The Art of Delegating . . . some things, anyway – Curried Butternut Squash & Green Beans over Quinoa

I feel like that little cartoon saying that you see pinned up in middle management offices sometimes – “The faster I go, the behinder I get”.  The reality of my everyday real life makes it so that I just can’t write as fast as I can cook.

I literally have recipes, creations, and pictures backing up like baby clothes in a laundry hamper.  And I know you mama readers can relate to that little analogy.  For those of you who have gracefully left the baby stage of parenthood, just take a moment and reflect on those days when you easily tallied in FOUR dirty outfits for one tiny creature.  You remember now, don’t you?  An endless parade of bibs, burp cloths, and buntings (what is a bunting really anyway?).  And everything so tiny that folding was like origami practice.  So much so that sometimes it was easier to just leave the mass of tininess in a big pile rather than even trying to fold and put away.

Well that’s how I’m feeling with my cooking these days.  I’m pumping out the meals and chronicling each creation in photos as I go,  but there they all sit in digital nowhereland on my laptop.

I manage to keep up with other stuff around the house by delegating to my troops.  Everyone pitches in and that’s what makes it all work.  I recently found a little gem called My Job Chart which I use to help keep everyone on track.  They LOVE it and clamor to the computer to log their helpfulness in exchange for points which they can spend, save or share.  It’s really an amazing motivator – I mean after all, it’s got technology AND money involved.  But there are some things, like this blog, that just can’t be delegated.  Teeth brushing would be another one of those “un-delegatable” items.  Is it really just me, or can anyone else relate to those days when you fall into bed at night after a trying day and just wish someone could take your head off, go brush your teeth for you, and then return your head?  OK, definitely just me, but now it’s out there and now you know the true level of my weirdness . . .  not to mention the extent of my fatigue on “certain” days.

So before I get any more “behinder”, I have decided to take a few days and give you the recipes, just the recipes (to be spoken in your best Joe Friday imitation), without any of my superfluous spiel.   Here’s the first one to get us started, and it’s an ORIGINAL creation (read – no recipe) that I just can’t wait to share.

To get started with making Curried Butternut Squash and Green Beans over Quinoa, I first peeled and cubed one medium butternut squash.

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I tossed the squash with a little olive oil and then roasted for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees.  While that was roasting, I sliced up some green pepper and a little lemon grass.

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I melted a little butter in a skillet and then added the green pepper and finely chopped lemongrass along with some red pepper flakes and curry powder.

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I sauteed everything until the pepper was just tender.  Then I added in a little coconut milk and some Thai fish sauce.  At the same time, I had brought a pot of salt water to a boil and cooked up some green beans until they were just tender.  I added the green beans to the curry mixture and also tossed in the roasted squash.

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I let things simmer just until everything was heated through.  I served it around a bed of quinoa and garnished with chopped cashews and some chopped fresh cilantro.

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Quite a satisfying little dinner.  It also got approval all around the table – which isn’t always the case when I go free-wheeling and recipe-less.

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Here’s the complete recipe for Curried Butternut Squash and Green Beans over Quinoa.

Looking for more curry recipes?  Give these a gander.

Truth or Dare – Leek & Salmon Pot Pie

Heaven help us . . . we have entered into the phase of Truth or Dare. In general, we’re not much for sleepovers round here. But hey, it’s summer, and as one last treat for Big Little One and Medium Little One we decided to whoop it up with a slumber party. Two friends plus my two and we have a squealing, giggling, chattering overnight adventure.

First we hit the pool. Then dinner. Then movie watching in the treehouse. These were all somewhat parent directed, or at least suggested, activities. Then after the movie, out it came in all of its glory – dun, dun, dun – Truth or Dare. Absolutely no parental guidance heeded here.

Now though I would like to raise a wise eyebrow on this one and suggest the dangers of carrying out dares that could later lead to embarrassment, I just can’t. I so fondly remember my Truth or Dare days. Specifically I recall wearing a Richard Simmons wig and doing leg lifts in the middle of the street while my friends held the boom box (yes, I just said boom box) that was blasting music from Flash Dance. We reeled with laughter and doubled over because our sides hurt from it. It still makes me smile to think of that moment in time. It was pure silliness. Pure abandon. Pure naivety. So I table my eyebrow raising, and let the dares just run wild.  I pretend not to hear them downstairs as one pees in the baby’s training potty (that one gets points for creativity!) I call them back on the number they used to prank call me and ask for 12 pairs of the polka dot underwear they are selling. They roar from the bedroom down the hall and I hope that they are soaking up this time of side-holding hilarity. I hope they will have a moment like my Richard Simmons one that will stick with them forever and will remind them of good friends and what a good belly laugh really feels like.

Sure, I continue to enjoy a good laugh here and there with close friends.  I haven’t completely lost my sense of humor here in middle age. But it’s just not the same kind of rollicking, double-you-over, can not catch your breath laughter.  It’s usually a giggle here and there while sipping a glass of wine or a good cocktail and enjoying a flavorful dinner of some kind like this Salmon and Leek Pot Pie I made the other night.

The leeks caught me eye at the Farmer’s Market and I bought them and then just took it from there.

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I cleaned and sliced the leeks, and then sauteed in some olive oil until they were tender.

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I cut the salmon into bite-sized chunks and then tossed the salmon and leeks with some grated lime zest, dill, salt, and pepper.

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I took a Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust which I had let defrost and unfolded it into a glass pie plate.  As an aside, this crust ranks quite well on the real food ingredient scale – enriched flour, butter, palm oil, water and salt. (Palm oil is very high in saturated fat, but it has zero trans fats.) I spread the salmon and leek mixture into the crust.

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I covered it with the second crust and crimped the pie edges together and trimmed it close to the pie plate. Then I mixed up a little egg and water wash, and brushed it over the top crust. I baked it in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the crust was golden brown.

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I love my leeks and now I am excited to have found a good use for the salmon that I always have left over from my Costco filet purchase – never enough to make a full second meal of salmon alone, but too much to not use in something.

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And now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s just way too much laughter in the other room. That friend-memory making-truth or dare spiel is all well and good, but these girls have to get to sleep at some point . . .

Here’s the complete recipe for Leek & Salmon Pot Pie, adapted from Gourmet.

Stuck on Summer Simple – Watermelon, Tomato, Basil & Feta Salad

I’m simply stuck on simple.  No other words for it.

This past weekend I was on a mission for short preparation and refreshing results.  Maybe it’s because my weekend consisted of six (yes, 6) water polo games and a swim meet.  Guess you could say I’m water logged.

Oh, and genius me, decided to join the book club with the gals studying Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7.  Her first chapter is about food.   In her actual “experiment”, she decided on only seven foods to nourish her body (and soul) for an entire month.  Our book club is covering her seven areas of excess (food, clothing, media, spending, possessions, waste, & stress) at the rate of one per week.  I decided that choosing seven foods for a week wouldn’t be that tough for me.  Instead, I decided to GIVE UP seven things for this week.   One of those things was Eating Out.  Now I don’t know about you, but a 6 water polo game 1 swim meet kind of weekend screams CHIIIIIIIIIPOTLE.  But no, my brilliant book club experiment had me planning and preparing meals as I was dashing out the door with towels and tents and lego bins in tow.  My little brood is just lucky they didn’t end up with sunscreen in place of sour cream on this weekend’s consumables.

So amidst all the water sport chaos, I did manage to pull off a very simple salad that I think is worth sharing.  I had half of a small water melon left that I needed to finish off.  I cut it into bite-sized cubes and then tossed with some halved cherry tomatoes.  I dressed that watermelon tomato mixture with a little dressing made out of simple olive oil and red wine vinegar.  I lined a platter with chopped romaine and then mounded the tomato-watermelon mixture on top.  I finished things off with feta cheese, slivered almonds, and fresh chopped basil. So easy.

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Hope you all had a relaxing weekend.  Next week on my 7 agenda is clothing.  Fortunately, we’ll be leaving on vacation.  Let’s just say that 7 articles of clothing is going to make the packing very light!

Want to check out some other watermelon salad ideas?

To Pin or Not to Pin – Herbed Summer Squash & Potato Torte

Pinterest. It’s like a train wreck sometimes.  I want to look away.  I know I should look away.  I know there are a million better ways that I could be spending my time.  But I just continue to stare and stare.  I have even been known to load all of the “popular” pins, sit there and scroll all the way to the bottom, and then press refresh and load a whole new batch of “popular”.  What a time suck.

We all say it. Right?  But why, oh why, do we continue to come back?  I guess it’s the new suburban-safe addiction.  And then I justify my addiction.  I tell myself that at least I no longer browse the “popular” pins.  At least I don’t pin ridiculous sayings like other people do. At least I don’t “follow” anyone (if I did, I know i would never escape the machine).  At least now I only USE for recipes and homeschool ideas. “Justify, justify, little brain.  You are wasting as much time and energy as everyone else and you know it.”

So some day, I may just go cold turkey from my “habit”.  Some day, I may return to my mother’s era and actually open a cook book or start clipping clever ideas from Ladies Home Journal.  How retro would that be?  Maybe some day I’ll put my money where my mouth is, and monitor my own “screen time” like I monitor my kids.  How funny would that be?  The system I use with them is that they earn Mom Dollars and Dad Bucks for all examples of good behavior.  They then can cash in 5 of those earned singles for 20 minutes of ipad or computer.  Maybe I could start paying myself for each load of laundry done.  Each meal cooked.  Each trip to the market.  Each time I refrain from gossip.  Each time I clean a bathroom.  Each time I give the Hubs some lovin’. Each time I’m a good listener.  Wonder how that would work out for me?

Well, until I decide to really go off the grid (which I fantasize about regularly), I’ll continue to just justify and take my hits of Pinterest when I  can.  I’ll continue to not follow anyone, and I’ll continue to to fill up my “Yum” and “School” boards.  And from time to time, I’ll share a killer find -like this recipe for Herbed Summer Squash & Potato Torte- with you all.

As with so many of these veggie recipes, I kicked things off with a little chopping.  On the block were the summer squash and the potatoes.

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Then I mixed up a little breading which consisted of some scallions, freshly grated parmesan, flour, fresh thyme, and salt & pepper.

I took a large, oven-proof skillet, buttered the bottom and up the sides a bit, and then placed a layer of potatoes in concentric circles over the bottom.

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A layer of summer squash went on top of the potato layer, again in concentric circles and again just slightly overlapping. I drizzled a touch of olive oil over and then added a layer of the breading mixture.  I repeated that sequence with one more layer of potatoes, another layer of squash, a tad more oil, and a final layer of the breading.  I pressed down the final assembly with a spatula to assure everything was well compacted.

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I covered the skillet with foil, and into the oven it went at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  Then I removed the foil and baked another 25 minutes until everything was nice and brown.

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I sprinkled some additional fresh scallions over as a garnish and served with roasted green beans and steamed cauliflower.

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For such simple ingredients, the final product was quite flavorful.  It was the breading (I know I have been calling it that, but it doesn’t have even a hint of bread product in it), that really made this dish.

So thank you, Pinterest.  I’ll continue to loathe you, but we both know I’ll come crawling back again and again with all my lame excuses in tow.  That is, until I buy that ranch somewhere in the middle of nowhere and swear off all technological indulgences for good.

Here’s the complete recipe for Herbed Summer Squash & Potato Torte.

And hats off to the Smitten Kitchen for making your way onto Pinterest so that I could find this delightful recipe.

In the mood for more summer squash?  Try these . . .

Grilled Shrimp and Summer Squash (williams-sonoma.com)

Summer Squash, Sausage, and Potato Quiche (spoonful.com)

School’s Out for Summer – Orzo with Grilled Shrimp, Summer Veggies & Pesto Vinaigrette

I think I’m starting to decompress.  I think I’m starting to decompress.  If I repeat that another dozen times, maybe I’ll start to believe it.  About 4 million things have fallen off of my schedule in the last few weeks – with the biggest one being school.  Yes, I homeschool my children and yes, it’s insane.  But the implications of that on the cooking front is that I’m always trying to wedge dinner preparations into everything else I’ve got going on during the day.  Keeping all of the plates spinning is my boiled down job description.  And no, I won’t bore you with the names of each and every plate.  Just trust me when I say, “There are  A LOT of them!”

But with school finished for the year, I can take a more leisurely approach to things in my kitchen.  I love that.  I know for some people cooking is such a hassle, but for me it really is therapeutic.  I’ll take zesting a good lemon over journaling my innermost feelings any day.  Body combat workout to release my aggressions?  I’d rather beat egg whites into stiff peaks.  If I have the time, I like to linger over the steps of putting a meal together and not rush through things.  That’s exactly what I did in assembling this summer salad.

I started by making a nice pot of orzo, draining, rinsing, tossing with a little olive oil and setting it aside.  I truly think orzo is one of my favorite pastas.  There’s something about the size and the texture that just works for me.

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Then I chopped up some red bell pepper and summer squash.

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I whisked together a little olive oil and red wine vinegar and brushed the veggies with the mixture.

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Finally, I grilled the veggies until they were just browned and then set aside.  Yes, this was the inaugural busting out of the grill for the summer.

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While the veggies were grilling, I had the peeled and deveined shrimp sitting in a little marinade of prepared pesto, lime juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.  As soon as the veggies came off the grill, on went the shrimp.  I grilled them for about 3 minutes per side and then pulled them off.  Actually, Medium Little One handled the grilling for me and did quite a fine job at it.

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I chopped up some grape tomatoes and fresh basil (we are OVERRUN with basil, so if you find all recipes for the next 3 months oozing with basil, it’s not my fault it’s the garden’s), and then cubed some fresh mozzarella.  I tossed this all together with the orzo, the grilled veggies and the grilled shrimp and then poured my remaining pesto vinaigrette over.

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I served it with some sweet potato fries and we were good to go.

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So welcome summer!  I am so glad you are here.  No I won’t be grading anymore Singapore Math, nor will I be measuring soil compaction with knitting needles for Science Fair projects.  I will not be be nagging to complete your DOL, nor will I explain rotational symmetry for the 98th time.  I don’t care if you don’t know whether the pronoun is a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, and if you can’t remember to find a common denominator before comparing fractions, then that’s just your own problem for the next three months.  I’ll be lingering over summer recipes in my kitchen and sipping white wine while doing it.

For the complete Orzo with Grilled Shrimp Summer Veggies & Pesto Vinaigrette Recipe, click here.

Want to explore some more fun Orzo Recipes?

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Eggs for Dinner – Zucchini & Sweet Potato Frittata

Egg recipes.  Sometimes they are winners and sometimes they just don’t measure up.  Sometimes the ones that sound “dinner-ish”  just end up tasting like breakfast in a thin disguise.  If you have ever seen the move Julia & Julia, you’ll remember the classic omelette scene.  I love that scene because I gave up on the perfect omelette long ago.  I really think it’s a patience thing.  It starts out as a nice omelette and before I know what’s happening, and before I can control my spatula, it has turned into scrambled eggs – “messy eggs” I believe is the more chic term used in some brunch places.  My sister-in-law, on the other hand must be a very patient gal.  She can cook an absolutely perfect omelette.

So having abandoned ship on my omelette skills, I have explored lots of other egg options.  I went through an egg casserole phase.  I had a stratta phase (a little too bready and heavy for me).  We did an “oeuf a la coq” phase.  And also a frittata phase.

This particular frittata recipe I almost passed over because I somehow couldn’t imagine the flavors coming together.  But something kept drawing me back to it.  Well am I ever glad I gave it a whirl.  The texture and melding of flavors was great AND I learned a new little technique that may just help me creep back into being a contender against my sister-in-law’s perfect omelette.

I started this one off by peeling two medium sweet potatoes and slicing them into pretty thin rounds.

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I then heated some butter in a large skillet and sauteed the sweet potatoes until they were starting to brown nicely.

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While these were sauteeing, I sliced up a medium zucchini – again in pretty thin rounds.

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After the sweet potatoes were evenly browned, I added the zucchini to the pan, along with some chopped fresh basil,  and continued sauteeing for about 4 more minutes.

Personally, I “paused” my recipe at this point because I was juggling soccer practices, water polo practices, and other crazy schedule challenges.  I just left this waiting on the stove until all eating mouths had returned to the nest.

I then beat 8 eggs with a whisk – making sure to get as much air beat in as possible.

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I brought the zucchini and sweet potatoes back to a warm temp and then poured the eggs over.  I let things cook on low for about 10 minutes until it was well set.  Only the top still looked a little goopy.

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I heated up my broiler and then popped the whole skillet into the oven to finish off the top (my newfound omelette finishing trick).

I served this with a slice of cantaloupe and a green salad – a nice light meal.

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The sweet potatoes really carried this dish and made it very dinner-like.  The only thing I would change next time would be to make two frittatas instead of just one.  It was devoured in no time and small people were asking for seconds.  Luckily we had a copious dessert to follow.

For the complete recipe, click here.

This recipe adapted from The Paleo Diet Lifestyle

Make Mom Happy – Eat Your Brussels Sprouts

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I have a few poignant food memories going back to my childhood.  One involved liver and onions and requesting it as my birthday dinner just because I knew my sisters hated it and would HAVE to eat it because it was my birthday request.  Another involved my grandmother ALWAYS giving me a snack to eat in the car on my way home from her house.  After one particular visit, she had nothing to offer in the snack arena except for a couple of cold brussels sprouts.  Rather than break tradition, I opted to take her up on the brussels sprouts offer and proceeded to nibble on them all the way home.

Admittedly, brussels sprouts have a certain, shall we say, reputation. But I assure you that any childhood traumas caused by this poor veggie can be obliterated with one simple recipe – Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts. We discovered these one year around Thanksgiving time, and haven’t looked at brussels sprouts in the same light since.

But before we get to the sprouts recipe, let’s talk quinoa again.  Because quinoa burgers were the main course to which the brussels sprouts served as a side.  Super simple burgers.  Tasty. Moist and yet hold together well.

Start by cooking 1 cup of dry quinoa as directed on the package.  After cooked and somewhat cooled, add cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, grated zucchini, eggs, flour, green onions, sugar, pepper, cumin, salt and garlic powder.  Your mixture will look something like this.

I actually made this ahead of time and left it chilling in the fridge all afternoon until dinner time.

Heat olive oil in large skillet.  Once oil is hot, reduce heat to medium or medium-low and drop the quinoa mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into oil.  Cooking longer on a lower temp will give them longer to have a good consistency without getting too brown.  I fry these about 4 minutes per side until they are golden brown.  It’s kind of the “pancake concept”  where your first batch won’t be as good as later ones until you get your frying temp just right.  For this reason, you may want to start out with just one patty and then when you have your heat regulated, you can do 4 – 5 at a time.

So now for the brussels sprouts . . . rinse your sprouts well and trim them.

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Chop 8 – 10 slices of thick cut bacon into pieces and cook bacon until crisped and brown.  Remove your bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Put your brussels sprouts into your bacon drippings and cook, stirring frequently until they begin to brown.  Continue cooking until tender.  Add bacon back into skillet and add maple syrup.  Heat until syrup coats the sprout and they appear caramelized.

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I love serving this great quinoa burger and brussels sprouts combo with sweet potato fries.  You can ues a chipotle mayo to accent the burger AND dip your fries.

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For the Quinoa Burger Recipe, click here.

For the Brussels Sprouts Recipe, click here.

Leek, Red Pepper & Gruyere Tart

So what do you do when you open the fridge and see two leeks staring back at you? Make a tart, of course.  I usually have at least some basis that I work from as far as recipes are concerned, but this time sous chef number 2 and I flew completely solo.  She got pretty excited about that. She even wondered if it turned out good, if we could “sell” the recipe to the Internet. How about we just post it?

1 pre-made pie shell (I usually get the whole wheat, good stuff ones at Sprouts

4 Tbsp. butter

2 leeks, chopped in rounds up to light green part

1 onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

Chopped fresh basil

1/2 c. Milk

1/2 c. Half and Half

1c. Grated gruyere

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If the pie shell is frozen, let it defrost about 15 minutes or until the bottom is soft enough to pierce with a fork. Pierce the bottom 3-4 times with said fork.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet.  Toss in the leeks and sautée until they are soft, about 20 minutes over medium heat. Transfer leeks to large bowl.

Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. better in same skillet and sautée onion and red pepper until soft.  Add onion mixture to leeks in bowl.

Add in milk, half and half, eggs, and gruyere and mix well. Add in basil and salt and mix to blend.

Transfer mixture to pie shell. Bake 30-35 minutes until center is set and top is golden brown.

I served this with roasted butternut squash and thee whole fam agreed that it was a keeper!

Kale & Cannellini Ragout

So they say, that among the best veggies to eat are “leaves”. (http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/unhappy-meals/ for a good read on this and lots of other thought provoking food points) This can be tricky if you don’t venture  beyond your standard salad fare. Two of our favorite leaves are chard and kale. We make kale chips from time to time and love putting together different salads with it, but this little ragout changed things up a bit and EVERYONE liked it – including somewhat persnickety three year old.

Start by sautéeing a little onion and garlic.  Then add a can of diced tomatoes.  Add a little veggie broth and your chopped up kale and simmer until the greens are soft. At the very end, add a can of drained and rinsed Cannellini beans. Top the whole deal with some freshly grated Parmesan and you’ve got a healthy and delish dish. Sorry about the lack of step by step photos on this one – sometimes it’s all I can do to just get the FOOD on the table and take a pic of the final product. And yes, this photo does include Mama’s well deserved glass of Sauvignon blanc.

I served this one accompanied by roasted green beans (notice the bacon mixed in with those little beans- thus the “using meat for flavor and accent” stance we have taken – plus, bacon makes anything  so much tastier) and a grated carrot salad with raisins and a fig walnut vinaigrette.

Adapted from http://www.epicurious.com/