Slow Cooker Parmesan Bean and Spinach Soup

Slow Cooker Parmesan Bean and Spinach Soup

Here’s the lesson of the week: never pack your laptop in checked luggage.

It all started with a trip to beautiful Napa, California. I go there every other month to visit my aging grandmother, which is not exactly a hardship for a food and wine lover such as myself. On this trip, my cousin and her husband from my mother’s side of the family were also there on holiday and so we met up to tour some wineries and taste some delicious wine.

Beaulieu Vineyards

Beaulieu Vineyards has beautiful big cabs.


Heitz Wine Cellars

I wasn’t impressed with the wine at Heitz Wine Cellars but their back patio was beautiful.


Heitz Wine Cellars

The back patio at Heitz Wine Cellars was topped by a pergola covered in a gorgeous blooming wisteria.


Heitz Wine Cellars

I loved the dogwood off to the side of the patio at Heitz Wine Cellars. The dogwood is my favorite flowering spring tree, especially fitting for Easter. Do you know the story of the dogwood?


Heitz Wine Cellars

Benches surround a firepit on the patio of Heitz Wine Cellars, looking out over the miles of vineyards coming into bloom.


Sterling Vineyards

Our final stop for the day was Sterling Vineyards, which makes a decent budget cab. Here you ride a tram to the winery high above the valley.


Sterling Vineyards

Once at the winery, you wander from terrace to terrace, stopping at different tasting stations, and appreciating the view down St Helena Highway in the Napa valley.


Of course as a result of these excursions I came home with some wine, as well as some delicious, high quality balsamic vinegar from Olivier. I packed these carefully into my carry-on, which means that I had to check my bag as the liquids would never make it past security. With a severe case of Sunday lazies after a busy weekend with my family, I decided to squeeze my laptop into my carry-on as well. I just didn’t feel like toting it around.

Can you guess what happened? Somewhere in between being squished in my luggage and being thrown around by the baggage handlers when I checked it, the screen was damaged. When I turn my laptop on, I see only a series of rapidly flashing streaks of color.

All of this is my way of explaining to you why you haven’t heard from me in a while. I was fully ready to share this recipe for Slow Cooker Parmesan Bean and Spinach Soup with you last weekend, only to discover my laptop was not cooperating. While it is almost 4 years old and I could certainly use an upgrade, for now I’ve connected it up to a monitor that I picked up on the cheap at Goodwill and am making do.

Slow Cooker Parmesan Bean and Spinach Soup

Leftover parmesan rinds become the base for a delicious soup.

I suppose this soup is a way of making do as well. I mean, what do you do with leftover parmesan cheese rinds except throw them away? I always thought that is such a shame, after all a good block of parmesano reggiano is so good and there’s so much flavor still left in that hard rind. So I decided to use the rinds as a base for a soup, injecting a unique flavor into the broth without all of the heavy calories of actual cheese.

I added some cannellini beans, onion, sundried tomatoes and herbs to round out the flavors and give the soup some bulk. Then at the end I throw in some fresh baby spinach for a pretty pop of color and additional nutritional value. With a hunk of crusty bread for dunking, it’s a deliciously easy dinner.



Slow Cooker Parmesan Bean and Spinach Soup
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 6
  • Serving size: 1½ cups
  • Calories: 208.0
  • Fat: 2.2
  • Saturated fat: 0.4
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.2
  • Carbohydrates: 33.3
  • Sugar: 2.2
  • Sodium: 130.3
  • Fiber: 5.4
  • Protein: 14.8
  • Cholesterol: 134.0
Recipe type: Soup or Stew
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Leftover parmesan rinds become the base for a salty, satisfying and scrumptious slow cooker soup, perfect for #MeatlessMonday.
  • 2 parmesan cheese rinds
  • 1½ cups dry cannellini beans, cooked
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ⅓ cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 cups homemade, salt-free vegetable broth or chicken broth
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ⅛ tsp red chile pepper flakes
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
  1. Place the parmesan cheese rinds at the bottom of a slow cooker pot.
  2. Add in the cannellini beans, onion, sundried tomatoes, broth, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, red chile pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.
  3. Stir, cover and cook in the slow cooker for 8 hours.
  4. Remove the parmesan rinds and bay leaf from the soup.
  5. Stir in the baby spinach leaves, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
I love to use dried beans because they are so much cheaper and healthier than their canned counterparts. Simply cover these dried cannellini beans in 6 cups of water, bring it to a boil then simmer on medium for about 45 minutes until tender. Drain, rinse and they are ready to use!



Martin Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2011

Martin Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2011

Today I want to introduce you to the Albariño grape variety. While not many Americans have tried this scrumptious white wine, it is as popular a variety with the Spanish as Pinot Grigio is for Italians. Predominantly grown in the Galicia area on the northern coast of Spain, this is my favorite wine to pair with seafood. Crisp and dry with mineral undertones and a light citrus finish, it is best served very, very chilled. What could be better on a warm summer day?

Martin Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2011

Martin Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2011

This Martin Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2011 is an outstanding example of the variety with its pale yellow straw color, aromas of herbs, apple and citrus, and notes of crisp lemon on the palate. Bodegas Martín Códax was founded in 1986 in the southwest of Galicia and is named after a famous Galician troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest of Galician-Portuguese language, have been preserved. In the poems, the troubadour sings of love and of the sea of the Galician coastline. Who wouldn’t want to drink a wine named after such a man?

The grapes are harvested from vineyards owned by a collective of 300 local families and farmed using sustainable practices. The vineyards are located near the coast which means the soil is very sandy and mineral, lending a salty quality to the wine. Wines are fermented in stainless steel, giving the whites their clean, crisp finish with no tell-tale notes of oak.

I especially love this wine with my Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote, I use it both in the recipe as well as to accompany the dish. The crisp lemon notes complement the dish perfectly. I can’t wait for summer to heat up here in the Pacific Northwest so that I can try this with some fish on the grill.

Get the recipe here: Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote

Buy a bottle here: wine-searcher

As with any part of a healthy lifestyle, always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation.

Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote

Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote

Spring is in the air and the winds of change are blowing through my life.

First, I offer you a halibut recipe. That may seem fairly tame, but what if I told you that I have never been a fan of halibut? And what if I told you that as I experimented with different varieties of fish for this recipe, I simply fell in love in with this dense, flaky, buttery fish?

Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote

Fresh halibut filet nestles atop tender spring asparagus and thin slices of lemon then is dressed with fresh thyme, salt, pepper and white wine.

Well I did. Halibut is not cheap, but for a special meal for 2 people this recipe hits the spot. I simply toss some fresh spring asparagus with a little olive oil then top it with some lemon slices, halibut fillet, salt and pepper, fresh thyme, and white wine. When baked in paper French style, the wine, lemon and thyme combine to create a sauce that steams the halibut to scrumptious perfection.

Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote

The white wine, lemon and thyme combine to form a delicious sauce in the packet.

Learning to love halibut was not the only change in my life this week, though. I took the unprecedented step of changing my Facebook status from “Single” to “In a Relationship” this week. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but what if I told you that is the first time ever in my singleton life that I’ve done that? I’ve been wrestling with the idea for a couple of weeks, going to that profile page and hovering my mouse over the edit button then chickening out and going back to what I was doing. But this week I finally screwed up the courage and did it.

I think this was a daunting change for me because it is such a public declaration of how I feel about a certain someone. And the thought of that relationship ending and having to change my relationship status back is even more terrifying to me. Again, because it is so public to my family and friends.

Trusting myself and my own feelings has been the biggest challenge for me in this relationship. I thought I loved someone (my ex-husband) before and that did not turn out so well for me. While that marriage left me with two beautiful children – whom I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world – that relationship of verbal, emotional and physical abuse left me with severe self-esteem and trust issues that I still carry around.

I introduced you to my new guy about 6 weeks ago, we’ve known each other for a long time but just reconnected in January. When he first told me how amazing I am and how in love he is with me, my first reaction was one of skepticism. How could he possibly love me? Doesn’t he see all my flaws? Then as I’ve worked past that self-doubt into acceptance, I’ve found myself questioning my own feelings. Is this really love that I’m feeling? Or is it just lust? I confused the two before and it’s difficult for me to trust what I’m feeling.

I’m still not completely sorted out. I can tell you that I love how he makes me feel and the picture of a future together that he paints for me is thrilling. So perhaps updating my Facebook status – publicly declaring my commitment to my family and friends – is the first step in learning to trust myself again.

Next step? Introducing him to my children.

Life is never boring, is it?



Halibut and Asparagus with White Wine and Herbs en Papillote
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 2
  • Serving size: 1 packet
  • Calories: 223.5
  • Fat: 7.7
  • Saturated fat: 1.1
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5
  • Carbohydrates: 11.1
  • Sugar: 0.5
  • Sodium: 284.1
  • Fiber: 4.9
  • Protein: 27.9
  • Cholesterol: 34.8
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Seafood
Flaky fresh halibut and tender spring asparagus are baked French style in paper with dry white wine and thyme for an effortless, healthy meal that will leave you wondering how such good food can be good for you too.
  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-3" pieces
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • ½ lb. raw, fresh halibut filet
  • ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Lay out 2 pieces of parchment paper 20" in length. Fold down the center of the width of each, creasing it hard with your index finger.
  3. Divide the asparagus pieces into two halves and lay each half on each piece of parchment paper next to the crease. Toss each with 1 tsp of olive oil.
  4. Top each pile of asparagus with lemon slices.
  5. Divide the halibut into two halves and lay one half over each packet on the top of the lemon slices. Season the halibut with a bit of salt and pepper.
  6. Lay 2-3 sprigs of thyme over the top of each halibut piece and drizzle each with 1 tbsp dry white wine.
  7. Fold the paper over and, starting with the longest edge, fold the edges together, tightly creasing them to ensure a good seal. Place the packet on a baking sheet and bake at 400F for 10 minutes per 1" of thickness of the halibut filet.
  8. Carefully cut open the packet and serve immediately.
I highly recommend a Spanish Albariño wine both in and accompanying this recipe.


ENSO Resonate Red #9

Enso Resonate Red #9

This week I’m really pleased to feature a small-batch, artisan wine producer that is from my own backyard, Portland. ENSO Winery was co-founded by winemaker Ryan Sharp, who began at Arcane Cellars and started in the other co-founder’s, Chris Wishart’s, garage. Today, grapes are sourced from Washington, Oregon, and California then brought to ENSO’s new urban winery in the heart of hip southeast Portland where you can sample and buy bottles at your leisure.

The Resonate Red #9 is a full-bodied red table wine that is a Rhone style blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Primitivo. Grapes are sourced from the renowned Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Washington state, famous for its big cabs. Aged in French oak, the Resonate Red #9 has rich dark red and black fruit flavors, such as raspberry and currant, with a hint of cocoa and a silky finish.

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup - Colleen's Kitchen

A bold wine like this is perfect with hearty meat dishes, such as my Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Stew. The flavors of smoky molasses, sweet honey, spicy pepper and tender juicy pork tenderloin play well against the big, rich flavor of the ENSO Resonate Red #9. I can’t wait to try it with my first summer barbecue as well.

With only 370 cases produced and a budget-minded price of about $16/bottle, these beauties will go fast. So pick some up today!

Get the recipe here: Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Stew

Buy a bottle here: ENSO Winery

As with any part of a healthy lifestyle, always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation.

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Stew - Colleen's Kitchen

Here I was thinking that spring had spring and warmer weather was finally on the way in the Pacific Northwest. Oh how mistaken I was.

Rain has been pounding the area this week, leaving me with a bit of cabin fever. Luckily, I like to play in my kitchen and a soup in the slow cooker is perfect for a dreary, wet day such as we’ve been having.

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup - Colleen's Kitchen

For this soup, I decided to use boneless pork tenderloin because it plays so well with the juxtaposition of sweet and spicy flavors. Slow cooked in the crockpot, the tenderloin becomes amazingly tender and juicy. Coupled with tiny hearty navy beans and fresh baby spinach, it’s a soup that you’ll want to make again and again.

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup - Colleen's Kitchen

I like to pair this soup with a side salad of baby spinach, pears, red onion and a light vinaigrette, along with some warm, crusty bread. I think fresh, warm baguette with a dab of butter is a pre-requisite for just about any soup. Is there anything better than sopping up the broth with a piece of fresh baked bread? Delicious!

What are you making in your kitchen today?



Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 6
  • Serving size: 1½ cups
  • Calories: 249.9
  • Fat: 4.5
  • Saturated fat: 1.1
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.5
  • Carbohydrates: 29.5
  • Sugar: 7.7
  • Sodium: 135.4
  • Fiber: 8.8
  • Protein: 20.9
  • Cholesterol: 163.2
Recipe type: Soup or Stew
Cuisine: Pork
Put your slow cooker to work with this sweet yet spicy soup of rich pork tenderloin and tender navy beans.
  • ½ lb. raw boneless pork tenderloin
  • 1 cup dry navy beans, cooked
  • ½ red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp red chile pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 4 cups homemade, salt free chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • generous pinch of coarse sea salt
  • 3 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
  1. Place pork tenderloin in the bottom of a slow cooker.
  2. Add in the cooked beans, onion, molasses, honey, worcestershire sauce, red chile pepper flakes, and garlic. Stir in the broth, salt, and sage. Cover and cook for at least 8 and up to 10 hours.
  3. Remove tenderloin from crockpot and use 2 forks to shred to a fine pulp. If desired, do a rough chop to create even smaller pieces.
  4. Mix the shredded tenderloin back into the soup. Add in the baby spinach leaves and stir well. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes then serve.
I like to use dry beans because the sodium content is so much lower and it is so much less expensive than their canned counterparts. To reconstitute or cook the dried navy beans, bring the dry beans to a boil in 4 cups of water. Continue cooking at a very gentle boil for 45-60 minutes. Drain, place in a container and cover with fresh water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


Matua 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Matua 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Believe me when I say that I try really hard not to feature the same wine twice on my blog. After all, there are so many great wines out there, why not explore them all?

But I had to break my rule with this one.

Matua 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

As I experimented with my recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad with 2 Kinds of Lemon, I knew that a Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect with this dish. Sauvignon Blancs tend to have nice citrus notes, which is a perfect partner for an entree salad featuring the complex flavors of both preserved and fresh lemons. When I went to sample the various wineries available, though, I kept coming back to the Matua Sauvignon Blanc.

At about $10  or less per bottle, this wine is a serious steal. It’s crisp, clean, and bright with citrus flavors. And it’s absolutely perfect with this salad and so fitting to welcome the return of spring sunshine in the Pacific Northwest. So why not feature it again?

See my feature of the 2012 Matua Sauvignon Blanc.

Get the recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad with 2 Kinds of Lemon.

Buy a bottle here.

As with any part of a healthy lifestyle, always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation.

Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad

Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad - Colleen's Kitchen

Spring has finally sprung in the Pacific Northwest!

The sun is shining, temperatures have risen into the high 60′s, daffodils are flashing their sunny faces, and the pear trees in my yard are starting to bloom. In the food world, this is the time of year when we finally start moving away from squash and root vegetables and over to tender spring vegetables like asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad - Colleen's Kitchen

Asparagus can be prepared so many ways. When I was a kid, my mom almost always steamed it al dente and served it with her homemade mayonnaise. Delish! Today, I prefer my asparagus roasted. Roasting these tender, green shoots brings out a sweet, caramelized flavor that is so scrumptious I could eat them like candy.

Asparagus and lemon go exceedingly well together. In fact, I often roast my asparagus with lemon juice, zest, or even lemon slices to really boost up the flavor. For this dish, though, I wanted to make the lemon flavor a little more complex and unusual, so I decided to incorporate preserved lemons.

Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad - Colleen's Kitchen

Preserved lemons are very common in Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking. You can find jars of preserved lemons at very reasonable prices in ethnic grocery stores. Basically, these are just whole lemons that are preserved in a solution of salt and lemon juice. For this recipe, I chopped up an entire preserved lemon – peel, pulp and all – and roasted it with the asparagus. Then I used fresh lemon juice and olive oil to dress the salad. The result is an easy, filling salad that reminds me of everything I love about spring.

What do you love about spring?



Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad with 2 Kinds of Lemon
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 2
  • Calories: 415.7
  • Fat: 20.2
  • Saturated fat: 3.1
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 1.8
  • Carbohydrates: 50.4
  • Sugar: 1.3
  • Sodium: 739.7
  • Fiber: 10.0
  • Protein: 16.2
  • Cholesterol: 2.5
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Vegetarian and gluten free, this easy salad makes great use of tender spring asparagus with the addition of complex lemon flavor from both fresh lemon juice and preserved lemons.
  • ½ cup dry quinoa, rinsed and cooked according to package directions
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
  • 1 whole preserved lemon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • ¼ tsp coarse sea salt, divided
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 oz. crumbled light feta cheese
  • 4 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Combine the asparagus and preserved lemon with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of the salt. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
  4. Whisk together the lemon juice, remaining 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, remaining pinch of salt, and thyme. Toss the dressing with the cooked, cooled quinoa.
  5. Add in the cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and the roasted asparagus and lemon. Toss to combine.
  6. Place the baby spinach in a salad bowl. Top with the asparagus - quinoa mixture and serve.
Look for preserved lemons in an ethnic grocery store, they are very common in Mediterranean and Moroccan cooking. You can also find preserved lemons in the condiments aisle of most New Seasons, for a higher price of course.


Guinness Braised Beef Stew

Guinness Braised Beef Stew

I was at a local grocery store today and upon entering the store I was greeted with a large sign that said:

“Irish Soul Food: This weekend get a taste of St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef from the hills of the Northwest.”

Really? Corned beef is Irish soul food?

Guinness Braised Beef Stew

I don’t how this corned beef and cabbage nonsense started, but here is a revelation for you: there is absolutely nothing Irish about it. That’s right! Nothing!

When you go to Ireland, you will not find corned beef and cabbage on any menu. In fact, most of the Irish people I met didn’t even know what corned beef is. This “Irish soul food” is actually an American invention.

What you will find in Ireland is Guinness Beef Stew. This is a staple in just about every Irish pub. It’s stuffed full of potatoes and traditionally also topped with a mash of potatoes. Sometimes, the pub will also serve it with a plate of chips (aka fries) on the side. That’s right – potatoes are typically in, on and around this stew.

Guinness Braised Beef Stew

My Guinness Beef Stew is different from other recipes in that (1) I braise the meat in the oven instead of cooking it on the stovetop, and (2) I have a secret ingredient – molasses. That’s right, I use just a wee bit of molasses to enhance the dark smokiness of the Guinness while adding a touch of sweetness. It’s absolutely perfect.

So if you’re looking for some authentic Irish soul food this St. Patrick’s Day, for the love of God put aside that corned beef and cabbage. Try this stew instead, your tummy will thank you for it.



Guinness Braised Beef Stew
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 6
  • Serving size: 1½ cups
  • Calories: 298.8
  • Fat: 7.0
  • Saturated fat: 0.4
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.4
  • Carbohydrates: 36.8
  • Sugar: 9.9
  • Sodium: 406.5
  • Fiber: 5.1
  • Protein: 21.6
  • Cholesterol: 2.5
Recipe type: Soup or Stew
Cuisine: Beef
This St Patrick's Day skip that American invention of corned beef and cabbage and try this rich, hearty beef stew slowly braised in dark and smoky Guinness Extra Stout, a pub staple in the fair emerald isle of Ireland.
  • 1 lb. beef chuck roast, trimmed of all visible fat
  • 1 - 22 oz. bottle Guinness extra stout
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 large stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1½ tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • generous pinch of salt
  • 12 oz. (1½ cups) Guinness extra stout
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 2 tbsp black strap molasses
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, chopped
  1. Place the beef roast in a bowl or container and cover with the contents of the 22 oz. bottle of Guinness extra stout. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 300F. Heat olive oil in cast iron dutch oven on medium high heat.
  3. Remove the meat from the Guinness and pat dry with paper toweling. Discard the Guinness.
  4. Sear the meat in the oil for 1 minute on each side, making sure to get all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium then add in carrots, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Cook until the onion is transparent.
  6. Stir in the 12 oz. of Guinness Extra Stout, using the back of a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the stuck on bits at the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes to let the mixture reduce a bit.
  7. Turn burner off and add beef broth and molasses, stirring to combine.
  8. Stir in parsnips and potatoes. Place seared beef roast back into the pan, covering it almost to the top with liquid. Cover the pan and bake in the oven at 300F for 1½ hours.
  9. Remove roast from stew and cut or shred into pieces. Stir the meat back into the stew, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.


Montes Alpha Carmenère 2008

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2008 - Colleen's Kitchen

I love it when I find a wine that so perfectly pairs with a meal. In searching for a wine to pair with my Spicy Baked Avocado Mac & Cheese, I wanted something that would capture the smoky quality of the spicy roasted jalapeno and poblano peppers, while also complementing the smooth creaminess of the cheese and avocado. This 2008 Carmenère from Montes Alpha fits the bill perfectly.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2008 - Colleen's Kitchen

This lovely wine originates from the very west end of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, situated just 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Benefiting from the cool air of the ocean, the grapes ripen late allowing a slow maturity for full ripeness.

Established by four founding partners in 1987, Aurelio Montes, Douglas Murray, Alfredo Vidaurre, and Pedro Grand have grown Montes wines from nothing to being found in more than 100 countries worldwide. Montes is known for their consistency in making ‘first growth’ wines that are both respected and admired by the world’s critics and trade.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2008 - Colleen's Kitchen

This 2008 Carmenère is no exception. A deep, beautiful ruby color, the wine is rich and full-bodied with an alcohol content of 14.8%. The red fruit, spicy black pepper, and hints of chocolate and vanilla play perfectly against my Spicy Baked Avocado Mac & Cheese. And the long, smooth finish leaves you smacking your lips and wanting more.

Get the recipe for my Spicy Baked Avocado Mac & Cheese here.

Buy a bottle of Montes Alpha Carmenère 2008 here.

As with any part of a healthy lifestyle, always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation.

Spicy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Spicy Baked Mac & Cheese

I have studiously avoided making dishes like this. I mean, a classic macaroni and cheese is supposed to be decadent and creamy. It is difficult to lower the fat and calorie content while still maintaining that moist, creamy, cheesy flavor.

But I have changed that.

Spicy Baked Mac and Cheese

It took me several attempts to get this recipe just right. My first idea was to use nonfat, plain Greek yogurt instead of the cream that is found in traditional macaroni and cheese. This was perfect, except that when I tried to omit the butter of traditional macaroni and cheese, the result was a dish that was too dry.

In my early iterations I substituted pureed, roasted butternut squash for the butter to add some creaminess to the dish without the fat. This just didn’t do the trick, though, the macaroni still came out too dry. Then inspiration hit.

Spicy Baked Mac and Cheese


Avocados are creamy and higher in fat, albeit healthy fats, and it was the perfect substitute for butter. Plus it added an unexpected twist of flavor, perfect with the roasted poblano and jalapeno peppers. The result is an oven baked macaroni and cheese that feels decadent yet isn’t. Winner!

What’s your favorite trick to “healthify” a recipe?



Spicy Baked Mac and Cheese
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 4
  • Calories: 229.1
  • Fat: 11.6
  • Saturated fat: 4.9
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.7
  • Carbohydrates: 16.6
  • Sugar: 1.9
  • Sodium: 346.4
  • Fiber: 3.2
  • Protein: 14.5
  • Cholesterol: 20.1
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Classic macaroni and cheese is lightened up while still retaining all of its moist, cheesy flavor by injecting flavors from spicy roasted peppers and creamy, cool avocado.
  • 2 whole poblano peppers, roasted, stem removed and diced
  • 1 whole jalapeno pepper, roasted, stem removed and diced
  • 1 cup nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup mashed avocado
  • 2 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
  • 6 oz. dry whole wheat macaroni, cooked according to package directions, drained and rinsed
  • 1 oz. shredded parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the peppers, yogurt, avocado, cheddar cheese, cumin, black pepper, and salt.
  3. Add the cooked macaroni noodles and stir to combine.
  4. Place the macaroni and cheese mixture in a baking dish, sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top.
  5. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes until the parmesan cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.
  6. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
To roast the poblano and jalapeno peppers, place the peppers on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 375F for 1 hour, turning halfway through. Let cool and remove the stem before dicing.