Cheesy Italian Baked Beans with Spinach

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Traditional Italian ingredients such as onions, garlic, tomato, parmesan and rosemary transforms traditional baked beans into an exciting side dish or a vegetarian main.  Parmesan is mixed into the beans themselves and in an ooey-gooey-good gratin layer on top, making this dish decadently cheesy.  The rosemary prominently shines through.  Reduce the quantity for more subtlety.  The fire roasted tomatoes add some kick, as does the red pepper flakes.  And unlike traditional baked beans, these have no sugar added. At a recent potluck gathering of an international group where the food was abundant and fabulous, someone asked out loud who had made the baked beans.  I sheepishly revealed myself and was singled out for rave reviews.  Who knew such a simple dish, mostly from pantry staples, transformed into a bold comforting dish would be such a hit?  Left overs are good on toast with an egg on top for breakfast.  Hope you’ll give this dish a try.

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Terrarium Gardening

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Terrarium:  a glass container, chiefly or wholly enclosed, for growing and displaying plants.

Terrariums provide a wonderful indoor gardening activity  and are easy to make. The materials needed to create a terrarium such as drainage pebbles, soil and small plants are readily available and virtually any container can be repurposed into a terrarium.  Having greenery around during the winter months is a surefire way to beat the blues and terrarium gardening is a fun creative outlet. Low maintenance needs make terrariums very appealing.

To prepare this post I visited my local Terrain at Styers store for inspiration and to purchase plants. They have a whole section of ready made terrariums or all plants and materials to build your own. I created my own closed container terrarium and documented the process to walk  you through the step-by-step construction.  Then I met with my talented gardening friend  Missy who sells terrariums she creates, to have her share her best tips for successful terrarium construction and to teach us all her creative design secrets. You are in for a treat!

Terrain at Styers creation

Terrain at Styers creation

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Swedish Almond Cake

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In January, my garden club becomes a book club and we discuss a garden-themed book.  The Garden of Evening Mists by Taiwanese author Tan Twan Eng, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and The Signature of All Things by local author Elizabeth Gilbert,  have been some of my favorite reads.  One year a beautiful cake was served and soon everyone was swooning over this simple cake in a most intriguing shape.  Its baker, Cindy, told us it was a Swedish Almond Cake, a traditional and popular cake in Sweden.img_1369  Its elongated, half round, ribbed shape was obtained by baking the cake in a special pan.  This cake pan is as common in Sweden as the Bundt is in North America and often sold with the recipe attached. Continue reading

Winter Salmon Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Fennel

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When I looked at Reader favorites for 2016, I was surprised at how popular the garden themed posts were.  So I have been working on adding more gardening content on the blog.  I had visions of hanging whimsical molded bird treats in fun shapes for our feathery friends during winter.  Well, they kind of fell apart…and seemed to be attracting squirrels instead of birds even with my I-thought-I-was-being-clever addition of cayenne to the birdseed mix!   So I am not going to be posting that idea!

So another recipe it is!  No matter the season, I live on salads and love them.  I try to choose seasonal ingredients but come winter, that is so much harder to do.  This gorgeous salad boasts grapefruit in segments and in the simple dressing.  It serves up heart healthy salmon and avocado with thinly sliced winter veggies, fennel and radishes, on a bed of tender hydroponic Bibb lettuce.  If you have one, work with a mandoline to get the vegetables paper thin.  Using left over salmon cuts down on the prep time.  Cook the salmon any way you like it:  poached, grilled, oven-roasted or pan fried.  Sprinkle it with your favorite spice rub(I like a chili spice rub with a bit of kick and grilling it on a cedar plank), bring it to room temperature and squeeze half a lemon over it before flaking it into bite size pieces.  Sticking to your New Year goals of eating more healthfully won’t be a sacrifice with this delicious salad.

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Cranberry-Apple Chicken Salad Slaw with Blue Cheese Dressing

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Happy New Year!  If you want to eat more healthfullly in 2017, this meal salad can help you keep your promise.  There is so much to love about this colorful winter salad bursting with flavor:  tons of fiber, great crunch and sustaining protein from the chicken and almonds.  Tossing the shredded cabbage with some  red wine vinegar while you chop the rest of the ingredients starts breaking down some of the fiber and adds a  nice dose of resveratrol,  to help fight cancer. The cabbage, especially the red, is full of free radical fighting power and a good source of vitamins C, K, B6 and fiber.   Using bottled blue cheese dressing and left over chicken makes it fast and easy to prepare, 20 minutes tops.  Tossing the cabbage with the vinegar first also helps to reduce the amount of dressing in the salad and will keep the apple from turning brown.    If you love the pungent taste of  blue cheese, toss in an extra half cup of crumbles.   Thinly sliced fennel bulb or julienned jicama would also be tasty additions.   However you make it, this salad is wholesome  and will give your winter diet a delicious nutritional boost.  Dig in!

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