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Cook Smarts: Making You an Expert on Veggies

Jess Dang contacted me recently to share her site Cook Smarts, a company whose mission is to help home cooks lead healthier lives and have great experiences in the kitchen. Dang believes that simple home cooked meals can be a source of health, happiness and community, so she created Cook Smarts to offer educational tools like infographics, how-to videos, recipes, and even a meal planning service. I'm sorry if the rest of this post sounds like one big ad but know that I wasn't paid; I just absolutely love the site and will be sharing it with everyone who needs a little veggie help or is intimidated by their kitchen.

First of all Dang's story is unbelievably inspirational. She contracted Hepatitis C as an infant from a blood tranfusion, but of which she was unaware until making a blood donation. The disease progressed until college when her doctors advised her to undergo a year of intensive treatment with debilitating side effects, or risk developing other severe conditions. She vowed that if she made it to age 30, she would do something to help others lead healthier lives. She is now 32 and carrying out her mission through Cook Smarts.

When I checked out the site, I immediately loved the easy to read infographics and videos that showcase vegetables. I'm a veggie freak (drool over them, crave them, seek out restaurants that serve them, etc.) but not many people grow up with fond memories of vegetables; even if they do it's usually only one or two special vegetables dishes. I love how Cook Smarts highlights all vegetables and gives you the basics on how to store and prepare each vegetable in just the right way so you bring out its best flavor. Below are a few examples, but check out the site that has dozens more free cooking resources. The meal planning service costs $8 per month, providing recipes that can be tailored to special needs (gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian), nutrition information for each recipe, short how-to videos, and grocery lists.

This guide shows when to buy veggies, how to cook them, and in what types of dishes they work best:

This one reminds you which ones to use first before they spoil: 

And one of my favorites, a chart for kids to track which veggies they've tasted and liked...or not! Ellyn Satter, an expert on childhood nutrition and picky eaters, says that it can take 15-20 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it. So don't give up after one sour face:

Finally, don't miss their helpful videos like this one on how to make a vinaigrette. I've been sharing a similar 60-second recipe with my clients that makes a tasty sodium-free salad dressing, marinade, or light sauce for plain rice or quinoa. I've tried so many salad dressings that are too fatty, too spicy or too saltyoverall just too overpowering for greens. This easy healthful dressing is light but perfectly enhances a salad, cooked vegetables or grains.


A Homemade Version of Go Lean Crunch

Here's Alexa Aguiar's take on one of my favorite cereals. 

I've been craving something healthy and crunchy and thought I could replicate Kashi's "GOLEAN Crunch!" granola cereal. I also wanted it to have enough protein to sustain me throughout the day. So here's the recipehigh in protein, low in fat, and no sugar added (if using Stevia). It's going to be a new favorite of mine! 

I used TVP (textured vegetable protein), which I realize isn't a household ingredient but it provides a nice crunch and good protein content, and is inexpensive. Bob's Red Mill is the brand I used, purchased at Ocean State Job Lot for less than $3.

Cinnamon Crunch "Kashi" Granola Cereal 


1 cup TVP

4 cups puffed barley (may substitute gluten-free oats, puffed rice or puffed corn if desired)

2 T flax seeds

2 T chia seeds

1/4 cup sweetener (I used Stevia packets but maple syrup, honey, agave, and sugar would all work well)

1/2 tap salt

1 tap cinnamon

Any extras are up to you! Try nuts, dark chocolate, coconut, and seeds of your choice.

4 egg whites*


  1. Combine all dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix until incorporated.
  2. Whisk egg whites in a seperate bowl and add into the dry ingredients. Mix everything together.  
  3. Place on a foiled and oil-rubbed baking sheet and pat down firmly. Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, break apart and flip over granola to brown the other side for another 10-15 minutes.

*The egg white is the secret to chunks and clusters! Once baked, it is completely undetectable and acts as the binding agent rather than flour.

Makes 10 servings.


A Chip for a Dip

Well actually a cracker that tastes like a chip. Even though Food Should Taste Good is known for their addictive chips, they've come out with a new line of brown rice crackers to join their delicious tortilla chips. I received four flavors to taste-test. Now I usually avoid crackers because I have a hard time not eating almost an entire box in one sitting, and these were no exception. But after eating highly processed classics like Ritz or salty cheesy addictive Cheez-Its, you will notice that these crackers are different.

First of all the brown rice flour makes them super crispy, like a potato chip. I do love potato chips after a sweaty workout for the salt, but they're so deceivingly light that you don't feel satisfied even with all their calories and fat. These Food Should Taste Good crackers are substantial, and even more impressive is that the flavors truly deliver. The Peppercorn Blend is spicy with at least 2-3 different peppery notes. The Tomato and Basil is my favorite that tastes like a pizza chip, and the basil flavor jumps out. The Sea Salt version is a great basic cracker. Each cracker has a jumble of different flavors that are fun to guess as you scan the ingredients. They are gluten-free, made with whole grain rice flour and various seeds such as quinoa, amaranth and sesame.

The crackers are low in sodium at 100 mg per 1 ounce serving (about 10 crackers), and have 65% less fat and 20% less calories than potato chips though they don't taste low fat. Yes I still had the same problem of eating almost half the box without trying, not because they weren't satisfying but because they were so savory good. In my defense, the whole box is only 4 ounces so it wasn't hard to reach the midpoint! It got me thinking about eating them with a dip so that I might stick with just 10 crackers.

The problem with most dips is that they're almost all fat and salt. I've seen plain Greek yogurt used as a substitute for mayo in these recipes, which would offer a big boost of protein and calcium while being lower in sodium, so I searched and found an easy Creamy Avocado Yogurt Dip on the Oikos website that used ingredients already in my fridge (and I do look for every excuse to eat avocado!).

FSTG Crackers: Sea Salt and Tomato & Basil

It's a quick, mash-it-up recipe that tastes creamy and mild with just a little zing. Next time I'd leave out the lemon juice because the plain Greek yogurt is tart enough (I'd added a squeeze of honey to take out the tart). Instead of the cilantro, you can use other herbs or greens like basil or arugula. The creamy plain flavor of the dip fit nicely with the pop of the Food Should Taste Good crackers and made those 10 crackers perfectly satisfying...this could even be a nutritious lunch with its whole grains, protein, healthful fats, calcium and greens. Another use for this dip is to pair with veggiesI scooped some carrots and radishes from my CSA stash into the dip and it was great to not only enjoy these veggies in a new way but also to know that eating the veggie dip combo was even more nutritious than eating the veggies alone!

Disclosure: I received food samples from Food Should Taste Good for my honest review of the product.