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La Petite Maison Verte

La Petite Maison Verte: October 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Football Sundays

Although I'm not a fan of professional football, I LOVE college football!  Brian and I are Navy fans and we root for the University of Maryland Terps too (my alma mater).  Maybe it's the fact that college football players aren't getting paid millions of dollars, or perhaps its the intense rivalries between schools - I'm not sure but either way, I enjoy watching our teams play on Saturdays - especially when we can attend a Navy game in person.  Living in Florida now, that's not really a possibility, but we still try to catch Navy football when they're on TV down here.

That being said, I don't really enjoy watching professional football.  A couple times a season I try to watch a game on TV but easily get distracted.  But since the husband enjoys it, I indulge him every so often by letting him watch on Sunday afternoon busy myself with cooking a hearty football season meal or some yummy tailgating snacks he can eat while watching the game:  I can't think of a better meal to go with football than chili and cornbread.

I don't have a recipe for the chili:  I just saute up some bell pepper, onion and garlic, then brown some ground turkey in a large dutch oven.  Then dump in a couple cans of diced tomato, some beans (homemade black beans made ANOTHER showing!) and a ton of spices (cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper) and let everything simmer together for an hour or so.  It's so satisfying with a dollop of cold sour cream or greek yogurt and some cheese melted on top.

For the cornbread, I went with the Barefoot Contessa's Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread.  Ina's recipes almost never disappoint, and this was no exception.  I baked a half recipe since there was only 4 of us and as delicious as it was (everyone had seconds or thirds!) there was plenty leftover.  I decided to make the cornbread in a mini-muffin pan and even with the muffin cups filled to the brim, there was enough for 24 mini muffins plus two full-size muffins.  This was delicious with the chili, with a subtle heat from the jalapeno and a noticeable onion flavor.  They were soft and light, faintly sweet, not too spicy AND cheesy!  Make them for your next football-watching party, I promise they'll be a winner - even if your team loses the game!

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Mini Muffins
makes 24 mini muffins + 2 regular size muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup grated cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons (I ran out of cheddar and had to substitute half mozzarella), divided
3 green onions, chopped (use both the white and green parts), plus 1 chopped green onion for garnish
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribs removed finely minced (use more for more heat)

In a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl combine milk, eggs and melted butter.

With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until most of the lumps are dissolved, being careful not to over-mix.  Gently stir in 1 cup of the grated cheese, the green onions and the jalapeno.  Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 24-count mini muffin pan with non-stick baking spray or line with paper muffin liners.

Divide the cornbread mixture among the mini muffin cups (I had a little extra batter so I made two regular muffins, or you could just discard the extra batter).  Top each mini muffin with a pinch of the reserved cheese and chopped green onion.  Bake 12-16 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean/dry (you might want to start checking to see if they're done around 10 minutes if you don't fill your muffin cups to the brim like I did).

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Impromptu Sunday Brunch for Two

So, Brian and I were planning on going for a run this morning.  We had every intention, I promise.  But when his alarm went off at 8 am it suddenly dawned on him that he had confirmed a skype-date with our French "family" for today at 8.  So we dashed out of bed and hopped online for a nice long chat with The Moreau's (well, Brian did most of the chatting, my French n'est toujours pas bon).

After we finished up around 9 my stomach was grumbling and I was starting to get a coffee-withdrawal headache (I need it, don't judge me!)  So we decided to skip the run and go straight for brunch, it's a gorgeous day outside though, so I think we will try again a bit later this afternoon for a run.

I've been craving a quiche for the last week but didn't want to make such a large quantity just for the two of us, nor did I really care to wait while it baked in the oven for 30+ minutes.  Once I'd had my first cup of coffee, a great idea came into my mind:  Mini Quiche Cups using pre-made wonton wraps!  And what a brilliant idea it was :-)

You see, I picked up a package of Nasoya Won-Ton Wrappers at the supermarket the other day with the intention of using them to make little mini pumpkin pies (don't worry, there are PLENTY leftover that I intend to use for exactly this purpose).  The wrappers are just very thin pre-cut squares of dough that can be baked or fried, filled with any kind of filling your mind can imagine.  Well, my mind imagined individual servings of quiche, so that's what we had for Brunch, along with a salad of romaine hearts, some salsa (Brian ate the salsa, not me) and  a half of a banana with some almond butter and Bare Naked Maple Pecan Granola (a gift from Mom and Dad that I've been enjoying for the last month or so!)

Between the two of us, we ate 6 Mini Quiches and decided since there were just 6 left we would keep them in the refrigerator for snacks/breakfast/lunch over the next day or two.  But I think they could easily be frozen, then thawed and re-heated for a breakfast on the go!  Another great thing about quiche is the versatility of the fillings:  I used red bell pepper, onion, cheese and some crispy bacon but you could keep it all veggies (I think cooked spinach and mushrooms would be divine!) or fancy-it-up with herbs and goat cheese.  Your imagination is the limit here.  I also think these would make a great party appetizer, maybe even use a mini muffin pan for tiny two-bite quiche...the holidays are coming!

Wonton Mini Quiches
makes 12 mini quiche (I think a good serving size is 2 or 3 quiche per person)
a Jules original

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup sweet yellow onion, finely diced
4 strips thick cut bacon, fully-cooked and crumbled (I bake mine so it's very crispy:  12-15 minutes in a 375 degree oven)
12 Nasoya wonton wrappers
6 large eggs
1/3 cup reduced-fat or skim milk
ground black pepper, to taste (optional)
1/4 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add red bell pepper and onion and saute, stirring frequently 4-5 minutes until translucent.

Spray each well of a regular muffin pan with non-stick spray.  Press one wonton wrapper into each muffin well, ensuring it is pressed all the way into the bottom and along the sides of the muffin pan, creasing the wonton wrapper where it overlaps with itself.

Transfer the cooked bell pepper and onion mixture into the wonton wrappers so each gets 1/12th of the mixture (it should be about 1 teaspoon per quiche) and then add the crumbled, cooked bacon to the quiches.

In a large liquid mixing cup or small bowl with a pouring spout, place all 6 eggs and the milk and whisk until well combined, season with black pepper if desired.  Pour eggs and milk mixture into each muffin cup over the veggies and bacon.  Sprinkle cheese over each quiche.  (Each muffin cup will be about 2/3 to 3/4 full).  Bake at 375 for 13-17 minutes, until eggs are set and wonton wrapper  edges are golden brown.

And on an unrelated note:  Check out this baby we picked up at the Hyde Park Village Art Fair yesterday!  Brian was the one who picked it out but I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  It's a handmade vase by Glenn Woods made in Palm Harbor, Florida which has a beautiful crystalline glaze design.  We especially loved the colors and the unique rings formed by the mineral crystals after they are heated and cooled.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

The other day I promised to share my recipe for the addictive roasted pumpkin seeds I made after carving our pumpkins.  I am calling them "addictive" because every time I walk past the little container full of them, I have to stop and grab a few.  I cannot walk past without snatching at least a few...or 10.

I had never roasted pumpkin seeds before this year so I was a total newbie at it.  I'd definitely eaten them at other people's houses but had found the texture to be odd (chewy, maybe?), not like a crispy, crunchy snack I craved.  So I went looking for the best method of cooking them to achieve the snappy, crispy bite I desired plus a flavor I could enjoy on top of salads or by the handful.

I think I found a good method for cooking the seeds, the flavor though, I'm still not sure about.  As I said, I really enjoy the flavor of these Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds but Brian isn't hooked on them like I am.  I'm sad I used our entire cache of seeds without trying out various seasoning options, so I'm really tempted to go pick up another pumpkin to carve, just for the seeds inside.  Maybe after halloween when they go on sale.....

Apparently, there's also some controversy about whether or not you should eat the "shell" or "hull" of the pumpkin seed or spit it out (a la sunflower seeds with their shells on, which is what Brian thought you were supposed to do).  A quick Google search informed me that there is no right or wrong way to eat your seeds however with the hulls left ON you get an extra source of beneficial fiber, so I say eat those shells!

I also learned that boiling the pumpkin seeds in salty water for 10 minutes before baking them helps the salty flavor permeate into the seeds better than if you just roast them with the seasoning.  As for the rest of the seasonings, you could go simple and classic with olive oil, salt and pepper or all out spicy with caribbean jerk seasoning or cayenne pepper and chili powder.  Or maybe try a savory blend of seasonings and dried herbs like rosemary, garlic and thyme or even an Indian version with curry powder.     But I think next time I roast pumpkin seeds, I am going to try a purely sweet rendition with brown sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

2 heaping cups shell-on pumpkin seeds, rinsed and cleaned off from all attached stringy pumpkin bits
4 cups water
4 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch crushed black pepper

For the brine:  After thoroughly cleaning seeds and separating them from the pumpkin "guts", add seeds, water and kosher salt (using a ratio of 2 cups of water + 2 tablespoons salt per one cup pumpkin seeds) to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Allow seeds to simmer for 10 minutes, then drain and allow to dry on towels for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or longer) to allow most of the water to evaporate.

When you're ready to roast, preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine brined, dried seeds, olive oil, maple syrup, chili powder, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.  Toss thoroughly until all seeds are evenly coated.  Spread seeds out on baking sheet in a single layer (you may need 2 baking sheets) and roast for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring seeds every 10 minutes until seeds feel lighter when you stir them and look golden and crunchy (mine took about 40 minutes).  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature on baking sheet(s).  Store in an air-tight container (after completely cooled) at room temperature.

Serving ideas:

-by the handful
-mixed in with spiced, roasted nuts as a party appetizer
-sprinkled on top of a seasonal salad
-mixed into homemade granola (especially if you make a sweet variation!)
-sprinkled over a warm bowl of butternut squash soup or a hearty chili or stew
-mixed with popcorn for a satisfying movie-night snack

I loved these roasted seeds on top of a salad and cut up veggies with some leftover shredded chicken and black beans for lunch!

Let me know what seasonings you try and how you eat your roasted pumpkin seeds!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Ode to Beans...

Here is an Ode to Beans that I wrote:

Beans, beans, good for the heart!  The more you eat them, the more.....oh wait, I didn't write that did I?

OK, OK, starting over:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit!  The more you eat them, the more you....uh, hmm...didn't write that one either, you say?

Alright, I give up on Odes.  I'm not much of a poet anyway.

But in all seriousness, I think beans are one of the most perfect foods!  So versatile, so healthy, and most importantly so TASTY!

Packed with dietary fiber and protein, and low in calories and fat, beans are a superfood by any definition.  Black beans are especially high in fiber which makes them a perfect source of carbohydrates, particularly for those who are prone to blood sugar swings, such as diabetics or people with insulin-resistance, as the fiber slows down the digestion thereby blunting the increase in blood sugar and insulin that occurs naturally following a meal.  Another benefit of dietary fiber is that it helps you feel full longer which is helpful if you're trying to lose weight or even maintain your current weight.

There are a whole TON of other benefits to eating beans from their phytochemicals to antioxidants, but I won't get into the nitty-gritty science behind it since the specific advantages to eating those compounds are only partially understood:  still, the take home message is the same:  Eat your beans!

Until recently, I had only ever bought and eaten canned beans.  I knew that dried beans were less expensive than those in the can, but I also "knew" that those dried beans were a pain in the rear end to cook:  you had to plan ahead the day before to soak them, then cook them for hours, then figure out what to do with 6 cups of cooked beans from a 1 pound bag.  Ugh.

Well, I decided to give it a try anyway.  You see, over the last several months as I have been doing a lot of reading on nutrition, health, wellness, diet, etc. I have come to adopt several Dietary Commandments, if you will that make up my OWN Philosophy on Eating (lots more on that in another post coming soon).  Without going into all the details, one such Commandment is to increase our consumption of non-meat-based protein (to coincide with a decrease in meat-consumption).  And as I've already mentioned, beans are a phenomenal source of protein so they have become a staple in our weekly menu.

So, I was going through 2-3 cans of beans every week and wanting an excuse to add even more beans into our everyday meals and decided now was the time to learn to cook my own dried beans.  And BONUS:  We will be saving a lot of money too, since a bag of dried beans runs about $1.19 at our commissary and contains 6 cups worth of beans, once cooked.  Compare that to $0.89 per can which contains about 1.5 cups of cooked beans.  If my Brian's algebra is correct, that means I'm spending only one third the amount of money I would be if I was buying canned beans!  Plus, I can control how much salt is added to the cooked beans, which I always like to minimize when possible.

Now that I had made up my mind to cook dried beans, I had to figure out how to do it.  I wanted to avoid the hassle of soaking the beans overnight and I certainly wasn't going to buy a pressure cooker to cut down on the cooking time.  The lightbulb went on and I turned to my favorite kitchen how-to resource:  The Kitchn, and sure enough found this handy guide.

I followed the instructions for cooking 1 pound of beans in my dutch oven and I chose black beans to test it out with.  Well, it worked like a charm and after about 90 minutes, almost like magic, I had 6 cups of perfectly cooked black beans!  I have to say, I was so very proud of myself!

The first recipe I decided to make using my homemade black beans was this Quick Stewed Black Beans and let me tell you, it was deeelish!  I loved the smokey flavor and subtle heat from the chipotle pepper and the creamy texture from adding a bit of chicken stock during cooking.  Plus, I was able to use up my last remaining can of beans I had in my pantry (a can of refried beans) and a chipotle pepper in adobo from a can I had opened a few weeks ago (most recipes I make only call for 1 pepper and each can has at least 3 or 4, so I always have a few left that I save - either refrigerated or frozen in the adobo sauce in a ziploc freezer bag).  Next time, I'll have to try making my own refried beans to use in place of the canned...but that's an adventure for another blog post :-)

Quick Stewed Black Beans
serves 6
adapted from The Galley Gourmet

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
1 1/2 cups homemade cooked black beans (or one 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)
1 (15 oz) can refried beans or black refried beans
1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped (this is spicy, so use more or less depending on your taste)
1 teaspoon adobo sauce (again, use more or less depending on your taste)
1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken stock
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and red bell pepper and saute 5-7 minutes, until softened.  Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add the black beans, refried beans, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce and 1/4 cup chicken stock; stir to combine.  Cover pot with the lid and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, lowering heat to medium-low if necessary to prevent burning.  At this point, check the consistency and add up to 1/4 cup additional chicken stock to reach desired thinness.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.  Serve warm.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Orange ya glad it's almost Halloween?

We carved our pumpkins this weekend!

The weather was gorgeous so we decided to take everything out to the front porch, even Hudson joined us.

An artist at work...Hudson making sure I'm doing it right

The finished products!  Mine on the left, Brian's on the right.  
I tried to faithfully represent Hudson't cuteness.  Brian dedicated his pumpkin to his alma mater (U.S. Naval Academy)
 It's hard to say for sure, but I think Hudson approves.

And P.S.  I didn't let those pumpkin seeds go to waste so check back later this week to see what I did with them.  Hint:  I can't stop munching on them!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baby-Butts and a Confession

When we were kids, my sisters and I used to joke that chickpeas look like tiny baby-size butts.  You've got to admit, the likeness is hard to deny.....Well, in addition to that fun coincidence, these beans also just so happen to be a great source of protein and fiber and they're a low G.I. carbohydrate which is important as this prevents a spike in blood sugar after eating.  So the take home message here:  eat your baby-butt beans!

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I want to share this recipe for Chana Masala:  it's an Indian chickpea stew that I had (prior to making this recipe) only eaten at Indian restaurants or in Amy's Organic Indian frozen meals.  I try to avoid frozen, prepared foods these days but there was a time not too long ago that I would frequently purchase Amy's Indian Mattar Paneer and Palak Paneer when Brian was deployed or if I was eating dinner alone.  Yes, I confess I used to stockpile Amy's frozen Indian entrees and other frozen single-serving meals {cough-Lean Cuisines and Lean Pockets-cough}.    

Fast-forward to Today's Julia:  a wiser, healthier, more kitchen-confident Julia.  And I have this recipe to share.  It comes from Jenna at Eat, Live, Run and as opposed to most recipes, I only slightly adapted it since it was my first time cooking Indian food at home (I'm not counting the times I've used Trader Joe's Tikka Masala simmer sauce over chicken).  The only changes I made were to use half the amount of jalapeno and half of the recommended cayenne pepper...because I'm a complete spice-wimp.  That being said, with my changes it wasn't spicy AT ALL and Brian said he would have liked a bit more heat.  Even so, Brian and I loved it and it definitely beats Amy's frozen chana masala.  And since it was on the table (start to finish) in LESS than 30  minutes you better believe I won't be reaching for the frozen version any time soon!

Chana Masala
serves 4
only slightly adapted from Eat, Live, Run 

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (next time I would use 1 whole jalapeno)
1 teaspoon minced ginger (or a 1 inch knob, peeled and finely minced)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can increase this depending on how spicy you want it)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or less, to taste)
2 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 lemon, juiced

greek yogurt and/or chopped cilantro, for serving (optional)

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook on medium - medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until golden brown.  

Once the onions have caramelized, add the garlic, jalapeno pepper and ginger and cook another 2 minutes, stirring all ingredients together.  

Add tomato paste to pan and stir into sauteed vegetables, immediately increase heat to medium-high and use a spoon or spatula to flatten down everything onto the bottom of the pan.  Cook for about 2 minutes or until a crust forms on the bottom of the tomato-paste/onion mixture.  

Add coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric and sea salt and stir well.  Add chickpeas, diced tomatoes and garam masala.  Cook for about 5 minutes until chickpeas have heated through, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, giving one last stir to make sure it is thoroughly combined.  Serve warm with or without greek yogurt and fresh cilantro.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Spaghetti Squash & Greens Gratin - Comfort Food 101

Hold on a second, don't leave just yet!  I know it sounds freaking weird a little odd but this Spaghetti Squash and Greens Gratin is fantastic!  It's comfort food without the guilt:  spaghetti squash, kale, mushrooms, cheese....well ok, some people might associate cheese with guilt but not me and definitely not here.  

Cottage cheese, greek yogurt and parmesan cheese provide the gratin component of this dish and add a creamy, salty richness that I really enjoyed.  Feel free to use reduced-fat cheese and yogurt here, I did, and don't think it made any difference in flavor at all.  The greens refer to hearty, dark green leafy vegetables.  I used kale but feel free to use what you have or what you like best:  collard greens or swiss chard would be great too.

I really do recommend you try this recipe, especially if you've been considering trying spaghetti squash for the first time or if you're getting tired of spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and meatballs.  Preparing the squash is really easy:  just slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and stringy innards, place each half cut-side down in a glass baking dish with about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom and cover the dish with plastic wrap.  Then microwave the covered squash on high for 10-12 minutes or until a fork pierces through the skin easily.  Once cooked, use a fork and scrape out the spaghetti-like strands into a bowl.  At this point you can use the squash in this recipe, or just top it with tomato sauce and meatballs, as a substitute for pasta.

We enjoyed this dish with Rosemary & Thyme Buttermilk Chicken for dinner, alongside a simple green salad.  The next day, I microwaved the leftover gratin with some black beans for a filling and satisfying lunch.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash and Greens Gratin
serves 4-6
adapted from Natural Noshing

1 spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
1 onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg OR 1 egg-substitute (I used 1 tablespoon flax meal stirred into 3 tablespoons water, let it stand for a few minutes until it thickens a bit)
3 green onions, chopped, white and green parts used
6 small mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
3/4 cup reduced-fat (2%) cottage cheese
scant 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, divided
small pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare spaghetti squash:  Microwave squash (as described above) in a shallow baking dish with about 1/4 inch of water, covered with plastic wrap for about 10 minutes, until a fork pierces the skin easily.  Conversely, you could roast the squash halves in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour.  Gently scrape spaghetti-squash strands into a large bowl using a fork.

While the squash is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions and saute 3-5 minutes, until tender.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute 1 more minute.  Then add kale and saute, stirring, until just slightly wilted, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add the contents of the skillet (the kale-onion mixture) to the large bowl with the spaghetti squash.  Add in the green onion, egg (or egg replacement), Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, scant 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper and stir to combine well.  Season with salt and pepper as desired. 

Pour mixture into a casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, or into individual ramekins.  Sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese on top.  

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until bubbling and golden brown:  about 25-30 minutes for small dishes, 30-40 for a larger dish.  Serve warm.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend Recap

A look back at what was an absolutely perfect weekend...

We checked out the Tampa Food Truck Rally 2.0!

Some foods we tried were good....
Miami Burger from Burger Culture Truck

Some were bad....
Chocolate Pecan Pie??  um...not what we were expecting.

Some were to die for....
Latin Lovers Crepe (Bananas & Nutella) from La Creparia Cafe Truck

We took Hudson on base to enjoy the nice weather.

Brian and I spent a few hours reading.  Hudson waited patiently for his turn at having some fun....

When it was Hudson's turn, Brian joined him in a game of "chase the Italian Greyhound"

A fabulous day was had by all!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Baked Whoopie: A Guest Post

I've got a love jones for whoopie pies and it makes no sense.  There's nothing sensational about a dollop of frosting sandwiched between two cakes.  The traditional whoopie pie flavors of chocolate and vanilla often fail to capture the imagination of palates more accustomed to the exotic recipes inhabiting the foodie blogosphere.   They can be assembled by a five year old with ease.

Nonetheless, whoopie pies flourish thanks to a small subset of the population (among whose number I count myself) for whom mildly sweet treats fail to answer the mail.  For these tortured souls, only the purest and most direct expressions of sucrose (i.e., sweetest-thing-to-cross-thy-lips) can satisfy their sweet tooth.   No surprise, then, that the absurdly high sugar content of its marshmallow frosting vaults the whoopie pie into the stratosphere of my sweetest desires alongside such stalwarts as the creme horn, krispy kreme glazed creme-filled donut and pecan pie.  In any case, whoopies and I go way back.

The love affair began in college.  My then-girlfriend (the lovely Jules of La Petite Maison Verte fame) fatally introduced me to the local Dutch Farmer's Market, which just happened to produce wickedly-good whoopie pies in every conceivable variety - chocolate, pumpkin and red velvet - even chocolate chip cookie.  The cakes were always moist, the frosting light and airy but sweet, sweet, sweet.  After I graduated from college, Jules' mother would often send me back for another week of Marine Corps combat training with a gift-wrapped six pack - by that point, two of them could disappear down my cheesepipe in the blink of an eye.  Oh, don't worry, I'd been training.  Ten years ago, I was that kid in the corner, licking the creme out of the twinkie with a twinkle in my eye.  A miracle I'm not four hundred pounds and diabetic.  Alas, Jules came along and changed my diet for the better.

But that deadly sweet tooth of mine isn't gone's just repressed.  So when Jules and I decided to visit vacationland (aka Maine) for a labor day extended weekend trip last year, my desire for whoopie pies quickly rekindled.  You see, not many people realize that Maine is a sweet place to visit (and yes, the double entendre here is intended).  Beyond featuring kick-ass attractions like Arcadia National Park, lobster rolls, moose and blueberry jam....Maine also rivals Pennsylvania Dutch Country as the world capital of the whoopie pie.  Indeed, as cannoli are to Italy, so whoopie pies are to Maine.  Surprised?  So were we.  But me being me, I decided our little junket could double as a quest for the finest whoopie pie the great state of Maine could produce.  And we weren't disappointed.  Nary a bakery, grocery or donut shop on our route didn't offer up their own version of the state delicacy.  By the end of our four-day trip, we had sampled a wonderful assortment of whoopies - cakes alternately dense or spongy, filling thick and granulated or velvety smooth.  But as for finding the "perfect" whoopie pie, well, there we fell a bit short.  And thus began our obsession with creating the ultimate whoopie in our own kitchen.

In the past year, I must confess...I've gotten pretty good at baking whoopie pies.  They almost never come out the same, but then again that's part of their charm.  I make chocolate, red velvet and pumpkin in the fall.  My filling is just the way I like it - virtually pure confectioner's sugar.  And I'm always on the alert for new recipes.

Fast forward eight months.  Julia and I are engaged in one of our favorite pastimes - stalking free samples at the local Williams-Sonoma in the mall, and what to my wondrous eyes should appear?  The "Baked" Cookbook....and eight tiny reindeer (okay, maybe not the reindeer).  For those of you not blessed with the "Baked" experience, let Julia and I assure you that this tiny chain is fantabulous.  Eagerly I began flipping through the Baked cookbook, and on page 76 my heart stopped.  The Baked Whoopie.

Now, I'm a recent convert to the smartphone.  Prior to purchasing an iPhone 4, I happily pecked away on a Motorola Razr (gasp - a flip phone!).  Since my purchase, I had rarely found a use for the numerous gizmos on my new "smart" phone, but that afternoon in Williams-Sonoma, technology proved its worth.  Furtively glancing around the store like an east German about to scale the Wall, I surreptitiously slipped my iPhone out of my pocket, selected the camera, and, chuckling quietly to myself, quickly took pictures of Baked's three-page whoopie pie recipe.

What follows in this post is the results of (our) great adventure to find the perfect whoopie pie.  Of the multitude of examples I have tasted, no whoopie approaches the unfathomably rich, chocolate texture of the Baked version.  Full disclosure:  the Baked filling recipe incorporates raw egg whites.  Jules objects to raw eggs in any capacity, and for this reason the filling recipe in this blog post is uniquely my creation.  Admittedly, the filling requires continued refinement (i.e., more sugar) for my personal tastes, but its light and airy texture is likely more than sufficient for the novice whoopie pie aficionado.  For a more faithful blog post on the Baked Whoopie (including step-by-step instructions for Baked's swiss vanilla filling), see Mango & Tomato.  Please enjoy.

Baked Whoopie Pies

Makes approximately 12 large whoopie pies.

For the cakes:
3 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon, salt
1 1/4 teaspoons, baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons, baking soda
3/4 Cup, dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons, instant espresso powder
1/2 cup, hot coffee
2 cups, firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup, canola oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon, pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup, buttermilk, shaken

For the filling:
1/2 cup, unsalted butter
1 cup, confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 to 2 cups, marshmallow fluff

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and espresso powder.  Add the hot coffee and 1/2 cup hot water.  Whisk until both powders are completely dissolved.

In a medium bowl, stir the brown sugar and canola oil together.  Add this to the cocoa mixture and whisk until combined.  Add the egg, vanilla and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.

Use a rubber spatula to gently "fold" the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Make sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as you fold.

Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism (other options include filling a ziploc bag with the batter and piping it directly onto the baking sheet) to drop approximately 1/3 cup batter onto the baking sheets about two inches apart.  Bake for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean.  Let the cookies cool completely before assembling with filling.

For the Filling:

Chop the room temperature butter into cubes that are 1/2 inch on a side.  Drop into a stand mixer with 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 cup marshmallow fluff.  Starting on low speed, allow the sugar and fluff to completely incorporate into the butter, and then increase speed to medium for approximately one minute.  Add the remaining sugar and fluff, incorporate at medium speed then beat at high speed for another two to three minutes until the filling is light and airy.  Fill a ziploc bag (or pastry bag, if available) with the filling; pipe the filling in a circular motion on the whoopie cakes for best results.


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Friday, October 21, 2011

Rosemary & Thyme Buttermilk Chicken

The other day I happened upon a quick, simple recipe for chicken that Kate from Framed Cooks raved she couldn't stop making over and over.  I'm always on the lookout for quick, tasty chicken recipes I can whip up for dinner and it's an added bonus if I already have all of the ingredients on hand, as I did with this one.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe (I've provided a link to Kate's rendition as well, see below) and I was pleased with the results.  First, I used boneless skinless chicken breasts that I sliced in half through the middle in order to shorten the cooking time:  starting with a sharp knife held parallel to the cutting board, I start at the thicker end of the chicken breast and slice my knife through the breast, keeping it in the center so I have two equal size halves.  This not only shortens cooking time but also makes the portion size more manageable and allows it to cook more evenly.  You could go a step further and pound out the half chicken breasts to make them perfectly uniform in thickness, but I didn't bother.  The second change I made was that I broiled the chicken breasts because Brian didn't feel like grilling.  They turned out perfect!

Since I started with 2 pounds of chicken, I marinated all of it and cooked half of the chicken after sitting in the marinade for 1 hour.  The rest of the chicken was allowed to soak in the marinade for 24 hours before broiling.  The chicken that had marinated 1 hour was very tender and I could taste the rosemary and garlic, but with much less developed flavor than the chicken that was allowed to marinade for a full day.  If you have time, I recommend a longer marinade but no sweat if you only have an hour, it was still good!

The first night, we ate this chicken with Spaghetti Squash and Greens Gratin and salad.  I ate the leftover chicken cold, on top of a spinach salad with carrots, celery and homemade hummus.  Hot or Cold, this chicken is delicious - I highly recommend you make this one guys!  And check back later this week for the (also amazing) recipes for the Spaghetti Squash and Greens Gratin and the hummus!

Buttermilk-Herb Chicken
serves 4-6
adapted from Framed Cooks

3/4 cup buttermilk
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh herbs (I used thyme and rosemary this time but you can use any.  A few favorites are:  parsley/thyme, basil, tarragon)
1/2 tablespoon paprika
scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally

Whisk the buttermilk, garlic, herbs, paprika, salt and pepper together inside a large ziploc bag.  Add the chicken breasts and seal bag, making sure to evenly distribute the marinade all around each piece of chicken.  Marinade at least one hour or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat broiler to high and move the top oven rack to highest position.  Spray a broiling pan with non-stick cooking spray, remove chicken from marinade (discard marinade) and lay out chicken pieces evenly so they are not touching each other.  Broil on high for 6 minutes, then flip each piece of chicken over and broil another 4-6 minutes until fully cooked (mine took exactly 11 minutes total).  Remove pan from oven and allow chicken to rest 3-4 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.

***Exciting news!  Tomorrow's post will be a guest post by my husband!  I won't tell you what he made but all I'm going to say is:  You do NOT want to miss this, I have been dreaming about these sweet treats ever since.  Not kidding!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Simple Pear Galette with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

If you asked me to name my favorite fruit, I'd answer you with whatever is in season at the time.  Strawberries in early summer, peaches in August, apples and pears in October.  Sweet, a little tart and so very juicy this time of year, pears don't need to be baked into a galette to be enjoyed, but Oh how delicious they tasted tossed with a couple of warm spices, a bit of lemon juice and some brown sugar and baked into a wonderfully simple free-form pie.  

This dessert was a breeze, thanks to store-bought pastry dough.  Of course, you can always make your own pie crust (which I'm sure would taste even more amazing!) but using the pre-made kind allowed me to put this delicious rustic galette together in less than 10 minutes.  Since our family consists of just Brian and I, I didn't want too much of this sitting around (just too much temptation for me) so I halved the recipe which required me to trim the pie crust to remove a little less than half of the dough.  

I started with a 9'' pie crust (I used Pillsbury) which I lightly rolled out on a floured surface until it was 10 inches across.  Then, since it's a rustic tart I didn't really worry too much about getting it to be a perfect circle, I just estimated a 7-8'' circle and trimmed the dough using a sharp paring knife.

The original recipe combines apples and pears but I just wanted to focus on the beautiful pears that are in season now, leaving my beloved stash of Honeycrisp apples for me to crunch on one at a time, drizzled with my cinnamon almond butter dip.

Simple Pear Galette
serves 4
adapted from The Kitchn

1 pre-made refrigerated pie crust, gently rolled out to a 10'' diameter and then trimmed to a 7 or 8'' circle (discard scraps) - keep refrigerated until ready to assemble
3 pears, peeled and cored (I used Bartlett but any ripe pears would do)
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander
scant 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Thinly slice pears and transfer to a large bowl.  Toss pears with the lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, all spices and salt.  Remove prepared pie crust (see notes above on trimming pie crust to size) from refrigerator and  transfer to a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Spoon fruit onto center of pie crust, leaving about 1 inch free around the perimeter, then fold the pastry up around the edges.  Bake 30 minutes or until crust is browned and crispy around the edges and bottom.  Cool to room temperature and serve with cinnamon whipped cream.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
serves 4

half pint heavy whipping cream - very cold
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Either by hand or using a stand mixer, whisk cold whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Add sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon and continue to whisk until desired consistency is met.  

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roasted Pork with Butternut Squash

As I mentioned in my last post, since Brian's return home we have been enjoying some delicious meals together.  This was the second dinner I cooked for Brian, and we enjoyed it every bit as much as the Salmon Tacos with Creamy Guacamole of the night before.

Another recipe inspired by September's issue of Cooking Light, this one showcased the heartier, Fall flavors that both Brian and I enjoy, but of course I can never leave a recipe alone so this version adds garlic and omits potatoes, since I didn't have any.  This meal came together quickly and I served up a simple mixed greens salad and some sauteed kale with garlic on the side.

Roasted Pork with Butternut Squash
serves 2
adapted from Cooking Light

2 cups chopped, peeled butternut squash (1 1/2 to 2 inch chunks)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, divided
salt and pepper
1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of any excess fat
1/4 cup dry white wine or Sherry
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a baking dish lined with aluminum foil, toss butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and add 1 teaspoon of the fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon of the fresh sage and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat all pieces evenly.  Roast vegetables in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the pieces over after 15 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the pork tenderloin with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.  Add pork tenderloin to the hot pan and sear on all sides, about 4-5 minutes total.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine or sherry and add the chopped garlic and remaining 1 teaspoon each of sage and thyme, using a wooden spoon to stir up any brown bits.  Transfer skillet into the 425-degree oven and roast for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 145 degrees.  Remove skillet from oven once desired level of doneness is reached and cover pan with aluminum foil to allow it to rest for 5 minutes or until squash is ready.  Slice pork and serve with accumulated sauce/juices alongside the roasted squash.

We thought the sauteed kale made a great side-dish and really complimented the fall-flavors of the pork and squash.  We also enjoyed this dinner with a glass of locally-produced Chateau Soleil Chardonnay from Florida Estates Winery that I had picked up a couple of weeks ago.  C'est bon!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Salmon Tacos with Creamy Guacamole

Now that Brian is home (YAY!) I am back to cooking more varied meals at dinner time.  It's not that I didn't eat a large variety of foods and vegetables while he was away, but being that I'm only one person it would take me several nights worth of dinners to finish off the vegetables and proteins I was buying.  As a result, several ingredients repeated themselves over and over each week.  Luckily, I happen to really enjoy kale, butternut squash, lentils and italian sausage :-)

Brian appreciates a varied dinner menu and I like to try out new recipes so it's a win-win situation for us both!  I have a bunch of great meals planned this week and I look forward to sharing them here as I go along.

First up on the menu after Brian returned home were these Salmon Tacos with Creamy Guacamole.  They're sort of a cross between a taco and a tostada, as they were so stuffed with different things that they ended up best eaten open-faced, using a knife and fork.  I was inspired by a chicken tostada recipe I had seen in my Cooking Light magazine (September 2011, p. 83), but we made lots of changes and we both thought they turned out delicious!  We had lots to talk about after Brian's return (he was gone for a month) but we barely talked at all during that dinner, we were too busy eating!

I recommend using sustainable, wild-caught Alaskan King or Sockeye Salmon for these but any sustainably-caught fish or shellfish will do!  Please check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide for recommendations on what to look for when choosing healthy, sustainable seafood and to learn more about the importance of supporting only ecologically-safe and humane fishing practices.  I have their iPhone app so I always have a resource to refer to when I'm at the grocery store looking at what's available in the seafood department.  I highly recommend it (it's also available for Android devices so no excuses!).

Salmon Tacos with Creamy Guacamole
serves 2

Creamy Guacamole:

1 ripe avocado, pitted and cubed
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
juice from 1/2 of a lime
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
pinch (or more) crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons low-fat plain greek yogurt or light sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

For guacamole:  combine all ingredients in a bowl, mashing the avocado cubes with two forks.  Alternately, you could combine all ingredients into your food processor and just pulse away until your guacamole is processed to your desired consistency.  Use right away or refrigerate with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly onto the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation (avocado turning brown).

Cabbage Slaw:

2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil mayo or greek yogurt
juice from 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine cabbage, shallot and red bell pepper in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, lime juice, agave and olive oil.  Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to coat.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Make ahead of time and refrigerate or serve immediately.


1/2 to 3/4 lb Alaskan salmon filet, skin removed
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
olive oil
salt and pepper

Turn oven broiler to high and place one rack close to the top of the oven.  Rinse salmon filet and thoroughly pat dry.  Place dry salmon filet into a foil-lined baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle all seasonings onto fish, then drizzle with about 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Broil 6-9 minutes until fully cooked, time will depend on thickness of fish filet.  Remove from oven and cut into portions.

To assemble:

2 or more small whole wheat tortillas
salmon, as prepared above
creamy guacamole, recipe above
cabbage slaw, recipe above
1/2 cup black beans, cooked
1/4 cup shredded cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, if desired
salsa, if desired

Preheat broiler to high.  Place tortillas onto a baking sheet and top with the salmon and cheese.  Place under broiler about 1 minute or until cheese melts.  Remove tortillas to serving plates and top with beans, creamy guacamole, cabbage slaw, cilantro and salsa, as desired.  I recommend eating these with a knife and fork!  Enjoy!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Elvis Oatmeal

That Elvis, he was onto something.....

You've heard of the Elvis sandwich, right?  Toasted bread with sliced bananas and peanut butter.  I have also seen references of the sandwich containing bacon, but it doesn't seem to always be included in reproductions of The King's favorite concoction between two slices of bread.

Well, I recreated it.  But instead of bread, I had a bowl of oatmeal.  And I left out the bacon but hey, it's breakfast, so go ahead and add it if you're so inclined.  I'll bet it's awesome.....

Elvis Oatmeal
serves 2

1 large, very ripe banana

1 3/4 cups water
small pinch salt (omit if using salted peanut butter)

1/2 cup steel cut oatmeal
1/4 cup milk or almond milk
2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter
honey or brown sugar (optional, to taste)
chopped, crispy cooked bacon (optional, for serving)
additional peanut butter or chopped peanuts (optional, for serving)

Mash half of your banana and chop or slice the other half for serving.

In a small pot, bring water to a boil and add salt, if using.  Add oatmeal and lower heat to allow oatmeal to simmer, stirring frequently for 20-25 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed.  Add milk and stir for another 5 minutes to allow it to absorb.  Remove oatmeal from heat and stir in peanut butter and mashed banana.

Scoop oatmeal into two serving bowls, top each with one half of the reserved chopped banana, additional sweetener (honey or brown sugar), chopped peanuts and/or chopped bacon if using.  Enjoy.

High-Protein Variation:  Prepare oatmeal as described above, adding an extra 1/3 cup water during cooking.  Once oatmeal is cooked and you remove it from the heat, add one scoop vanilla protein powder to oatmeal along with the peanut butter and mashed banana, stir and divide into two bowls.  Top oatmeal as desired using toppings, above.  You shouldn't need to add any extra sweetener, unless your protein powder is unsweetened.

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Variation:  To substitute old-fashioned oatmeal instead of steel-cut oatmeal, use a ratio of 2:1 water: oats.  Bring water to boil and add oatmeal, add a bit of milk or almond milk towards the end of cooking time (the last 30 seconds - 1 minute).  Add peanut butter, banana and optional toppings as desired.

Elvis has left the building.....

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Vegetables Extravaganza!

I just cannot get enough roasted vegetables this time of year!  I don't know if its the cooler temperatures (I live in Florida so that's not likely) or the orange, red and yellow hues of the trees that makes me want to eat like-colored vegetables (again, not likely.  Palm tree leaves don't do much changing).  No, I think it's probably the smorgasbord of different varieties of gourds that you don't normally see the rest of the year:  Kabocha, Calabaza, Delicata, Hubbard, and of course the Pumpkin.  And when I think of preparing squash, roasting it is the first thing that comes to mind.

I love to roast just about any vegetable (maybe not, ew) or fruit for that matter (roasting did wonders for my peach ice cream!)  It enhances the natural sweetness, plus you end up with squash that has a caramelized and slightly crisp exterior, but is soft inside and just melts in your mouth.

I'm STILL working on eating up all of my butternut squash that you've seen me post about here.  This time, I added some baby carrots, shallots and fresh thyme to the roasting pan along with the butternut squash.  Yum!  Tossed on top of a green salad with some roasted beets, raw cashews, goat cheese and my leftover herbed lentils - what a filling and flavorful meatless meal!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Carrots and Thyme
serves 2

1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup baby carrots
2 small shallots, halved (pieces should be about 1 inch in size)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400' while you prepare vegetables.  Drizzle olive oil over squash, carrots and shallots directly on the baking sheet (I cover my baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier cleanup) and toss the vegetables with the olive oil using your hands.  Sprinkle thyme, salt and pepper over the vegetables.

Roast vegetables for 25-35 minutes, flipping the pieces over after 15 minutes and again at the 25 minute mark.  Veggies are done when the pieces are caramelized and golden brown.

Roasted Beets
adapted from The Galley Gourmet
serves 4

2 large beets
1/4 cup water

olive oil, red wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper, fresh chopped herbs (optional, for serving)

*pair of disposable vinyl or latex gloves (optional, but I highly recommend using them unless you WANT your hands to look like you just committed a fairly gruesome crime....)

Preheat oven to 375'.  If beets still have stalks attached, trim the stalks leaving only about 1 inch attached.  Gently clean the beets under running water without tearing the skin.  Place the whole beets in an 8x8 baking dish along with the 1/4 cup water - just enough to cover the bottom of the baking pan.  Cover pan tightly with foil.  Bake until beets are tender and can be easily pierced with a knife - from about 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on the size of the beets.  Remove beets from oven and allow to cool about 20-30 minutes, until they are cool enough to handle.

Wearing your disposable gloves, slip off the beet skins (they should come right off) and trim the stalks and root end with a knife.  Chop or slice the beets and toss with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, chopped herbs, vinegar or lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Serve on top of green salad.

Roasted beets can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for about a week, but be forewarned they may stain the container!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Take on One-Ingredient "Ice Cream"

Creamy Chocolatey Goodness
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen and (hopefully) tried the infamous "One-Ingredient Ice Cream."  You know: the seemingly magical process whereby you take chunks of frozen bananas, pulse them in your food processor for a few minutes, scraping down the sides every once in a while, and with a little patience you are rewarded with a luscious soft-serve-like frozen treat?  Yup, that's the one I'm talking about:  Magic Banana Ice Cream is what I call it.   

Well, it's a staple in our house.  Just ask Brian, he'll tell you:  if I'm not hoarding bananas for my banana bread, I'm hoarding them for this banana ice cream.  

This is your ticket to magic banana ice cream town.

I have to admit taking a few liberties with the original recipe so mine isn't usually made with only one ingredient.  Still, it's about as quick a dessert as I've ever seen and I almost always have everything I need on hand!  Way easier (and healthier) than making the trip to the Fro-Yo place around the corner.  I usually add about a teaspoon of regular or dark cocoa powder in the food processor with the frozen banana since I am a self-admitted chocoholic.  I also really enjoy adding a teaspoon of natural peanut butter or almond butter too on occasion.  And I find that a teensy pinch of salt helps round out the sweetness, and about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract adds some depth of flavor.  And let's not forget the toppings!  They're not necessary but come on, when you're eating a frozen banana for dessert, you can splurge a little on toppings.  Some of my favorite combinations are:  

*a dollop of fresh, homemade, lightly-sweetened whipped cream with a teaspoon of chocolate jimmies   
*a tablespoon of Reece's Pieces
*some chopped salted peanuts and chocolate chips (about 1 tablespoon of each)
*dark chocolate chips (about 1 tablespoon) , mini marshmallows (1 tablespoon) and crumbled graham crackers (1/2 of a cracker) - S'mores!!!
*a tablespoon each of dried blueberries and dark chocolate chips
*Nutella (you can never use too much)

I also think it would be fantastic with some caramel sauce drizzled on top but there's a reason I don't keep that in the house.....(total lack of self-control).


Some other notes on the original recipe:  I've never just frozen the bananas for an hour or two so I cannot vouch for how it will turn out.  I usually slice up a few ripe bananas and place them on a plate covered with parchment paper, then freeze overnight.  Once they're frozen solid, I toss them all into a freezer-safe ziploc bag or plastic container and keep them in the freezer until the need for something sweet and creamy strikes.  Then I whip them out and toss them in my mini food-processor and go to town!  Just be forewarned, you will have to scrape down the sides of your food processor many times during the process.  I also find that letting the mixture sit for a few seconds (5-10) in between pulses with the food processor helps allow the bananas to melt a little which allows it to come together into that creamy texture you're looking for.  

Yup, that's a plastic spoon.  I was fresh-out of real spoons...but that couldn't stop me from gettin' my ice cream fix.

Let me hear how you make your One-Ingredient Magic Banana Ice Cream!  What toppings do you like to use?

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pizza for One

Who doesn't love pizza?  Oh fine, I'm sure there are some weirdos out there that don't love the tangy tomato sauce, the gooey cheese, the crispy crust, the endless toppings.  Well, this blog post is not for those people.

This post is for people who love the taste of pizza but don't always want the heaviness of a great big piece of it.  Don't get me wrong, sometimes there's nothing better than a slice of thin crust pizza with all the toppings!  Brian and I make our own homemade pizza crust and really love grilling our pizzas or baking them in a super-hot oven on a baking stone - there's really very few more satisfying meals than homemade pizza and a big salad.  But I'm just speaking for myself when I say that usually after a slice (or two) I have to find a soft couch somewhere to pass out.  My body can't handle the influx of all those carbs without my eyelids getting heavy, I start to yawn and my ability to focus just goes right out the window.  This might not be a big deal if you don't have plans after the meal but it isn't a great situation if you have to go back to work after lunch or you planned on watching a movie after dinner.  

Another problem I have with pizza is it's size.  Especially when it's just me at home by myself as I have been for the better part of the last month while my husband is overseas.  Sure I could just refrigerate the leftovers and reheat them the next day but a) I don't really like leftovers unless I can reinvent them somehow and b) it never tastes nearly as good reheated!  By all means, if you have come up with a good way to "upcycle" pizza-leftovers let me know!!  Leftover pizza casserole?  Pizza tacos??  Anyone?  Bueller?  

Enter the Portobello Pizza for One!  You can probably discern from the name that you pretty much HAVE to like (or at least be indifferent to) mushrooms  in order to enjoy this pizza.  It replaces a pizza crust with a portobello mushroom and then you top your pizza however you like.  Some of my favorite topping combinations are:  

*Homemade tomato sauce, cooked spicy Italian sausage, sliced black olives, sauteed red bell peppers, fresh mozzarella cheese and sliced basil leaves

*Thinly sliced apple, chopped fresh sage, Fontina cheese

*Prepared pesto, sundried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced basil

Some things to know before you try this:  Don't expect the mushroom to taste like a pizza crust.  It does not.  It will not get crispy at all, so if you really need something with a satisfying crunch this won't do it for ya!  There are plenty of other single-serving pizza crust substitutes you could try instead (english muffin, tortilla, won-ton wrapper, etc.) if you want something crispy.  The mushroom will be firm but moist and have a deep mushroom-y flavor (ha!  for lack of a better descriptor).  Also, I recommend cooking your toppings before putting them on top of the mushroom base.  Any meat toppings like sausage or chicken should be fully cooked all the way through before the mushroom pizza goes into the oven.  The same goes for veggie toppings, unless you are OK with them tasting a little "raw."  A light saute is all it takes to get them ready, or better yet use up some leftover cooked vegetables from last night's dinner (see what I mean about "upcycling" leftovers?!!)

Portobello Mushroom "Pizza" for One
serves 1
Adapted from Cooking Illustrated, as found on The Calorie Conscious Gourmet

1 or 2 Portobello mushroom caps (depending how hungry you are)
olive oil
salt & pepper
prepared sauce (homemade marinara sauce or store-bought tomato sauce, or see suggestion above) - about 2 tablespoons per mushroom
1/2 to 1 oz mozzarella cheese per mushroom, shredded
pizza toppings:  1-2 tablespoons red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon cooked italian sausage crumbles, 1/2 tablespoon black olives - or whatever you like, no more than 1/4 cup toppings per mushroom
fresh herbs, for serving

Place a rimmed baking sheet into the oven and heat oven to 400.

Meanwhile prepare mushroom(s):  gently wipe cap with a clean damp paper towel, remove the stem, and  cut 1/4 inch deep slits into the non-gill side of the mushroom, spaced about 1/2 inch apart (this will help some of the moisture drain out of the mushroom during cooking so you don't end up with a soggy pizza).

Lightly brush non-gill side of mushroom with olive and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place oiled side down (gill side up) onto pre-heated baking sheet and return sheet to oven, roast for 10 minutes, then flip over and roast for another 10 minutes.

Carefully remove mushroom from baking sheet, drain off any moisture that has accumulated and return mushroom to pan, gill side up.  Top mushroom with sauce, cheese and toppings (except any fresh herbs, leave those off at this time).

Return the baking sheet with the mushroom pizza back to the oven and bake another 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbling.  You may also broil the pizza for 1-2 minutes at the end to brown the cheese.  Remove from oven and top with fresh herbs.

Eat with a knife and fork.    

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The Mountain

I'm on my way to the clinic for a medical procedure, I will practice the meditation my sister taught me.  I will breathe in the strength of the mountain.  I will exhale it's calm.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Prayer After Eating

I was particularly struck by this entry from one of my favorite blogs this weekend....

From The Kitchn contributor Dana Velden: Weekend Meditation: What to do After Eating (October 9, 2011):

"See if you can picture (it only takes a second or two) the long ribbon of effort and miracles and sweat and sacrifice and time that flows backwards from your satisfied belly and out your door and into the wild, uncontrollable world. Take a few moments to follow that ribbon and consider all that didn't go wrong in order for you to feel this gentle weight of satisfaction, this fullness, this amazing achievement called dinner."

Prayer After Eating
I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat
-Wendell Berry