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).




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).




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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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 entirely...it'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.

~Brian