Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Even though today is my 28th Birthday, Brian and I celebrated it over the weekend.  On Saturday, my hubby cooked me a three course dinner paying tribute to squash.  Let me explain...

For the last 2 or 3 years worth of our birthdays, we have celebrated Iron Chef style.  Here's how it goes:  the birthday boy or girl gets to name a "secret ingredient" and the other person makes a special meal using that ingredient, but the actual dish is a surprise until it is served - a la Iron Chef.  We do things a little differently than the TV show though (ya know, since neither one of us has any professional training,  sous chefs, or a fully stocked grocery store in our kitchen).  First, we allow more than just one hour to prepare the meal.  Some days I can barely get a "regular" dinner on the table in an hour or less, let alone a special birthday dinner, so we can take as long as we need.  Second, the one celebrating their birthday tries to give "the Chef" about a week's notice on their choice of "secret ingredient" so the Chef can come up with a meal plan and pick up the necessary items from the grocery store.  And last, there is no requirement on number of courses to be served and no judging, just enjoying!

This year, Brian took our little Birthday Secret Ingredient Challenge to a whole other level!  He planned and executed three elegant courses that showcased my choice of ingredient and elevated it to something worthy of a more prestigious title than simply "squash".  Not only did he plan and cook, but he printed out a menu, set the table, lit candles and had jazzy Christmas music playing in the background.  All I know is, I better bring my A-Game for his birthday next year!

The Menu

The First Course was the most divine soup I have ever tasted.  Brian roasted butternut squash and then pureed it with vegetable stock, cream, ginger and honey (and probably a few other things).  He topped it with a delicate swirl of sour cream and a dusting of fresh thyme.  Wow, totally blew me away!  I could have been satisfied with just the soup but there was more...



To my delight, the Second Course highlighted three more kinds of squash!  Brian roasted acorn squash and mashed it to serve as a bed for a pan-seared chicken breast.  Then he assembled a trio of julienned summer squash, zucchini and carrots which he sauteed and as a side dish he created an Herbed Quinoa Pilaf with Leeks.  I loved the sage and thyme in the quinoa as they complimented the nuttiness of the roasted acorn squash and the earthiness of the summer squash, zucchini and carrot trio.



On to dessert and Brian wowed me again!  He managed to incorporate yet another species within the Cucurbita genus (at the bottom of the menu Brian prepared, he even gave some scientific information and history the squash, similar to the commentary provided by Alton Brown during each episode of Iron Chef).  We ended the meal with a delicious homemade pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling that he served with some decaf (pumpkin spice) coffee.



I couldn't believe the amount of thought and level of detail that Brian went into in order to make such a special, elegant and delicious meal.  It was definitely one of the best birthdays I've ever had, and if it's any indication of how the rest of my 28th (or is it 29th?) year is going to look, I am in for a great year!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Even though today is my 28th Birthday, Brian and I celebrated it over the weekend.  On Saturday, my hubby cooked me a three course dinner paying tribute to squash.  Let me explain...

For the last 2 or 3 years worth of our birthdays, we have celebrated Iron Chef style.  Here's how it goes:  the birthday boy or girl gets to name a "secret ingredient" and the other person makes a special meal using that ingredient, but the actual dish is a surprise until it is served - a la Iron Chef.  We do things a little differently than the TV show though (ya know, since neither one of us has any professional training,  sous chefs, or a fully stocked grocery store in our kitchen).  First, we allow more than just one hour to prepare the meal.  Some days I can barely get a "regular" dinner on the table in an hour or less, let alone a special birthday dinner, so we can take as long as we need.  Second, the one celebrating their birthday tries to give "the Chef" about a week's notice on their choice of "secret ingredient" so the Chef can come up with a meal plan and pick up the necessary items from the grocery store.  And last, there is no requirement on number of courses to be served and no judging, just enjoying!

This year, Brian took our little Birthday Secret Ingredient Challenge to a whole other level!  He planned and executed three elegant courses that showcased my choice of ingredient and elevated it to something worthy of a more prestigious title than simply "squash".  Not only did he plan and cook, but he printed out a menu, set the table, lit candles and had jazzy Christmas music playing in the background.  All I know is, I better bring my A-Game for his birthday next year!

The Menu

The First Course was the most divine soup I have ever tasted.  Brian roasted butternut squash and then pureed it with vegetable stock, cream, ginger and honey (and probably a few other things).  He topped it with a delicate swirl of sour cream and a dusting of fresh thyme.  Wow, totally blew me away!  I could have been satisfied with just the soup but there was more...



To my delight, the Second Course highlighted three more kinds of squash!  Brian roasted acorn squash and mashed it to serve as a bed for a pan-seared chicken breast.  Then he assembled a trio of julienned summer squash, zucchini and carrots which he sauteed and as a side dish he created an Herbed Quinoa Pilaf with Leeks.  I loved the sage and thyme in the quinoa as they complimented the nuttiness of the roasted acorn squash and the earthiness of the summer squash, zucchini and carrot trio.



On to dessert and Brian wowed me again!  He managed to incorporate yet another species within the Cucurbita genus (at the bottom of the menu Brian prepared, he even gave some scientific information and history the squash, similar to the commentary provided by Alton Brown during each episode of Iron Chef).  We ended the meal with a delicious homemade pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling that he served with some decaf (pumpkin spice) coffee.



I couldn't believe the amount of thought and level of detail that Brian went into in order to make such a special, elegant and delicious meal.  It was definitely one of the best birthdays I've ever had, and if it's any indication of how the rest of my 28th (or is it 29th?) year is going to look, I am in for a great year!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Cookies: Jam Thumbprints



It's December 1st so I guess I can officially start posting about Christmas!  (I just made that rule up right now, by the way).  Apparently, my thermostat also knew it was the first day of December because when I got up this morning it registered 49 degrees and all morning has been hovering around 54 degrees F!  I can see eyes rolling in Maryland, New York and Massachusetts.  But this is FLORIDA, people!!!  (Colleen, at least you get me, right?!)

Well, I wish I could say it was the calendar or the thermostat that forced me to start baking, but really it was just that I've had this recipe bookmarked for a while and I was dying to give them a try.  And honestly, what better excuse is there than making Christmas Cookies?!!

These do require a little bit lot of patience:  you have to make the dough and then let it chill out in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, and forming the powdery cookie dough into balls and then rolling in egg whites and chopped nuts is not for the faint-hearted cookie-maker (Talking to you, Mom.  I know you won't take offense to that!) BUT they are Oh-So-Worth-It!  Buttery, delicate shortbread, sweet and tart jam or lemon curd and crunchy, toasty nuts.  These are Christmas Cookies at their finest, a perfect addition to a Holiday Cookie Tray or sweet homemade holiday gift.  Of course, I am not suggesting you should only make these around the holidays, they would be perfect with a cup of tea or served as a light dessert to company any time of the year.  Did I mention what a great gift they would make?  I certainly wouldn't mind getting a tin full of these babies for Christmas (hint, hint)....

You can take some liberties with this recipe too, as I did.  The original recipe called for walnuts but I had pecans, so I used those.  Just make sure they are very finely chopped so they stick to the cookie dough.  And you can be creative with the filling too, I filled half of my cookies with strawberry jam and the other half with lemon curd (both were DELICIOUS!), and I think raspberry jam or even apricot preserves would be lovely.  Or what about orange marmalade?  I think you could even use something like melted caramels or melted chocolate for an even more decadent treat...just a suggestion.



Jam Thumbprints
makes 18 cookies
original recipe from the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, as found here

2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, whites and yolks divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 cup cookie filling of choice:  jam, preserves, lemon curd, melted caramel or chocolate (I filled half of the cookies with strawberry jam and the other half with lemon curd)

Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Then, add the sugar and cream them together until light and fluffy.  Beat in both egg yolks and vanilla until combined.  Add in flour and stir, just until combined (you may have to work the last bit in by hand, as the dough will be rather dense,  powdery and dry).  Turn the cookie dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form it into a large ball, wrapping the dough tightly with the plastic wrap.  Chill dough ball in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  If your dough is very hard to work with (i.e. too cold and crumbly), allow it to sit out at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes to soften before forming into balls.  (See note, below)  Shape the dough into small balls, about 1- 1 1/2 inch in diameter, then roll the ball in the egg whites, followed by the chopped nuts.

Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheet.  Press your thumb (or the back of a teaspoon) into the tops of the cookies to leave a slight dip in the center.  Spoon the jam or curd into the little wells you have formed in the cookies (alternately, you can wait and fill the cookies after baking, once the cookies have cooled - perhaps this would be best for the melted caramel or chocolate option).

Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool.  Fill indented centers with jam/filling if you haven't already done so.


Julia's note:  I left my dough in the refrigerator overnight.  When I took it out the next day it was very hard and I did not wait for it to warm up before I started forming it into cookie balls.  The first few balls I made were very crumbly and kept falling apart, then they broke up when I baked them.  The cookies I formed after the dough had been sitting out about 15 minutes were much easier to form and they stayed intact during baking!  You have been warned :-)  Also, I filled my cookies before baking.  As I noted above, if you decide to try filling your cookies with something really melty/oozy like chocolate or caramel you may want to wait to fill them until they have come out of the oven.




Do you bake Christmas Cookies?  What are your favorite kinds to give and get?

My Grandma has made christmas cookies every year that I can remember:  Lots of different kinds of German cookies:  spritzgebaack cookies, sacher tortes, frosted gingerbread cookies, vanille kipferl....some are dipped in chocolate, some have sprinkles or colored sugar crystals, others are dusted with powdered sugar.  They are my favorite Christmas present every year because I know how many hours days it takes her to bake them all, it just wouldn't be Christmas without them!


 P.S.  By special request, I'll be sharing my regular feature, my weekend recap...just a little later in the week than usual.  Stay tuned...



Christmas Cookies: Jam Thumbprints



It's December 1st so I guess I can officially start posting about Christmas!  (I just made that rule up right now, by the way).  Apparently, my thermostat also knew it was the first day of December because when I got up this morning it registered 49 degrees and all morning has been hovering around 54 degrees F!  I can see eyes rolling in Maryland, New York and Massachusetts.  But this is FLORIDA, people!!!  (Colleen, at least you get me, right?!)

Well, I wish I could say it was the calendar or the thermostat that forced me to start baking, but really it was just that I've had this recipe bookmarked for a while and I was dying to give them a try.  And honestly, what better excuse is there than making Christmas Cookies?!!

These do require a little bit lot of patience:  you have to make the dough and then let it chill out in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, and forming the powdery cookie dough into balls and then rolling in egg whites and chopped nuts is not for the faint-hearted cookie-maker (Talking to you, Mom.  I know you won't take offense to that!) BUT they are Oh-So-Worth-It!  Buttery, delicate shortbread, sweet and tart jam or lemon curd and crunchy, toasty nuts.  These are Christmas Cookies at their finest, a perfect addition to a Holiday Cookie Tray or sweet homemade holiday gift.  Of course, I am not suggesting you should only make these around the holidays, they would be perfect with a cup of tea or served as a light dessert to company any time of the year.  Did I mention what a great gift they would make?  I certainly wouldn't mind getting a tin full of these babies for Christmas (hint, hint)....

You can take some liberties with this recipe too, as I did.  The original recipe called for walnuts but I had pecans, so I used those.  Just make sure they are very finely chopped so they stick to the cookie dough.  And you can be creative with the filling too, I filled half of my cookies with strawberry jam and the other half with lemon curd (both were DELICIOUS!), and I think raspberry jam or even apricot preserves would be lovely.  Or what about orange marmalade?  I think you could even use something like melted caramels or melted chocolate for an even more decadent treat...just a suggestion.



Jam Thumbprints
makes 18 cookies
original recipe from the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, as found here

2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, whites and yolks divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 cup cookie filling of choice:  jam, preserves, lemon curd, melted caramel or chocolate (I filled half of the cookies with strawberry jam and the other half with lemon curd)

Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Then, add the sugar and cream them together until light and fluffy.  Beat in both egg yolks and vanilla until combined.  Add in flour and stir, just until combined (you may have to work the last bit in by hand, as the dough will be rather dense,  powdery and dry).  Turn the cookie dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form it into a large ball, wrapping the dough tightly with the plastic wrap.  Chill dough ball in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  If your dough is very hard to work with (i.e. too cold and crumbly), allow it to sit out at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes to soften before forming into balls.  (See note, below)  Shape the dough into small balls, about 1- 1 1/2 inch in diameter, then roll the ball in the egg whites, followed by the chopped nuts.

Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheet.  Press your thumb (or the back of a teaspoon) into the tops of the cookies to leave a slight dip in the center.  Spoon the jam or curd into the little wells you have formed in the cookies (alternately, you can wait and fill the cookies after baking, once the cookies have cooled - perhaps this would be best for the melted caramel or chocolate option).

Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool.  Fill indented centers with jam/filling if you haven't already done so.


Julia's note:  I left my dough in the refrigerator overnight.  When I took it out the next day it was very hard and I did not wait for it to warm up before I started forming it into cookie balls.  The first few balls I made were very crumbly and kept falling apart, then they broke up when I baked them.  The cookies I formed after the dough had been sitting out about 15 minutes were much easier to form and they stayed intact during baking!  You have been warned :-)  Also, I filled my cookies before baking.  As I noted above, if you decide to try filling your cookies with something really melty/oozy like chocolate or caramel you may want to wait to fill them until they have come out of the oven.




Do you bake Christmas Cookies?  What are your favorite kinds to give and get?

My Grandma has made christmas cookies every year that I can remember:  Lots of different kinds of German cookies:  spritzgebaack cookies, sacher tortes, frosted gingerbread cookies, vanille kipferl....some are dipped in chocolate, some have sprinkles or colored sugar crystals, others are dusted with powdered sugar.  They are my favorite Christmas present every year because I know how many hours days it takes her to bake them all, it just wouldn't be Christmas without them!


 P.S.  By special request, I'll be sharing my regular feature, my weekend recap...just a little later in the week than usual.  Stay tuned...



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eggplant Lasagna

After last week, Brian and I were ready to get back to our veggie-centric lifestyle over the weekend.  Not that we didn't enjoy our carb-tastic Thanksgiving!  In fact, we enjoyed it a little too much and as a result my body was begging for a meal full of vegetables, salad and for-goodness-sake no more starchy carbs!

I've had this recipe bookmarked for a while, an eggplant in the fridge and half of a package of spicy Italian sausage in the freezer so it was perfect timing to give it a try.  But wait - lasagna has lots of starchy carbs, right?  Well this ain't your mama's lasagna!

Thin slices of eggplant stand in for noodles here and Brian was so impressed he declared he didn't miss the pasta!  Not one bit!  We both liked the sausage here, as it added a meaty and spicy element to the dish, although you could omit it and it would probably still be awesome (the original recipe does not call for sausage).  And I didn't have ricotta cheese on hand (I'm still dying to make it myself but don't know where to purchase cheesecloth!  Anybody have any idea?!) so I substituted reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cottage cheese that we had.  The meal came together in about 45 minutes to an hour, so it may not be the best choice for a weeknight, but it was worth it for such great flavors and it made such a healthy, satisfying meal without carbs*!

*Yes, I know eggplant and tomato are sources of carbs.  I am referring to starchy, higher glycemic load carbs such as pasta that would traditionally be found in lasagna, which this one doesn't have!



Eggplant Lasagna
serves 2-4
adapted from Real Simple

2/3 can diced tomatoes, most of the juice drained off
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into slices about 1/4'' thick
1 cup reduced-sodium 2% cottage cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

8 oz spicy Italian sausage, crumbled and fully-cooked (half of a package; optional)


Heat broiler to high.  In a food processor, puree the tomatoes, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

In two batches, arrange the eggplant slices on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, brush with oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (you may wish to increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon if you are omitting the sausage!).  Broil until tender and just slightly charred, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the cottage cheese, egg, basil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (consider omitting the salt here if you are using Italian sausage).

Spread half the tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish.  On top of it layer 1/3 of the eggplant slices, half the cottage cheese mixture and 1/2 of the crumbled, cooked sausage, if using.  Repeat with another layer of eggplant, cottage cheese and sausage.  Top with the remaining eggplant and tomato sauce.  Sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese.

Reduce oven to 425 degrees F.  Bake the lasagna until bubbling, 20-25 minutes.  Turn oven to broil and allow lasagna to broil 2-3 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a nice big salad or some more veggies on the side!  Followed by a mini pumpkin whoopie pie for dessert, because let's face it, we earned it after that healthy dinner :-)


Storing/Reheating note from Real Simple:  This lasagna can be baked, then refrigerated (wrapped tightly) for up to 2 days.  Reheat at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. 

Served with a side of leftover Thanksgiving green beans and some sauteed kale!
Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pie for dessert!
 P.S.  Do my pictures look out of focus to you today?!  What the heck?!?


What is your favorite way to get your veggies after a couple of "indulgent meals"?

Eggplant Lasagna

After last week, Brian and I were ready to get back to our veggie-centric lifestyle over the weekend.  Not that we didn't enjoy our carb-tastic Thanksgiving!  In fact, we enjoyed it a little too much and as a result my body was begging for a meal full of vegetables, salad and for-goodness-sake no more starchy carbs!

I've had this recipe bookmarked for a while, an eggplant in the fridge and half of a package of spicy Italian sausage in the freezer so it was perfect timing to give it a try.  But wait - lasagna has lots of starchy carbs, right?  Well this ain't your mama's lasagna!

Thin slices of eggplant stand in for noodles here and Brian was so impressed he declared he didn't miss the pasta!  Not one bit!  We both liked the sausage here, as it added a meaty and spicy element to the dish, although you could omit it and it would probably still be awesome (the original recipe does not call for sausage).  And I didn't have ricotta cheese on hand (I'm still dying to make it myself but don't know where to purchase cheesecloth!  Anybody have any idea?!) so I substituted reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cottage cheese that we had.  The meal came together in about 45 minutes to an hour, so it may not be the best choice for a weeknight, but it was worth it for such great flavors and it made such a healthy, satisfying meal without carbs*!

*Yes, I know eggplant and tomato are sources of carbs.  I am referring to starchy, higher glycemic load carbs such as pasta that would traditionally be found in lasagna, which this one doesn't have!



Eggplant Lasagna
serves 2-4
adapted from Real Simple

2/3 can diced tomatoes, most of the juice drained off
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into slices about 1/4'' thick
1 cup reduced-sodium 2% cottage cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

8 oz spicy Italian sausage, crumbled and fully-cooked (half of a package; optional)


Heat broiler to high.  In a food processor, puree the tomatoes, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

In two batches, arrange the eggplant slices on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, brush with oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (you may wish to increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon if you are omitting the sausage!).  Broil until tender and just slightly charred, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the cottage cheese, egg, basil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (consider omitting the salt here if you are using Italian sausage).

Spread half the tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish.  On top of it layer 1/3 of the eggplant slices, half the cottage cheese mixture and 1/2 of the crumbled, cooked sausage, if using.  Repeat with another layer of eggplant, cottage cheese and sausage.  Top with the remaining eggplant and tomato sauce.  Sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese.

Reduce oven to 425 degrees F.  Bake the lasagna until bubbling, 20-25 minutes.  Turn oven to broil and allow lasagna to broil 2-3 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a nice big salad or some more veggies on the side!  Followed by a mini pumpkin whoopie pie for dessert, because let's face it, we earned it after that healthy dinner :-)


Storing/Reheating note from Real Simple:  This lasagna can be baked, then refrigerated (wrapped tightly) for up to 2 days.  Reheat at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. 

Served with a side of leftover Thanksgiving green beans and some sauteed kale!
Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pie for dessert!
 P.S.  Do my pictures look out of focus to you today?!  What the heck?!?


What is your favorite way to get your veggies after a couple of "indulgent meals"?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Intuitive Eating: Listen to Your Body and Be Mindful

Because the holidays are here and we all want to avoid gaining extra weight over the next few weeks, I thought I would use the blog to share some of my thoughts on eating and nutrition in order to hopefully inspire you (and me!) to enjoy the season without going overboard.  I can only speak for myself but I really don't like the idea of waiting for New Year's to make a resolution to get healthier, but at the same time I also don't want to go on a diet between Thanksgiving and Christmas, just to avoid the holiday weight-gain.  I think we can all reach a compromise: a balance between denying ourselves the special treats that only come around once a year (Grandma's Christmas Cookies!) and eating everything on the Holiday Party buffet table.

I am going to talk about Intuitive Eating.  It's simple and yet complex at the same time.  It's somehow intuitive (duh!) and yet so many of us are seemingly incapable of it.  There are a number of components to this approach and I'd like to give ample consideration to each one, so I plan on devoting a series of blog posts over the next few weeks to the principles involved in forming a healthy relationship with the foods we eat and learning to become aware of what we eat and why.  I also plan on sharing some information about myself and telling you what has worked for me.  We are all different so my approach may not work as well for everyone, but I think most people could benefit from these tips, especially at this time of the year when the temptations are so many.

Thank you in advance for allowing me to get up onto my soap box for a little while.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll still be sharing some of my favorite recipes here too, just mixed in with practical advice and (hopefully) some interesting facts that you may or may not be aware of.  I won't be going all "health-nut" either (phew!). As you'll see, I think there is a place (in my life at least) for comfort foods, for desserts, for delicious indulgences and rich, hearty, family-style suppers.  But I hope you will take away that there is also a balance to be reached and that you can find just as much satisfaction from a healthy veggie-centric meal as you can from a fancy five-course seated one.  We're all human, and we're not perfect.  But I plan to try to find the best version of myself this holiday season and strike that balance that will allow me to enjoy this time of year more than I ever have before....

Fact:  Overindulgence is guaranteed on Thanksgiving if you are me.  Surrounded by an endless variety of delicious carb-y stuffing, sweet potatoes, pies, homemade cranberry sauce and rich tasty homemade gravy, I simply must try each and every dish.  And maybe go back for seconds on my favorites.  Of course this year was no exception!

That being said, I also couldn't and wouldn't want to eat those things every day, even in moderation.

My body is used to eating predominantly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, lean animal protein and low-fat dairy foods.  More or less in that order.  Oh, and lots and lots of water.  These are the foods that make me feel good and it's something that I have learned by trial and error, with lots and lots of practice and experimentation.

My diet is just that, mine.  It's not right for everybody.  For people who are far more active than me, it would not provide enough energy (calories) for them to sustain such a high activity level.  Some people need more protein in their diet, others should consume much less sugar than I do (even fresh fruits have a profound effect on blood sugar).  And although I am constantly tweaking my diet and I eat a variety of different foods, I have found the basic formula that makes my insides feel good and keeps me at a relatively steady weight.

What's the key?  I listen to my body.  Simple as that, right?  Well I don't think it's simple for most people.  It wasn't simple for me for the longest time!

Many of the people in my life right now didn't know me when I was overweight.  They may even be learning about my struggle with my weight right now, for the first time as they're reading this.  From the age of about 13 until I was 22, I was overweight, out of shape and struggled with dieting and poor self-esteem.  At my heaviest, I was at least 155 pounds (at 5'3''), although I cannot be 100% sure about that since I did not frequently weigh myself unless forced to (at the doctor's office/school/etc.).  Simple math shows that at that weight, I had a BMI of 27.5, well into the "overweight" category.

Well, so what?  I was pretty healthy and happy, wasn't I?  No, I was terribly out of shape and hated my body.  I only took gym at school because I had to (just one semester my entire High School career).  I was convinced it was my asthma that made me so out of breath when I had to run (and to be fair, it probably was partly due to that).  I wasn't happy with the way my clothes fit, I hated having my picture taken, I dreaded buying size 12 and 13 jeans, mostly because even those felt tight.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that what I needed was more exercise and less junk food.  But I didn't feel like I was in control of my eating.  I ate when I was happy, when I was sad, stressed, angry and every emotion in between.  My food choices were less than stellar too.  Once I went to college and had plenty of choices at the dining hall I often filled my bowl with sugary cereal or grabbed a giant muffin from the bakery while rushing to my early morning classes.

Lunch wasn't any better:  I'd choose a turkey club sandwich on wheat bread with potato chips and an apple or orange, or a small salad with a cheeseburger and fries from the grill line.  And at dinnertime, I thought I was doing myself a favor by picking up a really big, healthy salad from the salad bar...but I always ate a slice of pizza along with it and always a big chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

I thought that because I cut out snacks and didn't go to the late-night dining hall hours with my roommates (where they served fries, mozzarella sticks, wings, burgers, pizzas and desserts) that I was eating right and I couldn't understand why I didn't lose weight.  I mean, I was walking all over campus!  (Yeah, but I was probably consuming at least 2500 or more calories every day!)

Looking back now, I can see that although my diet wasn't horrible (after all, I was eating salads, some whole grains and fruit and I never gave into temptations to try the late-night offerings), I was eating way too many calories for my activity level, but I wasn't eating the right foods to give me the energy I needed.  My classes right before and after lunch time were always the ones I struggled with, not because of the subject matter but because my attention waned as my blood sugar spiked and dropped (of course I didn't know this at the time).  I didn't listen to what my body was trying to tell me.

Fast forward to today and I am a much healthier person and more in control of eating and exercise, which makes me happier.  Through my reading a whole bunch of books on diets, nutrition and the food industry I realized that I could still eat really delicious foods (in fact, way more delicious than anything I ate at the dining hall!) and still maintain a weight that I am happy with.  I don't have to give anything up, unless I choose to (I can eat chocolate, I can drink wine!).  There is nothing that is fundamentally off limits (although, there are plenty of foods I choose to avoid now because I do not derive any satisfaction from them, especially now that I know what processes go on to make them).

That being said, it helps that I really enjoy the taste of salads, vegetables, fresh fruits and healthy whole grains.  And just as much as I enjoy the taste of these things, I enjoy the way my body feels when I eat them.  I'm not talking about weight here, either.  I am talking about feeling really and truly satisfied, not stuffed, satisfied.  Do you know what that feels like?

Many of us don't know what that feels like because we're not eating the right things at the right times.  We mindlessly fill our stomachs on-the-go, barely pausing for a second to unwrap a granola bar or snack cake.  We eat things that we think taste good (hey, the TV ad told us they taste good!) and are quick and convenient for our busy lives.  But all too often, these things don't taste good (if you really take a moment to taste them), they don't fill us up, they don't satisfy.  And so we go find something else to mindlessly devour in order to feel satisfied.  The point is, this way of eating doesn't work.

What I am suggesting is that when you decide to eat something, you pause and take a moment to consider what you want to eat and why you want to eat it.  Are you hungry?  That seems like a simple question, but often the answer is no.  Listen to your body. Perhaps you are thirsty.  Perhaps you are feeling stressed out or bored.  Maybe you are watching a commercial for Oreos where the grandpa and grandson seem all warm and happy and you want to eat Oreos so that you can feel those things too.  (Right now your gut reaction is probably to think that you would never be tricked by such a blatant and obvious ploy, and maybe you wouldn't, but I ask you to consider the possibility).

Be mindful of what you eat.  Again, this sounds so simple.  But it's difficult to be mindful if you're racing out the door with a pop-tart sticking out of your mouth.  It's also difficult to be mindful if you're drinking a can of soup with one hand as your driving the kids to soccer practice.  Food companies make products that make our lives easier, right?  I would ask you to question that the next time you think about picking up a package of drinkable yogurts or a frozen dinner entree.  How much easier is this going to make my life?  And is the "convenience" worth it for the tons of added preservatives, sugars and empty calories that I am going to consume along with these processed cheese-like crackers.  You may answer, Yes.  Yes, it is worth it because I am a busy person and I really like my cheesy crackers.  And that is absolutely fine (Gasp!  Remember I said no food is off limits) if and only if you truly enjoy the taste and they satisfy you.  But if you eat them while you're sitting at your desk at work multi-tasking and find yourself with your nose in the fridge an hour later looking for something else to eat, then they probably didn't satisfy you and how do you even know whether you like their taste, remember you were on a phone call and checking your e-mail as you ate them.  Be mindful.


In what ways do you listen to your body?  


Do you have any foods that you eat mindlessly, on-the-go, or while doing something else?

 

Intuitive Eating: Listen to Your Body and Be Mindful

Because the holidays are here and we all want to avoid gaining extra weight over the next few weeks, I thought I would use the blog to share some of my thoughts on eating and nutrition in order to hopefully inspire you (and me!) to enjoy the season without going overboard.  I can only speak for myself but I really don't like the idea of waiting for New Year's to make a resolution to get healthier, but at the same time I also don't want to go on a diet between Thanksgiving and Christmas, just to avoid the holiday weight-gain.  I think we can all reach a compromise: a balance between denying ourselves the special treats that only come around once a year (Grandma's Christmas Cookies!) and eating everything on the Holiday Party buffet table.

I am going to talk about Intuitive Eating.  It's simple and yet complex at the same time.  It's somehow intuitive (duh!) and yet so many of us are seemingly incapable of it.  There are a number of components to this approach and I'd like to give ample consideration to each one, so I plan on devoting a series of blog posts over the next few weeks to the principles involved in forming a healthy relationship with the foods we eat and learning to become aware of what we eat and why.  I also plan on sharing some information about myself and telling you what has worked for me.  We are all different so my approach may not work as well for everyone, but I think most people could benefit from these tips, especially at this time of the year when the temptations are so many.

Thank you in advance for allowing me to get up onto my soap box for a little while.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll still be sharing some of my favorite recipes here too, just mixed in with practical advice and (hopefully) some interesting facts that you may or may not be aware of.  I won't be going all "health-nut" either (phew!). As you'll see, I think there is a place (in my life at least) for comfort foods, for desserts, for delicious indulgences and rich, hearty, family-style suppers.  But I hope you will take away that there is also a balance to be reached and that you can find just as much satisfaction from a healthy veggie-centric meal as you can from a fancy five-course seated one.  We're all human, and we're not perfect.  But I plan to try to find the best version of myself this holiday season and strike that balance that will allow me to enjoy this time of year more than I ever have before....

Fact:  Overindulgence is guaranteed on Thanksgiving if you are me.  Surrounded by an endless variety of delicious carb-y stuffing, sweet potatoes, pies, homemade cranberry sauce and rich tasty homemade gravy, I simply must try each and every dish.  And maybe go back for seconds on my favorites.  Of course this year was no exception!

That being said, I also couldn't and wouldn't want to eat those things every day, even in moderation.

My body is used to eating predominantly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, lean animal protein and low-fat dairy foods.  More or less in that order.  Oh, and lots and lots of water.  These are the foods that make me feel good and it's something that I have learned by trial and error, with lots and lots of practice and experimentation.

My diet is just that, mine.  It's not right for everybody.  For people who are far more active than me, it would not provide enough energy (calories) for them to sustain such a high activity level.  Some people need more protein in their diet, others should consume much less sugar than I do (even fresh fruits have a profound effect on blood sugar).  And although I am constantly tweaking my diet and I eat a variety of different foods, I have found the basic formula that makes my insides feel good and keeps me at a relatively steady weight.

What's the key?  I listen to my body.  Simple as that, right?  Well I don't think it's simple for most people.  It wasn't simple for me for the longest time!

Many of the people in my life right now didn't know me when I was overweight.  They may even be learning about my struggle with my weight right now, for the first time as they're reading this.  From the age of about 13 until I was 22, I was overweight, out of shape and struggled with dieting and poor self-esteem.  At my heaviest, I was at least 155 pounds (at 5'3''), although I cannot be 100% sure about that since I did not frequently weigh myself unless forced to (at the doctor's office/school/etc.).  Simple math shows that at that weight, I had a BMI of 27.5, well into the "overweight" category.

Well, so what?  I was pretty healthy and happy, wasn't I?  No, I was terribly out of shape and hated my body.  I only took gym at school because I had to (just one semester my entire High School career).  I was convinced it was my asthma that made me so out of breath when I had to run (and to be fair, it probably was partly due to that).  I wasn't happy with the way my clothes fit, I hated having my picture taken, I dreaded buying size 12 and 13 jeans, mostly because even those felt tight.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that what I needed was more exercise and less junk food.  But I didn't feel like I was in control of my eating.  I ate when I was happy, when I was sad, stressed, angry and every emotion in between.  My food choices were less than stellar too.  Once I went to college and had plenty of choices at the dining hall I often filled my bowl with sugary cereal or grabbed a giant muffin from the bakery while rushing to my early morning classes.

Lunch wasn't any better:  I'd choose a turkey club sandwich on wheat bread with potato chips and an apple or orange, or a small salad with a cheeseburger and fries from the grill line.  And at dinnertime, I thought I was doing myself a favor by picking up a really big, healthy salad from the salad bar...but I always ate a slice of pizza along with it and always a big chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

I thought that because I cut out snacks and didn't go to the late-night dining hall hours with my roommates (where they served fries, mozzarella sticks, wings, burgers, pizzas and desserts) that I was eating right and I couldn't understand why I didn't lose weight.  I mean, I was walking all over campus!  (Yeah, but I was probably consuming at least 2500 or more calories every day!)

Looking back now, I can see that although my diet wasn't horrible (after all, I was eating salads, some whole grains and fruit and I never gave into temptations to try the late-night offerings), I was eating way too many calories for my activity level, but I wasn't eating the right foods to give me the energy I needed.  My classes right before and after lunch time were always the ones I struggled with, not because of the subject matter but because my attention waned as my blood sugar spiked and dropped (of course I didn't know this at the time).  I didn't listen to what my body was trying to tell me.

Fast forward to today and I am a much healthier person and more in control of eating and exercise, which makes me happier.  Through my reading a whole bunch of books on diets, nutrition and the food industry I realized that I could still eat really delicious foods (in fact, way more delicious than anything I ate at the dining hall!) and still maintain a weight that I am happy with.  I don't have to give anything up, unless I choose to (I can eat chocolate, I can drink wine!).  There is nothing that is fundamentally off limits (although, there are plenty of foods I choose to avoid now because I do not derive any satisfaction from them, especially now that I know what processes go on to make them).

That being said, it helps that I really enjoy the taste of salads, vegetables, fresh fruits and healthy whole grains.  And just as much as I enjoy the taste of these things, I enjoy the way my body feels when I eat them.  I'm not talking about weight here, either.  I am talking about feeling really and truly satisfied, not stuffed, satisfied.  Do you know what that feels like?

Many of us don't know what that feels like because we're not eating the right things at the right times.  We mindlessly fill our stomachs on-the-go, barely pausing for a second to unwrap a granola bar or snack cake.  We eat things that we think taste good (hey, the TV ad told us they taste good!) and are quick and convenient for our busy lives.  But all too often, these things don't taste good (if you really take a moment to taste them), they don't fill us up, they don't satisfy.  And so we go find something else to mindlessly devour in order to feel satisfied.  The point is, this way of eating doesn't work.

What I am suggesting is that when you decide to eat something, you pause and take a moment to consider what you want to eat and why you want to eat it.  Are you hungry?  That seems like a simple question, but often the answer is no.  Listen to your body. Perhaps you are thirsty.  Perhaps you are feeling stressed out or bored.  Maybe you are watching a commercial for Oreos where the grandpa and grandson seem all warm and happy and you want to eat Oreos so that you can feel those things too.  (Right now your gut reaction is probably to think that you would never be tricked by such a blatant and obvious ploy, and maybe you wouldn't, but I ask you to consider the possibility).

Be mindful of what you eat.  Again, this sounds so simple.  But it's difficult to be mindful if you're racing out the door with a pop-tart sticking out of your mouth.  It's also difficult to be mindful if you're drinking a can of soup with one hand as your driving the kids to soccer practice.  Food companies make products that make our lives easier, right?  I would ask you to question that the next time you think about picking up a package of drinkable yogurts or a frozen dinner entree.  How much easier is this going to make my life?  And is the "convenience" worth it for the tons of added preservatives, sugars and empty calories that I am going to consume along with these processed cheese-like crackers.  You may answer, Yes.  Yes, it is worth it because I am a busy person and I really like my cheesy crackers.  And that is absolutely fine (Gasp!  Remember I said no food is off limits) if and only if you truly enjoy the taste and they satisfy you.  But if you eat them while you're sitting at your desk at work multi-tasking and find yourself with your nose in the fridge an hour later looking for something else to eat, then they probably didn't satisfy you and how do you even know whether you like their taste, remember you were on a phone call and checking your e-mail as you ate them.  Be mindful.


In what ways do you listen to your body?  


Do you have any foods that you eat mindlessly, on-the-go, or while doing something else?

 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chocolate Pecan Pie - Oh My!

This one may not be for the Pecan Pie purists out there but let me tell you, it is divine!  Buttery, chocolatey, super-sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and espresso.  There's a lot going on here, but it really works beautifully together.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rewind to last year when I made this pie for Thanksgiving at my Mom & Dad's house.  I wanted to make pecan pie for Brian (sweet-tooth doesn't begin to describe this guy - for him nothing is ever too sweet!) but I wanted something a little more complex than just pure sugar and corn syrup (blasphemy?!?).  So I looked around and finally found this recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie that incorporates not only bittersweet chocolate but also flavors of espresso and cinnamon - JACKPOT!  And it's from Dorie Greenspan, an absolute baking GURU, so I knew it would be delicious!

The Pie - circa Thanksgiving 2010

Apparently I got a little fancy with the design last year...

This year, Brian's office decided to have a pre-Thanksgiving potluck and my sweetie volunteered me to make dessert and specifically requested that I make this pie.   And that's why I don't have any photos of the pie after being sliced.  And that's why there is an empty place in my stomach heart, because I didn't get to eat a slice (alright, that may have been a tad dramatic).....

This Year's Pie
Anyhow, it got rave reviews and the pie dish was licked clean (which is, by the way, a little weird...i mean, who licks somebody else's pie dish clean at a work potluck?!?!!)  And the recipe was requested by Brian's boss so she can make it for her family's Thanksgiving celebration this year!  If you are waiting until the last minute to come up with a delicious, special Thanksgiving dessert I recommend you give this a try!

The only changes I made to the recipe were to increase the cinnamon and decrease the espresso, just to suit my personal preferences, and because I'm a total rebel.  Yeah.



Chocolate Pecan Pie
makes one 9'' pie
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home to Yours, as found here.

3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces or halves (about 6 oz)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

one 9-inch single pie crust, partially baked (about 6 minutes) and cooled (I used Pillsbury refrigerated pie dough but you could make your favorite recipe if you're super-motivated)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place the pie plate containing your partially baked, cooled pie crust on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a stand mixer or by hand (in a large bowl), whisk the corn syrup and light brown sugar until smooth.  Whisk in the melted butter, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating until you have a smooth foamy mixture.  Add the espresso powder, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and give the bowl a good mix.  Rap the bowl against the counter a couple of times to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then stir in the pecans and chocolate.  Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, make a foil shield for the crust by cutting a 9 inch circle out of an 11- or 12-inch piece of aluminum foil.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Place the foil shield on top of the pie, the filling will be exposed, the crust covered by the foil (this prevents the crust from getting too dark brown).  Bake the pie another 15-20 minutes (total baking time 30-35 minutes), or until it has puffed (the middle and edges should be fairly evenly puffed), is beautifully browned and no longer jiggles when tapped.  Transfer the pie plate to a rack, remove the shield and cool to room temperature.

Storing:  Once cooled to room temperature, the pie can be covered and refrigerated for a day or two.  Return pie to room temperature or warm slightly before serving.

This year I was a little lazier with the design and left the pecan halves mostly intact.  Delicious either way!

And, I really doubt I have to mention this but this pie is NOT, I repeat NOT figure-friendly or healthy in any way.  For a slimmed down Thanksgiving recipe try my Mini Pumpkin Pies...or just eat one darn slice of this pie and then go out for a run later.  

What are you Thankful for this year?  

I'm thankful for my family, my health and my ridiculously-patient and adoring husband who just wants me to be happy and supports me 100% in whatever direction that leads me.  Oh yeah, and for 80 degree weather in November.    

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes that you absolutely MUST have on the table or you'll just die?  

For me it's all about the sweet potatoes - in any way, shape or form.  And the green vegetables:  roasted brussel sprouts or sauteed green beans.  And of course a nice glass of Pinot Noir.  And pie. 

Chocolate Pecan Pie - Oh My!

This one may not be for the Pecan Pie purists out there but let me tell you, it is divine!  Buttery, chocolatey, super-sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and espresso.  There's a lot going on here, but it really works beautifully together.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rewind to last year when I made this pie for Thanksgiving at my Mom & Dad's house.  I wanted to make pecan pie for Brian (sweet-tooth doesn't begin to describe this guy - for him nothing is ever too sweet!) but I wanted something a little more complex than just pure sugar and corn syrup (blasphemy?!?).  So I looked around and finally found this recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie that incorporates not only bittersweet chocolate but also flavors of espresso and cinnamon - JACKPOT!  And it's from Dorie Greenspan, an absolute baking GURU, so I knew it would be delicious!

The Pie - circa Thanksgiving 2010

Apparently I got a little fancy with the design last year...

This year, Brian's office decided to have a pre-Thanksgiving potluck and my sweetie volunteered me to make dessert and specifically requested that I make this pie.   And that's why I don't have any photos of the pie after being sliced.  And that's why there is an empty place in my stomach heart, because I didn't get to eat a slice (alright, that may have been a tad dramatic).....

This Year's Pie
Anyhow, it got rave reviews and the pie dish was licked clean (which is, by the way, a little weird...i mean, who licks somebody else's pie dish clean at a work potluck?!?!!)  And the recipe was requested by Brian's boss so she can make it for her family's Thanksgiving celebration this year!  If you are waiting until the last minute to come up with a delicious, special Thanksgiving dessert I recommend you give this a try!

The only changes I made to the recipe were to increase the cinnamon and decrease the espresso, just to suit my personal preferences, and because I'm a total rebel.  Yeah.



Chocolate Pecan Pie
makes one 9'' pie
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home to Yours, as found here.

3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces or halves (about 6 oz)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

one 9-inch single pie crust, partially baked (about 6 minutes) and cooled (I used Pillsbury refrigerated pie dough but you could make your favorite recipe if you're super-motivated)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place the pie plate containing your partially baked, cooled pie crust on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a stand mixer or by hand (in a large bowl), whisk the corn syrup and light brown sugar until smooth.  Whisk in the melted butter, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating until you have a smooth foamy mixture.  Add the espresso powder, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and give the bowl a good mix.  Rap the bowl against the counter a couple of times to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then stir in the pecans and chocolate.  Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, make a foil shield for the crust by cutting a 9 inch circle out of an 11- or 12-inch piece of aluminum foil.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Place the foil shield on top of the pie, the filling will be exposed, the crust covered by the foil (this prevents the crust from getting too dark brown).  Bake the pie another 15-20 minutes (total baking time 30-35 minutes), or until it has puffed (the middle and edges should be fairly evenly puffed), is beautifully browned and no longer jiggles when tapped.  Transfer the pie plate to a rack, remove the shield and cool to room temperature.

Storing:  Once cooled to room temperature, the pie can be covered and refrigerated for a day or two.  Return pie to room temperature or warm slightly before serving.

This year I was a little lazier with the design and left the pecan halves mostly intact.  Delicious either way!

And, I really doubt I have to mention this but this pie is NOT, I repeat NOT figure-friendly or healthy in any way.  For a slimmed down Thanksgiving recipe try my Mini Pumpkin Pies...or just eat one darn slice of this pie and then go out for a run later.  

What are you Thankful for this year?  

I'm thankful for my family, my health and my ridiculously-patient and adoring husband who just wants me to be happy and supports me 100% in whatever direction that leads me.  Oh yeah, and for 80 degree weather in November.    

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes that you absolutely MUST have on the table or you'll just die?  

For me it's all about the sweet potatoes - in any way, shape or form.  And the green vegetables:  roasted brussel sprouts or sauteed green beans.  And of course a nice glass of Pinot Noir.  And pie. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mini Pumpkin Pies



I've made these twice in the span of one week because they were just THAT good!

Plus, I had a package of Nasoya wonton wraps (from my mini quiches) that I wanted to use up AND my giant stash of pumpkin that I've been hoarding away since last fall.  So I basically HAD to make them.  Didn't have a choice, ya see?!

They do taste just like individual pumpkin pies:  the crust is crisp, the filling is creamy and sweet and each one is about three or four bites of heaven.  And BONUS:  these mini pumpkin pies are only about 60 calories each!  So you really don't have an excuse not to make them.  Unless, of course, you don't like pumpkin.  And if that's the case, I can't help you.  You need therapy, and I'm not talking physical therapy....



Mini Pumpkin Pies
makes 12 individual pies
adapted from Dashing Dish

12 wonton wrappers
1/2 cup egg whites
1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used 4% because Brian accidentally picked it up at the store but they're also delish if you use 2%)
1/2 cup pumpkin
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup agave nectar (or substitute maple syrup!)
1/4 cup Splenda
cool whip or homemade whipped cream, plus additional cinnamon for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly spray a 12-count muffin pan with non-stick baking spray and press one wonton wrapper into each cup.

In a food processor or high-speed blender combine all filling ingredients (everything listed above from egg whites to Splenda) and puree until completely smooth.

Distribute pumpkin pie filling into the wontons, dividing evenly among the 12 muffin cups.

Bake 14-17 minutes until filling is set and edges of wontons are lightly browned.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, serve topped with whipped cream or cool whip and dusted with cinnamon.

(Any leftover pies can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.  I doubt they will last any longer than that because they're so GOOD!)



What is your favorite kind of pie?

I'd have to say pumpkin pie is up there for me.  And anything covered in crumble topping (Apple-Crumble Pie, anyone?), and Banoffee pie (Google it and you'll see why).

Mini Pumpkin Pies



I've made these twice in the span of one week because they were just THAT good!

Plus, I had a package of Nasoya wonton wraps (from my mini quiches) that I wanted to use up AND my giant stash of pumpkin that I've been hoarding away since last fall.  So I basically HAD to make them.  Didn't have a choice, ya see?!

They do taste just like individual pumpkin pies:  the crust is crisp, the filling is creamy and sweet and each one is about three or four bites of heaven.  And BONUS:  these mini pumpkin pies are only about 60 calories each!  So you really don't have an excuse not to make them.  Unless, of course, you don't like pumpkin.  And if that's the case, I can't help you.  You need therapy, and I'm not talking physical therapy....



Mini Pumpkin Pies
makes 12 individual pies
adapted from Dashing Dish

12 wonton wrappers
1/2 cup egg whites
1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used 4% because Brian accidentally picked it up at the store but they're also delish if you use 2%)
1/2 cup pumpkin
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup agave nectar (or substitute maple syrup!)
1/4 cup Splenda
cool whip or homemade whipped cream, plus additional cinnamon for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly spray a 12-count muffin pan with non-stick baking spray and press one wonton wrapper into each cup.

In a food processor or high-speed blender combine all filling ingredients (everything listed above from egg whites to Splenda) and puree until completely smooth.

Distribute pumpkin pie filling into the wontons, dividing evenly among the 12 muffin cups.

Bake 14-17 minutes until filling is set and edges of wontons are lightly browned.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, serve topped with whipped cream or cool whip and dusted with cinnamon.

(Any leftover pies can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.  I doubt they will last any longer than that because they're so GOOD!)



What is your favorite kind of pie?

I'd have to say pumpkin pie is up there for me.  And anything covered in crumble topping (Apple-Crumble Pie, anyone?), and Banoffee pie (Google it and you'll see why).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Coming Soon

I know, I know, I've been a little scarce with the blog posts lately.

It's not that I don't WANT to write!  It's not that I am not eating delicious, healthy (and some not-so-healthy) foods, and thinking wonderfully fascinating things and wanting to share these things with you!

It's because I am suuuuuper frustrated with how my pictures are coming out.  As fall is settling in and the daylight is waning I'm having to shoot photos with the flash and with the house lights ON which leads to SUCH awful photos.  Don't pretend you haven't noticed....

And at the same time, while I LOVE our house here in Tampa, I have a love/hate relationship with the great old oak trees in our yard (and our neighbors' yards).  They provide such lovely shade in the summer and lend such a classic curb appeal to our neighborhood.  BUT they are dropping acorns like nobody's business (such a mess to clean up) and keep our house in the shade for most of the day.  That, combined with the early setting of the sun means I have very little natural light with which to take my photos these days. And so I have been loathe to take pictures and loathe to post recipes WITHOUT pictures (because let's admit it, we eat first with our eyes, right?)

Anyhow, I DO have a recipe to share with you and if you check back tomorrow you shall find Dorie Greenspan's favorite pecan pie WITH pictures AND a recipe...aren't you lucky?

Any suggestions for indoor photography during these fall and winter months?!  I'd be most appreciative!

Coming Soon

I know, I know, I've been a little scarce with the blog posts lately.

It's not that I don't WANT to write!  It's not that I am not eating delicious, healthy (and some not-so-healthy) foods, and thinking wonderfully fascinating things and wanting to share these things with you!

It's because I am suuuuuper frustrated with how my pictures are coming out.  As fall is settling in and the daylight is waning I'm having to shoot photos with the flash and with the house lights ON which leads to SUCH awful photos.  Don't pretend you haven't noticed....

And at the same time, while I LOVE our house here in Tampa, I have a love/hate relationship with the great old oak trees in our yard (and our neighbors' yards).  They provide such lovely shade in the summer and lend such a classic curb appeal to our neighborhood.  BUT they are dropping acorns like nobody's business (such a mess to clean up) and keep our house in the shade for most of the day.  That, combined with the early setting of the sun means I have very little natural light with which to take my photos these days. And so I have been loathe to take pictures and loathe to post recipes WITHOUT pictures (because let's admit it, we eat first with our eyes, right?)

Anyhow, I DO have a recipe to share with you and if you check back tomorrow you shall find Dorie Greenspan's favorite pecan pie WITH pictures AND a recipe...aren't you lucky?

Any suggestions for indoor photography during these fall and winter months?!  I'd be most appreciative!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brown Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Almonds and Kale

A couple of weeks ago I attended a cooking class (well, really more of a demonstration) at our local Whole Foods.  The topic was Vegetarian Cooking which peaked my interest since I'm always on the lookout for delicious and satisfying vegetarian dishes to incorporate into our weekly dinner menu.

On the menu was a Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries and a Warm Cranberry Pear Cider.  I didn't really care for the Cranberry Pear Cider at all - am I the only person who really DOESN'T like super-sweet spiced drinks?  Egg-nog, warm apple cider....they don't really do anything for me...

Anyhow, the Pilaf was DELICIOUS!  During the class demonstration, we used unhulled barley rather than farro (apparently they were sold out of farro?!!?) and I loved the nutty flavor and chewy texture of the barley, along with the savory bitterness of the kale and the tangy, chewy dried cranberries.

I really love the versatility of this dish, it was fantastic as a side-dish with chicken but it would also be DELISH as a vegetarian main-course (even for Thanksgiving dinner!).  You can also play around with the grain - I used brown rice since it's all we had at home, and the dark leafy greens- I used kale but collard greens, spinach or chard would work too.  I also substituted sliced almonds since we didn't have any pine nuts at home. You can see my changes reflected in the recipe below, for the original recipe check out the link to Vegetarian Times.



Brown Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Almonds and Kale
serves 4-6
adapted from Vegetarian Times

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound kale, stem removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds

2 cups cooked brown rice (I cooked mine in vegetable broth)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute diced onions 5-7 minutes.  Add kale and cook 5-7 minutes or until just wilted.  Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook 1-2 minutes, then add cooked rice.  Saute 3-5 minutes or until warmed through.  Remove from heat and stir in cranberries and sliced almonds.  Serve warm.

Have you ever cooked with Farro, Barley or any of the other "Ancient Grains"?

I've made barley before, in a stew.  I've been meaning to use it more frequently which is why I bought it.  Too bad it never made it home from the store.  It's probably laying out on the streets of Tampa somewhere.  Or maybe (probably a little more likely) they just never bagged it up for me at the commissary??

Brown Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Almonds and Kale

A couple of weeks ago I attended a cooking class (well, really more of a demonstration) at our local Whole Foods.  The topic was Vegetarian Cooking which peaked my interest since I'm always on the lookout for delicious and satisfying vegetarian dishes to incorporate into our weekly dinner menu.

On the menu was a Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries and a Warm Cranberry Pear Cider.  I didn't really care for the Cranberry Pear Cider at all - am I the only person who really DOESN'T like super-sweet spiced drinks?  Egg-nog, warm apple cider....they don't really do anything for me...

Anyhow, the Pilaf was DELICIOUS!  During the class demonstration, we used unhulled barley rather than farro (apparently they were sold out of farro?!!?) and I loved the nutty flavor and chewy texture of the barley, along with the savory bitterness of the kale and the tangy, chewy dried cranberries.

I really love the versatility of this dish, it was fantastic as a side-dish with chicken but it would also be DELISH as a vegetarian main-course (even for Thanksgiving dinner!).  You can also play around with the grain - I used brown rice since it's all we had at home, and the dark leafy greens- I used kale but collard greens, spinach or chard would work too.  I also substituted sliced almonds since we didn't have any pine nuts at home. You can see my changes reflected in the recipe below, for the original recipe check out the link to Vegetarian Times.



Brown Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Almonds and Kale
serves 4-6
adapted from Vegetarian Times

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound kale, stem removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds

2 cups cooked brown rice (I cooked mine in vegetable broth)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute diced onions 5-7 minutes.  Add kale and cook 5-7 minutes or until just wilted.  Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook 1-2 minutes, then add cooked rice.  Saute 3-5 minutes or until warmed through.  Remove from heat and stir in cranberries and sliced almonds.  Serve warm.

Have you ever cooked with Farro, Barley or any of the other "Ancient Grains"?

I've made barley before, in a stew.  I've been meaning to use it more frequently which is why I bought it.  Too bad it never made it home from the store.  It's probably laying out on the streets of Tampa somewhere.  Or maybe (probably a little more likely) they just never bagged it up for me at the commissary??

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Curry in a Hurry

The weather here in Tampa has been GORGEOUS for the last few weeks:  daytime temperatures in the 70's, no humidity, beautiful sunny skies!  A girl can't ask for much more than that!

The other afternoon, Brian got home around 5 and it was still light out (thank goodness).  He asked me if I wanted to go for a run with him, since it was so beautiful outside and all.  I agreed and we went out to Bayshore for a nice jog.  We got back to the house around 6:30 (already dark outside by that time - boo!) and I immediately went into dinner-mode!

Fortunately, I had marinated some butterflied chicken breasts in my rosemary-thyme buttermilk marinade earlier (I added some chopped fresh sage to the marinade since I had it on hand - yum!) and that only takes about 12 minutes to cook up under the broiler - sweet!  For a side dish, I made Chickpea & Spinach Curry using cooked chickpeas I had made on Sunday (using this method here) and a package of frozen, chopped spinach that I quickly thawed in a strainer under running tap water.  I also served a salad of romaine and red leaf lettuce with roasted beets and a tiny helping of brown rice I had made over the weekend.

I'd had this recipe from the October 2011 issue of Real Simple magazine bookmarked for a while and finally got around to making it, and I'm glad I did!  I upped the seasonings and changed the ratio of chickpeas to spinach - reversing it so there was more spinach and less chickpeas.  Brian and I both loved it and it was really yummy the next afternoon with some leftover chicken for lunch.  Real Simple recommends serving the curry with a cucumber-yogurt sauce but I skipped that and although it sounds good, I didn't feel like the curry was missing anything.  You can find the recipe for the cucumber-yogurt sauce in the link to the original recipe below.

Dinner is served!
Chickpea Spinach Curry     
serves 4 as a side-dish
adapted from Real Simple magazine, original recipe available here

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder (or increase to 2 tablespoons and omit the ground cumin, coriander and turmeric)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (I used homemade, but you can use one 15.5 oz can)
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
kosher salt and black pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, add the garlic and ginger and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the curry powder, cumin, coriander and turmeric and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  

Add the chickpeas, spinach, 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (you may need to increase the salt depending on your taste) to the saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and cook on medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for 12-15 minutes, until chickpeas are slightly softened and the mixture and most of the water is gone.  Add additional salt and/or curry seasoning if needed.




Leftovers for lunch!