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 quarts water
What to Do:
On medium-high heat, heat the oil in a stock pot and add onion, celery, carrots, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add water and bring to simmer.  Simmer uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain and discard vegetables.
Other ingredients and scraps to consider: mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus trimmings, corn cobs, fennel stalks and trimmings, bell peppers, pea pods, chard stems and leaves, celery root trimmings, marjoram stems and leaves, potato trimmings, garlic… the list is endless!!!

Oh the mess! I am in the middle of a kitchen remodel, so my ability to cook at my own house has been seriously limited! I should say that I am not complaining at all, only happily anticipating the final outcome.

Naturally when you are left with little to no resources in any given situation you begin to reflect on what is important. So for me in this case, it was food and meals and what I just can’t live without. I have had to keep my grocery shopping down to the bare minimum and cooking is really not an option, oh and did I mention I am without water in the kitchen (!)…so cold, easy to prepare and/or grab and go type items are what we are all sustaining on. Upon my initial reflection, when making my first pre-remodel demo grocery list, I realized Greek yogurt was at the top of my MUST haves. This was really the first time I thought about how often and how many ways I use it. So, naturally keeping my promise to you I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to use this staple.

One question I always get is “how are you able to stay healthy and in shape when you are cooking all the time”? My answer is, I maintain a balanced diet and only indulge every now and then. That said I, just like most people, love good and flavorful food with rich luscious texture! One of my secrets is replacing the typical calorie tipping extras many of us enjoy with our food with Greek yogurt. Now I am not just saying this, but I really have been doing this for YEARS. I mean when the only place you could find Greek yogurt was at a health food store. I started my experimenting with Greek yogurt because I despise to the core of my being hate mayonnaise, in fact my children didn’t even know mayonnaise existed until my parents put it on sandwiches for them. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how versatile and beneficial Greek yogurt really is. Until about 2007 I mainly used it as a mayo replacement, then I heard and interview of Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, and she made a statement that stuck with me; “There is never a reason to eat sour cream”. At the time I thought WHAT, NO SOUR CREAM! But when I really looked at the “nutritional benefits” of sour cream compared to the fat and cholesterol, and then compared it to my beloved tangy mayo replacement I was sold. With sour cream, now I’m talking regular sour cream because we all know how awful low fat sour cream is (!), weighing in at a whopping 496 calories and 96 mg of cholesterol and only 7 g of protein per cup, compared to Greek yogurt’s mere 130 calories and 0 mg of cholesterol and 20 g of muscling building protein per cup I was ready to say goodbye to sour cream for good. The switch was seamless, in fact my husband, who once told me the brand new low fat ranch I bought him was “bad”, didn’t even realize I stopped buying caloric scale tipping sour cream!

So I dare you to do the same! Cut those nasty hidden calories out of your favorite go-to snacks and creamy toppers and try some of my own tried and true Greek yogurt based recipes. Enjoy!

Avocado “Sauce”

Avocado sauce is a MUST have staple in my home. My kids eat this nutritious “sauce” as a dip for veggies, on top of their favorite black bean, cheese and flaxseed tortilla quesadillas and with any Mexican inspired meal I prepare from taco salad (no dressing required) to chicken tortilla soup! They even like it on turkey sandwiches!
1 large ripe avocado
1/4-1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Lime juice, to taste
1/2 clove grated garlic, optional
1 tbsp chopped cilantro, optional
Salt to taste

What to Do:
Mash avocado in a bowl, stir in yogurt and flavor with lime juice garlic and cilantro if desired. Season with salt to taste and enjoy!

Sandwich Spreads

This is my GO-TO I cannot have a sandwich without one of my Greek yogurt spreads. If it is too thin for you add a little bit of a low-fat Baby Bell spreadable cheese wedge to thicken it up!

1) Cranberry Spread: Mix some chopped up dried Cranberries in some Greek yogurt and spread on a Turkey Sandwich, it’s like Thanksgiving!

 2) Dijon Spread: Mix Greek yogurt with a little Dijon mustard for a great spread for most any sandwich.

 3) Herb Garlic Spread: I always have this in the fridge because it is easily turned into a healthy salad dressing by thinning with a tiny bit of milk or add more yogurt and turn it into a veggie dip! Mix some fresh chopped herbs and about ½ of a clove of grated garlic in Greek yogurt. For the herbs I use a mix of dill, tarragon and mint. For the garlic I don’t used minced, but rather grated garlic because I don’t like to bite into a piece of raw garlic. By grating it with a micro plain you get all of the garlic flavor with no chunks.

Spicy Creamy Tuna Melt 

(this makes 2 meals for me)
I have to say this is by far my favorite go-to quick satisfying dinner or lunch; just add a healthy salad and voila! You can take off the cheese to lower the caloric content and it is still tasty as ever!

2 slices of toasted whole wheat bread
1 can no salt added albacore tuna packed in water
1-2 hot sport peppers, finely minced
1/2-1 dill pickle spear, finely minced or about a tsp of dill relish
1/2 tbsp shallot, finally chopped
1/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
A small splash of red wine vinegar
1 slice cheese (I LOVE to use horseradish cheddar for this, and believe me it is worth all 100 calories for that slice of cheese!)

What to Do:

Preheat broiler or toaster oven, toast bread, mix all other ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon ¼ of the tuna on each half of the bread top with cheese and broil until cheese is melted. 

Curried Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups

1 head romaine lettuce hearts or 2 hears of Belgian endive
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
1/2 cup celery, julienned
1/2 cup carrot, julienned
1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2cup almonds, coarsely chopped

 Greek Yogurt Curry Dressing 
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, more to taste
3 tsp yellow curry powder
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

What to Do:Trim, wash and dry romaine or endive leaves. Cut larger romaine leaves into several segments depending on size. Whisk Greek yogurt and honey together in a bowl; add curry powder, salt and lemon juice. In a separate bowl mix all other ingredients then add dressing and lightly toss until incorporated. Spoon 1-2 tbsp of the salad mixture onto each lettuce cup, arrange on a tray, cover and refrigerate until served.

Sour Cream

Use plain non-fat Greek yogurt as a low-fat substitute in any recipe that call for sour cream. From baking to savory dishes they have very similar consistency and tangy flavor, so you can use it as a 1:1 replacement with no other added substitution required. And of course use it as is on any dish you would use sour cream on!

Mac and Cheese (…Peas and Hot Dogs)

OK full disclosure here…I really don’t like to give my kids boxed mac and cheese or hot dogs BUT, let’s be real… for whatever reason all kids love this stuff. In fact my 7 year old daughter shared her list of favorites with her class and when it came to food (seriously no joke) she said “I Love sashimi (and boy does she) and macaroni and cheese, peas and hot dogs. I said years ago when I was a nanny that if I ever opened a restaurant I would put macaroni and cheese and peas and hot dogs on the kids menu!

1 box mac and cheese (I use Annie’s)
3 hot dogs made with 100 meat and no nitrates (I use low-fat Hebrew International Beef dogs)
1/4-1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup of frozen Peas

What to Do:Slice hot dogs up into chunks. Boil the noodles. While the noodles are cooking add contents of powdered cheese pack to a bowl and mix in Greek yogurt until creamy. Just before they are done about the last 2 minutes I throw the hot dog chucks into the boiling water, then about 1 minute later the peas go into the water too. Drain the noodles, hot dogs and peas and return to the pan. Add creamy cheese mixture and voila kids favorite “special occasion dinner!”

Heavy Cream

Whipped cream is a luxury I save for holidays. But some desserts scream for it! You can make a whipped topping substitute by blending Greek yogurt with vanilla and maple syrup, honey or agave on med-high speed with a mixer for 2 minutes, watch it closely because it can separate if it is over whipped and you’ll get a watery mess! Keep the whipped yogurt refrigerated until used. Put it on top of any dessert you would use whipped cream on, or top fresh fruit with whipped yogurt add a drizzle of honey and sprinkle of cinnamon for a healthy treat!

 Veggie Dip

It always baffles me when I see people dipping perfectly good raw veggies into chemically processed, fat laden ranch dressing! So instead of reaching for the ranch try to make your own veggie dip with Greek yogurt!

 My Go-to Dip Base
Equal parts low fat cottage cheese to Greek yogurt. Put cottage cheese in the food processer and blend until smooth. Mix cottage cheese and Greek yogurt together and you have the perfect low fat high protein base for any dip.

A Few Suggestions for Dip:
Add basil, red pepper flakes and some grated parmesan, and you’ve got yummy dip.

Add finely chopped red onion or shallot, finely diced cucumber, and finely diced red pepper for a chunkier dip; use about 2 tbsp of each.