Thursday, July 14, 2011

Check out This Great Slideshow of SUPERFOODS!

Courtesy of SELF magazine.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Snow White's Salad

Just as Snow White fell into a deep slumber after one bite of the Witch’s enchanted apple, so too will your eyes seal shut in a moment of savoring bliss as you fall under the spell of this dish’s deceptively delicious flavors.

The ingredients are simple and few but the end result is nothing short of stupendous.

This cheese is rich, creamy, slightly salty and sweet.  When melted it clings like caramel on top of the apple, it’s butteriness a perfect compliment to the tangy, sweetness of the Granny Smith.

However, no caldron is required to concoct this brew.  With cutting board, microwave and seasonings at the ready, you can complete this dish in no more than five minutes flat.

Snow White’s Salad
1 Granny Smith apple cut into 16 slices
Salt, fresh ground black pepper, and cinnamon to taste
Ski Queen Gjetost (goat) Cheese

Slice apple and spread out on plate.  Place slivers of thin slices of cheese on top of Granny Smith apple wedges.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.  Zap in microwave for 80 seconds.  Sit and Enjoy.

This is so wickedly delicious it could easily pass for dessert.

Since the first day I created this, I’ve had to consciously convince myself that it would not be appropriate to eat this for lunch and dinner (or every single day for that matter).

Decide for yourself if this creation is worth my enthusiastic recommendation.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guacamole Matrimony

What do you get when you combine an avocado and mandarin oranges in holy-guacamole matrimony? 

A match made in heaven.

I thoroughly enjoy a good guac but, after a recent trip to Mexico where I was able to indulge in a healthy dose of guacamole at almost every meal, I found myself daydreaming about different combinations of ingredients that might provide an exciting alternative to the original. 

At first glance, these ingredients may not sound like a complimentary combination.  But, if you give it a chance, I think you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised.

My husband watched as I threw the ingredients together and later told me that, as he sat there he thought, “She’s ruining those avocados.”

I could see the doubt on his face too as I sat there chopping, mixing and sprinkling away.  At first, with the avocados it was like, “Yes.  This is par for the course.  I’ve seen her do this a million times before.”  When I pulled out the mandarins, peeled and diced them up, he looked perplexed.  When I threw the mandarins in with the avocados though his face said, “Welp, that’s trash bound.”

Thankfully, I was undeterred by this lack of confidence. 

I could see his skepticism, even a bit of reluctance, as he plunged a chip in for the first bite.  Then, the moment I love, a look of surprise couple with satisfaction swept across his face. 

“Wow,” he said.  “This is really good.  This is so good, it almost makes me mad because I just want to gobble up this whole thing!”

Muah, ah ah,” I thought to myself as a self-satisfied smirk spread across my face.

“Yep.  Skills,” I said.  “My taste buds know what taste buds like.”

 Mandarin-Avocado Guacamole
2 avocados
6 mandarin oranges
1 lime
½ - 1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt (add more to taste if desired)

Scoop out avocado and dice into bite size pieces.  Peal and dice mandarin oranges into bite size pieces.  Combine juice from one lime, avocado, oranges, cinnamon and salt in bowl and mix well, mashing avocado as you go.  Taste, add cinnamon or salt as needed and serve.  

And tell me if your taste buds no likey.

Need another incentive to try this dish?  Check out this article explaining the health benefits of cutting saturated fat from your diet while increasing the healthy kind, unsaturated fat; the kind found in avocados.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ha ha Ha!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cilantro Solutions

So, I got a lot of great ideas from friends on FB for different ideas for ways I can make use of all this cilantro.

A few of the more inventive suggestions included:

"It makes a fun festive add at the bottom of vases! I used rosemary in centerpieces for a bridal shower this weekend."
- Deepa Varughese

"Chop it up, add to ice cube trays, top off with water to add to soups in the winter."
- Jayna Elam

Though I'm sooo not in the mood to be thinking about winter, I thought the ice cube thing was a great idea; it would be really pretty.  I enjoy the smell of rosemary so, I love the idea of using herbs as a part of centerpieces too.  That one gets the "Most Martha Stewart-like" award.  

My aunt also shared a link to a "five star vegetarian version" of Pho Noodle Soup that calls for cilantro amongst many, many other ingredients.  She said she's "addicted" to this soup from a vietnamese restaurant near her home in Grapevine, TX.  Since I can't exactly hop in my car and have lunch with her (though I so wish I could just beam myself there Star Trek style), I'll just have to search out something closer to me.  

For the time being, my solution for the overgrown cilantro tree is baba ghanoush!  I posted a recipe for it after I had it for the first time at a friend's birthday.  I just substituted cilantro for parsley (and instead of "2 Tbls" added about 1/2 cup!) and voila!  It's the freakin' bomb.

This week at the grocery store, I purchased garlic infused olive oil and decided to take that and my hurbs and put them to good use.

I took about two cups of baby carrots and cut each carrot lengthwise into about four pieces (some of the larger babies got a few more chops).  I tossed my carrots in a frying pan with about a tablespoon of the garlic infused olive oil and let them cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the carrots were tender.  While the carrots simmered, I put about 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, sea salt (about 1/4 tsp.) and black pepper (to taste) into my food processor and chopped them until the pieces became very fine.  I then sprinkled the carrots with this mixture and allowed them to cook the rest of the way.

The baba ghanoush was a nice compliment to the carrots.

This carrot side was super quick, easy, and bursting with fresh flavors.  It was a slam dunk with my husband and a great way to make use of some of the beautiful growth I have sitting on my back patio.

Happy Herbing,

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ideas for Cilantro

Anyone have any great ideas for ways to use copious amounts of cilantro?

I literally have a cilantro tree growing in one of my containers.  I love cilantro.  I use half-a-cup or two in my recipes fairly regularly but, now I'm wondering if there isn't something, almost like a cilantro based pesto that would be a good way to use some of this verdant growth.

Any ideas?  Comment and let me know.

If you're at all curious about my little candles there, check out my post (with lots of pictures) on Becoming an Artist, about how I created these twinklers.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Calorie Clarification

Check out this excellent article from Yahoo News that offers helpful insight into the sometimes convoluted conversation about calories and how they effect and/or work in our bodies.

I get particularly on board with the last statement of this article, "Avoid artificial sweeteners and load up your plate with the bona fide low-calorie saviors: fruits and vegetables."


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mexico Ruminations

I have returned... though, it was no easy feat dragging my sunburned butt away from the glowing Mexican sun.

From the moment we stepped foot into the airport to leave the familiar behind to the minute we said, "Adiós" to the lovely resort staff, every single step, bite, interaction and experience was absolute and complete bliss.
My husband (who I just celebrated 6 years of marriage with over this trip) packed my new, never-goin'-to-fly-without-it travel companion, the Snuggie, so that I wouldn't freeze to death like I normally do on plane flights.  It was so great.

Yay!!! I love needing my passport!!!

The first morning, laying out on a bright blue beach chair, ridiculously large sunglasses over my eyes and a big floppy hat on my head, I could easily understand why ancient civilizations worshiped a sun god.  The sun was beautiful, bright and its rays ran all the way down to earth, warming every grain of glittering sand and every inch of my epidermis.  My skin cells were smiling (and so was my face).
The view under my brim:

My skin is a tad bit itchy having been roasted ever so slightly to a light tinge of pink.  I was quite fastidious with the sunblock application and reapplication until the final day when I threw caution to the wind and the sunblock in my beach bag and just let the rays do their thing in the hopes that it would, "just turn to tan."

A few more applications of aloe coupled with a few sun free days and I think I may end up with just that ---- a nice little tan courtesy of the sol de May-hee-co.

The resort was lovely.  The staff - absolutely, positively, friggin' terrific.  The hardest working, most courteous, kind people I could have ever hoped to have the pleasure of meeting while being on vacation.

The food…

         Oh!  The food

It was fantastic!!!!

I ate fresh guacamole every single day.  I had frijoles negros as a part of my breakfast almost every morning.  And in between the French and the Italian and the Indian restaurants I would be hard pressed to give an answer as to what my favorite thing was all week long.

José (sipped not shot) and the best refried beans I've ever had in my life!
Beans for breakfast?!  Yum.
Chocolate Mousse from the French restaurant... muy moussay
"Tequila Boom Boom"

One thing that does stand out to me though was the coffee.  It was so delicious; so bold; so black, so full bodied and aromatic.

Every morning, as I sat across the table from my husband, I would have this moment, a moment of pure appreciation; appreciation for him, for the place, for the food, the beautiful people, the lovely resort, the means to be able to be there experiencing what I was experiencing, making the memories I was making. And then, a sip of coffee… 


It was perfection.

We went with a group of three other couples.  Let me tell you, that is the way to travel.  Good friends, building great memories and sharing in each others stories.

It was a beautiful week and I feel extremely thankful to have been a part of it.

Roasted & Rested,

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mexican Adulation

Go ahead and pop your wrist cuz you're gonna need that dipping hand ready.

These dips and salsa are so flippin' good, if you're not careful, they may just end up being your dinner.  Once you start, it's hard to stop.  So, whether yours is a palette that loves heat ranging from mild to make-your-upper-lip-sweat-spicy, you'll find something here to suit your fancy.

Makin' Me Hot Navy Bean Dip:
15.5 oz. can navy beans
2 Tbl. water
1 Tbl. Sriracha sauce
1 Tbl. lemon juice
equivalent of 1/2 tsp. habanero pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preparation:  Drain and rinse navy beans.  Combine all ingredients in food processor and grind until smooth.

Black Bean Dip with Jalapeno Zip :
15.5 oz. can black beans
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbl. Sriracha sauce
3 Tbl. jalapeno "water"*
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preparation:  Drain and rinse black beans.  Combine all ingredients in food processor and grind until smooth.

*One of the things I purchase as a salad topper is jarred jalapeno slices.  The liquid that these come in is what I use to flavor this dip.  It really infuses the dip with a delicious jalapeno taste without adding any real heat.

I kid you not, I have never --- NEVER!!! gotten such raucous feedback from my husband as I did with these two bean dips.  He sat there and "Oh'd" and "Um'd" throughout his dipping experience.

In regards to the black bean dip he said,
      "Seriously babe, I would slather this on a hamburger and gobble it up right now!"

Then, he moved on to the navy bean and exclaimed,
      "Oh my gosh!  Rachel.  Seriously.  You need to jar this and sell it!"

His next move was not a shocker as my man is pretty clever.  He dipped one corner of his chip into on dip, and then another into the other.
     "That, was the best decision I made all day…" he said before trailing off into more satisfied munches.

He really knows how to make a girl feel appreciated ya' know.

So, I feel pretty good about these dips.  Hopefully you will too.  I always think it's nice to have something to mix things up with at parties and what not.  Don't get me wrong.  I've got nothing against a good ol' classic pinto bean.  But these up the ante with a nice, spice factor.

The navy bean dip is not for the spice novice.  It definitely has a kick and you'll want to be careful because there is nothing funny about the power of this pepper (read - DON'T touch your eyes after working with the habanero.  It's a hot son-of-a-gun.  It made me cough just cutting it!).

The black bean dip isn't really even worthy of receiving the "mild" title but, go ahead and throw in some of those jalapeno slices if you know your taste buds can handle em'.

At this point you may be wondering, "What the heck is Srirachi?"

Well, it's this:  
Pictured here with my Butternut Squash Bake.

The bright red sauce with the rooster on it.

It has a nice, unique flavor all on its own.  It's got some great heat and for the past couple of months has been a go-to for me as I haven't seemed to be able to get enough spice in my life lately.  

I've mixed it in soups, over squash as you see here.  I've used it to spice up tofu.  I just can't get enough of this baby.

The final recipe I'll leave you with before I sign off for my Mexican voyage is a salsa I'd like to call "Salsa Amarillo" due to it's lovely, yellow color.

Salsa Amarillo:
1 ylw. pepper
1 ylw. heirloom tomato
1 ear ylw. corn
3 cloves garlic
1 sm. - md. jalapeno (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp. ginger
Preparation:  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, cut kernels away from cob.  Rinse and cut pepper into slices.  Cut jalapeno into rounds and clean skin off of garlic.  Place peppers, corn, jalapeno and garlic on foil covered cookie sheet and bake in oven for 30 minutes.  Cut about 1 teaspoon worth of fresh ginger (skin removed) off of ginger root; rinse and slice tomato.  Place tomato and ginger in food processor and pulse until a few chunks of tomato remain.  Once veggies are done, combine corn, jalapeno, and garlic in processor.  Pulse until pretty well smooth.  Combine in a bowl with tomato/ ginger mixture.  Finally, pulse peppers until slightly chunky.  Mix all together well and serve.

I promise you're going to like this.

There's a brightness to this salsa that I love and makes it incredibly easy to devour.

Okay well, I guess this is officially it.  I'm signing off now until my return.  There shouldn't be any typing going where I'm headed so, until then…

"Hasta Luego!"

Senorita Sunshine,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T- Minus to Mexico

I am exactly t - minus 5 days away from getting on a jet-plane and flying away.

My destination?

Way down south past the Mexican border.

Now, I understand the fear over all the drug lords and what not, with their drug wars and their drug battles and their murderous drug crimes in the streets.

But the place I'm going, relatively speaking, is one of the less, war-lordy spots.

The tickets are booked and though the bags aren't yet packed, you better believe this girl's not gonna be easily derailed from heading sur de la frontera (I hope I said that right) to sink her toes in some sand and get some R&R under warm, blue skies.

I'll be sippin' on something refreshing in an all-inclusive resort, taking in some Mayan ruins, and hopefully jet skiing to my adrenaline lovin' hearts content.

In honor of this vacation though, you know I'm preparing a post, one befitting of my destination to a sunshiny, Mexican coast.

Everything will be a dip or something easily eaten on a chip, because who wants to mess with fancy utensils when you're going on a trip?

Check back Friday for pictures, recipes, and possibly more rhyming (I don't know where it comes from sometimes; it just happens without me trying).

Feeling Saucy,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who Noush?

Friday night I went to a birthday party...
                  But --- This... this was no ordinary birthday party.

The birthday girl is a very dear friend, an excellent cook, and a consummate connoisseur of every manner of culinary delight.

Her passion and skill for cooking is a well known fact among her friends and for her birthday her husband (who totally earned major "hubby points" for this one) orchestrated an event that combined both her love of food and sharing tasty experiences with people that she loves.

The festivities took place in an upper room of the magnificently large, Giant Eagle Market District, a grocery store we affectionately call the "Taj MaEagle" due to it's impossible-to-miss size.

The room we met in functions as a demo kitchen where, several nights a week, a couple of the classically trained G.E. chefs lead cooking classes for people stationed throughout the rooms four, fully equipped cooking stations.

The chef typically stands in the front station with a television situated above his head; its camera is trained on the chef's hands to allow the class' participants a birds-eye-view of how the real deal gets things done.
(chef station)

This evening though, the head meister, Chef Luke, who I've mentioned and will no doubt continue to mention again and again, allowed Amanda, the star-birthday girl along with her group of hungry cronies, to take the Chef's station while the rest of us split up into teams to tackle our own, individual dishes.

Throughout the evening, every group made the following:  hummus, tabouli, baba ghanoush, and baklava of which, each group made a slight variation (instead of walnuts, pistachios; instead of almonds the zest of two lemons).

These were all great and it was fun to compare the ever-so-slight differences between the textures and tastes of each "team's" items from group to group.

Now, to my knowledge, never before in my life have I ever had or tasted baba ghanoush.  But, of all the things I tried that night, the "Noush," specifically the one my teammate made, was, hands down, my absolute favorite.

The recipe used said to put all the ingredients in a food processor but my group member did it all by hand.  I just loved the difference it made in the texture!

Baba Ghanoush is a dish with a primary base of eggplants... it's sort of a similar idea to hummus but, instead of the chickpeas, its made with eggplant.

Ingredients Include:
1 eggplant
1/4 c. tahini
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped and 
S & P, to taste

Preparation:  Place eggplant over an open heat source (grill or gas burner*).  Rest until the skin begins to blister and flesh starts to soften.  Transfer to a 350 degree oven and finish roasting for about 15-20 minutes until very tender.  Remove eggplant from oven and let cool until able to handle.  Peel off the skin and remove the stem.  Place remaining flesh in a bowl.  Mash eggplant with a fork than add tahini, garlic, and lemon juice.  Stir parsley then season with salt and pepper.  

[At this point, all the other groups put their's in a food processor and let it work on the ingredients until everything was completely smooth.  But my man Jon just mashed ours to oblivion using the strength of his forearms and employing, for but a moment, his keen chef's eye --- please imagine a Tool Time, Tim Tayloresque, manly grunt session here... "Oh, Oh, oh..."]

Everybody else's Noush was pulverized and tasty but in ours, you could still see the seeds of the eggplant and I really liked that.

Serve with warm, lightly toasted pita and enjoy some for yourself.  

I promise, yoush won't be disappointed.

This recipe came straight from the kitchen of the Giant Eagle Market District, straight from the gifted hands of my dear friend Luke.

Throughout the rest of the evening there were wine tastings, one white and one red, and at each of the cooking stations (there was a total of four if you're counting) we each tackled a different main dish, which was then shared, family style at the pinnacle of the evening.

The remainder of the menu included:
- Stuffed Crust Sicilian Pizza (think mozzarella, basil, artichokes, and tomatoes)
- Roasted Garlic and Spinach Ravioli stuffed with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions topped with a Peppadew pepper chutney
- Kalamata and Mushroom stuffed Lamb Chops with Tzaztiki (say that three times fast) and
- Chicken Paprikash (you would'a just had to'of been there)

I will say this, I obviously wasn't a huge partaker in the chicken of the "chicken paprikash" buuuuuuuut, I did dip myself out a couple of spoonfuls of this dish's stewy base and... do you want to know what happened?

I chomped down on a piece of bacon.


I tasted bacon for the first time in well over a year; a tiny bit of bacon that suddenly exploded on my tongue... the saltiness, the porkiness, the all-americanness of it all.

It didn't make me want to go out and gobble up a pig or anything, but the taste did immediately take me back to childhood breakfasts... sitting around a table in front of a bowl of cheese-loaded scrambled eggs, a basket stuffed with fluffy, white biscuits and a plate stacked with a couple of layers of crisp, brown, greasy bacon (my favorite pieces were actually the ones that were darn near blackened; I have since learned how terribly bad this is for you --- anything blackened is basically a straight up carcinogen being introduced into your system --- but the fact still remains:  for me, for whatever reason, the charred, crumbley ones were the most desirable).

Once I came to from by bacon-induced-flashback I spent the rest of the evening taking in the shear volume of everything that had been created.  There was good food, great friends, and wonderful conversation.

I felt amazingly blessed, incredibly full and grateful to have been a part of it.

A few additional scenes from the evening…

The birthday girl, doing her thing.

I am sorry I don't have pictures of the final product.  I'm afraid by that time I was too busy eating.  Suffice it to say that each dish was a success, in both taste and aesthetic.  


*If you, like me, don't have an open heat source, you can also broil the eggplant in the oven until the skin is blackened and crispy; you'll want to watch it just like anything else you broil though as things can go from crisp to "have-to-throw-it-away-crap" really, really fast.

Tasty Tip of the Day: Tough Taters

Yeah, so this one is a little bit of a repeat, but it's good so, it's one worth repeating.  Today's tip is how to decrease the prep time for one (if not my favorite) potato involving dish.

I'm talking about my South of the Border Sweet Potato and Quinoa dish.  This tip is useful, however, for this or any other potato-including-meal you might desire.

The tip is to "nuke" the starchy little suckers.

Depending on the intensity of your microwave and it's setting, the time will vary slightly from oven to oven.  But, if you place your potatoes in the microwave for about 1-2 minutes on each side, they will soften to the point that cutting them or removing the skin is a very much easier, less time consuming process.

And who doesn't love "less time consuming?"  Hello!

Less Prep.
            Faster to Eat.
                    More time with the Fam.

You can't be mad at that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tasty Tip of The Day: Getting Rid of Garlic Stink

In continuing with my garlic theme, today I thought I'd share a tip my chef friend taught me.

I was lamenting to him about how I really did not love being stuck with garlic fingers but, I love using garlic so much there just really didn't seem like anyway of getting around it.

The secret:  rinse hands, then rub pennies between your fingers.
Something about the metal in them counter acts the pungent scent of garlic.

Neat right?!

So, there you have it - a solution to stinky fingers and a reason to crack open your bulging piggy bank (or maybe just open the little whole at the bottom so you don't have to smash Mr. Piggy B.).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pumpkin Cake

With Homemade Icing and Very Berry Topping
WARNING:  This post contains content that may be harmful to your waist-line goals.  This cake is dangerously easy to pound.  The ingredients within (most notably, the amount of sugar) are by no stretch of the imagination "health conscious."  Therefore, I advise that any self-professed Sugar Addict, even those just struggling with an unyielding sweet-tooth, should proceed with caution.  For you, it is advisable that you adhere to the tenets of the buddy system before letting the  first cup of flour hit the bowl - do NOT bake this cake alone; this will go a long way in preventing the adverse effects of devouring a shame-spiral inducing amount of this decadently moist dish.  A second party should be present to hold you accountable to a reasonable bite, taste, slice, or wedge.    Do NOT attempt to rely on your will power alone to resist the temptation of this excessively indulgent, pumpkin dish.  

Okay, okay.  So obviously, I jest.  There is, however, a great deal of truth to this though.

For the most part, anytime I sit down to create a meal, I do it with a focus on health in mind.  I endeavor to create dishes that are delicious and satisfying and that include as many fresh, life promoting ingredients as possible.

This is NOT one of those dishes.

I don't know if any of you noticed but, for the past few fall seasons, there seemed to be a shortage of pumpkin.  So, this past fall, I stocked up on the stuff once it finally hit the shelves.  Throughout the fall and winter season, I made many a pumpkiny-delite in the form of breads, muffins, cakes and pies.

It didn't take too long though, before I was all pumpkined out.

One lone can remained untouched in my cupboard.  There it sat, hidden behind the oatmeal, canned tomatoes, peanut butter and beans, patiently waiting to fulfill its destiny.

This cake was the result of… well, I guess you could say, it was the result of the perfect storm:

  • I had this can of pumpkin.
  • A bag of powdered sugar.
  • And several containers of fruit that, if not used expeditiously, would soon become speckled with spots that were fuzzy and grey.

"I'll make a cake!" I thought, "if for no other reason than to not be wasteful with all that beautiful fruit sittin' in my refrigerator."

(Right… I didn't want to be, wasteful… that's sound reasoning right?!)

The cake I created is in fact "vegan" but, I wouldn't go so far as to call it "friendly."

The final result of the seemingly innocuous combination of fruit, pumpkin, powered sugar and I, produced a surprisingly powerful, sensory-temptress, with a texture that's so moist it seems to practically melt (the way cotton candy does the moment it passes your lips) and icing that soaks into the bread and slips down the sides, leaving you licking sticky fingers and lusting for more.

Fruit Topping*
2 c. black, seedless grapes
6 oz. container of each - blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
half of 16 oz. container of strawberries

Preparation:  Combine all ingredients in large pot on stove.  Cook over medium-low heat for up to one hour stirring occasionally.  Berries will mostly cook down but some of the larger pieces and grapes will still retain their shape; this is fine, even preferable as it makes for a nice presentation once you go to assemble the dish.

16 oz. bag powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 c. milk alternative
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation:  In a large bowl slowly mix milk and vanilla into sugar, adding the milk gradually just until you get a creamy, icing consistency.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Pumpkin Cake
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1tsp. pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. no-sugar added applesauce
2 c. pumpkin puree
4 Tbl. milk alternative
1/2 tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp. baking soda

Preparation:  In a small glass combine milk alternative and vinegar and let sit for at least 5 minutes before adding baking soda; this is a buttermilk alternative.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients and use power mixer to blend ingredients well.  Alternate between wet mixture and buttermilk, slowly folding the ingredients into dry mixture.  Separate into two round baking pans and cook at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick pressed into center comes out clean.

Once cake has fully cooled**, flip rounds out of pans.  Place one on dish and spread a layer of icing on top (you may want to zap icing briefly in order to make it as easy as possibly to pour on or spread).  Place second layer on top.  Pour remaining icing over top of cake.  When ready to actually serve, top with fruit topping or spoon out as much per piece as you (or your guests) would like.

Finally, sit back and indulge.
Bake at your own risk,

*I prepared my topping a few nights ahead of time.  I cooked down my fruit, drained a majority of the liquid into a separate jar and set the fruit topping aside in a sealable, plastic container.  The extra liquid could be used as syrup to drizzle over pancakes, add flavor to a fizzy, summer bevy (think berry mojito), or pair it with a sprinkling of nuts as a topper for vanilla ice cream (try coconut milk ice cream; you'll be blown away by this stud dairy alternative).
** I actually did not wait to let my cake fully cool.  When I assembled my cake, each piece was still very warm.  So when I went to put on the icing, it soaked into the middle of the cake and melted as I poured it over the top which resulted in it running over the sides but then, sadly, also over the edge of the plate.  Nobody ever wants to lose icing.  So, maybe you don't let it cool 100% of the way but, just be for warned, this icing is exactly like what you'd expect on a cinnamon roll and it can be just as messy.

Tasty Tip of the Day: Getting at Garlic

Love the taste of fresh garlic but find the process of removing the outer layers too tedious and time consuming?  

The solution to your problem - a really good "WHACK!"

On a cutting board, lay clove flat on it's side, place a large knife over top and, with the heel of your hand, give it a solid knock.

The outer layer will crack away from the fleshy center.  At this point its super easy to just peel, cut off the little nub at the bottom, and mince, press, or brown… whatever your garlic, loving heart desires (that's a bit of a double entendre) *smirk* (as scientist have discovered that garlic really is good for reducing blood pressure and cholesterol).  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Explanation

So, I feel like I owe you an explanation.

It's been a while sense my last post and, even that was a pretty lack luster one (I do freakin' love me some artichoke hearts though… for realz).

You see, something you may not know about me is the fact that my creativity is not confined to the kitchen.  And, as you may have found to be true for yourself, food is not my main or even necessarily my primary source of energy in this life.

I know that might sound a little "new agey" or whatever but it's true.

A lot of things go into "feeding"ourselves.  Wouldn't you agree?

We are so much more than just the physical bodies that we use food to energize, repair, and promote health and wellness.  There is also our mental health, our spiritual health - intangibles that every single human being knows exist but you can't hold a thought or touch a spirit.  You can certainly "feed" your mind or "feed" your spirit with things that will be life promoting or life diminishing, just as we do with food for our physical bodies, it's just that those kinds of "dishes" might not be so easily identified.

Sooooooo here's the thing, for me, one of the things that is super energizing to me is Sunshine; and not just a sun shining in the sky but a sun that has finally tipped the scales in spring's favor to where, when I walk outside, my shoulders don't immediately scrunch up around my neck in a reaction to a blistering, windy cold but can finally relax, and feel the warmth as it penetrates deep down into every single little cell of my skin.

I know there are very real, physiological, scientific facts that explain the importance of how the sun effects our bodies but, when you live in a region that is prone to long seasons of "dreary" and "grey", those facts don't make it any easier to deal.

I've done my fair share to try to guard myself against falling captive to the winter (or, as is sometimes the case, even the spring) blues:
- I got myself a HappyLite (yes, it's literally called a HappyLite.  It's by Verilux and its a light that emits the full spectrum of the suns rays as a form of phototherapy which can often help people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D.).
- I make sure to take my Vitamin D and B Vitamins every day.
- As of late (which I'm not advocating this necessarily, I'm just saying this is what I do) I've been visiting the tanning salon just to feel about five minutes of warmth on my skin.
- I regularly exercise and get a good amount of sleep.

But, even after taking all these steps, over the last month, I still found myself, not sad per se… It was more just a general lack of motivation and difficulty with concentration that was the prevalent feeling almost every day.

I was confused and frustrated and started to get really down on myself because I couldn't help but start thinking, "Am I just a super lazy person?  Why don't I have any desire to blog or write or be creative at all?"

Okay - so I know I get a great deal of energy from the sun.

But, it's not just the warmth or the brightness that does it for me.  It's also the fact that a lot of the other ways I like to express my creativity involve me being able to get outside.

This is a problem if you feel like a little bear, in a cage, who's been antsy to stretch her little bear paws for going on just about two months now.

You see, I'm energized by doing all sorts of things.  One, I classify as "Projecting," which usually involves me busting out the power tools and creating some funky piece of home decor.

(image of log candle holders I made using a reciprocating saw, power sander and a drill bit)

I also express myself in the way I wear my hair and makeup any given day.  Many people maybe wouldn't understand that.  Maybe they'd think it was silly or a waste or just a narcissistic thing girls do.  But for me, I can't help but think about it as I prepare myself for the day. I love to go out into the world with an outfit, makeup, accessories and hair, that I feel like incapsulate the mood or "spirit" I'm feeling that day.
(Comment for deets on makeup, it's one of my favorite things)

Sometimes it's just photography; capturing something that I would like the opportunity never to forget.

(I think frost is magical… reminds me of the fairies in Fantasia.  Anyone?  Anyone?)

Anyway,  I guess I'm sharing this with you, one - because it has been so very long since I really posted anything and two - because I was very encouraged by a very dear friend who shared the thought with me that helped me move through this somewhat perplexing time.

She was like, "Rachel, you're someone who feeds on experiencing new things, being able to get out and be creative and see things or be with people who inspire you.  That's where your motivation and inspiration comes from.  If you haven't been able to do that, there's no need to beat yourself up."

Do you have friends like this?  I sincerely pray and hope you do because there is just nothing in the world like a friend who can give you insight about yourself that, if it was anyone else talking, you'd immediately be able to show them grace and be understanding.  But, isn't it the case that, it seems when it comes to ourselves, sometimes we just can't see things clearly because we're too close to the perceived problem or struggle.  Sometimes a simple insight from someone who genuinely knows and cares about you can be such a supernaturally uplifting thing.

I think another valuable thing I've come to realize is that I just can't be satisfied with only sharing about food here.  Not that that's all I talk about here but, I think I'm going to have to start incorporating some of these other things… if nothing else, just for the fun of it.  I started another blog,, that shows more of my crafty, creative pursuits but, I think I'd like to combine them here.

After all, these are all the things that go into making life surprisingly satisfying.  So, bear with me as I start to try to figure out how I'm going to incorporate some of this.

I personally can't be satisfied trying to focus on one thing or even trying to define myself as one thing.  I don't know why I necessarily thought I had to in the first place but, it will be interesting to see how things unfold as I move in a new direction going forward.

It is in fact a gloriously sunny day today so, I don't want to spend one more second then I have to inside on my computer.

Affectionately Yours,
Sun Bunny

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stolen My Heart

There is absolutely nothing more sumptuous to me right now than biting into a succulent artichoke heart.

The taste.  The texture.  The way the leaves part between my teeth as they move across my molars…

You'll have to excuse me.  I'm having a moment.

I seriously just cannot get enough!  I see them all over the grocery store right now, which leads me to believe they must be in season but, it's not the fresh ones that have stolen my ticker, it's the jarred hearts that run a pretty penny that have me sighing satisfactions.

I've been eating them "straight-out-the-jar" for a delightful snack or plopping them in salads creating "most coveted" bites.

Artichokes look pretty intimidating and they're not exactly the easiest thing to work with fresh.  But, if you're willing to put in the time, they're leaves with the light green, meaty base make an equally fun and flavorful hands-on snack that will leave you with a lingering desire for more.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven

Sooooooooo… this morning, I don't really have a ton of time to explain just how bomb this salad is.  So, I'm hoping this picture will speak, if not a thousand, at least like 300 or 400 words, all on its own and inspire you to make one for yourself this weekend for a refreshing change to your salad routine.

What we have here is:
a) 1 sliced golden delicious apple
b) a light drizzling of agave nectar
c) freshly ground, black pepper
d) a sprinkling of toasted almond dust (toast almonds then pulse in food processor until ground)
e) a sprinkling of goat cheese crumbles (optional)
f) a light drizzling of balsamic vinaigrette
*microwave on High for about 20 seconds

You can enjoy this slivery twist on a salad warm or chilled.  You could also substitute the goat cheese for a little feta or, for a vegan friendly option, you could forego the cheese altogether!

One of the things I love most about this salad (aside from the flavors and the taste-bud tantalizing cornucopia of textures) is that it is so different and unique from anything I've created in the past.  There may be some out there who wouldn't even consider this a salad.  The point I'm ultimately getting at here though is that this salad, like many other homemade concoctions, is not only delicious and nutritious but, it also has the added bonus of totaling only about 280 calories!  Yes!!!!!  Only 280 calories!!!!!

This is also totally a picnic friendly snack!  A fancy picnic snack…

I have to run this morning but I do hope this will inspire you to try something new on your plate this weekend.

Happy Eating,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Grocery Store Staples

Most weeks I go to the grocery store with a pretty well defined plan:
- I typically have a detailed list (which is an absolute must if I don't want to forget a handful of things).
- I'm mindful of a tentative weekly menu
 - And, as I cross the threshold through those big, glass, automatic doors, I try to focus on the mission at hand so as to avoid ending up with any unnecessary (and typically, unhealthy) impulse buys (think a bag of licorice flavored jelly beans or a package of chocolate covered gummy bears… Yeah.  This girl's got a sweet tooth).

This week however, was a little more haphazard.

Believe it or not I, like many people I know, go for many of the same things week after week.  I call these my "STAPLES."  These are foods that are convenient, nutritious, and I really just don't get tired of them.

MY TYPICAL STAPLES look something like:

  • Fruit
    • two to three different kinds of apples
    • mangoes 
    • pears
    • bananas
    • a variety of citrus fruits (tangelos, pink grapefruit, navel oranges, clementines)
    • cantaloupe
    • watermelon
    • pineapple
    • a medley of berries (blue, rasp, black, or straw)
    • kiwi
  • What I call "Salad Stuff"
    • container of Spinach
    • head of romaine (or bagged)
    • cucumber
    • tomatoes
    • avocado
    • a variety of beans (black, dark red kidney, garbonzo, black eyed)
    • frozen edamame
    • frozen peas
    • jarred olives
    • jarred peppers
    • canned or jarred artichoke hearts
    • canned or jarred slivered beats
    • dried cranberries
    • slivered almonds
    • walnut halves
    • baby carrots
    • white mushrooms
    • a variety of fresh peppers (orange, green, red, yellow)
  • Other
    • quinoa
    • oatmeal
    • raisins
    • almond milk
    • salsa
    • hummus
    • eggs
    • some medley of meats for my man (chicken tenders, steak, pork, or sliced ham or turkey)
    • some kind of nut butter (it alternates between almond and peanut)
Now, I don't purchase everything from this list weekly.  I sort of rotate through these items on a week to week basis depending on what's in season and what I "feel like" for that week.  

For the most part though, these items cover our needs for both Breakfast and Lunch time meals.  You can get pretty creative with the combinations you choose to put together from the items listed above but, for the most part, our breakfasts look something like a little carbs + a little fruit + a little protein (think, oatmeal w/ raisins + a banana & peanut butter) while lunch usually consist of a salad made from a combination of yummy things + some kind of snack (like bell pepper and cucumber slices + carrots + a few tablespoons of hummus).  

Here's a glimpse of my lunchtime salad today
Now, you may be thinking, one - "Holy Cow!  I don't eat that much salad in a week, let alone all at one time!"  And two, "There's just no way my hunger could ever be satisfied by a salad."

But, the reason I love a good salad is because:
A) you get to eat a ton of food with very few calories*
B) you benefit from all the super good-for-you things that all these salad toppings have to offer (the vital nutrients in dark leafy greens, the antioxidant power of black and dark red kidney beans, the carotenoid lycopene in red tomatoes, protein packed edamame, immune system support from mushrooms, and cancer protective properties of beets… you get the picture)
C) and, the lingering satisfaction that my body feels do to the amount of natural, dietary fiber this kind of meal contains

Okay.  So, lunch time salad aside, most of my creativity comes into play at Dinner time.  

This week Dinner will consist of the following:
- a hearty bowl of Butternut Squash Bake plus a side of baked beet chips to share and baked chicken tenders for my man
- a tofu dish (I've started experimenting with it), including sautéed spinach with olive oil and roasted garlic, a can of diced, seasoned tomatoes, dark red kidney beans, and a sprinkling of toasted almond dust
- veggie stir fry (I might try throwing a little tofu into that mix too)
- and, since I didn't have a super clear plan at the grocery store this week, there are a few nights open for spontaneity; which, sometimes, is when the best things come together.

I'll share pics and recipes when I come up with a good new recipe and a post on beet chips is definitely in your future.

Until then, Happy Shopping!

* This salad totaled about 340 calories; between about 2 cups spinach (20), 1 cup butterhead lettuce (5), 1/2 c. beans (90), 1/2 c. edamame (100), sliced mushrooms (25), cherry tomatoes (25), 1 Tbl. dressing (30), and 1/4 c. sliced beets (20).  For anyone trying to decrease their calories while maintaining a feeling of fullness and their health, this ain't a bad way to go.  There are a lot of six inch subs that contain about as many calories but not nearly as much sustenance and volume.  Large plate + low calorie count = A-Okay in my Book!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Banana Bites

Today, the sun is not the only thing that's beaming.

It always seems to happen this way.  Towards the end of winter, I find myself starting to feel somewhat despairing.

"Is this ever going to end?  Is there a chance that it will literally stay cold until like, August and we'll only have like, a maximum of five weeks with temperatures above 40?"

A tad melodramatic maybe?
                 Yes.  Definitely.  Yes.

In truth, I know that spring will come again.  But, sometimes it still seems like Old Man Winter is never going to release his bitterly cold choke hold on the frozen world around me.

Today though.  Oh today…

Today, it's as if the Sun has had it's fill of days dominated by "overcast" and "dreary."  Today, the sun is shining, illuminating blooms beginning to emerge from their months long, soil slumber.  It's brightening tiny green buds bespeckling long bare branches and inspiring songs from teeny bird lungs as they flit from tree to tree.

Yes.  Today feels like Spring.

Now, for all those southerners who, since the end of February, have been rockin' short sleeve shirts, golfing on Saturdays or, dare I say, even sun bathing on balconies, this may seem a tad bit strange to you.

But, for those of us in the sun-challenged states (who had sleet as recently as yesterday ---- yes, yesterday), seeing the temperature creep up to seventy two, is as beautiful a sight as any to see.

One of the things I love most about Spring and Summer is that it not only inspires me to get outdoors but it also influences the flavor of the foods I eat.

So, in honor of this spring-filled day, I whipped up a tasty little treat that's fast, easy, and picnic friendly (just in case you feel inspired to take your lunch on the lawn one upcoming day).

Banana Bites:
1/4 c. crushed walnuts
agave nectar

Slice banana into about one-half inch thick pieces.  Sprinkle each piece with crushed walnuts and finish with a drizzling of agave nectar over each bite.

Agave nectar is sweet like honey but has more of a… toastier flavor.  These bites not only taste good, but they're good for you too:  the potassium of the banana; omega-3 from the nuts; vegan friendliness of agave nectar (if that's something you like to keep in mind).

So, whether you're looking for a snack that's a compliment to spring or just something sweet that won't jeopardize your summer, swimsuit clad plans, these bites have your name all over them.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Savoring Sister

What do a living room dance party, playing with puppies, and visiting a local farm have in common?

They're the kinds of things that happen when my sister is in town.

For most of the year, my sister and I are separated by both time and space.  She's a traveling actress based out of bustling L.A. and I'm a writer who's situated in beautiful P.A.

So, for the most part, our lives keep us apart.

However, this past week, I had the absolute pleasure of not only traveling to see my sister perform but also whisking her back to my humble abode for what was to become a week of pure, sister-girly fun (and... there's really not much that compares with that).

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm married to my best friend.  I love him.  I like him.  He's good to me.    He's fun.  He's one, if not the best man I've ever known.

Buuuuut (and all my sister girls out there can help me attest to the fact that) there really is just nothing quite like the friendship one shares with a sister.

It's like, on one hand, you're literally made of the same stuff so, there's potential for great compatibility there right from the start.  On the other hand, its like… "I know we had the same parents.  We grew up in the same house.  You were there.  I was there… but look at us!  We're so incredibly different too!"

That's part of the fun though, isn't it.

The older I get the more and more I find myself thinking, "Why didn't we hang out more when we were kids?  I really like you.  You're one of my favorite people."

Suffice it to say, I had a blast.  I savored our extended sister hang out sesh and was sad to see that beautiful, blonde head of hair go.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Pause.  Rewind... 

It's this past Monday, and my sister and I have made our way to the grocery store to stock up on grub for our fun filled week ahead.  As I planned the "menu" for the week, I knew I wanted to treat her to some of my favorite dishes which, as of late, include a few different quinoa dishes,  pan seared salmon over a spinach salad, and a few other tasty tid bits (like my favorite snack of a banana and almond butter or my preferred indulgence du jour of dark chocolate covered espresso beans).  So, we made our way through the grocery store with these meals in mind.

As we cruised up and down the lanes, my sister mentioned that she knew how to make beet chips.  We bagged a few of the purplish, red bulbs (after inspecting the labels to make sure that what we were grabbing were in fact beets, because... seriously, prior to last week, I don't know that I've ever in my life purchased an unpickled beet).

Obviously, my beet I.Q. is pretty low.  Growing up, my mom used to bust them out for dinner from time to time but they were always served piping hot and pickled.  I actually quite like the taste and texture of beets.  They make a nice addition to a spinach salad.  As a kid though, I mostly remember how their bright red juice was always contaminating my surrounding food.

I'm quite a fan of any crispity, crunchity, potato-chip alternative though.  So, when my sister mentioned a potential new addition to my "chip" repertoire it was an exciting, welcomed prospect to me.

The preparation was messy (think red-stained fingers and a cutting board that looks like it just survived battle) and, I think the word "finicky," yes, "finicky" could easily apply to the process of cutting the beat slices thin enough for them to crisp up properly.

But, let me tell you, the results were so - freakin' - worth the effort.

My little sis took on the task of preparation while I got to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of her hard labor.  The beet chips were so incredibly delicious (and yes, a post on beet chips is totally on it's way).  They were super crispy and surprisingly spicy.  

I had no idea beets were spicy.  Did you?

Over the past year, I have come to view food as so much more than just a chore; something I have to do.  I have come to appreciate the entire process of nourishing myself - from shopping the grocery store (without it being just one more stressful chore), to preparation, to actually enjoying the food I eat.

The fact that food often also brings loved ones together is just one more reason why I appreciate the role it plays in contributing to a full, balanced and healthy life.

No doubt, every time I enjoy a beet from here on out, I will recall that time shared with my sister in the kitchen.  Food does that doesn't it?  It has the power to transport us back to a good time, a familiar place, or a cherished memory.

Is there a food that does that for you?