October 6, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

The autumn season is my favorite time of year, hands down. It's not too hot, not too cold, there aren't as many bugs (I HATE mosquitoes!), and the nights just seem cozier. I believe life gives us changing seasons to force ourselves to slow down, take a breather, and just relax a bit. So, for breakfast tomorrow, let's do just that. Grab a big mug of steaming coffee, and help yourself to a delicious pumpkin spice muffin. And while you're at it, put your feet up!

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
(makes 1 dozen)

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons apple pie spice blend
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 - 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

1/4 cup butter (room temperature)
4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place paper liners in muffin tins. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl.
Add the pieces of chilled butter.
Using a pastry blender, or two knives, blend and cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter resembles small peas.
I was lucky enough to find organic pumpkin at my local food market!
...it's all I wanted, just pumpkin; no chemicals, no extra sugar, no fillers. (sigh!...happiness..) In a medium sized bowl, combine the pumpkin, evaporated milk, egg and vanilla.
and blend it all together.
Slowly add the wet ingredients into the dry.
Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full.
Mix up the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg...
and lightly sprinkle onto the top of each muffin.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. You can do the toothpick test to be sure the centers are done. Remove from the oven, then allow to cool completely before frosting. When ready, combine the frosting ingredients together. Frost the tops of each muffin, sprinkle with nuts if desired. Or, you can fill a pastry bag, and pipe a dollop of frosting on the top.  Happy fall!

October 2, 2011

A Little Sidetracked...

Usually this time of year brings cozy Saturdays in my kitchen experimenting with wonderful fall ingredients like apples, pumpkins and butternut squash...but there's a little addition to our household that is requiring a lot of my time, which I don't mind at all!
So please bear with me for a few months while we all get through potty training, teething, and a few sleepless nights!  :)

August 19, 2011

"You Gotta Frittata"

Back in the day, when our nightly outings would last till 4am, we would all trek down to this little cafe in the heart of Syracuse and order up mammoth frittatas to share. These delicious platters really hit the spot, especially after a long night of disco dancing (What?! Did I say "disco?") I love making a few batches of these for brunch, but they're also a quick fix for an evening dinner. The best ones I've sampled are made with pepperoni, cheese, potatoes, and spicy vegetables, but since I'm trying to be health conscious, I've made mine with organic veggies. Be free with your choice of ingredients ~ anything goes!  So excuse me for now...I'm going to grab a skillet, dig out my platform shoes and boogie down....

Potato Frittata
serves 6-8

4 large red skinned potatoes (or Yukon gold)
1 head fresh broccoli, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
6 large eggs
3 tablespoons light cream
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 slices provolone cheese
olive oil

Drizzle a small amount (about a tablespoon) of olive oil in the bottom of a large, shallow non-stick skillet. Put heat on low. Wash and slice up the potatoes and veggies.
I love using these little sweet peppers...
And a fresh, green head of organic broccoli.
Place the potatoes down into the hot oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
When potatoes have browned, gently turn. Add the rest of the veggies to the pan, and saute everything together. The garlic and onion give this dish such a great aroma.
You want the vegetables to be tender, and the potatoes to have a nice, brown color. Don't you want a bite?
Whisk the eggs together with the cream, set aside, then move the sauteed veggies to one side of the skillet.
...slowly pour the eggs into the empty side of the pan.  Dollop the ricotta cheese on top of the eggs.
With a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly pull the eggs towards the center, moving the pan around to allow mixture to cook. When the eggs have firmed up a bit, begin to incorporate them with the veggie mix. You don't really want to stir this, it's all about folding the ingredients together.
Gently turn everything until blended. Now turn the heat on low, place the slices of provolone cheese on top, then cover and allow the cheese to melt.
When the cheese is melted and gooey, and the frittata is piping hot, slice into pieces and serve. Enjoy each and every bite of this healthy, comfort food!

August 9, 2011

Mint Potato Salad

At the beginning of each summer, I like to prepare three large containers for my deck. One has fresh basil, another has "super fragrant" mint, and last is a hearty, cherry tomato plant. These three ingredients will flavor your salads, marinades or pasta, all season long.

I tasted this potato salad a few years back for the first time at my sister-in-law's, and fell head over heels in love. She has made it with balsamic vinegar, but most recipes call for red wine flavor. Try whatever vinegar you prefer, it's so good either way. One of my very favorite summer sides!

Mint Potato Salad
Insalata di Patata alla Menta
(serves 6-8)

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 medium sized red onion, chopped very fine (about 4 tbls)
1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn in small pieces
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
1 dozen small red-skinned potatoes
kosher salt/pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel. (That's the beauty of red skinned potatoes!) In a large pot, sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt in the bottom, then fill 3/4 of the way with cold water. 
Slice and soak the red onion (about 10 minutes) in a small bowl of ice water with a bit of red wine vinegar before slicing, (about 2 tablespoons). Red onions tend to overpower many recipes, and this soaking method tames it down a bit and gives the onion a nice flavor.
Cut up the potatoes into chunky, 1/2 inch pieces.
When the water begins to boil, add the potatoes. Cook until tender, but still a little firm. You want to be able to stir them together with the dressing later on without falling apart.
While the potatoes are cooking, you can prepare the dressing. In the bottom of a shallow dish, add the oil, vinegar, chopped garlic and onion, and fresh herbs. Using a fork, blend everything together.
Drain cooked potatoes in a colander...
and while still warm, spoon them into the pan with the dressing. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.
Gently fold the potatoes and dressing together, then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you're planning on serving this the same day, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to sit right on your countertop. If you want these for another time, just chill in the fridge, and periodically give it a gentle stir.

The potatoes will soak up the delicious dressing, and the fresh mint really adds a fresh, summer taste. This is such a great alternative to the typical potato salad made with mayo. Hope you enjoy it!

July 31, 2011

Healthy Eating

Have you ever become so bored with the same old meal plans that you actually lose your appetite? I know the feeling when nothing seems appealing, and unfortunately those are the times we either order out, or go off track in our quest for healthy eating.

I'm trying to get into the habit of having ingredients in the fridge that can be combined with any type of meat or veggie. One of the staples I always keep on hand are cooked, organic lentils.

I like to simmer them in a little vegetable broth and water, along with sliced onion, shallots, or leeks. Usually 4-6 cups of these premade sweeties helps me get through a few lunches or dinners.

It so happened that tonight was one of those times that we would all be eating at different times due to work and social schedules. Having the lentils ready to go helped me pull this all together by using what I had on hand. Be creative when you cook, and use foods that you love!

Chicken, Lentils and Veggies
(makes 6-8 servings)

6 large boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
3 peppers (ass't. colors and types)
1/2 medium onion
1 and 1/2 cups cooked, pearled couscous (unseasoned)
2 cups cooked lentils
1 pound fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup organic chicken broth
olive oil
sea salt/fresh cracked pepper
minced garlic
Italian seasonings

Prepare the lentils and couscous, then set aside. If you haven't tried lentils, please give them a shot. They're delicious in just about any dish..
Also note, I used "pearled" couscous, which is much larger than the regular kind you see in most recipes.
Rinse the chicken thighs in cold water, place on dry paper towels. Cube the chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces, removing any visible fat.
Place the cubes in a glass bowl, add the minced garlic and teriyaki sauce. Season to your own liking with the Italian herbs, or whatever you prefer (suggestions: red pepper flakes, dried basil). Chill, covered, for at least one hour.
Prepare the peppers and onions: rinse with cold water, slice into thin strips. (I used a red onion for this recipe, but choose what you'd like)~
Once the chicken has marinated, saute in a little olive oil until the cubes are thoroughly cooked. Remove from the pan to a clean plate.
Discard the fat and oil, and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.
Add a bit of fresh oil to the pan, then quickly saute the peppers and onions until softened and caramelized. *You could also grill the chicken and vegetables outdoors.
To the same pan as the peppers and onions, add the fresh spinach.
Season with salt and pepper, than pour in the broth.
Simmer until the spinach has wilted.
Add the cooked lentils and couscous. Give the pot a stir and spoon in the cooked chicken. Gently fold it all together...
then cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
While simmering, may I suggest a frosty glass of Pinot? Mr. Grumps and I really like Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio. It's delicious and fruity, and goes well with fish, pork and poultry dishes.
When you're ready, serve this healthy dish, loaded with protein and vitamins, with your favorite multi-grain bakery rolls. (Also delicious with a few shakes of hot sauce.)  Cheers!

Food For Thought:

A cup of lentils contains nearly 16g of fiber, more than half of the recommended daily requirement. Soluble fiber in the lentils helps with regularity and cleans the digestive tract and helps you to stay full longer.
Lentils contain nearly 90 percent of the daily recommendation of folate, which helps produce new cells and is essential to iron production in the body. They also contain magnesium, which is important to muscle and nerve function, strong bones and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Lentils are very low in sodium and may help lower the risk of high blood pressure. Lentils contain vitamin B6, which helps the body break down sugars and starches and supports functioning of the nervous system.

~ www.livestrong.com