Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sweet Acorn Squash Bowl

The shopping list for this one is short and the results are super sweet.  Delight your friends and your taste buds with an acorn dish that takes full advantage of the bounty of the season and is sure to make any squirrel green with envy.

Shopping List:
1 acorn squash
1/4 lg. white onion
1/2 c. raisins
1/4 c. water

From the Pantry:
olive oil cooking spray
2 Tbl. brown sugar
sprinkling, cinnamon and sugar mixture*

med. sauce pan
cutting board
8x8 baking dish

Preparation:  Slice 1/4 white onion and combine with brown sugar and water in saucepan set on medium heat.  Allow to simmer until onion is tender and the edges begin to caramelize (about 5-10 minutes), stirring occasionally.  During this time, cut acorn squash in half.  Spoon out seeds.  Generously sprits orange flesh with olive oil cooking spray.  Lightly dust each half with cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Pour 1/4 c. raisins into each side.  Remove onion from saucepan placing equal amounts into each squash side; spoon any leftover juices into each bowl as well.  Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture liberally over each bowl, place into baking dish, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

By the time it's done baking, it's hard to decide whether this dish is dinner or dessert, but one thing's for sure, it's a guaranteed delight!

*For the perfect cinnamon and sugar mixture, combine 1 part cinnamon to every 3 parts granulated sugar.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Green Scene

Ever wonder about the green background in my food pics?

Check out my creative projects blog, Becoming An Artist, to learn how this veritable star was born with a few coats of paint and a pour on polyurethane.

Who knows, maybe you'll be inspired to create a one-of-a-kind of your own too.  Check out this project and many more at http://becominganartist.weebly.com

Monday, September 20, 2010


Try this technique when entertaining a party or enlist "all hands on deck" getting the family involved in the slicing and dicing of their favorite pizza toppings.  Make as many or a few as you want to.  The purpose of pizzettes (aside from just the joy of pronouncing this most palatable of words)  is to do something fun that's personal and brings people together.  Isn't that the goal really of any gathering around the table?

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour (keep bag handy)
1/4 c. wheat germ
1 Tbl. honey
1 c. warm water
1 pkg. quick-rising, active yeast
1/4 tsp. salt

TOPPINGS (choose what you love most!)
14 oz. jar prepared pizza sauce (you'll only use about half)
sweet orange pepper
red onions
black beans

From the pantry:
italian seasoning
garlic salt
red pepper flakes (optional)
cayenne pepper (optional)
cumin (optional)
non-stick, olive oil cooking spray

1 lg. mixing bowl
1 sm. mixing bowl
1 lg. cookie sheet
cutting board
sharp knife

CRUST - Combine yeast and warm water in small mixing bowl.  Mix well and allow to stand for about 10 minutes or until it appears creamy.  Combine flour, wheat germ, and salt in large mixing bowl.  Add honey to liquid, yeast mixture.  Create well in center of flour.  Pour in yeast and combine all ingredients to create pizza dough.  Let stand while you prepare all your toppings.  
TOPPINGS - As you can see from my list above, I really didn't hold back on the options for my little pizzettes.  Pick and choose what you love.  Use as much or as little as you like (I happen to love my pizza to be BURSTING at the SEEMS while my husband prefers just a little taste of everything in each bite.  Whatever your preference, slice and dice to your hearts content, then pile your pizzette sky high with whatever delicious goodies you desire).  
NOW YOU'RE READY - Put it all together by removing your dough and placing onto a greased (I spray mine with non-stick cooking spray) and floured cookie sheet.  Separate dough into as many pizzettes as you want. Flatten on cookie sheet.  Sprits each pizza, paying special attention to what will be the crust, with olive oil cooking spray and sprinkle with garlic salt.  This will help the crust crisp up nicely (and the crust will taste like garlic bread… yum!)  Cover each with pizza sauce.  And… drum roll please… druh, duh, duh, duh, druh, duh, duh, duh, druh, duh, duh, duh, duh.  Get to topping!  You may be surprised at how adventurous you, or, some of your guests get with their pizzette toppings… 
"Really?  Jalapenos, black beans, garlic, red pepper flakes, and cayenne?  Don, I just never would have taken you for a "heat" man…  That's gonna be some hot breath, in more than one sense of the word, by the end of the night Beth. You better watch out!"

I jest.

Sprinkle each with Italian seasoning and a little garlic salt then, pop these bad boys into the oven for about 15 minutes.  (I only made four.  Depending on how many or how few of these you make, you'll want to keep an eye on them to make sure the smaller ones don't cook up too fast or the larger ones finish up nice and crispily… yeah… that's a word - crispily.)

This is an especially easy way to entertain if you happen to have family or friends who would prefer to sprinkle a little cheese or bacon on their personal pizzette.

 (The missing, fourth pizzette is not present because it was in my mouth!  So… sorry I didn't get better pictures of these.) :)

So much food.  So much fun.  I hope you'll try this and have a positively, pizzettey good time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Snack Attack

In lieu of my favorite spreadable snack addition, I have been getting creative in how I satiate my creamy, snack companion needs.

HUMMUS.  Yes, hummus.  Typically made from chickpeas, hummus is made from beans.  It's a good source of protein, a relatively low calorie spread (especially compared to my sprove ---- my "spread-love," peanut butter) and I find it to be just an all around, uber versatile addition to a healthy diet.  It's delish on a piece of nicely toasted pita.  It adds a nice, almost nutty creaminess when mixed into your favorite salad dressing and, it has become one of my sandwich spread staples too!  I mean seriously.  It's like right up there with mustard.  Yeah.

So, hummus, you're all right.  I'll definitely keep you around.

I find mine in the chilled section in my grocery store.  There are so many options too, like "Classic," "Red Pepper," "Garlic," and even some with a little extra heat so, I see no reason why me and hummus shouldn't enjoy a long, lovely, spready relationship.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just a Few More Minutes

What's Good for the Muffins, Isn't Necessarily Good for Me

Once I finally got out of bed this morning, after pushing the snooze button three times, I started thinking (as soon as the caffeine from my bold brew kicked in), "I really hate when I do this.  Waking up, even five, ten, or fifteen minutes later than I really need to makes me feel behind and therefore rushed first thing in the morning."

I hate to be rushed.  I hate to feel behind.  And who wants to start their day that way?

As I hurriedly re-prioritized my morning schedule, an image popped into my head.  An image of me, sleeping in my bed, all warm and cozy, just like a cute, little muffin all snuggled up in it's tin.  The timer ticks down, "… 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 1.  Beep!  Beep!  Beep!  Beep!"

Then, the muffins well, they get a little poke to make sure they're done through and through.  Me on the other hand, nobody's there to give me a nudge.  I'm a grown up girl and all I have to do in order to procure another minute or two is fumble around until I find the bar, "Snooze" and hit it to gain un peu plus minutes.

Why am I sharing this image with you?  Well, I guess just because the thought occurred to me, "Once I'm up, I'm always glad I am.  I wish I hadn't slept in and thus messed up my morning plan."

So, what's good for the muffins isn't necessarily good for me.  I need to make a commitment to waking up on time and just, in general, to doing things when I say I'm going to.

"Seize the day!"  It's an old statement but oh so true.  I don't want to waste any more minutes.  They are so precious and few.  Plus, in the grand scheme of things, I'd rather "Seize" than "Snooze."

Wouldn't you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reverse Bruschetta

Recently, at a bridal shower, I had the pleasure of enjoying one of these delightful mouthfuls (you don't have to eat it in one bite, as a matter of fact that would probably be the least preferred mode of enjoyment but, I was just uncouth enough to devour one of these as if it were a deviled egg).

A friend of mine is getting married.  Woohoo!  That's always fun and good cause for food and celebration.  This friend, her name's Amanda, is very generous with her friendships and connections… by that I mean, she does not hoard her awesome friends all for herself.  Maybe you've experienced what I'm talking about, maybe you haven't.  Regardless, she is one of those wonderful people who truly believes, "The More, The Merrier," and so, on several occasions, though few of us knew each other, my friend has orchestrated gatherings where seemingly random people have all been brought together and, as a result, formed new friendships.

One such spawned friendship is that between myself and the wonderfully talented and endlessly fascinating Chef, Luke Cypher, who I first had the pleasure of meeting at my friends rooftop birthday party held several months back.

Luke is an absolutely PHE-NOM-I-NAL chef and is one of the head chefs at a local hot spot for delicious diversions.

As a gift to our dear Amanda, Luke agreed to create a table of delicious hours-d'oeuvres, pair each with a complimentary wine, and then give a presentation, which he does so well, explaining how the flavors of both the wine and the food complimented and connected with one another.

The presentation was educational and the food, extraordinary.  I'm so NOT exaggerating either… it was E-X-T-RA-ordinary!  An explosion of textures and flavors in every bite.

With his permission, I have chosen to highlight this dish, Reverse Bruschetta, as I found it's appearance beautifully simple and it's taste delightfully complex.

The following instructions were provided by the chef himself:
8 roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
salt and pepper, as needed

1 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp Grana Padano, grated*
8 basil leaves

Salt and pepper roma halves then line on a sheet tray. Roast at 375 for 20 minutes until skins begin to blacken slighltly. 
Remove romas from the oven and peel off the skins. Discard.
While romas are roasting heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and carmalize for 20-30 minutrs until goldne brown in color.
Combine caramelized onions with bread crumbs and cheese to make filling. 
Stuff each roma half with a spoonful of filling and top with a basil leaf. 
Can be served chilled or warm with a nice crisp Pinot Grigio.
Is your mouth watering yet?  Make this at an upcoming dinner party and I promise both you and your friends will be blown away by your culinary skills.

Thanks Luke!

*This recipe does include cheese which, is not part of a strict, whole-foods, plant based diet.  I am certain that, were you to leave out the cheese, this dish would still be absolutely delicious but, if you are not restrained by health reasons, I would encourage you to try it as is.  The flavors together just sing, "La La La La La!!!  I'm so yummy!"

Summer Salads - Part Two: Squacchini Salad

If you're like me, you may be just about sick of summer squash but, if you still have one left in the fridge, here's a delicious way to say, "Au Revior," to this bright summer staple.

Shopping List:
1 medium summer squash
1 medium zucchini
3/4 medium cucumber
1 c. cherry tomatoes
1/2 medium red onion

From the Pantry:
2 tbs white balsamic vinaigrette
1 tbs water
1/2 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

cutting board
large sauce pan

Preparation:  Combine vinaigrette, water, brown sugar, salt, and pepper in sauce pan set on lowest heat setting.  Chop up squash and zucchini.  Place into sauce pan.  Turn heat to medium and toss with vinaigrette mixture.  Cover and allow to cook for 7 minutes, or until just barely tender, stiring occasionaly.

During this time, cut cherry tomatoes in half, chop cucumber, and dice red onion into very fine pieces.  When the zucchini and squash has just become tender, throw in tomatoes, cucumber, and onion, and cook for an additional 3 minutes, stirring about every minute.

Remove from heat and transfer to container for refridgeration.  Make sure you pour all those nice juices into your container too.  Chill for 2-3 hours, then serve.  Thanks to the sauce, this dish does not necessarily need any additional dressing.  You may however wish to pair it with say, a light italian or, something with a hint of dill maybe.

The crunch of this final salad is very satsifying and the flavors… uhmmm... from the subtle sweetness of the brown sugar to the slight bite of the balsamic are… refreshing!  Perfect for a picnic out on the lawn as we transition into Fall.

I hope you'll enjoy this as well as my other summer salad fave, the Four Bean Salad, as we bid, "Adieu" to the last few days of l'ete.  Though we have already experienced a few brisk days here in western PA, my summer mentality holds strong… at least until the first, official day of autumn - Wednesday, September 22nd.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The 30 Day Challenge

A friend of mine, who has recently been making a lot of tremendous changes in his life, was standing in our kitchen the other night.  He recently stopped smoking.  It's been about two weeks since his last cigarette.  He said that he could definitely still feel the effects of the loss of nicotine in his system but, more than that, the change in his daily routine without the ever present pack of cigarettes or the several-times-a-day smoke break, was proving to be one of the most challenging parts of kicking the habit.

I felt an overwhelming sense of pride listening to my friend.  I am so encouraged by all the positive changes he is making in his life; quitting smoking being only one of them.  This got me thinking though.  All of the sudden I was convicted by the sense that, "I too, totally have an addiction!"  I have a habit that is so ingrained in my daily routine, is such an part of my day-to-day life that, were I to try to cut it out, it would be very, very uncomfortable for me.

What is this addiction?  Well, it starts with a "B" and ends with an "utter."

I am addicted to Peanut Butter.

Believe me, I'm aware how this sounds… probably stupid, maybe a tad trite, maybe even just down right silly but, I'm so serious when I tell you, I have an addiction to Peanut Butter.  I eat is every single day.

I eat it paired with a banana as part of my daily breakfast, or, I enjoy it on an apple as a mid-afternoon snack.  At times, I've been known to enjoy just a straight-up spoonful.  Oh! and let's not forget the mother of all PB pairings, the nostalgic bomb of a PB&J.

Why am I sharing this?  Well, as someone who says she's a proponent of healthy living including a well-balanced, nutritious diet, I can't very well just ignore the fact that, in my own life, I completely ignore a cardinal health rule - Everything in Moderation.

As my friend recounted how he felt without his cigs, I realized I really have an unhealthy, food relationship with Peanut Butter.  I crave it in an unhealthy way.  I eat it kind of voraciously, not like someone who is just enjoying it for it's taste but like a vampire whose life force comes from both the smooth and/or crunchy varieties.

I very sincerely am NOT trying to make light of other, more serious addictions but, in a very real way, this was a needed revelation for me and an area of my life that I could see garnered some focused attention and improvement.

Understandably, you may still think this is totally ridiculous but, after the idea popped in my head, I could not get it to go away.  Here was my dear friend talking about how he was building a new, healthier, more positive daily routine that did not include smoking and all I could think was, "Man... I could never give up Peanut Butter though."

So, what am I going to do?  I'm going cold turkey.  Peanut Butter has been such a staple of my daily routine for so many years that, for me, the only way I think I can truly kick the craving is to go cold turkey and not touch the stuff, in any form, for thirty days.  Thirty days is my goal, after which I will reevaluate how much I want to incorporate it back into my life.

For me, this is a challenge… The 30 Day, Peanut Butter Challenge.

In the right hand column you will find a ticker cataloguing the number of days my diet has been free of this lovely legume derivative.

Thank you for your support as I attempt to make a seemingly small, daily adjustment but, one that has the potential to positively effect my psyche and be an exercise in self control and discipline.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Clean Up on Isle 3!" "Clean Up on Isle 3."

I don't know about you but, do you ever feel like your life is just a big, fat, sticky, hot mess?

I'm not just talking about a few shattered pasta sauces accidentally knocked off the shelf but, like, you somehow tipped over the entire pasta sauce display?  There's just sauce everywhere.  It's all over the floor.  It's all over you.  There are even a few innocent bystanders who things got a little harry for just because of their close vicinity to you.

No doubt about it, life gets messy.  In those tumultuous times, I sometimes find myself just wishing away the whole situation.  I might feel mortified.  I might feel embarrassed.  I can't believe how big of a mess I've made of things and somehow, the idea of everything going back to some kind of normal just doesn't even really seem possible.

What lessons can be learned when your life seems like the big, fat mess splattered all over isle 3; out there, on display, for everybody to gawk at and see?

Well, you probably need some help.  You can't do it alone.  You'll need a few tools to, specially designed to get everything done.  You'll probably inevitably find that, before it's all said and done, the newly designed display is better than the one before.

You may still find little traces of pasta sauce from time to time; little splatters that would have you sink back into remembering that rough time.  But after you do inevitably move on from that place, you are stronger for it and that's what I always have to keep in mind.

I know I can't do it alone, and I can't let my shame over the mess I've made keep me from asking for help.  It will take a team effort to get this life back on the shelf.  But it's so worth it because when we're all through, I know I'll be a little bit stronger, I heck of a lot wiser, and more secure in myself too.