TBR List Declutter, Issue 37


There are no obvious invertebrates in today’s Visual Interest, so it’s safe to tell you about “Chicken Casserole.” I put “Chicken Casserole” in quotes because I always think of canned soup and noodles or rice when I think of casserole, and in that sense, this isn’t a casserole. Rather than trying to figure out what it is if it’s not a casserole, I just call it a “casserole.”

This is another 100% Trader Joe’s recipe, although it doesn’t have to be. None of the ingredients is necessarily TJ’s specific except the salsa, and really, you can use whatever salsa you want. Ro-tel tomatoes would also work here.


  • 3-5 frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs (however many fit in the bottom of the pan in a single layer). You can also use thawed if you plan ahead a little.
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 can (14.5 ozs) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 jar TJ’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa, or 16 ounces of your salsa of choice

Place chicken thighs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Pour corn, beans, and salsa over the top, mixing around a bit if you so desire. It seems to mix itself pretty well while cooking, but sometimes I mix it around just to make it feel like I’m doing more work than I actually am. Just make sure the chicken stays in a single layer.

Cook at 425°F for about 1 hour or until chicken registers at least 165°F on a meat thermometer. I’m paranoid about undercooking chicken, so I usually aim for something closer to 200°F, and it seems to come out fine.

And that’s it. You could probably serve it with rice or something, but we usually don’t bother with anything but a vegetable on the side.

Visual Interest:



Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 451-470:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 35


We’ve been living in temporary housing for nearly eight weeks, courtesy of my spouse’s relocation package. When we moved to Massachusetts in 2011, that meant living in an extended-stay hotel for two months. Here it’s a little nicer. We’ve got digs—a furnished two-bedroom apartment—in a luxury apartment complex in a neighborhood in which we wouldn’t be able to afford to live if we had to pay the rent ourselves.

The kitchen is stocked with the basics: dishes, utensils, skillet, a couple of pans, coffee maker, toaster, a set of dull knives. It’s enough to get by, but not enough to do any involved cooking, so we’ve been eating the same five meals since we moved in:

  • Turkey burgers with sautéed green beans
  • Roast chicken drumsticks with roast potato slices, baked sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli
  • Tostadas, which are actually burritos because for some unknown reason the corn tortillas I get here fry up into tooth-breaking disks rather than light, crispy tostada shells, so we wrap the filling in flour tortillas instead. But we still call them tostadas.
  • Breakfast for dinner (pancakes from a mix for the children, steel cut oatmeal with thawed frozen berries for me, sandwiches and leftover pancakes for my spouse)
  • “Chicken casserole” and sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts

Then we start all over again.

We supplement these with lots of fresh bell peppers, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, and ice cream, all of which my children will eat by the heaping bowlful, thank goodness (at least for the veggies), because after eating sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts every week for more than seven weeks, only my spouse can stomach them.

To stock items for this limited menu, we only shop at Trader Joe’s because they have so many ready-prepped options. “Chicken casserole” is one meal that is made entirely with TJ’s-specific ingredients, and I’ll probably tell you about that one in a later post, but for this tangent, I want to tell you about a Daily Special success story: Veggie Rice Salad.

For those poor souls unfamiliar with Trader Joe’s, the stores all have samples available that they call the Daily Special. My children love the Daily Special. Sometimes it’s a hit, and sometimes it’s a miss, but, like playing the slots, it’s the possibility of winning that keeps my children coming back. I never have the Daily Special. I just let the person serving know that my children have carte blanche to eat whatever is on offer while I browse the bagged greens and scrutinize the citrus fruits. So a couple of weeks ago when my children came to me raving about the Daily Special, I was surprised to learn that it was essentially a raw broccoli and cauliflower salad. They had the recipe on little pieces of paper, so I took one and we’ve been making it ever since.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s cauliflower rice
  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s broccoli rice
  • 1 jar Trader Joe’s roasted red and yellow peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped (we’re starting to leave this out because it’s a pain to prep and because I read an article that said recent samples of fresh herbs have been shown to contain Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, and/or Salmonella. It’s just a small percentage so the chance of illness is very, very low unless you get one of the bad bunches, and I’m not a gambler)
  • Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing (the one from the produce cooler), to taste (the original recipe says to use Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad Dressing, but that has dairy in it, and my kids like the Green Goddess just as well)

Just toss everything together in a big salad bowl, if you have one, or if, like us, you don’t have a big salad bowl, just put it in whatever container you can find that’s approximately the size of a big salad bowl. We use the largest cooking pot we have (but don’t cook the salad). Then make it every week until you are completely tired of it and move on to some other vegetable dish.

Visual Interest:

IMG_20171126_135637 (1)

El Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa, Spain

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 411-430:

Read More

Rhubarb. Yes, Rhubarb.

A couple of weeks ago, I acquired some rhubarb.

Rheum rhabarbarum - Rhubarb

Rheum rhabarbarum – Rhubarb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d never cooked with rhubarb, and the only experience I’d had with it (aside from a vague memory of a song some high school friends used to sing that involved repeating “rhubarb” over and over) was when my mom would pick a stalk from my grandpa’s Ohio backyard and then eat it raw dipped in salt. One quick taste convinced me that this was not the way I wanted to enjoy my rhubarb, but neither did I care for the high sugar content of most rhubarb recipes I encountered. So, I kept looking while hoping the rhubarb would stay fresh-ish in my fridge until I found a recipe I wanted to use. Read More

An Afternoon Snack in Four to Five Simple Steps

This post was written as part of this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post.

Step One: Slice a banana into a bowl.


Step Two: Stir in a spoonful of almond butter.


Step Three: Drizzle on a hint of honey (some people need a bigger hint than others).


Step Four: Let your toddler hold the camera while you take a taste; consider taking credit for his photo on your blog but eventually decide against it.


Step Five (optional): Thank me for the idea.

Thank You

Vegetable Rolls

I bought the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook more than a decade ago. It was our primary cookbook for a number of years, then it slowly fell out of favor when I stopped eating gluten and dairy. Recently, however, I was thumbing through my cookbooks, looking for inspiration.

I seem to have fallen into a vegan, gluten-free way of eating over the past year. If you’ve tried eating vegan and gluten-free and were raised eating pasteurized processed cheese food and bacon sandwiches on white bread with butter and mayonnaise as I was, you know it requires a lot of inspiration.

What I discovered in my aimless thumbing was the “vegan list” in the back of the cookbook. I spent a morning looking up each recipe, checking it for gluten and for likely acceptance by my family, and making a nice, long list of new recipes to try.

One of these was very simply named “Vegetable Rolls.”


I’ve tried making spring rolls before using raw vegetable fillings, and they were kind of ho-hum. These Vegetable Rolls are not ho-hum. The vegetables are lightly sauteed, dressed in a basic sauce, and mixed with fresh tarragon and basil before they’re rolled in the rice papers. The result is a tasty, fresh, satisfying meal that’s well worth the time it takes to prepare.

My husband loved these, I loved these, my 7.5-year-old daughter opened hers up and ate the filling, and my 3.5-year-old refused to even taste them. That’s about the best we’re able to do these days. I’ll take it. I made them again later on in the week to use the rest of the mushrooms we’d bought.

The recipe includes a hoisin dipping sauce, but I couldn’t find any gluten-free, sugar-free hoisin sauce, so I made up my own little sauce out of tamari, water, rice vinegar, garlic, hot pepper sesame oil, and a little ginger. I can’t tell you the ratios because I really didn’t pay close attention, but if you play around with those, you should be able to come up with a yummy sauce. If you make your own sauce, you also might want to add a little sweetener (agave, sugar, honey).

Vegetable Rolls

Reprinted with permission from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2001.

Serves 4 to 6; Total time: 1 1/2 hours


1 1/2 to 2 ounces bean thread noodles

1 T peanut or other vegetable oil (I used sesame)

2 c grated green cabbage

2 c sliced mushrooms

4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 T grated fresh ginger root

1 c peeled and grated carrots

1 c thinly sliced red bell peppers

1/2 c finely chopped scallions

2 T soy sauce (I used wheat-free tamari)

1 T rice vinegar

1 T chopped fresh tarragon

2 T chopped fresh basil

12 rice paper discs (8 inches across)

1/4 c chopped peanuts (I didn’t use these)


Soak the bean threads in warm water until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the cabbage for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ginger and continue to saute on medium heat for another 4 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Add the carrots and bell peppers and cook for about 5 minutes more, until hot but still slightly crunchy. Remove from the heat.

When the bean threads are soft, drain them and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths with scissors or a knife. Add them to the sauteed vegetables with the scallions, soy sauce, vinegar, tarragon, and basil. Stir to combine and set aside.

Moisten the rice-paper discs a few at a time at a time by immersing each one in a large shallow bowl (I used a pie plate) of warm water, transferring it to a clean towel, and laying it flat (I just laid them one at a time on a clean cutting board. It was pretty wet, but I just didn’t let them get completely soft before taking them out of the bath). Let them soften for a few minutes. Soften more as needed and as space permits.

Place about 1/3 cup of filling on the bottom half of a softened disc, fold over the sides, nd then roll up from the bottom, as tightly and gently as possible. Place seam side down on a platter and repeat with the rest of the filling and discs.

Serve with Hoisin Dipping Sauce (see below—or your own improvisational dipping sauce) and a sprinkling of peanuts.

Hoisin Dipping Sauce

(which I did not make)

1/4 c hoisin sauce

1 T water

2 T rice vinegar or lemon juice

1 t dark sesame oil

1/2 t Chinese chili paste (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients.

Miracle Pecan Smoothie, or Making Lettuce Into Liqueur

A very weird thing happened today.

I was making a Vegan Maple Pecan Pie Smoothie from Healthy Blender Recipes, and I made a few modifications. I added some romaine lettuce (no, this isn’t the weird part) and subbed a little stevia for part of the maple syrup and accidentally forgot the cinnamon entirely. The result tastes like a creamy coffee-flavored liqueur drink even though there’s neither coffee nor alcohol in it. Nor cream, actually.

And it’s not just my weird alcohol-and-coffee-starved taste buds that taste Kahlúa where there is no Kahlúa. My spouse tasted it, too, and he consumes way less kale than I do.

It’s possible it’s some kind of miracle. Or perhaps there’s some logical, scientific explanation that I’ve simply not discerned yet, some kind of chemical reaction between the pecans and the lettuce and the maple syrup. Or maybe my bananas were so ripe they’d begun to ferment.

Whatever it is, here’s the recipe. You give it a try and let me know what you think.


Miracle Pecan Smoothie

(modified from Healthy Blender Recipe’s Vegan Maple Pecan Pie Smoothie)

Yield: 4 cups

1 cup romaine lettuce (3-4 leaves)

1 cup pecans

2 cups water

2 frozen ripe bananas

1 T maple syrup (I use grade B)

1 scant dropperful of liquid stevia

2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch sea salt

Toss everything into your high-powered blender and blend on high until smooth and creamy (this takes ~50 seconds in my Vitamix).

So? What do you think?

Mocktails: Not Just for Mommies-to-Be

You may recall my “50 Shades of Green” post in which I sang the praises of The Blender Girl and her incredible green smoothie recipes. Well, I’m not done yet. This weekend I tried two of the mocktail recipes on her site, and now I will commence talking her up again.

I know that some of you are thinking, “Mocktail? What the heck is the point of a mocktail? I didn’t make it to age 21 just to drink virgin margaritas. And I hate using portmanteaux. ‘Mocktail’ is just like ‘ginormous’: It sounds clever at first and by the time you realize it’s actually irritating, you’re using it so much you can’t stop saying it.”

Semantics aside, there are several reasons why you might choose a mocktail over the “real thing.” Maybe you want a fancy, fun drink for a baby shower. Maybe you’re hosting a party and want to offer designated drivers something a little niftier than club soda or ginger ale. Maybe you’re out of tequila and have already had too much to go out for more. Maybe you just have a yen for drinking colorful beverages from fancy glasses without getting bleary-eyed and nauseated.

If the mocktail is also raw, vegan, and low-sugar, then it’s practically health food, and there you have three more reasons for going “virgin.”

The two ginormous mocktails I tried this weekend:

The Nojito

I’ll admit, I’ve never had a mojito, so I’m not really sure how valuable my endorsement is. The Blender Girl’s recipe has you make a puree of lime, ginger, agave, and mint, then pour that over muddled lime wedges and more mint, add ice, and top up with sparkling water. I kind of didn’t like the crushed mint leaves always getting in my mouth while I was trying to drink it, but other than that, this was a really pleasant beverage. I drank it while crocheting on a Saturday afternoon, and even though I drank the whole batch, I didn’t need to worry about ripping out drunken stitches on Sunday.

The Raw Vegan “Better-than-Tequila” Margarita Mocktail

I got this recipe from Health Blender Recipes, and she got it from Uncooking 101, which is a really neat site with all kinds of recipes and information about a raw diet. I’m not interested in going all raw, but I do enjoy incorporating raw recipes into my meal rotation; I have a feeling I’ll be “cooking” from that blog a bit, too.

This mocktail was at a bit of a disadvantage with me. Not only do I know what a margarita tastes like, I like my margaritas on the rocks, and this one is necessarily blended. The solution: I just chose not to think of this as a margarita. As a tangy, fancy, fruit smoothie with a little cayenne kick, this is tops. And really, I like any excuse to put salt on the rim of a glass. (Note: I couldn’t find nectarines, so I used peaches instead. Turned out fine. My husband liked it, too, and didn’t even add any vodka to his. Yes, I know margaritas aren’t made with vodka, but we don’t have any tequila, just one kind of vodka and four kinds of gin. Don’t even ask why we have four kinds of gin because I just don’t know.)

Now if only The Blender Girl could come up with a virgin martini. The closest I’ve gotten is a glass of iced water poured over a couple of olives, and that’s not really close at all, even if I put it in a martini glass.

50 Shades of Green: Savory (and Sweet) Smoothie Roundup

I’ve been cautiously venturing into the world of savory smoothies the past week or so.

The first several I tried were…suboptimal. So suboptimal that I found them nearly undrinkable. I was discouraged and nearly gave up.

But while posting about savory smoothies last week, I found a link to Tess Masters’ blog, Healthy Blender Recipes. There I found savory smoothies that were not only palatable but delightful. I liked them so much that at the end of the week when I started adding fruit back into my diet, I tried out some of her sweet smoothies (and continued to drink the savory smoothies). I’ve been sending links to her blog left and right, and I figured I ought to just cut to the chase and blog my praises.

But first, a couple of general notes about green smoothies:

1) Tess recommends—and I agree—that if you’re a green smoothie neophyte, you start with the fruity green smoothies made with friendly, mild greens like romaine lettuce and spinach instead of moving on to more challenging greens and fruit-free smoothies. I’d been drinking fruity green smoothies for four years before I worked up the courage to try a savory one.

2) Savory smoothies are best very, very cold and fresh out of the blender. I also prefer to drink mine through a straw. I’m sensitive to textures and this helps me get past the sometimes off-putting thickness of a smoothie with avocado in it.

And now on with my Healthy Blender Recipes smoothie love-fest! These are a few of my favorites with links to her recipes accompanied by my notes and photos.

Savory Smoothies

Salty Alkaline Kale Green Smoothie

The only change I made to this recipe was to omit the sprouts because I didn’t have them handy. I really loved the salty, garlicky flavor when it was first blended. Two problems, though:

First, my daughter didn’t like my garlic breath after I drank it. I just made a point not to breathe/burp on her and that solved that.

Second, this recipe made a ton of smoothie…EIGHT CUPS! It almost overflowed my Vitamix. I could only drink about half of it at breakfast. I put the rest in the fridge, but when I came back to it at lunch, it had grown unpleasantly bitter. When I make this again—and I will make it again—I will halve the recipe unless I have two or three other friends over to share with me.

Raw Vegan Spicy Tomato Parsley Green Smoothie

This one is the first of Tess’s smoothies I tried. I’ve had it twice this week. It’s spicy and tangy and thick. Drinking it is kind of like drinking a spicy guacamole. I didn’t use roma tomatoes; instead I used the cherry tomatoes and “Garden Peach” tomatoes from my garden.

“Garden Peach” tomato

Tomato Tangent: The Garden Peach tomatoes have coloring similar to a peach and even have fuzz on the skin. I think they’re cute, and they’re very tasty, although it’s possible that their yellowish color contributed to my smoothie’s not-so-appetizing hue. (It might belong better on a “50 Shades of Ochre” post.)

Sweet Smoothies

Raw Vegan Creamy “Pistachio Ice Cream” Kale Shake

The recipe calls for agave syrup or dates, but instead I used stevia to sweeten this smoothie so as not to add any more sugar. Maybe that’s why it tasted more like bubble gum to me than pistachio. It was still very, very good. So good, in fact, that I’ve made it twice and both times I’ve finished the whole thing before my husband has been able to try it. The second time I even accidentally put in double the kale and it was still delicious. I’ve made it both with almond milk and with the water and cashews, as called for in the recipe, and both are fabulous.

Raw Vegan Banana Coconut Cream Pie Smoothie

This, friends and neighbors, is the best of the four smoothies I’m featuring from Healthy Blender Recipes today.

It is so good that my husband—the man who merely tolerates my green smoothie obsession and the resulting greens overflow from our refrigerator—loved it. “Wow!” he exclaimed when he tasted it after his run the other day. “This is really good!” Then, cautiously, “What makes it green?” And he kept drinking it even after I told him what made it green! (Romaine lettuce in this one.)

It is so good, in fact, that we drank it down before I had a chance to photograph it. I’m planning to make it again this weekend when the bananas are riper, and I promise to do a smoothie photo shoot and update this post with an image.

UPDATE: I took a picture when I made this smoothie again tonight! It turned out greener this time than it did last time. I used local romaine this time; maybe it was greener than the lettuce I used last week.

This concludes my post praising Tess Masters and Healthy Blender Recipes.

I admit, the title of this post is a bit misleading since I’m only featuring four green smoothies rather than fifty, but these are so good, they’re sure to keep you busy for a while. (And “50 Shades of Green” just sounds better than “4 Shades of Green.”)

If you get through these and want more, be sure to try out Tess’s other blender recipes. I plan to treat myself to a mocktail from one of her recipes this weekend. Or…maybe before the weekend.

Beef Stoop (A Recipe for a Sort of Soup, Sort of Stew)

It’s not quite a stew and not exactly a soup…it’s Beef Stoop!

This is my very own throw-it-together recipe, named by my 2-year-old son (he came up with the name more than a month ago, and the recipe followed). I whipped this up this week and didn’t want to forget the recipe. Then I figured others might like it, so why not post it to the blog! Feel free to share and re-post liberally, but please do link back here and give me credit for the recipe. And if you make it, comment and let me know how you like it!

This will be technically “done” after an hour or so of simmering, but I do think it benefits from several hours of cooking.


1.5 pounds lean stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1-2 T coconut oil

6 small carrots (or 3 large)

4 stalks celery

6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 quart organic beef broth

1 quart organic low sodium chicken broth

1 T sea salt

fresh ground pepper to taste

4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, washed and chopped (this is just what I happened to have going bad in my fridge; you could certainly sub out any number of other spices, like sage or maybe basil or oregano or thyme or marjoram, or leave this out entirely)

1 pound frozen organic green beans

1. In a 3-quart or larger pot (one with a cover), heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beef and sere on all sides. Add chopped onions and cook until translucent.

2. Add carrots, celery, garlic, broth, salt, pepper, and rosemary and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 4 hours or so.

3. Add frozen green beans, return to a boil over medium heat, then simmer, covered, over low heat for an additional 1-2 hours.

I was very pleased with how this stoop turned out. The broth was rich and flavorful, the meat and vegetables tender. The whole family devoured it with gusto. And it’s relatively inexpensive! I might try it in the slow cooker next time.

Search my “recipe” category for many, many other of my favorite recipes (both mine and from other sources)!

Honey or Vinegar: Putting an Old Adage to the Test

While you might catch more flies with honey, it turns out you actually catch more fruit flies with vinegar.

Drosophila Specimens (no idea why the reflection of the camera looks like an owl/lion looking thing)


Most specifically, this is about two ounces of apple cider vinegar and about three drops of liquid dish soap in a plastic cup. Thanks to my in-laws for passing along the recipe when we most needed it.