Veggie Heavy Pasta Salad

I made this pasta salad for a family gathering recently.  It was a perfect dish to showcase seasonal produce and it was lighter in calories than many pasta salads because the ratio of vegetables to pasta is quite high.


Speaking of pasta, have you seen the pastas that are made from beans?  For this salad I used a brand that is made from garbanzo beans.


Bean based pastas are higher in protein and fiber than grain based pastas and naturally gluten free (if you have to be concerned about that.)

My favorite thing about this salad was the dressing.  It’s a fairly simple vinaigrette flavored with lemon and dill.  I could see using it for a potato salad or as a marinade for grilled fish or chicken. Fresh dill is best here.  I don’t grow it myself but I found some at the farmer’s market and that’s actually what led me to make this recipe.


The prep work was simple.  The only cooking I did was to boil the pasta.  I wasn’t sure about cooking the asparagus.  I didn’t think I would enjoy it raw but I wanted it to be crisp. What I ended up doing was putting the sliced asparagus in the bottom of the colander and pouring the hot pasta and water over it.  I left it in the colander for a couple of minutes and then rinsed everything with cold water.


In addition to the pasta and asparagus I added thin sliced green onion, radishes, sugar snap peas, and cauliflower.  And I forgot to take a picture after the cauliflower but I think you can see that this was a very pretty and colorful salad!


Here’s the recipe for my Veggie Heavy Pasta Salad with Lemon Dill Vinaigrette:


  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • Juice from 2 fresh lemons
  • 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper to taste

Salad Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. pasta (Rotini or penne work well.  Try to keep vegetable pieces about the same size as the pasta you use.)
  • 3 green onions, sliced thin
  • 8 oz. sugar snap peas, sliced in half
  • 6 large radishes, sliced (about a cup)
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cross cut into 1″ chunks


Whisk salad dressing ingredients together.  I like to do this in the bottom of the salad bowl.  You can make the dressing ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Cook pasta according to package directions for “al dente”.  Place cut asparagus in bottom of colander and pour pasta and cooking water over the asparagus. (This step is optional if you don’t mind completely raw asparagus).  Rinse pasta with cold water and allow to drain. Add remaining salad ingredients to the bowl with the dressing.  Add drained pasta and asparagus to bowl and toss everything together to combine.

I’d love to hear if you try this recipe and liked it.  Please let me know!












Powerfully Healthy Salad

I love the Kale Quinoa Power Salad at The Candlelight Inn.  I’m not alone. Everyone I know is equally enamored.  I wanted to create something just as tasty at home so I looked for salads with similar ingredients and found this recipe from Sara Forte of “The Sprouted Kitchen” at

I have to confess that I did not love the taste of raw kale when I first tried it but it seems to help when it’s chopped into small bites as it is here. The sweet, tart, and salty flavors that come from the dressing, the dried cranberries, and the cheese make this recipe a keeper!

Preparing kale for salads and cooking is easy if you know one simple trick.  To remove the tough stem simple grasp it at one end with one hand and “strip” the leaves with the other hand.


After stripping the leaves you can stack them on your cutting board.  I usually cut them lengthwise into long strips and then cut across the strip to get small pieces of kale.

I added red cabbage, grated carrots, and steamed (shelled) edamame to the recipe.  To prepare the cabbage for this recipe and other slaws or salads just cut it in half through the stem, cut each half into quarters, and then you can easily cut the core from each of the quarters. Lay each quarter on the cutting board and slice into thin shreds.


The technique for preparing the Brussels sprouts is the same but on a smaller scale. Of course you don’t need to remove and discard the core.


Here’s another trick I like to use when making salads. I make the dressing in the bottom of my bowl and layer all of the ingredients on top.  This saves on dishwashing but it’s also a good technique to use for make and take salads.  Put sturdier ingredients in the bottom (everything in this salad qualified!) next to the dressing and more delicate ingredients on top so they don’t get soggy.  You can put a lid on it at this point and stick it in the fridge or cooler.  When it’s time to serve just toss or if you have a tight fitting lid like I do, turn the bowl upside down and shake until the dressing is distributed.  This method also works great for taking salads to work in mason jars.

One benefit in using kale in a salad is that it’s sturdy nature allows this to keep in the refrigerator for several days.  I’m having this for lunch almost every day this week and it’s just as good the 3rd or 4th day as it was on the first.


Here is my version of the recipe:



  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper


  • 1 large bunch curly kale, stems removed and leaves chopped into 1″ bites
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half and sliced thin
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, sliced into shreds
  • 2 cups cooked and shelled edamame
  • 3/4 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cups nuts or seeds of choice (I have used pumpkin seeds, sunflowers seeds, and slivered almonds – they’re all good!)
  • 2/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

Combine dressing ingredients in the bottom of a large salad bowl and whisk until combined.  Add salad ingredients to bowl.  If serving immediately go ahead and toss.  To serve later, cover bowl with tight fitting lid and chill.  Keeps for several days refrigerated.

Give this salad a try and let me know what you think!




Not Instant Vegetable Soup in the Instant Pot

It seems like winter is hanging on forever here in Northern Illinois so there is plenty of soup weather left. I tried this recipe from Brandi of The Vegan 8 last month and it was so tasty that I made it again soon after.  At first I was skeptical of the seasoning mixture but Brandi got it spot on.  This will remind you of your favorite canned vegetable soup but it has more flavor and nutrition and a lot less sodium.


Part of the appeal of this soup is its ease of preparation.   The only vegetable prep needed is to chop an onion and press a few garlic cloves and of course you can skip that if you don’t mind paying a little bit more for the pre-chopped stuff that can be found in many grocery store produce departments.  I added a little chopped celery and a stray carrot that I wanted to use up, too.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery (optional)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 – 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 5 cups frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, green beans, and carrots)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon or less cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ cups cooked brown rice (add at the end)

I made this soup in my Instant Pot. What, you don’t have one?! It’s the new “it” kitchen appliance with a huge following.  It combines the features of a pressure cooker with those of a slow cooker and most have multiple additional features.  Mine has functions for beans, grains, and yogurt, to name a few.  I got rid of my yogurt maker, my rice cooker, and one of my crockpots to make room for this baby.


Back to the soup. My Instant Pot has a saute function so you can saute ingredients and then pressure cook your soup in the same vessel. I cooked my onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in a bit of the vegetable broth.


To keep this soup from being the sodium heavy equivalent of the canned variety, it’s important to check the labels of your broth and tomato products carefully. I make my own salt free vegetable broth  but if you purchase yours in the store remember to look for a salt free or low sodium option.  The same for the crushed tomatoes.  It’s becoming easier and easier to find no salt added and low sodium tomato products. The tomatoes that I used came from Aldi’s and has less than 100mg per serving.

Once my fresh vegetables and garlic were softened I hit the “cancel” button and added all of the additional ingredients except the rice. I stirred everything together, put the pressure lid on the pot and twisted the lid to lock it shut. I moved the steam valve to “lock” and pushed the “soup” function button that is preset to 30 minutes. It worked perfectly for this recipe. It takes the IP about 8-10 minutes to come up to temp and then it starts counting down.  When it completes its cycle you can either wait for the steam to release naturally or use a long handled wooden spoon or other implement to push the steam vent to the release position. I added the cooked rice at this point and put the lid back on to let the rice heat through.

Of course you can totally follow Brandi’s recipe for stovetop preparation if you prefer but I thought you’d like this information about using the Instant Pot in case you are thinking of purchasing one.

This soup was, (dare I say it?), “Mmmm…mmm…good!


It’s a Zoo-cchini Around Here

I do not grow zucchini because my raised bed garden just doesn’t have enough real estate. Given that, how is it that I always seem to have a zucchini or two (or three!) hanging around the house?  Generous friends, that’s how.  You know who you are, you zucchini pushers!

Zucchini has a mild taste that lends itself to breads and of course everyone’s current favorite – zoodles (noodles made from spiralized zucchini).   I was looking for a simple recipe to use up my gifted squash plus the other summer vegetables I had on hand and came across one from Catherine Katz and her website Cuisinicity. Although the recipe is originally for an eggplant dish, I substituted zucchini for some of the eggplant.  You can see the original recipe here.  Here is mine:

Zucchini and Eggplant Fricassee

  • 1 sweet onion, thickly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 large ripe tomato, cut into wedges
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dry thyme (or fresh thyme to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp dry rosemary or rosemary blend herb mixture (I used Murals of Flavor from Penzey’s Spices.)
  • 1 bay leaf (don’t forget to remove after cooking and before serving)
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven 350 F. Sautee the onion in the olive oil until just soft but not fully cooked and set aside.

Cut the eggplant, zucchini, and tomato into thick slices (about 1 inch) and  place them in a large bowl. Add the warm onions including the oil they were cooked in, the spices, bay leaves, salt and pepper to the bowl and mix gently to coat all the ingredients.

Transfer mixture to a large baking dish and spread into an even layer. Place in preheated oven. (As you can see I had to change baking dishes to accommodate all the vegetables.)  Bake for an hour or more until they are to the point of being almost caramelized,  stirring gently once or twice to make sure all the juices cover the vegetables.

This was easy to put together and smelled delicious coming out of the oven.  It makes a great side dish for these late summer days when the weather is a little cooler and you don’t mind turning on the oven. Any left overs could be used in sandwiches or added to pasta sauces. The next time I make it I may try adding some big slices of portabella mushrooms.

How about you?  What are you doing with extra zucchini these days?

Let Me Eat Cake!

  • Hot Fudge Cake

I was looking for a healthier cake recipe for Mother’s Day. I wanted something that didn’t have white flour or white sugar and it had to be chocolate! I found this recipe from the EatPlant-Based blog and had to try it.  I substituted coconut sugar for the brown sugar and still got good results.  (You know that most of the brown sugar sold is just white sugar with a little molasses added, right?)



The assembly is rather strange.  There is no sweetener in the cake batter other than the natural sweetness of the applesauce.  The sugar all goes into a hot water mixture that is poured over the cake batter in the pan.


As the cake bakes the batter rises to the top and a pudding forms in the bottom.  Once the cake cools you invert it and serve with the pudding on top (no frosting required!)  Here’s the finished cake.

One note – it’s best to cool the cake completely and then leave it in the pan until it’s ready to serve.  I tried flipping it over onto a plate while it was still slightly warm and the pudding ran all over the place. I ended up flipping it back in and chilling it until the next day. That’s why there are no pretty pictures of it being served.  It was still good!

A Few of My Favorite Things

I had a birthday recently so I thought I would share recipes for some of my very favorite foods with you.

  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
  • Gazpacho
  • Swiss Chard Pesto

Green Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I absolutely love salsa verde and I can’t believe that I never tried to make it for myself until recently.  It’s easy, saves money, and you can make it without all the sodium that is present in commercial products.

Salsa verde starts with tomatillos, an ingredient you might not have used before.  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes but they are actually related to the gooseberry.  To clean them just hold the tomatillo under warm running water and pull off the husk. They tend to be a bit sticky so this helps to wash the stickiness away, too.


Here’s what you’ll need to make approximately one quart of salsa:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. tomatillos (I try to get them all about the same size so they will roast evenly)
  • 1-2 jalapenos to taste; stems removed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 white onion, cut into quarters
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Everything goes on a sheet pan. I covered my pan with non stick foil.


Preheat your broiler to high and move the rack to the highest position so that the vegetables are only 2-3 inches away from the heat.  Broil for about 15 minutes, turning everything over halfway through.  You want some roasted black spots on everything but the garlic.  The tomatillos will soften and change color.  I usually babysit closely in the last few minutes; removing what looks done and returning the rest to the broiler until everything is done.  The garlic cloves need to be removed from their skins (just cut off one end and squeeze) and then everything goes right into the blender.

IMG_0943[1]  IMG_0909[1]

Use the “grind” or “chop” setting on your blender to keep some texture and blend just until there are no large pieces left.  At this point you can add some salt, pepper if desired, and sometimes I add the juice of a lime.

Green salsa is great for serving with tortilla chips or as a topping for enchiladas and grilled meats. Try stirring some into mashed avocado for a different kind of guacamole, too.


This a perfect time of year to make this cold soup that features the ripest tomatoes from the garden. I started with this recipe for  Classic Andalusian Gazpacho from Epicurious.  While the addition of cucumber is not necessary I had one so I threw it in. Since I planned to freeze a portion of this soup I did not add the bread but I can do that before I serve it.  I also did not add the oil or strain the solids from the soup.

IMG_0939[1] IMG_0940[1]

This couldn’t be any easier. There is absolutely no cooking involved. Just some chopping, blending, chilling, and you’ve got a refreshing warm weather meal.

Swiss Chard Pesto

A classic pesto consists of basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated parmesan cheese.  I grow basil every summer and this is my absolute favorite way to use it.  There are many variations. I’ve made pesto with baby spinach, artichoke and olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Since I have quite a bit of chard in the garden this year I’ve made this version several times.  Here is my recipe:

  • 6-8 large leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts may also be used)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I substitute nutritional yeast to make this vegan)
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or use more water if avoiding oil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cut chard into ribbons and steam for about 5 minutes.  Removed from steamer and cool.  Put the cooked chard, basil, nuts, cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and water into food processor or personal blender and pulse until the mixture begins to break down and come together. Add olive oil to the mixture and pulse a few more time to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto has many uses. I made an awesome sandwich last week by spreading pesto on a baguette and topping with grilled vegetables and sliced fresh mozzarella.  It’s good dribbled over sliced tomatoes and can be served hot, warm, or cold as pasta sauce or for dressing pasta salads. I also use it to flavor mashed potatoes.

All of these recipes are great ways to use summer produce and I think it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite foods taste best at the time of my summer birthday.



Grow Your Own

My garden usually consists of 8-10 pots on the deck but this year my husband had the idea to purchase a cattle feed trough and turn it into a large container garden.  Here’s a picture of it earlier this spring:


That’s spinach coming up in the back and if you look closely there are also some radishes and onions in there somewhere.  Fast forward a month or so and here is what it looks like this morning:


Sorry for the photo quality but I think you can see that my garden is flourishing. You may notice we added a couple of half barrels between the garden and the propane tank – one contains sweet potato plants and the other is growing red skin potatoes.

Our small garden has already provided lots of spinach, lettuce, and green onions. When I thinned the radishes we ate the sprouts and we’ll do the same with the beet greens when I thin the beets. When the spinach was done I replaced it with pepper plants. And we are definitely looking forward to tomatoes, eggplant, and those potatoes.

Why am I telling you about my garden in a healthy cooking blog?  Because growing your own food is one of those things that almost guarantees that you and your family will eat better. You can’t grow anything in a home garden that is bad for you and if you have kids you will find that they are more willing to eat something if they have helped to plant, water, and watch it grow.

I’m not a master gardener by any means but I get a great sense of accomplishment from my garden. I’m growing a lot of food for a little bit of money; I’m spending more time outdoors; and I am learning a lot in the process.  You should try it.