Southern Style Pinto Beans


I’m a little closer to the equator now and although I would’ve never expected it, I’ve been eating beans of every Tex-Mex variety like they’re going out of style.IMG_1224

So while peeking in my pantry for ideas the other day, I spied a bag of dried pinto beans I bought last fall in Iowa in an effort to reduce my sodium intake (sans canning preservatives). I tried the “slow-soak” method of softening the beans and it took too long and didn’t turn out that great. But I’m somewhere new now, so I figured why not give it another shot.

Slow soak did not work, again. I even soaked three times the recommended time. No softening to be had. I strained them, popped them in the fridge for a few days, and returned feeling challenged but determined.

Not another slow soak for me. This time I boiled them for just 8 minutes and the results were much better, allowing me to try my hand at Southern Style Pinto Beans, which are a lot like refried beans, but of course I’m not going to add any hydrogenated oils.IMG_1198

And really, all the recipes I drew preparation ideas from were pretty easy and healthy already. So here’s my version, done in a slow cooker. It’s not single-serving style, but cut anything by 1/4 and you’ll have it anyway or email me and I’ll help.


1 pound pinto beans, softened

1/5 cup diced onion

1/2 T cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and a dash of cayenneIMG_1196

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or more water)


-Place onions and beans in a slow cooker on low. Stir in spices and liquids.

-Cook for about 4 hours, stirring every half hour or so. And pay attention to liquid levels, so if the bean mix appears to be drying out add another 1/4 cup of water or more if necessary.

-Place in food processor. Blend until smoother but still lumpy. Return to slow cooker if your meal isn’t prepared yet and keep on warm or serve. (But serve warm because this is the one time when cool beans aren’t so cool…)IMG_1223


Curry in a Hurry!


If you know me, you know my dinner standby is a simple equation of sorts: pasta + veggies + protein. I like to mix up each part, and I love trying new sauces. Definitely my favorite comfort food, and heaven knows I eat a lot of it.SAM_5020

But sometimes when I’m feeling wild and crazy, I make Curry in a Hurry. It’s so simple, so healthful. Plus, it’s fast!

Yes, a good curry can be made fast and made for one. Here’s how.


1/2 cup dry brown riceSAM_5014

4 oz. of cooked protein of choice (chicken, mahi mahi, etc.)

1 cup veggies of choice (onions, scallions, carrots, edamame, broccoli, and red pepper slices are a few of my favorites)

1-2 T broth (for a runnier curry)

1-2 T Trader Joe’s Yellow Curry Sauce

1/2 t curry powder


cooking oil

optional: dash of cayenne or ground ginger for good health


To cook your rice fast, prepare in rice cooker as directed. Or do as I do and combine 1/2 cup rice and 1 and 3 T water in microwave-safe bowl and zap for about 7 minutes or until all water is absorbed.

While your rice is cooking, heat garlic in a lightly oil pan. Add in veggies. Sautee as you add in the curry powder, then the broth and optional seasonings if you’d like those.SAM_5021

At this point, if you’d like your protein mixed in, then do that now. I often just eat mine over the top, on a bed-of-rice sort of deal.

When the rice is finished, blend it in to heat up with the veggies. After a minute or so, mix the secret weapon, Trader Joe’s Yellow Curry Sauce, in. Blend well; add more if you like.

Serve warm. And if you’re in a hurry, at least take a minute to enjoy this incorrigibly good, Indian-inspired dish.

Veggie-Bean Tacos


Last Wednesday I wrote all about the high-fiber study I was participating in, and about how I was Tex-Mexing with tofu for lack of meat in my diet (as required by the study). Well, the study is over, but these little veggie-bean tacos aren’t, not for me.SAM_5050

Why do I love them? First of all, I almost never eat beans, which is a shame considering all their health benefits. More so than that, I love this recipe because anytime I want a protein-packed, filling meal, it doesn’t require thawing. Defrosting meat is something I hate. It’s disgusting. It’s uneven if you use the microwave, and because I usually prepare whatever I feel like eating when I feel like eating it, I rarely plan ahead.

But beans are ready when you are. Simple and wonderful.

This recipe is very similar to the Southwestern Tofu Scramble because I sautee my beans with my veggies and smash them up a little bit. You don’t have to, but I like them to be infused with similar flavor.



1/4 cup black beans, rinsed

1 jalapeno

1/2 Roma tomato, chopped

garlic and minced onion, to taste

dash of cumin and chili powder

optional: tortillas, kale, cheese, twist of lime


-Warm a skillet to medium heat. Spray with cooking oil and begin adding in garlic, onion, tomato, and jalapeno. Sautee for a few minutes.

-Add in beans and then the seasonings into the veggies. Continue to cook until beans and veggies are heated through fully. Again, I smash my beans down a tad, but that’s personal preference. If you want to keep the texture of your mix diversified, don’t press down on them.

-Serve warm with warm tortillas, which I like to toast for a minute or so in the broiler (and it crisps the edges of the veggie-bean mix quite well).

I add kale and spritz a little lime juice over the top. Not too much though or else the tortillas become soggy. And my salsa rice makes an excellent side.


Southwestern Tofu Scramble


I don’t think I’ve written yet about the study I’ve been participating in for the past 7 weeks, but it’s been a fascinating experience. There’s a tofu-rrific connection coming, I promise…SAM_5030

So I’m part of this Iowa State nutrition study testing the effects of high- and low-fiber diets on iron absorption levels. Every two weeks, I’m handed 2-3 heaping bags of high-fiber foods: whole-wheat rolls, pastas, rice, sliced bread loaves, black beans, and tofu. This is fantastic because not only am I a poor little graduate student, but also because I’ve been learning all about how studies work in other fields. The primary researcher, Seth, is a friend of mine. It’s always interesting to see how things are going with this. I imagine he’ll be very successful.

But for all the free food (and compensation at the end), there are a few drawbacks. For one, I have to log just about everything I eat, which can be tedious. I also have to take special care to include something high-fiber at every meal. I usually do this anyway, but when eating out it’s a little challenging.

The biggest challenge, though, has been restricting my meat consumption to only 2-3 3-oz. servings a week! Despite misconceptions about me being vegetarian–which even some of my dear friends continue to think–I am not. I eat meat most days, usually for dinner.SAM_5038

Tofu has been my saving grace. I need the protein. To be honest, I’m not crazy about the jiggly stuff, but I have found some cool ways to incorporate it into my diet. My favorite is this southwestern-style scramble, which I usually serve on corn tortillas.


1/4 container of firm tofu

1 jalapeno

1/2 Roma tomato, chopped

garlic and minced onion, to taste

dash of cumin and chili powder

optional: tortillas, kale, cheeseSAM_5029


-Warm a skillet to medium heat. Spray with cooking oil and begin adding in garlic, onion, tomato, and jalapeno. Sautee for a few minutes.

-Meanwhile cube tofu. You can cut as haphazardly as you like. The crumblier the better for those wanting this recipe to taste more like an egg-imitation one. Add into sauteeing veggies.

-Add in seasonings and cook until tofu is heated through and somewhat crumbly. Serve warm with warm tortillas.

I like to add kale and sometimes salsa to mine. Add your usual Tex-Mex favorites, like queso, ranchero sauce, etc. Enjoy!


Pizza Muffins

I feel, at this point in my culinary journey, that I can turn just about anything into a muffin or cupcake. Anything.

Pizza is no exception. Actually, it’s a delight.

So on a boring Friday night dedicated to the rigors of reading ancient rhetoric, I made pizza muffins for dinner.

…Okay, I secretly love reading Aristotle on a Friday night with some healthy comfort food; I will not lie to you.

If the Greeks originally invented the pizza pie, would Aristotle be proud of my ability to invent and arrange such a wonderful creation. I like to think so.


To make the dough, simply follow my classic, whole-wheat pizza dough recipe:



1 t honey or agave nectar

1/4 of a yeast packet

1/4 + 3 T whole wheat flour

1 T rolled oats

1 t cornmeal

pinch of salt

Seasonings: garlic, basil, oregano


1/4 cup cheese of your choice (I used a soy-based one for my lactose allergy)

3 T favorite marinara or other sauce

whatever toppings you love on regular pizza



-In a bowl, dissolve sweetener and yeast in 2.5 T hot water. Let stand for about five minutes.

-Add flour and salt to the yeast mixture and stir ’til a soft dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

-Place in bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat the top. Let rise ’til double in size, about 30 minutes.

And get your veggies local if you can!

And get your veggies local if you can!

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

-Punch down and work in seasonings. Roll into a circle or square shape. Divide into 3-4 parts and press into the muffin slots of a lightly greased muffin tin. Bake for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and begin topping process.


-Spoon sauce evenly into muffin cups, and then top with cheese (plus any additional seasonings you’d like). Begin layering veggies and cheese and seasonings as desired.

-Place back in oven for about 5 more minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Zucchini Lasagna

I’ve tried a lot of Italian-inspired squash dishes.

Spaghetti Squash.

Italian Squash Bakes.

Involtini. (Probably my favorite.)

They’ve all been delicious and fairly simple to make.

But this one… Well, this one takes the Italian wedding cake!

And the odd thing is, it’s almost too easy and quick to taste as good as it does.

I suppose you could spend some more time sauteing the zucchini, marinating the meat, or roasting red peppers in herbs all day to go on top.

But who really has time for that? Not this grad student and teacher. So rest assured that this quick-and-easy, gluten-free lasagna for one tastes just as good as anything you’d spend all day preparing, especially when it’s laced with hunger sauce.


cooking spray or olive oil

4 large zucchini rounds, sliced thinly

1/2 cup tomato sauce (try my Sauce From Scratch recipe!)

3 T ricotta

1 T whole-wheat bread crumbs

Italian seasonings mix

1/4 cup meat (I used ground venison, but shredded chicken, or ground turkey or tofu would make for nice alternatives)

freshly grated Parmesan


-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with oil or spray. Place zucchini rounds on top and grease the tops of those, too. When the oven is preheated, pop the rounds into the oven for about 5 minutes on each side.

-Meanwhile, lightly grease your ramekin and spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Set aside.

-In a small bowl, mix ricotta, bread crumbs, and Italian seasonings.

-Once the zucchini are finished in the oven. Take them out and let cool slightly. Place one round on the bottom of the ramekin. Cover with ricotta mix, 1/3 of the meat, and then a layer of sauce. Repeat.

-When you get to the last zucchini round, simply top with sauce and as much Parmesan as you like. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges start to get crispy and the cheese has melted a bit.

Remove and serve warm.

Flower Power Eggs

Why can’t breakfast be cute?

Anti-creative curmudgeons may roll their eyes, but chefs and researchers alike confirm that the aesthetic presentation of food matters.

So after a long Saturday morning run, I decided my usual source of protein needed a visual pick-me-up. I can’t take responsibility for this easy egg recipe that some, such as Apron Strings, have dubbed “Flower-Power Eggs,” but I can say that it was very fun to make–the fact that I adore bell peppers of every color doesn’t hurt.


1 egg

1 pepper (sliced into a ring shape, or sideways)

Preferred seasonings



-Set burner to medium to medium-low, depending on how hot yours gets. Let warm.

-Spray the warm pan with a light layer of cooking oil. Place pepper ring in the pan, and then crack the egg and drop into the pepper.You may need to hold the pepper down a bit to ensure that the egg doesn’t creep out underneath. My burner is a bit uneven, so this was a problem. If yours starts to escape, press pepper ring down gently to stop the flow of liquids. Once the egg has solidified a bit, you should be able to let go. But if you’re worried about aesthetics, simply trim any excess egg from around the outer rim of the pepper ring once the egg has finished cooking.

That’s it! So easy, right?







You could also try using a metal cookie cutter like Cutest Food did in the picture below, but I’d recommend having a flat burner to work with. You wouldn’t want to burn your fingers on a hot cookie cutter.

Paella Party for One

Paella isn’t meant to be eaten alone. It’s meant to be shared, usually served family style.

But darn it. Some week nights, after a long day’s work, you just want to dig your fork into a hearty paella.

This speedy recipe was adapted from Fitness Magazine. The scallops were omitted, but in hindsight, I think they would have been a nice addition.

Then again, this single-serving recipe yields so much, omitting the scallops wasn’t truly a loss. The picture does not do the portion size justice.

Don’t you just love healthy recipes that yield big portion sizes that are packed with healthful foods, but aren’t calorically damning? I sure do 🙂


1 t olive oil

a few T chopped onion, pepper, or tomato

1 t crushed garlic

1 t tomato paste

pinch of saffron

1 T dry white wine

2 oz. mushrooms

2 oz. artichoke hearts

2 oz. shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails removed)

1/2 turkey or chicken sausage link, sliced into rounds (I made my own from ground turkey and spices)

1/2 cup brown rice

3.5 T reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 t paprika

1 t chopped parsley


-Heat oil in skillet over medium heat; then reduce to medium low and add onion and garlic. Stir occasionally until seared and golden brown.

-Mix in tomato paste and saffron; cook for about 2 minutes.

-Add wine, mushrooms, artichoke, shrimp, and sausage. Stir.

-Then mix in rice and broth. Cover and let simmer until liquid is mostly dissolved (about 10 minutes).

-Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve warm.

Mustard-Dressing Baked Russet Potatoes

Potatoes get a bad rep. It’s not fair. They don’t deserve it.

In moderation, they offer great health benefits. Plus, they’re just a very yummy comfort food–perfect for a quick and satisfying weeknight fix.

This recipe, originally adapted from Better Homes & Garden’s potato salad recipe, was meant to be served chilled. But I like my potatoes hot, even in the summer months. So here’s my version:


2/5 pound russet potatoes (about 5 small ones)

1 T Olive oil

2 t Dijon mustard

2 t red wine vinegar

a pinch of stevia

.5 t black pepper

1 T fresh parsley (or 1 t seasoning)

1.5 t chopped onion

1.5 t chopped celery


-Halve or quarter the potatoes. Boil for about 15 minutes or until soft.

-Once they’ve cooled enough to be held, toss them in the oil. Place on lightly greased broiling pan. Broil on high for about 3 minutes. Turn them to the other side. Let broil another 3 minutes, or just enough so that they start to get a crispy, golden brown appearance.

-In a small bowl, combine Dijon mustard (Trader Joe’s is the best!), vinegar, sugar, black pepper, parsley, onion, and celery.

-Pour mustard dressing over the warm potatoes and toss gently. Serve warm, if you like, or cold, if you like that. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of any cold potato salad, but I imagine the majority who do like cold potato salads would love this served chilled (and if you try that, you’ll want to forgo crisping via broiling, too).


Raspberries & Fudge Cake

In truth, I don’t really like raspberries. But at the time, it was raspberry-picking season and I happened across Chocolate-Covered Katie’s Fudge

Cake with a raspberry base.
And because my favorite local organic growers, Berry Patch Farm, had a few fruiting bushes left, I went. I picked.
I created. This:
  • 2/3 cup raspberries
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp coconut butter or Homemade Coconut Butter
  • Scant 1/16th tsp salt
  • 1 t pure maple syrup (or a little stevia)


-If you don’t have coconut butter on hand–or just don’t want to spend the money to buy some from the health market (sorry, Katie!)–you can pulse 4 T shredded coconut in a food processor, adding in a little coconut oil or applesauce, if necessary. A somewhat crumby paste should start to form.

-Now place washed and thoroughly dried berries in food processor along with the cocoa, salt, and sweetener. Puree on high until a chocolatey paste forms. Stop to stir frequently.

-Transfer the mixture to a small dish. It should be paste-like, but easy to form into whatever shape you like. I opted for a traditional pie slice shape.

-Refrigerate for several hours, ’til firm. Or freeze. If you freeze for a longer period of time, say overnight (because you were thinking ahead to dinner the next evening), then allow a little thaw time before serving.

-Garnish with cream, berries, ice cream, nuts, or whatever your tummy desires.

-Final step: To really enjoy this treat, turn off the T.V. Sit down. Experience every bite.