Recipe: Slow-Cooker Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup

Goodness knows I love the slow cooker. Every time I come home to a house full of delicious smells and dinner ready to eat, I'm in heaven. However, I never use it as much as I should. In my effort to better utilize this incredible tool, I came up with this soup that is perfect for warming up on a fall or winter night. Ingredients can be prepped the night before so, in the morning, you can just toss everything in the pot before you head out the door. Use it as a side dish/first course or as your main meal.

Slow-Cooker Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup

makes 6-8 servings


1.5 cups dried chickpeas or approximately 2 cups cooked

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon coconut oil

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

28 oz canned diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon tumeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups vegetable stock


The night before!

1. If using dried chickpeas, place in a bowl, cover with water, and soak overnight in refrigerator.

2. Heat coconut oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until browned. Remove from pan and refrigerate.

3. Prep all other ingredients, including chopping and measuring, and store accordingly overnight.

In the morning:

1. Add all ingredients to slow cooker and cook on low heat for 8-12 hrs, or until chickpeas are soft. Serve and enjoy!

The Basics to Building a Healthy Meal

Today, we're going back to basics. I write a lot about the intricacies of the food system and the current issues I feel passionately about. However, sometimes I think we get so caught up in the details that we can miss out on the foundations of healthy eating. Generally, I don't subscribe to specific meal plans. Everyone is different and what works for one may not work for someone else. With all that said, my experience so far as an intern has shown me one approach that seems to resonate with a lot of people: the plate method. Now, this is similar to USDA's MyPlate, but it has a few difference that I like better and it came around long before the government's new graphic. The basic principle behind this is using the visual of a plate to teach appropriate portions of different food groups. When building your plate, follow these principles:

  1. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. This includes greens, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, summer squash, eggplant, asparagus, and many others.
  2. Fill a fourth of your plate with whole grains and/or starchy vegetables. Think pasta, rice, potatoes, peas, corn, beans, and bread.
  3. Fill a fourth of you plate with protein. This can be in the form of meat, nuts, seeds, and the like.
  4. Add a serving of fruit and/or dairy on the side. Not required, but worth considering.

Long story short, you're filling up on nutritious veggies! This can be an especially helpful guide when going to a potluck or family get-together. Just fill your plate accordingly and, as always, eat mindfully.

My Weekend In Food

This weekend, my maid of honor came to visit. We did of course do lots of wedding talk, but we also got some good food in while she was here. I don't often do "this is what I ate today" kind of blogs, but this weekend we ate a couple of things that are definitely worthy of such a post. We were lucky enough that the Greek Festival was going on, so, on Saturday, we headed that way for lunch. This event is put on by the local Greek Orthodox Church and let me tell you, it was impressive. It's a 3 day sha-bang and while we were there they told us that they had fed 9,000 people the day before. That's insane! Especially for a 3-day event organized by a relatively small group of people. Leave it to me to be interested in the logistics of a food service operation. Anyways, after 20-30 minutes of waiting in line, we finally got our food and it was delicious!

On the way home, we stopped by the Cast Iron Outlet. Yes, really.

Our breakfast Sunday morning was incredible. I made stuffed french toast as a special treat. Let me tell you, this is one of the most drool-worthy things I've ever made. It's obviously not something you can eat every day, but, if I'm in a splurging mood, I'm not going to waste it on some pre-packaged, mediocre, junk. Plus it has fruit. That makes it healthy, right? :)

My Thoughts On The "Organic Study"

Last week, news broke on a study out of Stanford University comparing organic foods to their conventionally grown counterparts. The main message I heard in the media was something along the lines of "study finds organic food not any healthier than conventional food." Reporters would then go into a few specifics of the study and move on to the next story. I was on the fence on posting about this since I haven't read the full study, but since I've gotten quite a few questions about it in the last week, I thought I could at least discuss some of the details we do know from what has been released in the media. While this may not be the most complete analysis, I do think there are some important points that got brushed over in the media for the sake of a good headline. Here are my top takeaways. 1. What Kind of Study Was It?

Let's start with the basics. We can only interpret the results if we know what kind of results we're working with. This was a meta-analysis of 237 studies comparing conventional and organic food, meaning the researchers compared the results of these studies using statistical methods. While studies such as this are helpful, it is important to know that this was not a study spanning 50 years with thousands of subjects who ate identical diets with one being conventional and the other organic (ideal, but impractical).

2. Nutritional Content is Similar

The study concluded that, on average, organic produce has the same nutrient content as conventional produce. The only exception to this was phosphorus, which was higher in organic produce. Considering this, I do want to point out that shipping produce plays a big role in this area. If you pick an apple from a tree in your back yard and eat it that day, the nutrient content will likely be much higher than an apple grown and shipped across the county, or across the world. Lesson learned, grown your own and hit up the farmer's market.

3. Conventional Produce Has Higher Pesticide Residue

This should come as a no-brainer. One of the major reasons people purchase organic produce is to reduce their exposure to pesticides and other similar chemicals. However, this point been spun in the media to be unimportant with many articles and reports noting that the levels of pesticides found on conventional produce was still far below the levels deemed safe by the FDA. Really? Do they think people buy organic because conventional produce is somehow not adhering to FDA regulations? No! They buy it because they disagree with FDA regulations that say these chemicals are safe in the first place.

4. Conventional Meat Has Higher Levels of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

This makes perfect sense considering animals raised conventionally are pumped with antibiotics to encourage growth (yes, really) and also to fight the infections and diseases that run rampant in the deplorable conditions in which these animals are raised. But what does this really mean? Antibiotic resistant bacteria are a serious issue because, as their name suggests, they cannot be killed with antibiotics. If these kinds of bacteria continue to proliferate, more and more often we will find ourselves with bacterial infections that simply can't be treated.

Overall, the findings of this study (assuming they are valid) largely point to the benefits of organics. Yet, somehow, the media message became "organic food not healthier." Amazing.

What are your thoughts on the organic study? What do you think about the way it was portrayed in the media? Sound off in the comments below. :)

Recipe: Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Stew (and an update!)

Today's recipe celebrates some of the best veggies of summer that won't be around much longer. I figured it's time to give them a nice farewell as we start to move closer to fall. But, first things first, I wanted to give a little update about what I've been up to. Over the past few weeks I've been in the process of preparing, moving, and getting settled for my dietetic internship. Yippee! I'm super excited for what the year has in store and know that I'm going to learn so much during that time. I just can't wait to get started! Also, I somehow misplaced my camera in the move, so, until I find it, we're going to be working with cell phone pictures. Not the best, but do-able. Now, back to the recipe. First, I have a confession: I messed up when I made this. You see, I am a severe onion-crier. I've read that cold onions don't make your eyes tear up as much, so I usually put however many onions I need in the freezer when I start cooking and save them to chop last. Well, this time around, I totally forgot the onions in the freezer, so I had two frozen onions and no onions in the oven. Oops. However, the end product still tasted incredible and I'm sure it tastes even better if the onions are included! This veggie packed, vegan dish uses flavor packed basil and cilantro to season some summer super stars, including eggplant and tomatoes. They all bake together to create a delicious dish that has definitely made itself a place on my list of favorite recipes.

Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Stew

adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

serves 4-6


1.5 pounds of waxy potatoes sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 large red or yellow bell peppers

Olive oil

1 cup packed basil leaves

1 cup packed cilantro leaves

3 large cloves garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 large onions, peeled and cut into eighths

1 pound eggplant cut into 3-inch x 1-inch wedges

2 or 3 large meaty red tomatoes, seeded and diced

1.5 cups cooked chickpeas

Salt and pepper


1. Preheat the broiler. Prepare a steamer basket by bringing water in lower-pot to a boil. Steam potatoes until fork-tender.

2. Halve the peppers lengthwise, press to flatten them, then brush with olive oil. Broil, cut side down, on a baking sheet until blistered but not charred. Stack them on top of one another and set aside to steam. When cool, remove the skins and cut the pieces in half, Set the oven temperature to 350°F.

3. Coarsely chop the basil, cilantro, and garlic, then puree in a small food processor with the olive oil, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

4. Toss all the vegetables with 1 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and herb mixture. Using your hands, rub the herb mixture into the vegetables, especially the eggplant, then add the chickpeas and toss once more. Transfer everything to a large casserole dish. Rinse out the herb container with 1/2 cup water and pour it over all. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1.5 hours. Remove the foil, brush the exposed vegetables with the juices, and bake for 20 minutes more. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve alone or over brown rice, whole wheat couscous, or quinoa.

Recipe: Tabouleh, A Family Favorite

While I love creating my own recipes, I'm equally enthusiastic about finding great recipes from others. Today I want to share a favorite at my house, tabouleh. This  is a dish from the Middle East which highlights an herb often relegated to a garnish, parsley. I love this dish because it is quite versatile. It can be served warm or cold (as suggested in the recipe) and can be upgraded to a main dish with the addition of chicken or chickpeas. Even better, it is my 15-year-old brother's favorite meal. This would also be a great option to take to a cook-out or picnic.


from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger


1 cup bulgur wheat

1.5 cups boiling water

2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)

1 large cucumber, diced (about 2 cups)

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place the bulgur in a large heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, stir, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender. Drain any excess water from the bulgur. Stir in the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, and mint.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice and zest, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the bulgur mixture and toss well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to a day stored in an airtight container. Serve chilled.

Fruit, A Salad's Best Friend

I love a good salad. Nothing feels better than filling up on a bowl full of different vegetables. However, we all know that not all salads are created equal. Loading up with heavy dressings, croutons, fried items, and other caloric fare can take your salad from virtuous to villainous. For the non-veggie lovers out there, this can be a real problem, making a healthy salad practically unbearable. If you find yourself falling into the salad-hating category, or you just want to take your regular salad to the next level, adding fruit can really make a difference. Some of you may feel a little leery about mixing the sweet with the savory, but I'm here to tell you that it is a killer combination. The sweetness compliments and contrasts with the other flavors and the acid found in many fruits can help balance the fat from the olive oil in your dressing or the avocado you slice on top. Whatever fruit you have on hand is fair game. Strawberries, peaches, apples, nectarines, cherries, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all great options (but not all at once). Basically if you like it, toss it in there. Whole fruit is going to be your best option over dried because you'll be getting the water that comes with whole fruit and you also won't have to worry about the extra sugar that is often added to dried fruits, particularly cranberries. So next time you make a salad, get a little crazy and throw in some chopped apple or fresh berries. You'll be amazed at the difference it can make. What is your favorite fruit to put in your salad? Let me know in the comments below. : )

Independence Day: A Diet Diary

Yesterday, like many Americans, I celebrated the Fourth of July with my family by cooking and sitting down to a summer feast. I figured that with so much good food around, it was a perfect opportunity to post about what we were up to and how I build a healthy meal at a summer cookout. Telling you is helpful, but showing you is so much more fun!

The first thing I made was a cold grain and vegetable salad called tabouleh. I got this particular recipe from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger. It consists of bulgur wheat, tomatoes, cucumber, mint, and red onion, with parsley in the starring role (the recipe calls for 2 cups). These are all mixed together and then dressed with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and pepper. This is a popular recipe at my house, especially with my 15-year-old brother. In fact, it's his favorite thing that I make! Sometimes, we add chicken to make it a little more filling as a main dish, but, this time, we kept it as a side. There was one minor "learning opportunity." I was a little naughty and didn't wash the parsley off before chopping it. Needless to say it was full of grit and we got a little bit every few bites. I like to think it added some more minerals. Lesson learned: always wash your produce!

I also made a salad from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors. This is a recent find that has been showing up often at the dinner table lately. Romaine is tossed with bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and avocado. Then, a dressing is added made with extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, mint, cilantro, marjoram, jalapeno, and salt. It can then be topped with sliced olives and crumbled feta, if you so desire.

To round out the meal, I made a burger with grass-fed beef, Worcestershire, and soy sauce and enjoyed it on a Food For Life sprouted wheat bun. The result was delicious and definitely worthy of being one of the few burgers I eat each year.

Mom made a cheesecake for dessert and I enjoyed a small slice to finish the meal off. I was completely satisfied and didn't feel awful the next day. When eating at a cook out or celebration it's important to eat what you love, but also not totally blow your healthy lifestyle out of the water. By filling your plate your veggies and whole grains you can get full on healthy fare and still enjoy dessert.

What did you do to celebrate Independence Day? What is your favorite recipe to bring to a cookout? Answer in the comments below. : )

How To Build a Vegetarian Meal

While I myself am not vegetarian, I am picky about where my meat comes from and I eat vegetarian meals more often than not. With this said, as I see more people switch over to a meat-free lifestyle (whatever their reasons may be), many do not know how to build a meal on this new eating plan. Most often, I see people continue to plan meals that are centered around meat, even though that is exactly what they are giving up. For example, they may eat frozen "chicken" nuggets that are made from plant-based proteins or subsist solely on frozen veggie burgers. These foods are highly processed, often unappetizing, and expensive. I saw this very sort of thing promoted on a recent show on the Cooking Channel. The episode was all about cooking using the Morning Star veggie burgers and the hosts kept talking about getting healthy with a vegetarian diet. I think they were doing exactly the opposite. The key to being meat-free is to think of food in a new way, and get the focus off of meat. The first step is to think of all the foods you are eating, rather than the few that you aren't. Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and eggs are all fair game for vegetarians and can be combined in many different ways to create a delicious meal. Make spiced black beans served over brown rice with grilled veggies and a fruit salsa on the side. Another option is to roast your favorite vegetables in the oven and make them the star. Then  serve with quinoa or over whole wheat pasta with a tomato sauce. Think outside of your normal confines and get a little creative. A good place to start is with a vegetarian cookbook. Make sure it's one based on whole real foods and not the franken-foods I mentioned above. Deborah Madison is a great cookbook author as well as Heidi Swanson. Start with their titles, and use them as a jumping off point for your own creativity.

Whether you are vegetarian or not, meatless meals can be a delicious and filling option. Learning to cook this way may take a little practice, but, once you drop the fake meat and embrace the yummy plant foods at your finger tips, you'll see that vegetarian does not have to mean cardboard.

How do you feel about vegetarian cuisine? Like it or hate it, I'm all ears!

Do you have a favorite vegetarian cookbook author?

Let me know in the comments below! : )

FDA Says "No" to Corn Sugar, A Win for Real Food

This past Wednesday there was a great victory in the world of real food and nutrition labeling: the FDA denied the Corn Refiner's Association's request to rename high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar" on food labels. The application for a name change was submitted in 2010 due to the bad press that high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, has received in recent years. HFCS is a highly processed sweetener made from corn. The reason it is so predominant in the food supply is that government subsidies (your taxes dollars) encourages the overproduction of corn, making it prevalent and cheap at the market place. This corn is then used to feed livestock that are not designed to eat it and altered to be made into various "ingredients" found in processed food. Oh, and it's GMO to boot. No matter what your thoughts are on the safety of high fructose corn syrup (I never eat the stuff), this goes beyond its safety. The larger issue I see here is the consumer's right to know what is in the food they are eating. Ultimately, the name change was designed to confuse and deceive consumers by labeling the offensive ingredient as something that seems much more wholesome. If the name change had gone through, unaware consumers would have essentially had some of their power taken away in the market place. In a world where food and nutrition are often far more confusing that they should be, the last thing we need is a move such as this one.

Beyond that, it's still true that too much sugar in any form is a problem and processed foods should be limited. Stick to fresh, whole foods and you will be much better off.

How do you feel about the attempt to relabel HFCS as "corn sugar?" Sound off in the comments below.

Ending Body Hate and Embracing the Bikini

While I was eating my breakfast this morning (plain yogurt with cinnamon, apples, and granola, if you were wondering), I saw a news story that I knew I had to share with y'all. Fashion blogger Gabi Gregg, a plus size beauty, posted some photos of herself on vacation in a bikini. She got so much positive feedback that she decided to make a gallery of photos of other women showing off their own plus-size bikini bods. It serves as a celebration of beauty in every size and encourages other women to embrace where they are right now, not where they were or where they want to be.

Now, some have criticized Gabi for promoting overweight and an unhealthy lifestyle, but I totally disagree. Yes, overweight and obesity are serious health concerns, but so is self-hate. So many women, including myself, feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit. Many let that uncomfortable feeling impact their enjoyment of summer-time activities. Some won't even step foot in a pool or on a beach just because they don't feel beautiful as they are. No one should miss out on their own life just because of their size. It's important to remember that health is a journey, not a destination. You might see someone who is overweight and assume that they are unhealthy, when really the may eat clean, whole foods and exercise 5 days a week.

In addition, this message isn't just for those who are overweight or obese. Many people, no matter how "perfect" the body, have their own hang-ups or insecurities. Everyone can learn something from this beautiful lady and her wonderful attitude. Nothing is sexier than confidence.

What do you think of Gabi's bikini photos? Are you inspired to break out the bikini or do something else you've been afraid of?  Do you think her pictures promote overweight and obesity? Answer in the comments below. : )

Recipe: Memorial Day Edition! Yogurt Marinated Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs

I'm happy to say that grilling season is officially here! The sun is shining, the pools are open, and everyone wants to do some outdoor cooking. One of my favorite things to make on the grill are kabobs. Not only do they cook quickly, but they are quite versatile and make it easy to create a large spread with something to please every palate. I like to make mine using a product called the Fire Wire. The long wire allows you to pack lots of food on to one skewer and they have a handle at the end that you can grab with your hand (burn-free) when it's time to flip. They are also nice if you have a round grill because you can snake them around, giving you a much more efficient use of the cooking space. I find they work better with meats than veggies, as the vegetables tend to spin around when it's time to flip, but it's still doable.

Now for the food! I cooked chicken, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, red onion, and pineapple. The pineapple was cubed and grilled au naturale. For the veggies, I brushed them with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Both simple and simply delicious. The chicken was cubed and marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices which gave it lots of moisture and great flavor. Try this out at your next cook-out or for dinner with the family and you won't be disappointed. I know I"ll be making it all summer long!

Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kabobs

serves 2-4 people


1.25 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed (thighs would also work, if you prefer)

1/2 cup organic, plain yogurt

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste



1. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a bowl or measuring cup and mix thoroughly.

2. Place chicken in a shallow dish or large plastic bag and add yogurt mixture. Mix well to ensure the marinade is completely incorporated. Cover (or close the bag) and refrigerate for 3-6 hours.

3. Prepare your grill and heat on medium-low. When chicken is done marinating, remove from refrigerator and put on your favorite skewers. If using wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes before adding the chicken and fill them completely, limiting the amount of exposed wood. This will help prevent a flaming skewer or the skewer burning and breaking into pieces.

4. Place chicken skewers on hot grill and cook, flipping once. A good rule of thumb it not to flip the meat until it pulls away from the grill freely. Don't be the person that moves the food around constantly. Place it on the grill and be patient. The results will be much better, I assure you.

5. When chicken is cooked, remove from grill and serve with grilled vegetables.

What is you favorite food to grill in the Summer? Tell me in the comments below! : )

Operation Graduation

As some of you may know, I am graduating this weekend with a B.S. in Dietetics. My roomies and I decided at the beginning of the semester that we wanted to have all of our relatives celebrate together on the big day, rather than separately. Our solution: a graduation party at our apartment. However, once we added everyone up, we realized that our guest count is going to come out right around 50. Yes, you read that right: 50 PEOPLE! After I had a mild panic attack, we immediately went into planning mode. How can we feed all of these people? What are we going to feed all of these people? We knew immediately there was no way we could make enough food for everyone between the three of us. I mean, even if we could make it, we only have one refrigerator. Instead, we decided to make our event a potluck. If you're starting to have flashbacks of potlucks gone wrong, let me tell you, potlucks have gotten a lot more high-tech recently, thanks to my new favorite website, On this website, you can create an event and include details such as location or any other information you want your guests to know. Then, decide how many options you want in each category (main dish, side dish, dessert, etc.) and send the link to all of your guests via email. Then, friends can sign up for whatever they want to bring and you never have to worry about that awkward potato salad battle. You know what I'm talking about. When two people bring potato salad and everyone gets to see which one is the obvious favorite by how much is eaten of each. Instead, you'll have a varied spread with a little something for everyone.

Right now, I'm feeling good about the event ahead of us. I think we have enough food in each category and enough overall. Now we just have to wait and see what happens on graduation day! Check back next week for a report on how it all went down and lots of pictures!

What's your go-to recipe when attending a potluck? Post in the comments below! : )

Nutella Lawsuit: What It Really Means

It seems like there has been a lot of food in the headlines here recently.  From mad cow disease in California to pizzas with a cheeseburger crust, the food industry has been showing itself (in more ways than one). One story that struck a nerve with me was this one from the Huffington Post about a $3 million class-action lawsuit settled against Ferrero, the maker of Nutella. The reason? A California mother claims that she was deceived by advertisements for the product, as well as the language on the label, to believe that Nutella was a healthy option to feed her child. To rectify this issue, Ferrero is paying out to consumers and will also have to change advertisements and other media messages (website, packaging, etc.) so they are no longer deceptive in this way. While some may be shouting for joy for a victory over the industry, I think a more important issue is at hand. While I agree that companies should not be making false claims or taking advantage of consumers, the answer goes far beyond policing suggestions or implications made by advertisements. The real problem at hand is the fact that consumers are vulnerable to such ploys because they are unable to analyze corporation claims and nutrition information to decide for themselves whether or not a product is healthy and appropriate for the needs of their families.

It seems to me, in this case, one of two things happened. This mother either read the nutrition information and ingredients and  could not interpret it or, more likely, simply trusted the message she received from advertisers as true, rather than investigating further. This is perfect example of how much education is truly needed, as Nutella is not by any means one of the more confusing products on the market.  After all, it has 8 ingredients (much fewer than many processed foods) and the first ingredient is sugar. The fact that a consumer cannot come to the conclusion that such a product is not a health food shows that there is a serious disconnect.

Have you ever felt deceived by a food advertisement or marketing scheme? What about nutrition do you find confusing?