Pumpkin, Butternut Squash & Chocolate Turkey Chili

This month for my blogging community with The Recipe Redux we were asked to share our first recipe we ever made.

To be honest, I could not remember the first recipe I made.

I guess I’ve been cooking and baking for so long now that it’s hard to think back to the beginning. Especially when, for the longest time, I was not inclined to cook at all! I would even convince my brother to make me a PB&J sandwich simply because I thought his tasted better.

Was it something I made with my Mom? Maybe. Or with my Nana? Probably not, I was still in the no-cook phase of my life. Or maybe it wasn’t until I met Andrew?


Then it hit me! I was in college! Junior year, in my “Woods” apartment, where we had a kitchen and I was not relying so much on my meal plan dollars.  And it was chili! Of course, I love chili. All the warm fall flavors that’s easy enough for a novice college cook to whip up something cheap and use it for multiple meals.

My starting chili recipe came from my parents, one that they had always made at home which -I think- was, in part, influenced by our church’s annual Chili Soup Supper.


It starts with ground beef, lots of beans, tomatoes, vegetable juice and spices, probably from the ready-made packet. All the canned beans and seasoning packet can really spike up the sodium content. Even if you do not have high blood pressure, kidney disease, fluid retention, there is still no need to have too much sodium.  Only high endurance, young athletes, or professional athletes who sweat profusely especially in the summer months really need that much sodium.

So to twist it I immediately chose no salt added beans (which can be hard to find so you have to look) and extra lean ground beef or ground turkey breast. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you can omit the meat all together and just stick with the beans and veggies.

But as the years have progressed my love of chili has evolved. Last year on my blog I started adding cocoa powder to give it a deeper richness and warmth. I’m telling you, it takes it to a whole new level without compromising the original love of the dish!


And this year, I’ve gone even further, if you can imagine…. I started adding another love of mine- pumpkin! And, not just that, but another fall vegetable- butternut squash!

Oh my gosh, y’all! You’ve gotta try this, it’s an all encompassing fall meal! Veggies, beans {proteins + fiber} with spice, warmth, and the flavors of fall all stewed into one delicious pot.

Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Chocolate Chili

Serves: 8-10


1 tablespoon oil (olive oil or coconut oil)

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground turkey breast {or extra lean ground beef (93-7%)}

1 can no salt added black beans, drained & rinsed

32 ounces (4 cups) tomato juice

2-4 cups water, depending on thickness desired

1 can no salt added chili beans,

1 can no salt added kidney beans, drained & rinsed

1 cup butternut squash, diced

1 10 ounce can tomatoes with lime juice & cilantro

1/4 cup pumpkin puree {or more depending on preference}

1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder


In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium- low heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute quickly until they soften and golden. Add the ground meat {if not choosing to make this vegetarian or vegan} and saute until fully cooked {about 5-10 minutes}.

Add the tomato juice, water, beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, and pumpkin puree. Stir well to combine. Cover and allow to simmer for about 25 minutes.

Add the cocoa powder and spices. Cover and allow to continue to lightly simmer for another 25 minutes until everything has had a chance to merry and warm through.


*Note: you can add more pumpkin depending on how pronounced you like the flavor. I used 1/4 cup because I had some remaining from a different usage, but a whole can would really boost the flavor!

Let’s not forget the best part- the fixin’s!

avocado or guacamole –  plain Greek yogurt – fresh lime juice – cilantro – green onions – reduced fat cheese – Beanitos – baked corn tortillas

This recipe is great because it’s traditional with a twist and so flavorful! It can be made vegan – vegetarian – gluten free  – but it’s always nutritious and delicious!


Happy Fall y’all!



For other recipe redux recipes from this month’s challenge click the link below to get more ideas!





Smoothie Basics

One of the most frequent questions I get as a dietitian who provides constant meal planning recommendations is: are smoothies good for you and what do you put in you smoothie?

To answer the first question, yes! Smoothies can be good for you and make a great meal or snack. However, there are ones that are loaded with sugars which will leave  you left looking for something else in no time.

My go-to base recipe is  a simple and flexible combination of protein, fiber, and fat all rolled into one. It’s contains only naturally occurring sugars and is packed with protein and fiber to keep you full, energized, and ready to take on the day (or rest of the day, depending on when you choose to make it).


Basic Smoothie 

Serves: 1

6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sweetener of choice (optional)
3/4 – 1 cup unsweetened fruit
1/4 to 1/2  cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon nut butter
2 tablespoons flax seed
1 cup fresh spinach
3 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth & combined.

I like to use plain Greek yogurt because it is a staple in my house. It’s loaded with protein and probiotics plus calcium. To keep the sugar down and limit it to just naturally occurring sugars, I opt for the plain varieties. To add more flavor without sugars, I add a splash of good quality vanilla. It’s truly my secret weapon for added flavor without adding any extra sweetness {except from naturally occurring sugars like in the yogurt and fruit}.

For the fruit, you can use any fruit you’d like. Frozen or fresh! I prefer frozen just because then I can omit the ice cubes and it’s one tiny step less.

I tend to go with a mixture of fruits from 1/4 banana {the remaining banana gets chopped and frozen for later} + a few berries + few peaches or cherries.

For the milk, you could use any sort: low fat or skim milk, plain soy, flax, unsweetened nut or coconut milk. I like to keep the calories and carbs a bit lower by using an unsweetened vanilla almond milk.

To really make this into a nutritious and substantial meal, I like to add peanut butter. It provides a nice rich creaminess, but it could be omitted, if you like.  You could also replace it with any nut butter, of course, or swapped with PB2 powder for a slightly lower calorie version.  Another healthy fat source is coming from the flax seeds which are also helping to boost the fiber content.

The spinach is a neutral flavor additive, but really punches in the nutrients, especially for breakfast.

SO there you have it. My everyday perfectly nutritious and absolutely delicious smoothie recipe. The only variety I really ever add to change out the fruits.

Do you have a favorite smoothie base?



Watermelon Arugula & Pistachio Petite Salads

Labor Day may have passed, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of summer weather for all of us. We are still living in 90+ degree temperatures with no end in sight for at least another 6 weeks.


And while I’m all about fall weather and all the pumpkin & apple glory, I’m also all about preserving as much time as I can with my little one.

My petite watermelon salads are a great reminder of a light, refreshing summer dish that can be used as part of any meal or as an appetizer to bring or serve at a party.


The sweet hydrating watermelon pairs well with the peppery arugula, the crunch and slightly salty pistachios, and the creamy feta cheese.

It can be made into a bigger salad or served into mini versions like these- great for easy grabbing for party guests.


I drizzled mine with a homemade lemony vinaigrette which brought out the sweetness and freshness of the simple ingredients.


So don’t pass up that end of season watermelon at the grocery, you can make these in a pinch and bring them to your next tailgating party!



Watermelon Arugula Pistachio Petite Salads with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette

Makes: 10-12


1 mini seedless watermelon

1 cup arugula

2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted and chopped

2 tablespoons feta, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:

1 lemon, juiced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, grated

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

pinch of kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper


Slice the watermelon and use a round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out individual circles of watermelon.

Top each watermelon slice with a little arugula and sprinkle on the pistachios and feta.

Meanwhile, in a mason jar combine all the vinaigrette ingredients. Twist on the lid and shake to combine all the ingredients.

Using a tablespoon measure, lightly drizzle on the vinaigrette just before serving.


Hold onto the last few days of summer, as much as we all love fall, we’ll be hoping for the warm weather again after the cold weather lingers on for months and months.



South of the Border Sushi Rolls

We all need food that’s fun, colorful, and flavorful, not to mention nutritious.  Since we really do eat with our eyes first, making a simple change to your usual lunch routine can make a big impact in how you preserve something that can become mundane and uninteresting.


Take your basic wrap:

Why not slice it up and you have a fun sushi-like finger food option for lunch? It’s great for kids that do not like sushi, but it also gives them something a new way to look at something they might have gotten used to seeing in their lunch.

And, just because it’s great for kids, doesn’t mean adults can’t make it to0!


I used a tex mex flavored ranch spread, layered on some veggies, with a little guacamole and black beans.

All the ingredients were leftover items from our dinners over the weekend. Nothing fancy here.

Actually it all gets a bit messy, but that happens sometimes.

Especially if you’re like me and always tend to OVER STUFF your tortillas. {Why can’t I learn my lesson? There’s just so much goodness to squeeze into one little wrap?!?


South of the Border Sushi Rolls


Makes: 2 servings


2 tablespoons Greek Yogurt Ranch dressing

2 tablespoons guacamole or 1/4 avocado

8 ounces black beans, drained & rinsed

1 clove garlic, grated

1/4 red onion, minced

1 lime juiced

2 Hola Nola whole wheat tortillas

4 ounces spinach

1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced

1/4 bell pepper, thinly sliced


Prepare the Greek Yogurt Tex Mex Ranch dressing {see recipe linked}.

Prepare the black beans by slightly mashing them with the back of a spoon and combining with the red onions and lime juice.

Assemble the wraps by spreading a tablespoon of dressing onto each tortilla. Dollop and spread on a tablespoon of guacamole {or a couple slices of avocado}.

Sprinkle on about 1/4 cup black beans per tortilla.

Layer on a small handful of spinach and couple slices of cucumber and bell pepper onto each tortilla.

Wrap the tortilla and slice it up to resemble sushi rolls when sat upright.



Make gluten free by using whole grain corn tortillas or a whole grain gluten free tortilla like

Make vegan by omitting Greek Yogurt Ranch spread



This is the same recipe I prepared at my cooking demo this month with Whole Foods Market. I just made a few adjustments to make a vegetarian option. You can add as many veggies as you’d like and really swap out the flavor profiles here.

It’s versatile. Just like any recipe I create and share.




Berry Banana Split Cheesecake Kabobs

Our August-themed recipe redux for 2016 is vacation-inspired recipes!

Nothing says vacation more to me than summer time. And not too many things say summer time more than ice cream!

While I completely agree with the motto all things in moderation, there’s no reason you can’t lighten up a delicious treat like a banana split!


Living in NOLA – with family spread across many states – means that our vacations revolve around visiting family. Whether it’s a weekend get-a-way or a long holiday break, you can almost guarantee we’ll be making a trip to Georgia or up north to Illinois.


Surprisingly, with my sweet tooth, I’m not a huge ice cream lover. If it’s in the freezer for the hubster, it’s one of those things I can resist. But when we go home, you can be I’ll be looking forward to our pajama run to DQ for some sort of treat. Banana spits are not usually my go-tos, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the colors & textures and how satisfying and refreshing it would be in these last few days of summer.

I’m kidding, it’s no where near the end of the summer weather for us in the south. Just wishful thinking here. I love summer, but these days are brutal….


But that’s a perfect reason to indulge in these portable, kid friendly, pool-side ready treats!


If you know me at all you know I love a good easy, fast, and versatile recipes that are sure to taste good and please many! And these do not disappoint! You can even make a red, white, and blue edition to your Labor Day festivities coming up!


Berry Banana Split Cheesecake Kabobs

Makes: 10+


2 Tablespoons 2% plain Fage Greek Yogurt

2 Tablespoons Whipped Cream Cheese (or almond milk cheese)

2 Tablespoons Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 drops Sweet Leaf

kabob skewers, halved

1 pint strawberries

1/2 pint raspberries

1 banana, cut into 1-in chunks

1/4 cup pineapple chunks

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips, melted

2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped

2 tablespoons whole grain granola, chopped

2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes

kabob skewers, halved


In a small mixing bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, vanilla extract and sweet drops and mix well with a fork or spoon.

Thread a piece of each fruit onto the skewers.

Drizzle with the cheesecake mixture and the melted dark chocolate.

Sprinkle with the chopped walnut & granola pieces and coconut flakes.  You can omit some of the toppings, if desired and for personal preference.


I had some leftover ingredients, so this could easily yield more than 10 kabobs. Some of the berries just happened to end up in my mouth…


And, I only had time to make so many before sleeping beauty awoke from her nap.

You can make as many as you’d like.




For a look at more of our recipe redux, check out these other great bloggers | authors | recipe creators:

Mason Jar Salad Party

You probably have seen this pretty & smart meal prepping trend on pinterest.

Simply pack up some greens & salad toppings in a strategic stack to use throughout the week for your lunch needs.

It’s fun, eye-appealing, uniquely delicious, and impeccably nutritious.


Some of us may struggle to get the trend started just because it’s hard to break our usual routine, maybe we don’t know what to do, or maybe we tend to use the same ol’ greens and fixins’?

That’s when you through a Mason Jar Salad party!

I first heard of this while I was back home during vacation. I thought, what a great way to get friends together while being productive and preparing ourselves something healthy to use later?!

We all gather over food. But why not gather over healthy food that also teaches, encourages, and inspires?


So here’s my step by step process to throw a low-key, low stress, successful salad-in-a-jar party!

1- Send out invites to guests.

I used a quick facebook event invite &included when, where, and what to bring.

If it’s hot and humid out, keep it indoors, but if the weather’s nice, make it even easier by hosting at a local park.  As the hostess, I offered to bring the mason jars and dressing, and everyone was asked to bring a container of greens plus two toppings. We didn’t get too detailed into who was bringing what, and it turned out everyone brought a few different options and extra amounts so there was enough to take home for themselves elsewhere.

For fun, I also set up two drinks (unsweet brewed mango green tea + cucumber lemon agua fresca) and made a watermelon salad appetizer. That puts a bit more on your to-do list, but it’s definitely not a must.


2. Prepare the jars and party flow.

I washed the jars and lids and determined the flow for the salad-making process. My “drink & appetizer” station was set on a separate table. Meanwhile, along my counter tops the order went:

empty jars





I used little chalkboards to designate stations and also the order of how to build the salads:

dressing on the bottom

followed by hardy-toppings that won’t absorb much liquid quickly

finished with delicate greens

 Of course, having an 18 month old helper is always useful and highly encouraged. =)


When it was time, I prepared a sample salad to show everyone how to get started.


Here’s some of the toppings we had to share:

options of store bought and make your own dressing

julienne purple cabbage        black beans        shredded cabbage         diced bell peppers

currants       toasted pecans      sunflower seeds        shredded coconut       toasted pistachios

mixed greens           spinach            kale


Here is a favorite combo of mine [actually shared years ago by a friend}:

    bell peppers   currants    pecans    with a basic vinaigrette

And one of LEM’s Godmother suggested this combo {which we all thought sounded deliciously brilliant and just so happens to be the same friend who created my previously mentioned favorite combo- she’s quite the salad connoisseur apparently}:

walnuts    dried pineapple    shredded coconut

But who am I kidding, everything looked great, so I added a little bit of everything to each of mine (ooops)!



It turned out that no one used the “make your own” dressing station I had set out. My advice would just be to provide some versatile but delicious ready-made dressings.  I’d suggest to keep it simple with a quick homemade lemon & honey vinaigrette and a balsalmic vinegar dressing just based on the type of ingredients we had available. The store bought option we had was this low sugar and only 15 calorie per two tablespoon option that everyone used Bella’s Blackberry & Fig.


Our protein source was some black beans, but you could also keep it simple with other no-salt-added canned beans like white beans or chickpeas. Even hard boiled eggs or some tofu would be great. I’m loving this Hemp Crusted Tofu recipe from fellow recipe redux blogger Dixya from her Food, Pleasure, Health blog.


I hope this inspires you to gather with your friends and make these beautiful and healthy salads-to-go!  I hope we get to do this monthly! After all, I’m all about multi-tasking these days!



Whole Grain Chicken Caesar Sandwich

As promised last week, I have a round 2 recipe from the leftover roasted chicken that we first used in our homemade chicken noodle soup.

I first started making these sandwiches when Andrew and I began our vacation road trips back home to Illinois a handful of years ago. They are so good that you’ll want to make an excuse to go on vacation this week!

{Who needs an excuse for a vacation, right?!}


For road trips, we need something portable as well as something I could make ahead of time and still taste good a day or so later.

Of course, I’d love to stop at Panera but I do try to save money when I can. To top if off, you know it’s always going to be healthier even if you make the same thing at home.

That’s why this recipe is perfect. My husband loves Panera Chicken Caesar Sandwiches so when The Barefoot Contessa was making a Chicken Caesar Club on one of my all time favorite cooking shows, I knew I had the perfect recipe to twist and make it more nutritious yet just as delicious.


So how did this recipe get twisted?

Well first, let’s start with the bread. I used 100% whole grain bread, but to keep the cals in check, I chose thin slices. I love the nutty texture of seeds and grains and it helps to add some staying -power to carbs.

For the dressing, I used half Greek yogurt and half mayo than the original recipe and skipped the sun dried tomatoes to preserve the natural Caesar flavor {and because the hubster isn’t a fan of tomatoes}. I also added a bit more flavor with more garlic, freshly ground black pepper, and more anchovy paste.

When roasting the chicken, I also skipped seasoning the skin, because I knew it wouldn’t be used so there was no need to flavor it.


So basically that’s it. A dietitian-approved twisted recipe of a Food Network pro simply by adding fiber and whole grains, decreasing some of the amount of fat from the dressing while amping up the flavor from other ingredients.

Now, a note on the pancetta, I kept it as a splurge but you could definitely substitute it with bacon {preferably no nitrate or nitrite added} or omit it altogether like I did for lunch when I ran out. =)

Because there is a decent bit of sodium coming from the anchovy paste in the dressing and the Parmesan cheese, I would recommend omitting it completely if you have any type of sodium retention, high blood pressure, heart or kidney condition.


I love this sandwich for it’s flavor {first and foremost} but also it’s portability and longevity. Making it a great travel option, but also a great meal prep lunch option that you can assemble as needed throughout the week!

Here’s my full twisted recipe:

Whole Grain Chicken Caesar Sandwich

Serves: 4-6


2 split (1 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on

4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta

4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil mayonnaise

1/4 cup plain greek yogurt

freshly ground black pepper

12 slices 100% thin sliced Whole Grain bread

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry

2 Parmesan, shaved


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roast the chicken on a sheet tray for 35 to 45 minutes until the skin as browned and the meat is thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool and then remove the skin, and thinly slice the breast meat.

Meanwhile, place a wire rack on a sheet tray, and roast the pancetta for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Prepare the dressing by pulsing the garlic, parsley, anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, mayo, yogurt, and a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper until smooth and well combined.

To assemble the sandwiches, first toast the slices of bread. Spread on about 1/2 tablespoon of dressing on each slice of bread. Top with a few slices of chicken, 1 slice of pancetta, sprinkling of red onion, arugula, Parmesan, and the second slice of bread.

Serve warm or store in airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Thanks for stopping by today! Have a great day!