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I’ll be having my family over for Easter celebration this year and I’m looking forward to making my table festive.  My sister is coming over the day before to color eggs with me and I want to get some spring flowers like lilies and tulips to create a centerpiece.  What I’m really happy about is being able to include lots of fresh spring produce into my celebration.  Now that the warmer weather has arrived it will be nice to create a menu that is loaded with fruits and vegetables and lighter fare.

 

Right now there are a lot of choices as far as seasonal fruits and veggies.  Always keep in mind that when you buy in season you’re buying produce at a lower cost since it’s plentiful and at its peak of flavor.  Asparagus is my favorite spring veggie so I’m definitely including it on the menu.  I usually steam it or saute in olive oil, but I’ve found the perfect recipe on the Fruits & Veggies–More Matters website I intend to try–Asparagus with Lemon Sauce.

 

Artichokes, another in season veggie, are a family favorite so I will cook some up ahead of time to serve.  We like them with lots of chopped garlic and olive oil, but there are plenty of ways you can enjoy them–stuffed artichokes are probably one of the most popular ways.  The Fruits & Veggies Produce Man has some great tips in this how-to video for stuffing, steaming or broiling artichokes.  Spinach is also in abundance right now so I intend to make a nice spinach salad and include white mushrooms, red onion and grape tomatoes.

 

When it comes to dessert, there are plenty spring fruit choices.  Pineapples, apricots and mangos are all in season, but my family’s favorite are strawberries.  You may have noticed in your local market the past couple of weeks the cartons of big, ripe strawberries as the crops are beginning to harvest.  I bought some last week and they are sweet and juicy!  My kids like them sliced with a little whipped cream on top, but for Easter I may go ahead and buy some of the other seasonal fruits and make a fruit salad.

 

Whatever you’re celebrating this season, Easter, Passover or just the change of seasons, I hope you’ll also choose to welcome some of the flavors of spring to your table.  It’s a healthy and flavorful way to kick off the warmer months of the year.

 

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It’s spring–yippee–my favorite time of year!  I always feel energized to get myself organized and clear out the clutter that has accumulated over the winter months.  One particular area I turn my attention to is my kitchen pantry.  I typically sort through half eaten cereal boxes or stale crackers, but I also use this as an opportunity to reassess what I’ve got stocked on my pantry shelves.

I try to avoid most “convenience” foods such as boxed side dishes and stick to making things myself.  They taste better, I can add veggies to my versions and I use a lot less salt than the what comes in the box!  My goal is to keep some key ingredients on hand so that I can always throw something together at the last minute.  Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, whole grain cereal, canned beans, tomato sauce, canned veggies (to add to soups and stews), a variety of seasonings to spice up my meals, olive oil, balsamic and red wine vinegars, chicken broth and canned fruits are the staples in my pantry.

I think you’ll be surprised at what you can create when you  have the necessary items on hand.  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a terrific list, The Well-Stocked Pantry, which lists everything you could possibly need for last minute meals.  I’ll share one of my family’s favorite side dishes, Pasta Fagioli (pasta and beans), which is super easy to make and very budget friendly.  Enjoy!

Pasta Fagioli

1 3/4 cup ditalini pasta
1 can small white beans, drained
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Boil ditalini pasta according to package directions.  While pasta is cooking, saute garlic in olive oil for a minute, just until tender (be careful because garlic can burn easily).  Pour can of tomato sauce into pot and add dried basi (and salt if you choose).  Stir and simmer while pasta finishes cooking.  Use a soup ladle and drain pasta from cooking water and add to the tomato sauce (it’s okay if some of the cooking water gets into the tomato sauce, this will help thicken it).  Add canned beans and parsley.  Heat through and serve.

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If you’re a working mom you know that coming up with weeknight meals is tough.  You want to find something that your family will like, have it be healthy for them and easy for you to make–not an easy task.  This is why I’m always excited when I come across a recipe that meets these criteria.

A few weeks ago, my mother shared a really tasty recipe for black-eyed peas with me that I have to share with you.  Not only is it delicious and healthy, but it’s prepared using one of my favorite kitchen tools–my slow cooker.  I put all the ingredients in the cooker prior to leaving for work in the morning and when I come home the house is filled with the aroma of what we’re having for dinner–it’s wonderful!  The recipe my mother gave me was already healthy–black-eyed peas are a terrific source of fiber and Vitamin B1, but I made it even healthier by using turkey bacon and opting for low-sodium variety chicken broth.  I’ve even started thinking of ways to mix it up the next time I prepare this recipe in the future (I might substitute one of the cups of chicken broth with a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies for some added “kick”).

I served this dish over brown rice and my entire family really enjoyed it–I hope yours does as well!

Slow Cooker Spicy Black-Eyed Peas

6 cups chicken broth
1 pound dried black-eyed peas, sorted and rinsed
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
8 ounces diced ham
4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
salt to taste (I omitted the salt as the spices added enough flavor)
1 teaspoon black pepper

Add all ingredients to slow cooker and stir.  Cover and cook on low 6 – 8 hours until the beans are tender.  Serve over brown rice with green onions on top to garnish.

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