Bake me a cake

So, I’m a terrible baker. I mean, it’s probably for the best, because if I loved baking I’d be in real trouble. But you know, it’s the holiday season and I’ve been in this weird domestic mood lately. So I’m baking.

I have big plans for my baked goods. I am not that much of a dessert person, I enjoy it but it’s not the highlight of a meal for me or anything. But I love cake balls. Maybe it’s the intrigue. Maybe it’s the adorable packaging. Maybe it’s that they are virtually the only interesting thing I know how to bake…and they come from a box but don’t seem like they come from a box. So I have all these plans for cake balls, and maybe some chocolate chip cookies, and all these plans are making me exceedingly guilty. Carbs and I seem to have rekindled our love affair in the worst way, but like any abusive relationship, I know this is just a honeymoon phase until the next time I weigh myself.

To counteract…or maybe mitigate is a better word…all this completely indulgent baking, I decided to try something healthy as well.

Banana Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cake

Continue reading “Bake me a cake”

Picnic Food in the Wintertime…

Hello! It’s been a while since I posted. But that doesn’t mean I have fallen off the wagon, I’ve just been busy! In fact things have been going very well on the health front. I am hoping to post more about that soon.

In the meantime, I have a much less important success story to tell. I have been trying for literally months to make a successful black bean burger. Okay, this was only my third or fourth attempt, but none of them were really up to par until now. I had several goals for these black bean burgers, and you wouldn’t think any of them would be particularly hard to meet and yet, these elements have been elusive.

First, the burgers needed to stick together, like burgers are supposed to do. Second they needed to be healthy. It would have been a lot easier with eggs, cheese and flour but I was really trying to keep it strict. Third, despite the restrictions, they needed to taste good, obviously!

Vegan Black Bean Burger with Avocado Cream
Vegan Black Bean Burger with Avocado Cream

Continue reading “Picnic Food in the Wintertime…”

Pumpkin Up the Jams

Wow. I am so sorry about that title. But what can you do, it’s the fever talking. Yep. Still sick. Don’t worry, I’m on the mend. I have decreed it. I’ve given my body more than a week to get this shenanigans out of its system and now I’m ready for us all to move on. I’d like my lungs back, please.

The most annoying thing about being sick is that my grand plans for this month were totally neglected. Working out was a total bust, since I could only breathe for roughly half the days since Halloween. And creative cooking was just not plausible in my addled state. But sometimes we just have to muddle through.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

Literally all month I’ve had this grandiose idea for pumpkin pie baked into a cored apple, a technique that you’re likely familiar with if you’ve looked at Pinterest ever in your life. I planned on taking it to a birthday party I helped plan for one of my BFFs on Saturday. But then Saturday came around and I slept through all of the hours I was supposed to be baking.

So, I considered my ingredients, started on a contingency plan, realized I didn’t have time for that either, and in the end accidentally created this very delicious (diet-friendly) Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip. Continue reading “Pumpkin Up the Jams”

Lentil Soup for the Soul

Well, I’m sick. It never fails, every year I deal with minor seasonal allergies on and off throughout the fall and then boom, Thanksgiving gets here and I get bronchitis or pneumonia or the plague (or whatever). Hopefully this year it won’t be that bad. Usually in the past I’ve been travelling for Thanksgiving, or I was busy with school, or both, so I always blamed my annual illness on stress. This year I’m not in school or travelling, so I’m really hoping it doesn’t get any worse. So far, I’m not so sick that I can’t function, but I’m still sick enough that all I really want in life is a big bowl of soup and my mommy.

Luckily, two nights ago I made a really great Lentil Curry Soup, which turned out to be even better this afternoon when I reheated it. I think my body predicted this illness and so it encouraged my brain to make a huge batch of soup ahead of time. That’s totally plausible, right?

Lentil Curry Soup

Continue reading “Lentil Soup for the Soul”

Fairy Tale Breakfast Foods

Ahh the elusive day off. Is there anything in the world better than a day of no earthly responsibilities after a too-long work bender? After working 11 straight days, including about 35 hours just this past weekend, I had huge aspirations for my day off. I was going to stay in bed at least until the p.m. hours, and then watch 8 to 10 hours of TV on DVD. Sadly, my body was not really into that idea and I woke up at 9, feeling like I had an overwork hangover.

I stayed in bed a little longer, checking social media, election polls, online gossip magazines–basically the entire Internet, but really, lounging in bed until mid-afternoon just was not as appealing in practice as it was in my head. Not to mention I was starving. So, I got up to scavenge the kitchen for food, which was a little tricky because groceries were pretty sparse.

The best thing about taking a day of rest and actually planning on wasting the whole day is that if a project ends up being way longer than I want it to, who cares? I’m just getting a little behind in my schedule of nothing. Oh man, breakfast took an hour to make? That only gives me two hours to sit around listening to music and playing Spider Solitaire until I need to start marathoning tv shows instead. It’s gonna be tight, but I think I can still squeeze everything in!

So I was looking through the fridge, determined to find something satisfying that wouldn’t require putting real pants on leaving the house. Also, since it was my day off I wanted something kind of extravagant. We’re not talking eggs benedict or a full Irish breakfast, but just something more satisfying than a glass of grapefruit juice and a banana.

Blueberry Almond Porridge

During the fridge hunt, I found several fruits and vegetables that are, to me, more later day foods. Why is it we’re programmed to associate certain foods with certain times a day? If an apple is too heavy for breakfast why would anyone ever want a pancake?

The only “breakfast fruit” I found were some blueberries that needed to be used asap. They looked like they must’ve been on their last good, mold-free day. But since I wanted something more than raw fruit, I reserved the blueberries and took to the pantry. I found a box of steel cut oats, which I had tried in something else a couple months ago. I remembered liking them the other time I tried them, but I didn’t remember anything else about them.

So to jog my memory, I read the box, which informed me the best method for making steel cut oats is to make a porridge!

Seriously, I thought porridge was not a real food but just something they talk about eating in little kids’ stories. Next you’re going to tell me that curds & whey is a real thing too.

Without even knowing really how it would turn out, I felt like porridge was exactly what I was looking for. Something warm and bold and vaguely rustic. The perfect thing for a cool autumnal day where you refuse to wash your hair and intend to stay under a blanket forever.

To be honest, I’m still not positive this was actually “porridge” or if there is a difference between porridge and steel cut oatmeal, but whatever it was, it was delicious.*

*Okay so based on a Google images search I might have overcooked this, but my instructions are for legit porridge. Promise!

Blueberry Almond Porridge

Serves: 3-4. Prep Time: <;5 minutes. Cook Time: approx 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Dry Steel Cut Oats
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 2 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Raw Sliced Almonds
  • Dash Salt
  • 1 Cup Blueberries, washed
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Stevia (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 Tablespoons Chia Seeds

In a medium saucepan, add water & milk and bring to boil. NOTE: I recommend doing this on the notch below high heat because I learned the hard way that almond milk is a very um, needy boiler.
While the liquid is coming to boil, combine honey, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and stevia, stir until the spices are blended in, and set aside.
Once the milk and water are boiling, add the oats and almonds. Continue boiling the oats (and almonds) until they don’t look like little pebbles and start to look more fluffy. Expect this to take about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently while this is happening to avoid a) the oats sticking to the bottom of the pot and b) the liquid running over.
Once the oats seem thicker and softer, add in the blueberries and sweetening mixture. I poured the blueberries into the pot in a big lump and then poured the sweetener directly on top of them before mixing everything in with the oats.

Turn the heat down to low, and let everything simmer 25-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. At about the 20 minute mark of simmering, stir in the chia seeds. Make sure to mix until they are evenly distributed.
Now that I’m thinking about it, and writing this all out, it’s really a matter of preference how liquid-y you want your porridge to be. I let mine simmer for a full half hour, but next time I will probably take it off the burner five minutes earlier so it’s creamier. Then again, it was super tasty the way I made it so maybe it doesn’t matter that much. Just don’t forget to keep stirring regularly.

Feel free to add some honey, syrup or brown sugar to it once you’ve served it. I totally did (1 teaspoon honey).

I really enjoyed this porridge. Hot cereal with fruit has become one of my favorite brunch-hour items. I’ve read reviews where people don’t like steel cut oats because they are too hard or chewy. I think for a lot of people it’s one of those things where they eat them because they are trendy amongst the healthy-eating crowd. But I liked them a lot. I think this slow boil-to-simmer technique (and using milk instead of just water) really helped soften them up. I like that they are a more substantive food than regular oatmeal. A little tiny bit of chewing never hurt anyone. Unless you’re being eaten by a predator, I guess. Back to the recipe, adding the vanilla really brought out both the almond and the blueberry flavor.

Plus, it is really very clean and diet-friendly. The whole thing is about 290 calories, with 9 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein (for about 3/4 of a cup after it’s finished). All the protein and fiber make it very satisfying. (Other than a banana it was the only thing I ate until dinner.) It helps that it is very flavorful so it was a nice thing to take my time with. Like I said, it’s perfect for a lazy, leisurely day off kind of day.

It’s nice too that even though it takes a while, it also takes very little effort. I am definitely going to keep this one around for later occasions.

-lj

It’s the Great Pumpkin

Three posts in one week! Can you tell I’m procrastinating on my actual work?

Working from home has both costs and benefits. The benefits are that I can wear sweatpants whenever I want and if I want to run errands or workout (or write a blog post) in the middle of the day and work in the evenings, that is totally fine as long as I meet my deadlines. The costs are that I am always near the kitchen and there is endless opportunity for distraction.

One of those distractions this week was pumpkin carving! It’s Halloween and for the first time in a long time I live in a neighborhood with kids around so I thought it’d be nice to be a tiny bit festive. So, I braved the residual wind and awfulness we are getting from Sandy in search of a pumpkin. Sadly, it turns out when you wait until October 30 to buy your pumpkin, there are not a lot of options left, which meant the one I found was smaller than I’d hoped. But, on the bright side the lovely but disgruntled Target employee at checkout didn’t bother to weigh mine, so I got it for about 80% off asking price. Bonus!

When I got it home I sketched out some different design ideas and finally settled on one of the easier ones. But apparently pumpkin carving is a much more involved process than I thought it was. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in like two decades, and back then I’m pretty sure my mom did all the prep stuff for me. (This time she refused.)

Pumpkin Night Light

When I was done carving I was very pleased with myself for making such a cute (or at least not-terrible) pumpkin, and so was still in a creative mood. I looked to the mess of pumpkin guts still laying on a cutting mat on the table, and it occurred to me that just tossing all of it would be super wasteful. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I started by at least cleaning it up. I took a fork and combed all of the seeds out of the pulp.

I wanted to use both the seeds and the pulp but there was not very much of the latter. Or at least it didn’t look like much to me. The seeds, however, looked relatively ripe and plentiful. So I washed them off a bit and laid them out flat on a plate to dry while I finally got back to work figured out what to do with them.

Deciding what to do with them was sort of a process. At first I had some really grand ideas for using them as an ingredient in a couple of different elaborate autumnal dinner entrees, but I am pretty busy this week (despite contrary evidence) so I set those ideas aside for another time. I also wanted to make sure the pumpkin seeds were actually featured in whatever I was going to make, since the whole point is that I personally culled them from this fresh pumpkin. Just adding them as a garnish to my salad was not a good enough showcase.

Then I thought about making a trail mix. I love trail mix. I have a bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge and thought about learning how to make craisins, but again, I’m busy and this is supposed to be about the pumpkin seeds. I needed to shift focus. Finally, I accepted Occam’s culinary razor, and decided to roast them.

Plain old roasting is boring though. Definitely not worth an entire blog entry, nor all the consideration I had already given them. So I had to at least spice them up a bit.

I generally am more in favor of salty snacks than sweet ones. But I kind of wanted to keep the pumpkin-y thing going and use pumpkin spice flavors. Which led to the decision to just do both! Why not? Cinnamon and cayenne are both great detoxifiers and have been used together in the past, in molé for instance. Not that I know how to make that. Basically, in this recipe I added a bajillion different flavors and just hoped for the best.

I will admit that if you are really trying to watch your sugar then these should be a rare indulgence rather than a regular treat, but in comparison to all the processed Halloween candy and baked goods floating around this time of year, these Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds are certainly a healthier option.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Now, I have never “candied” anything before. If you happen to be a gourmet chef, culinary school student or otherwise very in tuned to cooking vocabulary, then maybe these are not candied per se. But who cares, they are freaking delicious.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

My pumpkin yielded almost exactly 1+1/2 cups of uncooked seeds, which is almost exactly 1 cup of cooked seeds. A serving size is 1/4 cup of cooked seeds. (I wanted to eat the whole cup all at once, but we’ll stick with 1/4 for calories’ sake.)

Serves: 4

  • 1+1/2 Cups uncooked Pumpkin Seeds (if from an actual pumpkin then they should be washed and mostly dried)
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar (or Brown Splenda, if you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 teaspoons Honey
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract (Quick Caveat: I actually spilled the vanilla into my mixture accidentally so there might have been more (or less). But I’m saying 1.5 t.)
  • Sea Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325.

In a small bowl or mixing cup, add 1 teaspoon brown sugar, plus all spices. Mix together. Add the vanilla, honey and 1 teaspoon EVOO. Mix it all until it is the consistency of a dressing.

It looks like brownie batter. It was hard not to lick the spoon.

Spread a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet. Lay out the pumpkin seeds on the paper. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of oil over the seeds, stirring them to make sure all the seeds are coated (at least a little). Spread out the seeds so that they are as close to a single layer as possible. Add salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the seeds. Use a brush or spoon and stir to even the sauce over all the seeds. Again, spread the seeds into a single layer if possible. (The seeds will stick together so just do your best.)

Bake seeds for 15 minutes. At 15 minute mark, stir seeds, and again spreading them as flat as possible, sprinkle the remaining two teaspoons of brown sugar over the baking sheet. Bake for another 10 minutes or until they are done. (You can do a taste test. They are done when they are crunchy and do not split apart when you bite into it.) Make sure to watch them in the last 5 minutes to avoid burning them.

Remove from the oven when they are finished baking, and let sit, on paper, another couple minutes. Stir them around a little to make sure they are all done, and to break them apart if they’ve stuck together.

I highly recommend eating them while they are still warm. They are good later on as a cold snack but the warm ones were phenomenal. (I suppose you could re-warm them in the oven for a few minutes.) I had to tear myself away before I ate 3/4 of the batch in one sitting.

Even if you eat two servings though, it won’t be the end of the world. One 1/4 cup serving is about 190 calories. Since they are seeds, they have around 14g of fat, but they also have 10g of protein and 5g of fiber. Those are some serious seeds!

I enjoyed this whole pumpkin thing. I like any project where you can use the refuse for something completely different and just as exciting! Making a pumpkin-related food was not my starting goal, I just wanted to do something artsy. But I’m glad my art project was edible, because man those seeds are delish.

-lj