Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vegan Coconut Nog Recipe

We just had our first big snowstorm in Boston and I've spent the day in my kitchen trying out new recipes.

As the egg nog begins to disappear from the grocery stores, I'm still keen to hold on to this rich, winter treat.

Because real egg nog can be a bit overwhelming for the senses (as well as the stomach) with its cream and raw eggs, I've been fond of the dairy free So Delicious coconut nog I found at my supermarket. And today, I had a revelation: I can totally make that myself!

With a little taste testing, this is what I came up with for a dairy free, vegan and delicious homemade coconut nog.

Homemade Vegan Coconut Nog

1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
2 Tbsp raw sugar
1 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground turmeric, optional (this gives the nog a mellow yellow color, without the egg yolks)

In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk until it is steamy, but not quite boiling. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat.

Stir in almond milk, vanilla, nutmeg and turmeric.

Serve warm or chilled. Add rum if desired (try coconut flavored rum!), and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Happy New Year, Allison. It was so good to visit with you over the holidays! And eat food from your kitchen. xoxo Cara

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pumpkin Comfort Food

So now that Thanksgiving's long gone, you might be wondering what to do with all of those cans of pumpkin that you bought when they went on sale for 39 cents.  Is that just me?  Here are two delicious pumpkin ideas that will stave off those pumpkin pie* cravings once pie season has faded.

*Actual pie.  Made from the Thanksgiving 2012 issue of Bon Appetit.  
Delicious, simple to make and doesn't use canned milk.  

DIY Pumpkin latte or pumpkin chai:
If you'd rather not shell out $4 for a pumpkin spice latte, or it's past the limited time season, make your own!


2 Tbsp. canned pumpkin

1/2 C milk

1/2 C black tea or coffee

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

a pinch of nutmeg

1 Tbsp honey

heat milk on the stove or in the microwave.  don't let it boil!  add pumpkin, spices and honey to either a traditional blender or a large enough container to fit an immersion blender. blend and froth for a few seconds until thoroughly mixed.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin oatmeal:  Breakfast that tastes like pumpkin pie... that is actually good for you?  Ok.

1 package instant oatmeal ( I am really enjoying the Mom's Best Chai Spiced or just Mom's Best Plain ) or your favorite hot cereal

2 Tbsp canned pumpkin

1 tsp maple syrup

1-2 Tbsp milk

1/8-1/4 C water

spices* such as :"pumpkin pie seasoning" or your favorite combo of nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cardamom, cinnamon
*I don't use the seasoning when I'm using the Chai Spice oatmeal because it's already seasoned.

Optional:  raisins, nuts, berries, etc.

boil water.
in a bowl, combine oats, pumpkin, maple syrup, milk, and seasoning if using.
slowly add boiling water, pouring over the pumpkin to make it creamy until cereal reaches desired consistency. add optional toppings.  stir then cover for about 3 minutes.
I like to microwave mine for about 20 seconds right before eating it because I like it really hot!  Warning, this is an addicting, sweet and easy breakfast.  I have eaten it several days in a row!

Tastes great with coffee and Bon Appetit magazine!

How to Eat on a Road Trip

I started this post after our Summer road trip but never finished it!  Now I think it's relevant again when holiday travels are looming in the not so distant future...

Fine.  I'll admit it.  I'm a picky eater.  A foodie.  A gourmande.  Whatever the label, I like to eat good food!! The more I know about food and the more exquisite food I have the occasion to dine on (thank you to the  ever expanding Des Moines restaurant landscape! ) the harder it is on the discerning palate.... when the kind of food I like; fresh, creative, seasonal, vegetable filled and flavorful is not readily available.

I'm talking about traveling.  Yes, traveling can be one of the best ways to experience food, depending on where you're headed.  Through, traveling often traveling by car, through rural areas, finding good food can be particularly difficult.  I've been burned by looking for those hidden gems along the roadside, led astray by out dated Internet directions...  it seems that many of those mythical home-made roadside places seem to have vanished (unless you're Jane and Michael Stern, which, of course I'm not).    

However, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to settle for bad food or fast food when you leave your comfort zone.  Here are some guidelines that started to present themselves on a Summer road trip I took through Northeastern Iowa and Southwestern Wisconsin.  

1.  Pack some snacks, sandwiches, and water.  Bringing along some comforting things like the snacks you might keep around your house (granola bars, cheddar bunnies, pita chips, etc.,) will tide you over if you aren’t willing to settle just yet.  Plus, you can make a picnic at a rest-stop, town square or park.  Just because a cute little town doesn't meet your needs for food, doesn't mean that you can't always enjoy the scenery while eating your delicious sandwich from home.

2.  Be Flexible:  You may have food rules, like not eating at chains.  You might be a committed vegetarian.  You might want only to eat organic or local.  These are good ideas and commendable principles to live by but on a road trip, you are not always going to find it.  You just aren't.  It is relatively easy to find guilty pleasure food i.e. fried tenderloins or fried cheese balls on the road. This is what I mean by be flexible.  Sometimes, this is the good food for the moment.  Sometimes you just have to get over yourself and settle.  Especially when you’re starving, grumpy and driving through rural areas. So go ahead and pull over at the local A&W. Have a root beer float and enjoy it.  After all, it is a cultural experience... just not the one you may have had your heart set on.

A&W Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

3.  Keep your eyes peeled for organic markets, coops, and establishments that advertise things like “farm-fresh, organic, local, fresh” rather than “home-made” which can be a gamble.  We found some nice markets and coops that had delis.  These are the places that are going to have conscientious food and real coffee… and often times this food is much tastier and much healthier than your local dive or pub and grill. 

We found this little market The Driftless Depot near the House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  They were well stocked!

A kind lady at the Driftless Depot was kind enough to make me this  amazing marinated eggplant sandwich, even though they had technically stopped serving lunch.  Lucky for me, she hadn't put away all the fixin's yet. 

4.  Bring a cooler.  We are now the owners of a mini-cooler that lives in the trunk of our car.  You might just find some delicious local delicacies you’ll want to bring home.

our beer and cheese haul from Wisconsin!

5.  Investigate. Don’t be afraid to walk in to an establishment, take a peek and turn right around.  If you go in and and realize that it’s not for you, don’t be shy about turning around and walking out.  It’s your vacation, you want to enjoy it . You’ll probably never see them again, so who cares what they think! 

6.  The Internet can be misleading.    You can trust reviews online, such as Yelp, to a certain extent.  But ssometimes it’s just better to go and see for yourself.  What may have had a bad review might just please your taste buds.  Names can be misleading, and so can addresses, and even hours of operation.  Check it out in person, and you might find what you're looking for... and if not, then see  # 5 again.

If you're doing any traveling this holiday season, or any time at all, have fun be safe and remember #2:  be flexible!!  


Monday, December 10, 2012

Soup for Studying!

The fall semester is coming to a close, and I too have been doing what Cara called "survival" cooking most nights.  I wanted to make sure I had plenty to eat while I was cranking out those final papers so last night I made a simple, yet delicious savory butternut squash soup.  This easy soup was done in less than an hour.

1 1.5 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
16 oz. of vegetable broth
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. curry powder
1/3 C light coconut milk
olive oil
salt and pepper

heat olive oil in a large soup pot.
add onions, salt and pepper and cook until onions are soft and fragrant.
add squash and cook for a few minutes before adding seasoning and broth.
reduce heat to medium/low and cover, simmering for about 20 minutes until squash is soft.

carefully transfer your soup to a blender (the real deal, this is not a job for your immersion blender... I found it to be way easier in the real blender after I tried mashing the whole pot of squash with my immersion blender) and puree until it reaches the desired consistency.  Add coconut milk and stir or blend.

This made 3 16 oz. ball jars full of soup to stock in the fridge!  Re-heat for about two minutes in the microwave and voila!  Lunch!!

Here's what it really looked like on my desk, next to my computer, as I ate lunch.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls

It was Thanksgiving weekend and I was anxious to get my bake on. It had been a long time since I had some kitchen therapy - spending time preparing food. I feel like I've been in survival cooking mode throughout the fall, barely pausing from work to prep basic, easy meals.

So over the long weekend I was in the mood to bake something that would take a good deal of time. Something with yeast. Something I had to wait for.

And take good care of.

A year ago I found a recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls on the clever and inspiring blog Rock.Paper.Reckless.

With leftover cans of pumpkin in the cupboard from Thanksgiving meals, I decided this was the winner for the weekend. I had tried out this recipe once before, but it was my first time ever making a homemade cinnamon roll and the results weren't that great.

This time around, however, they turned out awesome!

I made a few changes, adding pumpkin spice to the cinnamon, and baking the rolls in a baking dish rather than muffin tins.

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 - 0.25 ounce packet instant yeast
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 can pumpkin puree

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it just begins to bubble, then remove from heat. Mix in 1/4 cup butter until melted, allow to cool until lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.

In a smaller, separate bowl, combine water, egg and the milk mixture. Stir well.

Add the water, egg and milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat well. Add the remaining flour in two additions, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition until dough forms a large, soft ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with flour dusted hands until smooth and elastic, approximately 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rise for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, 1/2 cup softened butter, and half can of pumpkin.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Spread the pumpkin mixture evenly over the dough. Roll up the dough, starting from the long edge, being careful not to "smoosh" all of the pumpkin mixture to the edges. With seam side down, cut into 12 equal size slices with a serrated knife. Place rolls cut side down in the bottom of a greased 9 x 12 inch baking dish.

Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until browned.

Spread with Vanilla Cream Glaze from How Sweet It Is or use your own favorite cinnamon roll frosting.

Serve warm & invite your friends!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sauce: 1, Squash: 0

I haven't been making things from scratch as often as I used to/want to... That's when handy prepared items, like the many tasty items that can be found at Trader Joe's are quite convenient.

I picked up a container of "fresh" (aka not dried and in the refrigerated section) butternut squash ravioli that was in triangle shapes making it a triangoli!  Wow!  I love butternut squash so was very excited to try this product.  Though I didn't know what sauce to use...  when I Googled, I found that most of the time butternut squash ravioli is served with brown butter sage sauce.  While that sounded delicious I wanted something a little less... buttery/creamy.  So I searched for a vegan recipe knowing that would be without both of those items and I could modify however I wanted.  I came across a great, simple recipe for mushroom and walnut broth from .

It was an amazing broth, and I added butter instead of vegan butter, making a really nice sauce.  In fact, the brothy sauce was the best part. I didn't read the whole ingredient list on the butternut squash until after I started eating.  The butternut squash ravioli, which usually tend to be a little sweet due to the sweetness of the squash, was way too sweet.  They tasted like a Dutch letter.   Which was weird, especially with the awesome savory mushroom broth.  When I checked the ingredients I found that they included some sort of amaretti cookies in the squash filling.  Here is a product review from Trader Joe's fan and blogger What's Good at Trader Joe'  for more information.

All in all, it was an ok meal, but I definitely would not get the ravioli again.  I would love to try this broth again with a savory pasta because it was perfectly delicious without being too heavy. I'm glad I now know how to make such a quick and easy, savory, non cream sauce for pasta.  The sauce was the winner in this dinner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Weekly Menu

What's for dinner this week?  Nothing too fancy, but at least I have some plans.

vegetable stir fry with home-made sauce*
     *sauce consists of me putting dashes and spoonfuls of  stuff in a bowl until it tastes good.  ingredients include:  soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, red curry paste, Siracha and cashews.  Start slow and taste as you go.  You can always add more fish sauce but once you add too much you can't take it out!

frittata with potatoes and leeks

black bean soup!!!!!
I have been putting heaping spoonfuls of wild rice in my individual servings of this sauce to make it even better.

pork chops with cauliflower/potato puree   (this will be an experiment)

turkey, pesto panini with sweet potato fries

Have a delicious week.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taco Pizza

Side note: for those of you wondering where the weekly menu went, I had to take a break! Perhaps it will return.

My husband loves taco pizza.  If you are not from Iowa, you might be wondering, WHAT IS TACO PIZZA?  It is a delicious pizza that combines the ingredients of a taco  (plus crushed Doritos!) on a pizza crust and is usually found at Casey's General Store or Happy Joe's Pizza.  For his birthday last year I made a homemade taco pizza and am reprising that again this year.


1 pizza dough, store bought or home made.

toppings as desired:
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 T homemade taco seasoning
shredded ice berg lettuce
chopped tomatoes
shredded "taco" cheese blend
chopped onions
refried black beans (I don't know if this is a figment of my imagination but I swear this is a real taco pizza topping, but Ryan tends to disagree.  However, we both find it delicious).
jarred "taco sauce"
sour cream
crushed Doritos chips

Brown and season the meat with the taco seasoning.
Roll out and pre-bake the crust for about 5 minutes. at 450 degrees.
Cover with toppings (hold off on the lettuce and Doritos, they will both get gross and soggy) in any order that looks good to you.
Bake until cheese is melty crust starts to brown. Then top with crushed Doritos and lettuce.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New York Eats

I recently took a trip to New York City.  I lived there from 2003-2008 and was able to revisit some old favorite  places while discovering more.  I've heard people say that one could dine out every night of the week and still never experience all that the NYC food world has to offer.  It's ever changing and I know I've barely even scratched the surface.  Here are some places I recently enjoyed again or for the first time on my trip...

The City Bakery...  A famous Union Square/Flat Iron bakery. I used to work there and eat their $3 dollar cookies for free every day.  I stumbled upon one of their smaller Birdbath branches and I had to get a giant chocolate chip cookie!

We explored the new High Line park and found this open market with all kinds of food stalls from local artisan food shops.  We tried rice balls, empanadas and mini canoli from 3 different places.  There were many more to chose from including gourmet hot dogs, chocolates, ice creams, homemade sodas.... wow.  I was impressed by this new edition.  I would love to see something like this in DSM!  Many of these vendors were also found at a flea/food market in Williamsburg.

When in New York, if you want an authentic cultural experience on so many levels try Golden Unicorn for Dim Sum.  The endless pots of green tea and carts of steaming dumplings that usually contain pork or shrimp, being wheeled around you is an amazing and delicious experience.

Rubirosa is a modern Italian and Pizza restaurant with delicious cocktails!!!  Split a pizza with your friends, if they are kind enough to share.  :)  And a gluten-free menu for your GF friends.

I am only mentioning the Hungarian Pastry Shop because of the neighborhood it's in.  My old 'hood!  Their food is nothing to write home about as far as I'm concerned, standard NY bakery cookies (Am I missing the Hungarian pastries?), but the ambiance is dark and noisy and interesting.  The coffee shop is across from one of the most amazing cathedrals I have ever seen. It sits across the street from St. John the Divine and is worth the trip up town... have a coffee, a cookie and use the bathroom (full of pseudo-intellectual graffiti) at the Pastry Shop.  Gawk at the Columbia students reading.

I've mentioned this before, but this place is not to be missed...  Bombay Frankie Roti Roll.  Best described as an Indian burrito, it's the best thing ever.

And another old favorite... Market Cafe.  Your friends will find you so savvy when you take them to this gem that still seems to be a best kept secret.  Jordan and I recreated the scallops, potato flatbread and deserts this summer that were favorites of ours when she worked there and got free food (you have to love that early 20's free food situation that comes with restaurant jobs!!)  The fries are also good.  They've added some new cocktails to their menu ad I highly recommend the cucumber gimlet.

I ended my vacation with a trip to a new Queens establishment owned by a former co-worker.  The Queens Kickshaw is conveniently located about a $12 cab ride from La Guardia so I camped out there for a few hours before hailing a taxi on my last day in the City.  Jen gave us the royal treatment with a complimentary basket of knishes.. and a couple of deserts.  (THANKS JEN!) And I had some delicious homemade tomato soup while Ryan tried the grilled gouda sandwich.  Everything there is homemade and real... the decor is repurposed modern.  It's a dreamy little spot for a DIY lover like me.  I enjoyed my time there, enjoyment increased 200% by reunions with old friends.  I would love to go back ASAP.

Oh and there are so many places I didn't even get to!

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is eat and New York is the best place to do it!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Menu

This week I was inspired by the cold temperatures that's are starting to be more normal than just a random occurrence.  The menu consists mostly of Fall and Winter comfort-food favorites from the binder of recipes.

The triumphant return of my favorite Black Bean soup!  so many people I talked to read and tried this recipe last year!  I can't wait to taste it again.  With corn bread on the side.

Spicy Sloppy Joes

Baked salmon with wild rice and frozen peas
I use frozen salmon, take it out of the freezer in the morning and it's good to go in the evening.
I will season it with grated ginger (about 2 teaspoons), soy sauce and olive oil (just a drizzle of each on each salmon piece).
Bake at 400 for roughly 20 minutes

Vegetable and quinoa bowl:  broccoli, frozen peas, onions, carrots and peppers-- perhaps some warm spices like cumin and cayenne!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekly Menu: The first week of October!

Leaves are changing and the weather is getting slightly cooler.  Squash by the truckload are showing up  at farmer's markets and at the groceries...  My neighbors brought a cute bucket of pears over from their tree!

Here's the weekly menu for the first week of October (can you believe it?!) Happy Fall!

crock pot pulled pork... for tacos and leftovers for sandwiches.  still need a recipe for this one, do you have any suggestions?

roasted spaghetti squash with salad

roasted beet salad

pizza with mozzarella, tomato, basil and mushrooms.

homemade pizza sauce (have I ever shared this before?):
1 can crushed tomatoes
1-2 cloves garlic
1/4 C chopped onion
1 T red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
other seasoning such as basil, oregano, etc.
olive oil

heat olive oil over medium heat, add onions and garlic, cook for about two minutes.
add tomatoes and seasoning(s).
cover and let simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes.
this recipe freezes well for your next batch of pizza if you don't use it all!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Squash Soup Experiment Continues!

Shout out to my Mom for bringing me a nice butternut squash!

This is Butternut with a butternut.  Do you know how hard it is to pose your cat with a vegetable?!

Here is another, very slightly different (mainly different in technique with a few more details than the previous) recipe, for squash soup.
1 Butternut squash, halved, peeled and seasoned with olive oil and about 2 T garam masala and roasted at 425 for about 30-45 minutes.

1 large clove garlic, roasted (leave it in its skin and place on roasting pan with squash for about 20 minutes).

1 carrot
1 onion
1 potato
carrot, onion and potato diced (carrots and onions unpeeled).

1 T olive oil
1 T butter

1 T curry powder
1 t cayenne
1 t cardamom
1 t ginger powder

4-6 cups veggie broth

roast the squash.
with about 15 minutes left on the squash, cook onions, potato, carrot in butter and oil over medium high  in a big soup pot, cook until onions are soft.  this smells SO GOOD!
remove the squash from the oven and cut it into chunks.  add to pot with seasonings, roasted garlic and about 1 C of the veggie broth.

Let sit covered for 5 minutes on medium heat.

Add more broth and let simmer, covered for 15 minutes.

Blend with immersion blender.  Remember, blend and add more or less broth depending on your preference to how thick or soupy you like.

P.S. I know not everyone (including me!) has 2 hours to spend making soup.  But, when I need to do something that isn't school related, and need some "me" time in the kitchen, this is what I do.  Roast the squash the day prior to save time, or just cook the squash in the soup pot to save time.  Whatever you do, if you do make this recipe, make it your own!  That's my favorite part of cooking.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Weekly Menu

With a special out of town visitor (potential cooking adventures there... it's CARA!), a ladies night planned, and a husband in tech week for a local theatre production, and general craziness this week's menu includes... LEFTOVERS and flexibility! I didn't want to plan too much in case Cara and I do some fun cooking.  Sometimes you have to plan to have no plan!  Have a great week everyone.

Butternut squash soup (recipe coming Tuesday).

Leftover Thai if Ryan doesn't eat it for lunch!! (drunken noodles and ginger chicken from Thai Flavors)

Leftover pasta salad from last week.

Frittata or maybe a quiche if I can find time to make the crust recipe my friend Faith sent me...

P.S. I got a nice bag of garlic from New City Market.  I have been consistently underwhelmed by the garlic selection at Hy-Vee and Dahl's.  Lots of tiny cloves hidden in the core and dry brittle, like it's been on the shelf forever.   New City had a pound bag of garlic for $6.

look at this perfect, beautiful garlic!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Annual Fall Squash Soup Experiment

Yes, it's finally a little chilly in the air and Fall is showing its signs.  That means, of course, squash soup.  I bought a kind of squash at the farmer's market that I'd never cooked with before:

what kind of squash is this?

The soup was delicious, warm, spicy not spicy hot but spicy from the garam masala and smooth! Serve with a side of roasted beet salad!

Here's how I made it!

1 squash -- (Honestly, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my squash when I started cutting it up.  I decided to roast it, and cut it into long slices.  This was a mistake, it was really hard to get the squash flesh off the blazing hot squash rind and into the pot!  If you are going to roast your squash, just cut it in half, then roast, then scoop.  Or, you can peel it prior, cube it, then roast it. Or!  Just peel it, cube it and skip roasting. Add it to the pot with the potato, carrot and onion)

I roasted my squash at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, with about 2T garam masala, salt and pepper and olive oil.

1 potato, diced.
1 carrot, diced.
1 onion, diced.

1 T olive oil
1 T butter

4-6 C vegetable broth, depending how thick you like your soup!
1 T curry powder
1 T ground ginger (I didn't have real ginger, but I'd rather use the real thing!!)
1 t cayenne
2 cloves garlic, roasted if you're already roasting, minced otherwise.

heat oil and butter in large pot.  add potato, carrot, and onion. sautee on medium heat, stirring often.  veggies should soften and become deliciously fragrant and caramelized a little.

while the veggies are working, prepare squash  then add squash (in my case, this involved me cutting the rind off and adding it to the pot, if I could go back, I'd just scoop the roasted squash out of the rind into the pot).
add garlic and seasonings.
add broth.

let simmer for 20 minutes, then blend with immersion blender.  slowly add more broth if you like it soupier, remember you can always add more, but you can't easily take it out!

garnish with cilantro, and sour cream!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekly Menu! September 17-23

Whew! Here it is.  The state of this weekly menu reflects the state of my mind as school is keeping me SO busy right now.  I like being busy, but WOAH.  I still need to eat!  Who knows if any of these plans will actually take place, a few of last week's did not.

Here's a Kitchen Table Friend confession:  I have been lacking inspiration a little lately which bums me out, so any suggestions or words or encouragement are welcome, friends!!

As I write this, Ryan is making a delicious meal for us:

pineapple, cashew fried rice with chicken and thai coconut shrimp soup!  It smells very good.

tomorrow I'll make:  pork chops with a tortellini salad (I was inspired by the recipe I posted last week, but when it came down to making it I went on my own...)

combine in a bowl:
1 package tortellini, cooked to package directions
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
about a pint of grape tomatoes, halved
chopped red onion or green onion or both!
sliced kalamata olived
spinach, chopped
basalmic dressing

and the plan for the rest of the week...

the famous fish tacos!!

 a roasted beets, goat cheese, walnuts and wild rice salad with spinach  (I've been waiting for time to roast these beets for over a week now.. more importantly I want to eat them!!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Weekly Menu: September 8-15

Woah! It's the 3rd week of school and I am already busy! Not to mention some interesting home projects underway.  Don't worry, we are still eating well in Des Moines... and now that I have already made one of the dishes, you get  a little more information about it!  Win win, readers.

This menu is driven by a trip I took to the farmer's market on Saturday morning. I woke up early and decided to head out before it got crazy.

Thai red curry inspired by these amazing long beans I picked up at the farmer's market for $1.

 Yes I used a prepared curry base.  It didn't seem to have any scary ingredients in it.  Taste and add more curry paste as needed. The recipe I found on the product website said 1 Tablespoon, I used a total of about 4.  Oh, and I was out of normal white or brown rice so I dipped into my special reserve of red rice I brought back from France.  It made this dish even more special!

Also on the weekly menu:

dinner with friends:  eggplant parmesan (I'll be making this for the first time!) Using Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything (I cannot find a good link for that right now). Side dish of okra from the market...

homemade pizza

roasted beet and goat cheese salad! I am very excited for beets again... haven't had them in months.

black beans, rice burritos

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Easy Heirloom Tomato Recipe Ideas

Tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes.

I'm loving all the colorful late summer heirloom tomatoes on display at the farmers market.

I fill a bag with one of each color and leave them to ripen on the windowsill throughout the week.

They are so much more flavorful than those hard little pale red tomatoes you can buy at the grocery store year round. I hardly think they should be allowed to share the same name.


These tomatoes are just so good.

My favorite summer tomato recipe:

Slice tomato into thick slices. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Eat with a knife and fork. Or maybe just your hands.

Garden Tomato Salad: Slice tomato into thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on your plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with freshly torn basil leaves and grated parmesan cheese.

B.L.A.T. (bacon lettuce avocado tomato): My spin on the classic BLT. Stack your toasted bread with mashed avocado, bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Caprese: An open faced sandwich, drizzle a toasty slice of bread with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Top with a tomato slices, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves.

Pesto & Tomato Flatbread: Roll your pizza dough extra thin onto a greased rectangular, rimmed baking sheet. Spread a generous amount of basil pesto over the dough. Top with thickly sliced tomatoes. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

If I think of more ways to enjoy the last of all of these summer tomatoes I'll post them here.

How do you like your tomatoes?

Weekly Menu: First Week of September

I survived the first week of school.  I realized that during the many getting to know you, introduce yourself activities that I participated in during those first days of class, I always introduced myself by mentioning something about food.

What is a great book you read this summer?  The Sharper your Knife, the Less You Cry
What do you like to read? Cooking Memoirs and Food magazines.
I made a coat of arms, on which in the "something I am good at" section, I drew my beloved chef's knife, a tomato, a pepper mill and a skillet.
What was a highlight of your summer break?  Cooking in a professional kitchen.

If you read the "about us" section on this blog you'll notice that I stated that I don't like the term foodie.  To me, it sounds pretentious. .  I like the experience of making and of course eating it. Some people are really into golf, or star wars or flower gardening.   I really like all aspects of food.  So fine, you can call me a foodie if you want to... or maybe a gourmande...

Now that's out of the way, here's the weekly menu:

tortellini pasta salad with zucchini fries

sausage and pepper empanadas* (we are on an empanada kick!!) with salad

squash, quinoa and walnut salad

frittata with spinach, tomatoes and cheese

lentil salad with baked fish

* I have a note that says "make extra empanadas"!  They are nice to take for quick lunches, or even heat up for a hearty snack.

I bought an eggplant for experimentation.  I'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but am coming around to liking it... so hopefully I will have time to do something with that! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012


About a month ago, I actually found it.  A FOOD DEHYDRATOR!!!  It was $6 at a Salvation Army in the Iowa City area.  I regret that I didn't celebrate sufficiently by running through the streets with my "As Seen on TV" American Harvester Snackmaster food dehydrator from the 1990's.  But I was pretty excited to find it.  Sadly, I didn't get a chance to experiment with it until Friday night.

We have a little tree in our front yard that we thought was dead the whole time we've lived in the house. Until this summer.  It started to grow tiny fuzzy bulbs... that turned into hard yellowish orbs that when we cut them open revealed a stone inside...  they eventually turned into peaches!  Tiny little peaches!!

The peaches are a pretty addition to our front yard.

Ryan has been  keeping an eye on them and periodically tasting them.  Friday night he realized they were really sweet and tasty and promptly picked several.  Not sure exactly what we'd do with another stash of peaches (our neighbor who also has a peach tree had just brought a beautiful basket of large peaches the week prior... which we are still eating!) I suggested we try them in the dehydrator!! Perfect for experimenting since we had nothing to lose, the peaches were plentiful and free!

It whirrrrrrrs like a fan when it's on. 
We cut them up into quarters, set them in the trays at 135 degrees and turned it on.  The next morning we had dehydrated peaches.  They are slightly chewy and not as sweet, but for free peaches from a tree we thought to be dead, it was a pretty cool experiment! I look forward to trying more food dehydration adventures... including homemade fruit rollups and possibly corn tortilla chips.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School Menu

I go back to school today.  That means I need to be more organized when it comes to cooking ad eating.  It's been a blissful summer of cooking on a whim with local or garden ingredients.  However, I won't have that luxury when I have school work looming (which I'm very excited to get back to BTW!).  So here it is... a weekly menu!!

I flipped through the growing pile of food magazines on the coffee table and this is what I came up with. Yum!

gnocchi with pesto, tomatoes and bacon  and green beans

black bean and wild rice burritos

pesto chicken burgers (from Martha Stewart Everyday Food issue 94)  and corn salad with red onion and tomatoes (from bon appetit magazine)


grilled pork and mushroom skewers with basil sauce (from Weber's grilling book) and a salad

 Have a great and tasty week!! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Creamy Coconut Barley with Peaches and Cardamom

Yipes! Its been such a busy summer for me, photographing weddings and people and my cat, and going to the beach and having visitors and getting outdoors as much as I can!

I promise, I have been cooking, and enjoy the bounty of summer produce. But if I have a free minute I'm usually lingering over heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella on the deck, not blogging about it at my computer!

But here's a delicious breakfast I've been enjoying this week with fresh peaches. Its so good. Healthy and satisfying.

Creamy Coconut Breakfast Barley with Peaches and Cardamom
serves 2

1/2 cup pearled barley
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 peach
2 teaspoons coconut oil
a pinch of cardamom
agave syrup to taste

Rinse the barley in a fine mesh sieve. Cook in a small pot with the water, lid slightly ajar for 25 minutes or until water is absorbed and barley is soft. 

While barley is cooking, heat the coconut oil over low heat in a small heavy-bottomed pan. Slice the peach and saute in the coconut oil with a pinch or two of cardamom, until edges being to slightly brown.

Combine the cooked barley with the coconut milk and enough water to make it blendable with your handstick blender (or in your regular blender - with lid slightly ajar to let steam out while blending!). Barley cereal should be nice and creamy when done, but not too runny.

Pour the barley into two bowls add splash of milk, top with sauteed peaches and a drizzle of agave syrup.

Summer Cooking: "I'm Craving a Burger"

WHAT?!  Yes, I was craving a burger.  It's the end of summer and this just can't commit vegetarian wannabe hadn't eaten a single burger from the grill. So last night was the night.  And by burger, I meant turkey burger.

Turkey Burger
(based on the seasonings from this recipe)

1 lb. ground turkey
1 t dried or fresh parsley
1/2 small onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1-2 t cayenne pepper (adjust to your desired level of spice!)
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
salt and pepper

finely mince the onion and garlic in a food processor. 
mix meat, onion, garlic and seasonings together with your hands.
form into 4 to 6 patties.
suggested toppings:  plain yogurt mixed with cucumber and dill, garlic mayo, feta cheese... These are my preferred toppings for this burger but since we had none of these around it was plain mayo, pepper jack cheese and veggies. 

I also made some "fries" to grill.

1/4-1/2 lb. potatoes, chopped into small bite size pieces
2 t paprika
1 t cumin
1 t coriander seeds
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil (probably 1 T)
aluminum foil

spray foil with oil.
toss potatoes with oil and seasonings.
wrap in foil packet.

Goes well with a craft brew! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Cooking: BLTs

I don't think I have to give you the recipe for this one... but thought a couple of nice photos would be fitting for a Summer blog post.  After the first taste of one of these crunchy, squishy bacon-y sandwiches, it appears on the Summer dinner table over and over again.  Viva la BLT!  

toasted wheat bread. sliced tomato. crisp lettuce. crispy bacon. mayo!

it MUST be cut on the diagonal. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Cooking: Grown Up Ice Cream Sandwihes

I love ice cream sandwiches, the plain old chocolate wafer and vanilla ice cream are one of my favorite  summertime treats.  But, with a bunch of peach ice cream in the freezer, it was time to get creative.  I was thinking the other day that a delicious cinammon and oatmeal cookie would make a good sandwich for that peach ice cream.  Yes, I fantasize and dream about food on a regular basis.  However it's been too hot to bake so my cookie plans were pushed to the back of my mind.  Then, Bon Appetit posted a delicious looking photo gallery of gourmet DIY ice cream sandwich recipes

My mouth watered just looking at the photos.  It had to happen.  I prefer and welcome the challenge to make things homemade when I can, but instead of heating up the house to bake cookies, I headed to my favorite locally owned grocery, Gateway Market.  They have a nice selection of baked goods including super delicious big cookies. I picked out the last two ginger cookies and Ryan opted for a cinammon cookie known as snickerdoodle (what a silly name!  even for a cookie!!). 

Here's how I constructed my grown up ice cream sandwiches. 

First I set out the ice cream so that it would soften up just a bit.
Then, using a mason jar, as a cookie cutter, I made cookie circles and saved the edges for later!

I placed the cookies flat side up and topped one side with a scoop of peach ice cream.

I then put the second cookie on top of the ice cream and gave it a little squish. 

I wrapped them up and placed them back in the freezer, hoping they'd firm up. After about 45 minutes, Ryan and I unwrapped and bit into our ice cream sandwiches. 

The dense, chewy cookies, now a bit cold, made for a very messy sandwich.  I had to handle it a little differently than the traditional thin chocolate wafer variety,  but the mess was well worth it for a Tuesday evening treat.

What is your favorite summertime treat? 

Have a great day! 

Monday, July 30, 2012


Peaches are my favorite fruit.  Over my birthday weekend, my husband and I took a road trip to a pick-your-own orchard to pick peaches.  The plan was to get enough peaches to make some jam (a hobby of ours... that oddly enough I haven't written about here yet), some deserts, and just have fresh peaches around to eat.  We love the fun of picking the fruit straight from the farm, where we know exactly where it came from.  A rare phenomenon these days. 

We set out early to make the scenic drive to St. Joseph Missouri.  There weren't any closer orchards that had peaches ready to pick.  We ended up at Schweizer Orchards in the near 100 degree heat in the early afternoon.  Pick-your-own peaches were $1.19 per pound and we planned to pick about 12 pounds.  When we got to the rows and rows of peach trees, we noticed that the air smelled sweetly of peaches.  It was incredible.  Rows were kindly marked with the name of the variety of peaches  and noted with blue ribbons if they were ready for picking. We began to survey the trees and feared that they had already been picked over for the day.  The ripe peaches were few and far between... or too high for us to reach.  Sooner or later we began to fill up our baskets with a few good peaches.  It was hard to resist, so we shared a sun warmed, perfectly ripe peach.  Wow.

After trying a few more rows, we got into the groove and found trees that hadn't been picked much at all.  Ryan developed a method for shaking the branches gently and when peaches began to tumble off, that meant they were ripe.  Though we had to be careful not to mix ours up with the peaches that had fallen to the ground.  There were so many!!  After a sweaty hour we realized that we had filled at least 4 baskets to overflowing and that we should stop... even though we were having fun.  All told, we left he farm with roughly 30 pounds of delicious peaches. 

our peach haul laid out on the table that evening

We made two dozen jars of peach jam... plain delicious peach, honey-peach, and my favorite ginger peach. 

We made this amazing peach cobbler.  And peach ice cream (ridiculously good).

We even mixed the peaches with bacon for this salad (it was so good it was gone before I got a picture).

Just before I sat down to write this, I salvaged the remainder of the peaches (it's been a week since they were picked... some were in bad shape) and sliced them for freezing. 

The day was a wonderful way to spend part of my birthday.  Whether you are going to get bushels of fruit for recipes or just want the experience of seeing fruit in its natural habitat, I highly recommending going to a pick-your-own farm.  Because you are providing the labor, the fruit is generally a lot cheaper than pre-picked fruits from a farmers' market and definitely cheaper than the supermarket.  Find more information about pick your own farms and orchards here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seasonal Summer Cooking: Sweet Corn!

It's finally here.  Iowa Sweet Corn!  A few ears may be found early in the summer, but a sure sign that sweet corn is in its prime are the appearance of roadside stands and mountains of the beautiful ears in supermarkets.  Sweet corn is an Iowa icon... and from now until the end of sweet corn season, it will be eaten several times a week.  You better believe that when I get a good chunk of time, I'll buy an embarrassingly large quantity of corn to stash in the freezer!

A delicious, local summer traditional treat!! 

But what will I do with this mountain of corn?

While corn is great on its own as a side or a main dish ( and if its really good and fresh it doesn't even need butter or salt!) last night I used corn to dress up pasta dish.

1/2 box whole wheat spaghetti
2 cups corn kernels
2 or 3 strips of bacon
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons fresh basil pesto
parmesan cheese

bring a large pot of water to boil.
meanwhile, cut the kernels off corncobs. (2 or 3 should make 2 cups)
cook the bacon in a skillet until brown, set aside on paper towels to drain.
wipe most of the bacon grease from the skillet, saving a very small amount in the pan for cooking in the next step.
hopefully your water will be boiling at this time.  add pasta.
while pasta cooks, grate or mince the garlic.
heat the skillet to medium and add corn and garlic.
chop the bacon into small pieces.
when pasta is finished, drain and bring pack to pot.
add corn and garlic mixture, bacon and the pesto.  mix well.
serve with generous amount of grated parmesan cheeese.

if you have extra corn, throw some in your side salad with fresh summer tomatoes!