Crazy About Kale

I know that the kale craze has been in full swing for a while now, but I must admit that I’m a relatively new convert to its virtues.   For the past several months I have been eating mostly vegetarian meals.  I’ve had three people very close to me diagnosed with various forms of cancer within the last year, so I’m really trying to up my healthy eating game.  Kale is high in vitamin K and iron, and overall has a great nutritional profile, so it’s a no brainer to add it to my diet.


Kale and Mushroom Sautee

Mushroom and Kale Saute

My massage therapist, Julie shared this super-easy and delicious recipe for Mushroom and Kale Saute.  It has only four ingredients: olive oil, red onion, mushrooms, and kale.  Rinse and chop the kale, then lightly coat it with a bit of olive oil and “massage” it.  Chop the red onion and slice the mushrooms.  Heat some olive oil in a skillet.  Add the onions and mushrooms.  If you like your kale on the softer side, add it with the onions and mushrooms.  If you prefer it a bit crunchier, add it for the last 2 or 3 minutes of cook time.  I served mine over quinoa.


Sweet Potato Kale Fried Rice

Caramelized Sweet Potato and Kale Fried Wild Rice 

I found this delightful recipe on Pinterest from Iowa Girl Eats.  She classifies it as a side dish, but this is also a perfect main dish for vegetarians.  I used Minute Rice’s Multi Grain Medley, which is a staple at my house.   Since I didn’t have pepitas (pumpkin seeds), I used chopped pecans instead.  This has become one of my new favorite dinner recipes!



Cucumber, Kale, & Pineapple Juice

Two months ago, I bought a juicer and many of the recipes I found on Pinterest had kale as an ingredient.  My favorite is super easy: juice one cucumber (peel it if you are not buying organic), 1 cup of pineapple chunks, and 2 cups of kale.  Even my hubby, who usually shuns my healthy juices, likes this one.

Do you have a favorite kale recipe?  If so, leave it for me in the comments!


Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I absolutely adore pasta dishes, but my favorite by far is Chicken Cacciatore.  It’s not something that’s easily found in restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In fact, there’s only one place in town that I know of that carries this delightful Italian dish.  My family is originally from upstate New York, which is rich in Italian heritage.  You can always find great pizza and usually cacciatore at most of the local family-owned restaurants in that part of the country.

So, I’ve been on a quest most of my adult life to recreate the awesome Chicken Cacciatore I used to eat so often growing up.  And I have finally come up with the perfect recipe, made in the crock pot.  Chicken Cacciatore is usually made with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  My hubby’s not a huge pepper fan, so I subbed in artichokes which we both love!  So, if you’d rather have the peppers, then omit the artichokes and add in one chopped bell pepper instead.

 And I am excited that I’ve discovered a gluten-free pasta that tastes amazing and doesn’t get sticky or clumpy.  I found it at my new favorite store, Aldi!  Their “Live G-Free” brand is very reasonably priced and everything I’ve tried from the line so far has been good.  (My hubby especially likes the Live G-Free chocolate chip cookie mix.)  If you’re keeping an eye on your carb intake, mix half past and half zucchini noodles, which is what I usually do with my pasta dishes.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore


  • 1 – 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 2 – 14 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. red wine
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 frozen boneless chicken breasts
  • Pinch of sea salt


Place all ingredients in the crock pot and stir to combine.  Cook 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.  Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.  Pairs well with a nice Merlot or Cabernet!



Save Money on Meat

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I know from personal experience that eating a diet rich in protein helps to keep me strong and slim.  However, you don’t have to be a “meat-atarian” to get the slimming results of protein.  According to Robert Ferguson, creator of Diet Free Life (the healthy eating plan that I’ve followed for over three years), if you’re getting 15 to 30 grams of protein with each meal, you’re on track.

With that being said, I’m going to give you some strategies to save money on your protein purchases.  The price of meat is definitely NOT getting any cheaper and eating grass-fed and organic is downright expensive!  Three things to keep in mind: buy on sale, eat less meat, and occasionally go meatless.

Buy on Sale

I have a tendency to create my monthly meal plans around what I’ve recently scored on sale at the grocery store.  I also check out what’s marked down in the meat department.  If it’s something that looks fine but has an imminent expiration date, I’ll either cook it up right away or freeze it.  The crock pot is definitely a good friend of mine because it makes cheaper cuts of meat taste delicious and fall right off the bone.  I purchase the vast majority of my chicken with the bone in because I get more for my money.  I frequently cook a whole chicken in the crock pot and make several meals out of it.  For example, tonight Nick and I are going to have rosemary chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy with broccoli.  I’ll shred the leftover dark meat and mix it with BBQ sauce and send Nick to work with BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries for lunch.  As for the remaining white meat, I’ll use it later in the week for my Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  Also, ask if there’s a discount if you buy in bulk.  I recently bought chicken thighs from a local farm and they gave me a discount since I purchased 10 pounds (and froze most of it).

Eat Less Meat

Most Americans eat larger servings of meat than their bodies actually need.  You can painlessly cut the amount of meat in a dish without sacrificing taste or feeling hungry.  For example, when I make spaghetti and meat sauce, I can easily cut back on the amount of ground turkey (or beef) and add a package of fresh mushrooms (washed and sliced) to the meat while it’s cooking.  Mushrooms have a meaty taste and are rich in protein, so it’s not really noticeable that the amount of turkey has been decreased. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can sub in your choice of zucchini, onions, bell peppers, or eggplant.  You can also do this with black beans or leftover brown rice when making tacos or burritos.  This will allow you to stretch a pound of ground meat over two meals instead of just one.  Be creative!  You also add corn, pinto and other beans, quinoa, barley, and other grains or vegetables to stretch your meat.

Occasionally Go Meatless

Yes, you can get enough protein from non-meat sources!  It seems there’s been a surge in the popularity of “Meatless Mondays.”  Don’t believe me?  Just search “Meatless Monday” on Pinterest and see the thousands upon thousands of recipes that pop up!  With delicious sounding recipes like Lentil Chili, Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchiladas, Mushroom Fajitas, and Spinach & Ricotta Pasta, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything at all!  Some of my personal vegetarian favorites are Black Bean Chili and Easy Cheesy Casserole.  I also can’t wait to try this Sweet Potato Salad recipe!

If you have any other tips for saving money on your meat purchases, I’d love to hear them!



Meal Planning Monday ~ Winning Super Bowl Eats

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

It’s that time of year!  Yes, Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner.  While the guys are taking bets on the game and making sure there’s enough beer for the party, most of the ladies are in the kitchen, strategizing their Super Bowl Party menu.  Whether you’re into the actual football game or not (I’m more of a UFC girl than an NFL fan,) winning snacks are what set apart an amazing Super Bowl party from an average one.  So, after huddling with some of my food blogger friends, I’ve assembled a championship lineup of awesome appetizers people will be talking about long after the game is over!

First up is my  Chicken, Artichoke & Spinach Dip!  It’s a healthier take on the usual spinach and artichoke dip recipes, plus it’s packed with protein to tackle your hunger.  Sometimes my husband requests it for dinner!

Chicken, Artichoke & Spinach Dip


1 12-ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

2 5-ounce cans of chicken breast meat, drained and shredded

½ cup of reduced-fat cream cheese

¾ cup of reduced-fat sour cream

1 cup of low-fat shredded cheddar cheese

Pita chips or tortilla chips for dipping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure that spinach is thoroughly drained of excess water.  (I do this by putting it in a colander and pressing paper towels down on it to remove as much water as possible.)  Mix all ingredients (except chips) until well blended in a bowl.  Spread into a small oven-safe baking dish.  Bake about 20 minutes, or until the top begins to turn golden and bubble.  Serve warm with chips.  (If you are unable to find marinated artichoke hearts, you can use a can of artichokes drained, and add a tablespoon or two of Italian dressing.)

Avocado Tomato Bruschetta on Whole Grain Toasts

From Veggies and Glitter by Casey Lindberg

This twist on bruschetta is a tasty appetizer everyone will love, and is vegetarian approved!

Bacon Cream Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

From Enchanted Savings by Katrina Mitchell

Score an easy touchdown with these bacon stuffed mushrooms, which only have three ingredients!

Homemade Queso Blanco Dip Recipe

From Savvy Saving Couple by Amy Desrosiers

Chips and salsa are a Super Bowl staple, but you can up the ante with this delicious homemade queso!

Football Snackadium

From Sunshine & Sippy Cups by Meagan Paullin

Oh my gosh, this stadium-shaped appetizer tray is SO awesome!

The good news is that it’s not hard to make.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Cooking with Wine

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Anyone who knows me for five minutes knows that I love wine, especially a nice glass of cabernet.  There’s nothing like a great glass of wine to accompany a well-cooked meal.  Not only do I like to drink wine, but I also enjoy cooking with wine.  Both white and red wine can be used in cooking various dishes to impart great flavor with zero fat.

While I was in Michigan over the Thanksgiving holiday, I did a little shopping in Holland’s quaint downtown district.  There’s a fabulous foodie store there with an entire wall of single spices and blends, plus tiny jars of gourmet mustards, jams, sauces, and other goodies to delight my inner Julia Child.  I bought a Tuscan spice blend that I was anxious to try as soon as I got home to my own kitchen.  There was a recipe on the back for marinated chicken that included red wine, so I knew it would be good.  I ended up using some boneless chicken thighs I had in the freezer and baking them in the oven.  They were heavenly!  Even my hubby – who isn’t a wine drinker – declared them to be delicious.  I served it with my new favorite side dish: Minute Rice Multi-Grain Medley.  It has a blend of brown, red, and wild rice plus quinoa – and it cooks in 10 minutes.  There’s no seasoning, so I added some thyme and a chicken bouillon cube to the rice before cooking it.

Another one of my favorite recipes is Chicken & Mushrooms with Garlic White Wine Sauce.  It’s a quick and easy recipe to make and tastes fantastic!  I also love serving this dish over rice, which absorbs the wine sauce.  Mushrooms are a great pairing with wine, either white or red.  Sometimes I will just sauté mushrooms in a small amount of butter with some wine, which makes for a flavorful side dish.

What kind of wine do I use when I’m cooking?  Honestly, whatever I’ve got at the house for pouring in my glass is what I use in my cooking!  Here are some great recipes to try with wine.


  • Red Wine Beef Stew – Nick loves beef stew and I’m always up for trying a new variation on this easy crock pot supper.  This recipe is chocked full of mushrooms, tomatoes, and other veggies  – no potatoes -  which makes it a great dish for those people who are eating low-carb!


Tuscan Red Wine Chicken Thighs

  •  4 – 6 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of red wine
  • 1 Tbs. of Tuscan seasoning blend.  If you can’t find a pre-mixed blend at your local store, make it yourself with this recipe.


Mix the olive oil, red wine, and Tuscan seasoning blend in a small bowl.  Rinse the chicken thighs and trim any excess fat.  Place the thighs in a resealable bag with the oil and wine mixture.  Let the thighs marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Discard the excess marinade and place the chicken thighs in a baking dish or pan that’s been sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.  Bake the thighs for 20 – 25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.   (This recipe can also be made with chicken breasts.)

Cheers to a delicious meal!


Meal Planning Monday ~ Garden’s Bounty

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

Finally, the tomatoes in our garden have decided to turn red! In less than a week, we went from not enough tomatoes to too many. Of course friends and family are more than happy to take some of my husband’s always-delicious tomatoes off of our hands.

Our zucchini plants are producing like gang-busters, too! I now have to go and check the garden at least every three days for ready-to-pick tomatoes and zucchini. I made the mistake of not checking for a week and found five enormous zucchini – one the size of a bowling pin! Just so you know I’m not exaggerating, here’s a picture of them, below, with a spoon next to them for size reference. As you might have guessed, I’m going to share my favorite tomato and zucchini recipes with you, just in case you also need some creative ways to use up your garden’s bounty.


Chicken Bruschetta ~ My grilled chicken bruschetta (pictured at the top) is delicious and super-easy! Marinade boneless chicken breasts in balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Chop fresh tomatoes and basil and mix in enough dressing to coat. Grill the chicken over medium heat. When you flip the chicken, add the tomato topping. Remove from the grill when chicken is cooked through. Top with feta or shredded Italian blend cheese.

Mushroom “Pizzas” ~ My mushrooms, pictured above with the chicken bruschetta, are awesome! Remove stems, wash, and pat the mushrooms dry. Spread a small amount of pesto on the underside of each mushroom. Top with fresh chopped tomatoes and feta cheese. Cook on the grill over low heat until the topping starts to bubble.

More Ideas ~ There are SO many ways to enjoy your fresh tomatoes! Put slices on ham or turkey sandwiches, BLT’s, hamburgers, or grilled chicken sandwiches. Add chopped tomatoes to omelets, salads, salsa, pasta dishes, appetizers and dips. My favorite appetizer with fresh tomatoes is Kraft’s Warm Italiano Spread.


Garlic Roasted ~ Toss zucchini slices in a bit of olive oil with a few minced cloves of fresh garlic. Roast in the oven at 425 until zucchini starts to turn golden on the edges. Remove from oven and top with a generous sprinkle of cheddar cheese. Yum!

Marinaded & Grilled ~ This recipe is perfect for those super-sized zucchini! Wash and trim off the ends, then slice lengthwise. Marinade the slices for 30 minutes in Italian dressing. Grill over low medium heat 3 to 5 minutes per side to desired doneness.

Bread & Muffins ~ Who doesn’t love a warm slice of fresh baked zucchini bread with a dab of creamy butter? I’ve tried tons of recipes over the years and I’m always looking for the perfect one for zucchini bread. My mom recently made some that was awesome, called Lemon Zucchini Bread. Of course, I’m always tinkering with recipes, so I couldn’t help myself from doing that with this one. I used Domino Light instead of sugar, whole wheat flour instead of white, swapped coconut oil for vegetable oil, and added chopped pecans and mini chocolate chips. One serving comes in under 200 calories with 3 grams each of fiber and protein, which makes it both healthy and delicious! (In fact, I’m enjoying a slice with my coffee as I write this.) My only regret is that I didn’t make two loaves – one to eat now and one for the freezer. My version with nutritional information is below.

More Ideas ~ Your imagination is the limit when it comes to ways to enjoy fresh zucchini! Sometimes I will pick zucchini when they are small and cut them up in sticks to add to a fresh veggie tray. They’re also great sautéed in a bit of butter with onions. I think my husband will like these Fiery Zucchini Fries, which are baked not fried. I also like them as a part of this recipe, Foil Packets on the Grill.

Lemon Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread (Modified from Original Recipe on

• 1 ½ cups of shredded zucchini
• ¼ cup + 2 Tbs. of Domino Light (or ¾ cup of regular sugar)
• 1 egg
• ½ cup of coconut oil
• 1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour
• ½ tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. baking soda
• ¼ tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp. lemon zest
• ¼ cup chopped pecans
• ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan.
2. In a bowl, beat together the zucchini, Domino Light, egg, and oil. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder; stir in the cinnamon and lemon zest. Stir the flour mixture into the zucchini mixture just until blended, adding in the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake 40-45 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from heat, and cool about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 servings. Nutritional Info per Serving: Calories – 193; Carbs – 21 grams; Protein – 3 grams; Fiber – 3 grams

Meal Planning Monday ~ Pizza, Healthy and Delicious!

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

 Some people assume because I’ve adopted a healthy eating plan (Diet Free Life), that I avoid indulging in pizza.  I’ll admit that pizza can be a calorie bomb, especially if it’s a deep dish variety, smothered with meat and extra cheese.  The good news is that there ARE healthier alternatives out there that taste great but won’t add inches to your waistline.  It’s nice to see that quite a few pizza restaurants are offering thin crust pizzas, some of them made with whole-wheat flour, loaded with veggies, chicken, and other lean proteins like Canadian bacon or ham.

 I’ve rounded up some great recipes you can make at home that will satisfy your pizza cravings and are surprisingly healthy.  My new favorite is my pizza casserole, pictured above!  The original recipe came from my friend Julie Brawley over at  I modified the recipe to serve four people instead of eight, and used turkey pepperoni and ground turkey.  My version with nutritional information is below, along with some other creative pizza-style recipes.

    •  Portobello Mushroom Pizzas – Mushroom lovers, you may never eat regular pizza again after trying this!  The mushroom takes the place of the crust, which means you can eat two of these “pizzas” for under 400 calories and 14 total carbs. Just take a 4 oz. Portobello mushroom cap (washed and dried), spread with 1 Tbs. of prepared pesto, thin slice of tomato, topped with ¼ cup of shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 450 for 12 – 15 minutes. (I’ve also made them on the grill!)   Have two for a great fat-burning vegetarian meal, or have one with a grilled chicken breast or steak.  Also, makes a great snack!  7 g Carbs; 180 Calories; 2 g Fiber; 10 g Protein (For each mushroom)
  • Hungry Girl’s Mini Thin Crust PizzasThese mini pizzas use wonton wrappers to make a thin crispy crust.  Their small size makes them perfect for snacking when your pizza craving hits!

    • Gluten Free Low Card Pizza – I found this recipe on  The crust has zero flour in it, so it’s great for those people who are gluten intolerant or for those who are closely watching their carb intake.  The only downside to this recipe is that no nutritional info is provided, so you’ll have to calculate that for yourself.
  • Grilled Chicken Pizza – We all know that you can add grilled chicken to your pizza, but what about when the grilled chicken is the pizza? Essentially, the grilled chicken breast becomes your crust!   I saw this recipe on Facebook and haven’t been able to find the original link.  It’s pretty simple though.  Grill your chicken breast until it’s no longer pink (but don’t overcook).  Top with pizza sauce, cheese and toppings of your choice.  (Depending on the toppings, you may need to sauté them in a bit of olive oil first.)  Put the chicken back on the grill or in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Christine’s Pizza Casserole


  • ½ pound of ground turkey (85%) lean
  • 4 oz. fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups of cooked whole wheat penne or rotini pasta
  • 14oz. jar of Classico Fire Roasted Pizza Sauce
  • 1 – 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 oz. of sliced black olives
  • 16 slices of turkey pepperoni
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 9 glass baking dish with Smart Balance cooking spray.  Saute ground turkey and mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil or coconut oil until turkey is no longer pink.  Drain well.  Mix the ground turkey, mushrooms, pasta, pizza sauce, and oregano together and put the mixture in the glass baking dish.  Cover with the mozzarella cheese.  Evenly distribute the olives and the turkey pepperoni.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Serves four.

Calories – 375;  Carbs – 32 g; Fiber – 4 g; Protein – 26g



Meal Planning Monday ~ Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

             Last night’s new side dish was a complete and total failure!  I was attempting to make mashed cauliflower.  “Your family won’t know the difference between this and real mashed potatoes,” the recipe declared.  Yeah, right!  The texture was all wrong – more like sauerkraut than mashed potatoes.  The taste was okay, but hubby and I thought it would be a waste of good gravy, and made some instant mashed potatoes instead.  The failed kitchen experiment went into the trash.

            Mistakes and flops are a part of life, even in the kitchen.  Sometimes it’s the cook’s fault and sometimes the cause is a bad recipe.  I’ve resolved to try at least one new recipe per week this year.  I’m sure I will find some new favorites, but I expect that some will be mediocre and a few will be total flops. I used to take failure in the kitchen very personally, but I’ve realized there’s no point in beating myself up over it.  My new motto is: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

            I’ve actually been trying quite a few recipes and cooking methods to go along with my recent Detox Drop and Carb Stepping process with the Diet Free Life methodology.   So I have been searching for some yummy recipes that are lower in carbs, thus the mashed cauliflower experiment.  I’ve even created a Pinterest board for those low carb recipes I want to try.  Below is my meal plan for this week.

Monday ~ Mmmm Chicken, sautéed mushrooms, and parmesan baked zucchini.  This chicken is a new recipe, and it looks easy and delicious.  Put four boneless chicken breasts in a glass baking dish.  In a small bowl, combine ½ cup of sour cream (I’ll use reduced fat sour cream) and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese.  Spread over chicken breasts in a baking dish.  Sprinkle Italian bread crumbs on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Tuesday ~ Eggplant Rollitini with a spinach salad.

Wednesday ~ Out to dinner with a friend to one of my favorite restaurants – BoneFish!

Thursday ~ Fish tacos and refried beans.  My version of fish tacos is very easy.  Season some tilapia with Mrs. Dash’s Fiesta Lime seasoning.  Pan-fry it with some olive oil cooking spray.  Divide among tortillas, and top with mixed salad greens, shredded cheese, some salsa or hot sauce, and guacamole.

Friday ~ Portobello Mushroom Pizzas

Saturday ~ Pesto Chicken Thighs in the crock pot with garlic roasted asparagus.

Sunday ~ Lately Nick and I have been eating Mexican carry out on Sundays.  If not, I will make my “grown up grilled cheese” sandwiches and vegetable soup.