Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I had a lot of fun this weekend. Brownies and cupcakes were involved. And they were not of the healthy makeover variety. Every once and awhile you have to break the rules and Halloween's a good time to do it. I also feel better about eating treats made from scratch than packaged candy that lasts for 2 years on a shelf. Just saying!

For the most part I'm not planning on including rule-breakers on here, but because it is Halloween I'm more than happy to!

First up... Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies. I saw these on Ultimate Recipe Showdown awhile ago, and I've made them three times now. They are definitely special occasion brownies. Don't even bother to look at the nutritional information. But they are GOOD. I didn't mess with the recipe one bit, so I'm just going to leave you with the link. And a picture...

I made these brownies to take to a Halloween party and they were a really big hit. I baked them in a 9"x9" pan and cut them into 16 brownies. They are really rich, and while I usually advocate for a more generous serving size, a smaller size worked out well this time.

The second recipe is a two-parter. I made Chocolate Cupcakes from a recipe by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) with Creamy Chocolate Frosting.

I've actually never made cupcakes from scratch before. One thing I did was buy Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. I will never buy any other kind! I used to buy just generic cocoa powder thinking, "It's powdered unsweetened chocolate? What difference can it make?" Oh, it's a big difference. I can't believe what I was missing! I was eating the batter with a spoon! It tasted like pudding. I now plan on testing out some really high quality cocoa powder in the near future. I also may need to make chocolate pudding.

These are really intense. I brought them to work with me today. The spider legs are pretty fun if I do say so myself...

The cupcakes are perfect. This recipe made 18 cupcakes for me. I really won't touch the recipe and I would not recommend any changes. After reading the reviews of the frosting, I made a double batch. I now have a huge bag of frosting in my fridge, so stick with a single batch!

The brownies, however, I have plans for. I think these are going to be featured in a recipe remix.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Seeds!

I happen to be a pretty big fan of the holidays. Starting in October with Halloween and right through January with my birthday :) The built in activities are the best part. Carving pumpkins on Halloween, baking pies for Thanksgiving and decorating Christmas trees and cookies in December. I'm ready for it.

Starting off the holiday season, we decorated our pumpkins! Guess who's is who? (note: pumpkin on the far right is a candle.)

Our pumpkins look great, and now we're eating pumpkin seeds. Win-win!

Pumpkin Seeds

One medium pumpkin
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooking spray

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Separate seeds from pumpkin flesh and add to a medium sized bowl.
  3. Toss seeds with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake at 325F for 35 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring seeds once during cooking time.
  5. Allow to cool. Eat!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

I may have found a new favorite recipe. It is amazing. Beyond delicious. Just so good. You have to make it!

These are the perfect fall taco. Not to say that a traditional taco doesn't fit perfectly into every season of my life, but these are particularly appropriate.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

2 medium sweet potatoes
1½ + 1 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup uncooked brown rice
1¼ cup water
1 cup onion
2 garlic cloves
1 red pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
15 oz can black beans, rinsed well and drained
2 cups fresh spinach 
Salt and pepper, to taste
Toppings: cheese, avocado, tomatoes etc.

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Dice sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. (This is important- I wasn't thinking and cut mine into large chunks, then I had to do some damage control after they were cooked. Remember- these are a taco filling!)
  3. Lay sweet potatoes out on a baking sheet and toss with tablespoons olive oil. Roast in oven at 400F for 45 minutes, until tender and slightly browned. Allow to rest 5 minutes after cooking.
  4. When the potatoes are in the oven, fill a medium pot with water and brown rice. Heat on high. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check back after 20 minutes to see if rice is drying out. If so, add 2 tablespoons more water.
  5. While rice and potatoes cook, dice the onion, garlic and pepper. Toss into a large pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook over medium heat until tender.
  6. During this time, rinse your beans and wash the spinach. Chop the spinach in two directions for small bites. 
  7. Mix cumin, chili powder and smoked paprika into the onion/ pepper mix. Salt and pepper, to taste. Add beans and rice when ready. Mix in spinach and allow to wilt. 
  8. When the potatoes are ready, add them to the pan and toss well.
  9. Allow the flavors to come together over medium heat for three or four minutes.
  10. You're done! Serve with whole wheat tortillas and toppings of choice.
These were amazing! Please, please make them. You won't regret it! I adapted this recipe slightly from Oh She Glows, who made them with butternut squash. You could buy the squash pre-cut and that would be easy. I also added spinach, and adjusted the spices slightly from her version, so be creative! This recipe probably makes about 5 servings, but I reheated some with cheddar cheese in the microwave for lunch the next day and it was awesome, so don't half the recipe- make enough for leftovers!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homemade Tortillas

I just Googled 'tortilla' and checked the ingredient list of a name brand company that produces tortillas. Here's the ingredient list:

Whole wheat flour, water, vegetable shortening (interesterified soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil and/or palm oil), contains 2% or less of: leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate and/or sodium acid pyrophosphate, calcium sulfate), sugar, salt, preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid and/or citric acid), cellulose gum, distilled monoglycerides, enzymes, wheat starch, calcium carbonate, antioxidants (tocopherols, ascorbic acid), dough conditioners (fumaric acid, sodium metabisulfite and/or mono- and diglycerides).

Here's the list of ingredients in my tortillas:
Whole wheat flour, oil, water.

I win! This tortilla recipe is actually super easy and although it does take a bit of time while they cook, it's not difficult. And if you're like me, you'll be doing about 10 different things while they cook anyway.

Whole Wheat Tortillas

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
½ oil
1 cup warm water
  1. Grab a big mixing bowl and measure in the flour.
  2. Pour in the oil and water.  
  3. Mix! I usually start off mixing with a fork and then when it gets crumbly I knead it a few times until the dough forms a ball.
  4. Break dough off and shape into about 16 small balls. An easy way to do this is to cut the dough in half and then each in half again and form 4 balls out of each section. 
  5. At this stage you can get your griddle and tortilla press ready. I use a Cuisinart multi-purpose griddle/grill and panini press, but you could use anything you'd make pancakes on. Heat to high.
  6. I also have an inexpensive tortilla press that I ordered from Williams-Sonoma. 
  7. When your griddle is hot, place a ball of dough on your tortilla press and press it down, release and flip the dough over. Press it for a second time and then toss on the griddle. 
  8. When the tortilla is ready to flip you'll see that the dough looks like it has dried through- maybe two minutes. Flip once using a spatula.
  9. Give it one more minute and it's done! (if you continue to flip, the tortillas will get tough)
  10. Repeat with remaining dough. 

I can fit four on my griddle at a time, which speeds up the process. While they're cooking I usually make the rest of dinner, watch Food Network etc. You can store these guys in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for long term. If you make a double batch and freeze half you'd probably be set for a month!

Disclaimer: They do not taste like you found them on the shelf at the grocery store.
They taste like REAL food. And they taste GOOD. And you don't have to be concerned about ingesting sodium acid pyrophosphate. Which I also Googled and discovered is used as a dispersant in oil well drilling. Awesome!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Junior League and Hummus

Last night I had a meeting with a small group of girls from The Junior League. I debated what to bring, and eventually I decided that most people were probably going to bring a dessert item, so I should go in a different direction. Hummus! At some point in college I realized that hummus is actually good for you, and when something that delicious is also healthy then I think I need to eat as much of it as possible. So I do!

When I brought hummus to the meeting last night, I learned that it's a common joke that everyone brings hummus to Junior League meetings. Whoops! Good to know for next time. Lucky for me, last night I was the only one who brought it!

Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Hummus

1 red pepper
1 bulb of garlic
15 oz can chickpeas
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup tahini
½ cup water
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Quarter the red pepper and drizzle with1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. Toss and lay the pepper on a baking sheet. (I usually line my baking sheets with nonstick aluminum foil to protect them when I'm cooking.)
  3. Cut the top off of your bulb of garlic to expose each clove. You may have to do some extra trimming on the sides to ensure that each clove is exposed from the outer layers, drizzle the top with ½ tablespoon olive oil.
  4. Place the bulb on a sheet of aluminum foil and fold the sides up together to seal the bulb inside the foil. Put your foil bulb next to the peppers on the baking sheet. 
  5. Bake peppers and garlic at 400F for 45 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  7. To remove garlic from the bulb, wait until the garlic is cool enough to handle comfortably and then squeeze each clove out of the bulb. They should be a little mushy and pasty. Kind of gross- but they taste good! If you feel the same way about garlic that I do (which is really good) take a taste!
  8. Add the cloves of garlic directly into your food processor along with the roasted peppers, chickpeas, ¼ cup olive oil, tahini, water and lemon juice.
  9. Blend!
  10. You may need to add more water to achieve your preferred consistency. I like my hummus to be pretty smooth, so I added almost ¼ cup more water at this point.
  11. Begin tasting! I use pita for this because I taste the hummus at least three times at this stage and I don't want to double dip a spoon, or use up three separate spoons. I think pita is the best food vehicle for tasting because the flavor is pretty neutral, but feel free to use baby carrots, celery etc. 
  12. Based on your tasting process, begin to add salt and pepper until you're happy!

I find that this hummus keeps well in the fridge for 3-5 days. The red pepper and garlic add a lot of flavor and I loved eating this flavor with cucumbers. I'm also planning a cucumber/ hummus pita sandwich.

Pita bread isn't to hard to find in 'real food' form. At both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods I've found pita that contains only water, whole wheat flour, oil, yeast and salt which are all actual real foods. I am going to be testing a recipe for homemade pita bread.

Tahini is sesame paste and, in my opinion, it does not taste good on it's own (just a warning!), but it's a pretty typical ingredient in hummus. I have found tahini in the peanut butter section, the aisle with oils and the international foods area, so it might be helpful to ask someone at the grocery store before you start your search.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vegan Pesto

I should start off by saying that I love pasta. We have pasta for dinner about once a week and I try to be creative about how I serve it, but unfortunately a lot of pasta dishes are made with cheese. And, Brian doesn't eat cheese. Pasta with sauce is great, and we also do pasta with olive oil and veggies a lot, but we LOVE pesto. Most store bought pesto contains Parmesan cheese and I thought I would just follow a traditional pesto recipe and leave the cheese out. Well guess what? Pesto without Parmesan does not taste good.

Several trials later I came up with my secret ingredient. I was looking for something that was sweet enough to cut out the bitter flavors of basil, garlic and pine nuts, but not alter the taste significantly. And the answer is- roasted red pepper.

Vegan Pesto

1 red pepper
1/2 cup of olive oil (approx.)
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Slice and quarter the pepper, removing stem and seeds.
  3. Lay pepper on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, bake in the oven at 400F for 45 minutes and allow to cool slightly.
  4. While the pepper is 'roasting', roughly dice garlic and wash basil.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil in a small pan and heat on medium-low.
  6. Add the garlic and pine nuts to the pan and cook in the olive oil until the pine nuts are golden brown and the garlic is lightly browning at the edges, 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. (I think cooking these ingredients also helps to minimize the bitter flavors.)
  7. When the pepper and garlic/ pine nuts are ready to go, throw them into a food processor along with 1/2 of the basil and the lemon juice. Be sure to add all of the olive oil from the pan that cooked the garlic and pine nuts.
  8. Blend! Add the rest of the basil and, Blend!
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste and additional olive oil to achieve a creamy consistency. 

We used this recipe on pasta, but I've also had it on quinoa and I think it would make a great pizza sauce as well. You could also use roasted garlic instead of cooking it in the oil (see tomorrow's post!). The red pepper does change the coloring, you don't have the same shade of bright green, but I have another version in the works that involves additional green veggies. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Bread Makeover

Makeovers were always one of my favorite hobbies. Grandmothers, my brother and my friends were often subjected to the full-on hair/make-up/wardrobe special. Now I subject recipes to the same special treatment!

My mom sent me a recipe for pumpkin bread and, of course, I couldn’t leave it as is. I cut down on the sugar and butter. I also added in a pumpkin butter topping. If you swirl the pumpkin butter into the top of the loaf it melts in and tastes amazing. 

Pumpkin Bread
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup applesauce
½ stick butter, melted
½ can pure pumpkin puree
½ cup pumpkin butter (see recipe below)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9x5 loaf pan. 
  2. Mix dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, salt, cinnamon and cloves) in a small bowl.
  3. Now mix the wet ingredients (eggs, syrup, applesauce, butter and pumpkin- hold off on the pumpkin butter for now!) in a larger bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and swirl the pumpkin butter on top.
  6. Bake at 350F until a toothpick comes out dry- about an hour.
  7. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.  

You can see how the pumpkin butter melts into the top of the bread. So good! I also added a layer of pumpkin butter in the middle of loaf, and you can kind of see it, but I don't think it added much to the bread and I would take it out for next time.

Pumpkin Butter
1 can pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup apple juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Juice of half a lemon

  1. Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices and maple syrup in a large saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and place lid on loosely; simmer for 35-40 minutes stirring frequently.
  3. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
  4. Cool and store in fridge for up to 3 weeks!  

Yum. I've never had store bought pumpkin butter, so I can't compare, but this is amazing. Tomorrow it will be going in my oatmeal. It would also taste good on plain toast. I added more apple juice than the original recipe called for and it has just a hint of apple flavor, which is really brought out by the lemon. I tasted the butter before I added in the lemon and it was way to sweet for my liking, but the flavors balanced out once I mixed it in.

(Pumpkin Butter recipe adapted from Oh She Glows)

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Vegetable Soup Quinoa

    We were out of town at a wedding this weekend and I didn't get a lot of cooking in. I did make some muffins to bring along for snacks on the road, but they have way too much white flour and sugar for me so I'll be posting a makeover of that recipe soon. 

    We made it home just in time to pick up a few things at the market before it closed and then I made a trip to Whole Foods on P Street. Do you like waiting in a checkout line for 30 minutes while you question the temperature of your rapidly warming dairy products? This is the place for you! What else did I buy besides milk? Two pounds of quinoa because the bulk food container was stuck on open. But, I don't think it's possible to ever have too much quinoa!

    Vegetable Soup Quinoa

    1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion
    6 carrots, peeled
    3 cloves garlic
    1 zucchini
    1 yellow squash
    8 oz sliced white mushrooms
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
    15 oz can of cannelloni beans (or any white beans), rinsed well and drained
    15 oz can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes
    32 oz vegetable broth
    5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
    1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

    1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
    2. Dice onion and carrots and add to the pot, cooking until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. 
    3. Meanwhile dice the garlic and chop the squash and zucchini into bite sized half-moons. Add to onions and carrots and cook for a few more minutes. 
    4. Add mushrooms and dried herbs to the vegetable mixture, along with salt and pepper, to taste. If you are going to be using salted vegetable broth it's probably a good idea to hold off on any salt at this stage.  
    5. Add beans, tomatoes and vegetable broth and bring up to a boil.
    6. Add quinoa to the pot and reduce to a simmer. Cover lightly and let cook for about 15 minutes until quinoa sprouts. When quinoa sprouts, you will notice a white thread that has curled around the seed.
    7. Stir in some freshly chopped basil and serve.

    This dish is essentially a vegetable soup until you add the quinoa, which absorbs most of the liquid. Another option would be to cook the quinoa separately and then when serving, add a scoop of quinoa to each bowl. I think I'll go this route next time. Also keep in mind that you can sub in any vegetables you have on hand. Cauliflower would be a great option and you could stir in some greens at the end. I probably use different vegetables each time I make this soup, but zucchini is my favorite ingredient here so I pretty much keep that consistent!

    If you haven't cooked with quinoa before, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain-like seed and is a complete protein source, which is very rare quality for a plant and a great addition to vegetarian meals. It's also a really good source of fiber and iron. It only takes about 15 minutes to cook which makes it a super-easy week night dinner. I usually buy quinoa from the bulk section of Whole Foods and because it's a complete protein source, I usually use it for an inexpensive meat-free dinner.