Pumpkin-Decorated Sugar Cookies

Well, I’ve gone and done it again. I took a perfectly good recipe and just had to lay my grubby little nutrition paws on it. This time, the victim was my Best-Ever-Knock-Your-Socks-Off sugar cookie (and by “my,” I really mean the one I found on Bake at 350 and fell in love with, not one that I created and tested myself). It was really harmless – I just don’t buy all purpose flour at my apartment because I feel like I don’t use flour enough to justify two different kinds. I only ever have white whole wheat flour in stock, so I decided to try it with this recipe and just see how it would go.

For the first time ever, everything my Food Prep professors told me about each flour having its place made sense. My stubbornness did not win, at least not completely. You see, I knew deep inside that whole wheat flour was not chemically the same as all purpose: it attracts more water, drying out the product; it gives the finished product a darker tint and a hearty little chew; it’s just not the same, and apparently the tender crumb of a truly wonderful sugar cookie depends on at least the partial actual of good ole’ all purpose. My dough was a little dry and the cookies cracked more than usual. The giant smear of buttercream on top somewhat masks this more intense version of a sugar cookie, and they certainly do not taste bad – in fact, several people who tried them (myself included) admitted to appreciating the extra bite from the fiber, but I also know that I will likely refrain from a 100% flour swap for this recipe again. I’m sure I’ll test it, maybe ¼ cup at a time, but I have a feeling these cookies will be the kind of dessert that you just accept as being essentially one big batch of empty calories, and enjoy them for what they are: simply delicious.

You can find the recipe for this beautiful, perfect, everything-I-had-ever-dreamed-a-cookie-should-be recipe in an earlier post on Floptimism. On the other hand, if you’re interested in a whole wheat sugar cookie that packs a little bit of a hearty, chewy punch, check out my last attempt at whole wheat-a-tizing a cookie. They’re absolutely not traditional, but they have a nice bite to them that the delicate, traditional ones lack – and the dough, I think, was more amenable to the whole wheat switch than this one here wound up being.

And, if you want to learn how to make these adorable pumpkin sugar cookies just in time for Halloween, keep reading!

One Year Ago: Kahlua Ice Cream

Decorated Pumpkin Sugar Cookies
Yield: 2 ½ dozen

The “Ingredients”
1 batch pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies1
orange (or red + yellow) and green food dye
2 pastry bags or 1 spatula, as you prefer
1 toothpick

The Method

Take ¼ cup of the frosting and reserve it in a separate container. Dye the remaining frosting orange (working gradually if you’re using a red + yellow combination so as not to over-tint in either direction). Spread or pipe (and then smooth out) each cookie with the orange frosting, leaving the stem of the pumpkin un-frosted for now.

By the time you get to the end, the first few cookies should be beginning to crust. Take the toothpick and draw shallow, slightly curved vertical lines through the buttercream to make the pumpkin indentations (I found that 4 looked best on mine). Set the orange frosting aside.

Using the other end of the toothpick along with the second pastry bag or spatula, apply a small amount of green icing to the stem of each pumpkin. You can apply more to the base of the stem and spread it out to span the middle 1/3 or so of the pumpkin top, or just follow the conservative rectangular region that the cookie cutter made.

Allow the cookies to crust and set for a few hours, then store in an airtight container until serving (though the closer you make them to the time they’re eaten, the better).

1Although I stuck with regular sugar cookies, adding a little bit of pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice would just add to the seasonal cuteness of these cookies…in my opinion, anyway. Experiment! Any cookie that can withstand spreading much in the oven would be a good candidate for this decorating method.
2I used buttercream because I left all of my pastry bags, tips, and meringue powder that I use for royal icing at my parent’s house. In fact, I almost scrapped the idea of baking cookies altogether because I had been so bad at grabbing everything I needed while I was home the previous weekend. If you’d rather use royal icing (and I think I prefer the end product, as finicky and time consuming as decorating with royal icing can be), go for it – simply outline in orange, flood, set, then add thicker piping for the pumpkin grooves and a simple flooding in green for the stem. You can eve add thick curly green swirls coming off the stem for leaves/vines! Also, when I had planned to make royal icing, I had intended for these cookies to be jack-o-lanterns – not pumpkins – so you could also take some black icing and pipe on some triangular eyes and creepy/goofy grins!

What are your plans for Halloween? Have you already started celebrating? I’m away for the weekend to visit some friends and celebrate with them, and then it’s back to the trenches of school on Monday for the actual holiday. Still, living in my new apartment, I’m going to get trick-or-treaters for the first time! I already stocked up on candy and have my witch’s hat ready to go for when they start knocking. I can’t wait!

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Thirty Minute Thursdays: Not-So-Traditional Caponata

Snow. In October. I know that’s not so uncommon in parts of this country, but for here, it’s a little disheartening. True, I may be speaking too soon – right now the precipitation is cold, wet rain, but the temperatures are preparing to plummet and I can feel the rain clouds getting ready to turn into snow clouds. I almost feel as though I’ve been robbed of autumn: it was so warm throughout September, and just when the leaves were turning and the crisp air came in, we get hit with this unseasonably cold front. My meals have consisted of chili, soup, and more soup, and the bundles of firewood at the grocery store have come very close to finding their way into my cart.

Enter Rachael Ray’s Emmanuel Nini’s Caponata – and if that’s not enough of a mouthful for you, I don’t know what is! This is another reliable recipe from her Classic 30 Minute Meals cookbook, but not one that I went stark-raving-mad over. It was a standard, perfect-for-cold-weather meal: warm and comforting, though not wildly seasoned so ultimately pretty simple. Every once in a while you get a sweet burst from a hidden raisin, which is a really nice surprise. I ate it with some toast, but I think it would make an even better chunky, hearty sauce for pasta. Later on I snacked on some leftovers with added parmesan cheese and a dollop of plain greek yogurt, and then that meal had me at hello! It was creamy, and absolutely killer. I broke tradition, I know, and may not even be allowed to call it a caponata anymore, but I’m including that dollop of yogurt in the recipe below because it was fantastic.

I took some other liberties, nixing the capers and olives (those pesky salt monsters!), using all green peppers because my poor little red one was infested with mold when I cut into it, and opting for a full can of diced tomatoes with added time for reducing/thickening because when you try to scale down the recipe, you’re left with two half-containers of different tomato products.  The only other change I would make, and it’s really not so much a change, would be to serve it with a fresh side salad for extra crunch and freshness.

Not-Really-Anymore-Emmanuel Nini’s Caponata, adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 6-8 servings

The Ingredients
4 large cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup (packed) golden raisins
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
1 celery heart, chopped
32 ounces diced tomatoes
13 ounces crushed tomatoes
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 ounces pine nuts, toasted
1/3 – ½ cup plain non-fat greek yogurt (optional)
¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
cooked pasta, for serving

The Method
Heat the garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium, and sauté until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add in the raisins, peppers, onion, eggplant, and celery. Cook, covered, while stirring occasionally, until the eggplant begins to break down, 7-10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and parsley and cook long enough to heat through, then turn off the heat. Stir in the yogurt and cheese, if using, and serve hot over pasta (or any temperature with bread). Sprinkle with pine nuts just before serving.


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Bucking Tradition with Lower-Fat & Beet Hummus Recipes

I used to like hummus, but I never really loved it unless it was coming from an actual Greek restaurant. I couldn’t get myself to go crazy over any of the brands in the supermarket. Then, I tasted a homemade batch that one of my nutrition professors had made, and my taste buds just about died and went to heaven. It was fresh, clean, and so much more flavorful but in the subtlest, gentlest of ways. I knew that was the secret. Sure, I still buy and eat Sabras or Athenos every now and then, but more and more I have started to try my hand at homemade hummus.

Beyond the quality improvement that I think goes hand in hand with making your own, you can control a lot of different factors, from nutrition to new and exciting flavor combinations. Today I have two different recipes for hummus to share with you – one that demonstrates how easy it is to control the nutritional content, and another that shows how fun and creative you can get with different varieties (I’m not just talking about garlic or roasted red pepper, folks).

Before I get into those, though, I thought I might take a moment to break down a basic hummus recipe and talk about the individual ingredients that go into it, for anyone who might be new to this fantastic dip/spread.

Chickpeas: also called garbanzo beans, these beans are at the heart of virtually any hummus recipe – they are certainly the foundation for any traditional recipe you might see. You can read about my ode to chickpea recipes to see all of the versatile ways you can incorporate them into your diet. One half-cup serving has only 100 calories and 1.5 grams total fat, but it offers 5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and only 13 grams of net carbs – making them a nutrient-dense choice for anyone. Mostly, though, I love them for their nice, understated flavor that pairs well with everything from feta cheese and lemon juice to smoky spices and spinach.

Tahini: the next ingredient that you will find in pretty much any recipe for hummus is Tahini, or what is essentially sesame seed butter. This seed butter has around 88 calories, 2.6 grams of protein, 3.2 grams of carbohydrates, and just under 8 grams of total fat per tablespoon. Considering that most serving sizes call for 2 tablespoons, this brings it up to be pretty comparable to other nut and seed butters. I have to admit, I have not once purchased a container of tahini. In the beginning, I got it in my head that it was overpriced compared to other butters. Now that I’ve seen the price tag on containers of, say, almond butter, I’m starting to rethink that assumption, but nonetheless, I have yet to find myself in possession of a jar of the Real Deal. Instead, I use whatever nut butter I have on hand – sunflower butter is a particularly nice substitute, but peanut and almond butters work just fine, too. I’m sure a hummus purist would tear their hair out over such news, but for the average home cook, it’s perfectly ok to use whatever you have in your pantry.

Flavorings: Once you get those two basic ingredients, most recipes will call for some ratio of garlic, lemon juice, and herbs/spices. The more traditional you go, the fewer extras will be thrown in, but lemon seems to be pretty much a staple no matter what. This helps with the clean, fresh taste I was talking about earlier, and can really lighten up the dip in terms of flavor.

Once you have the basics down, you can start playing around with different flavor combinations. Pumpkin hummus, cilantro-jalapeno hummus, carrot hummus, “skinny” hummus – the possibilities are really endless. In fact, I have yet to make a full-on traditional hummus, though the half-used bag of dried chickpeas in my pantry is calling to me for that very purpose.

The first recipe I have to share with you today is a lower-fat hummus. Even though tahini and nut butters give you a hearty dose of healthy fats (the unsaturated kind), they still contribute to calories, and when you’re adding hummus to a sandwich or something like that, the calories can add up and be pretty deceiving. So, I tried out a recipe that replaces all of the tahini with plain, non-fat Greek yogurt (possibly my favorite ingredient of all time – I really am only one step away from being Chobani’s chief spokeswoman). It did still taste like hummus, though it wasn’t particularly as smooth as I was hoping. This tends to happen with homemade hummus in general, so I’m not really too deterred by that. Still, in the future I might do a combination of nut butter and yogurt, just to get that hint of nuttiness in there without giving up on my buddy, Greek yogurt, completely.

After that, I tried out a beet hummus that bucks tradition pretty much at every turn. Rather than adding pureed beets to the chickpeas, and most variant hummus recipes do, this one actually replaced the chickpeas completely. What this means is that nutritionally, you’re getting less protein and more sugar and, really, a completely different gustatory experience altogether. It’s sweet, but tart from a generous serving of lemon, and the prettiest, brightest shade of magenta you could dream of.

Both were delicious in their own way, and a good way to shake things up if hummus is a common food in your diet. They couldn’t be easier to make, either – once the beans and beets are cooked (and you can see my notes below on how easy those can be to make), it’s really a matter of dumping everything into a food processor and making a puree. The extra little bit of effort that goes into making your own is far outweighed by the amazing difference in taste and the endless possibilities for flavor combinations – at least, if you ask me. 

 (Hummus Deviled Eggs made from the LF Hummus)

Low-Fat Hummus, courtesy of Healthy and Gourmet
Yield: 2 cups

The Ingredients
15 ounces chickpeas1
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

The Method
Add the cooked chickpeas, garlic, yogurt, and lemon juice to a food processor and puree until relatively smooth. Fold in the parsley and, just before serving, optionally drizzle with olive oil.

1I highly recommend using dried beans. To cook, simply place in a crockpot and cover with 2-3 inches of water, then cook on high for 3 hours. Allow to cool in the water (overnight works just fine). However, if you use canned chickpeas, just make sure you drain and rinse them well before using; the original recipe also encourages boiling them for 10 minutes before adding them to the food processor.

Beet Hummus, courtesy of Simply Recipes
Yield: 2 cups

The Ingredients
½ pound (about 4 medium) beets, cleaned, cooked, and peeled2
2 tablespoons tahini or nut butter
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lemon zest3
salt and black pepper, to taste

The Method
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Adjust for seasonings as desired, then chill and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (or freeze for longer).

2This process has always been what has intimidated me about beets. The effort, the staining – it all just seemed so daunting, so I had never tried a fresh beet before. One day I will tackle this, but if you’re like me, know that there’s a shortcut! My mom found these packages of cleaned and peeled beets at the store – 3 come in a pack. All you do is peel off the nutrition label sticker and boil them (in the package) for 15 minutes – done! Now, you can’t roast them this way (which is how the originally recipe suggested cooking them), so it is limited, but it’s perfect for a hassle-free way to introduce yourself to the preparation process.
3I was using dried peel as opposed to fresh, so I scaled it back to about 2 teaspoons. You might even consider going down to 1 ½ (aka ½ tablespoon) if you do the same.


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Espinacas con garbanzos, Chickpeas & Spinach - whatever you call it, it's good!

As much as I grumble when cool, fall weather initially sets in and my body struggles to adjust to the lower temperatures, there’s one thing I do wholeheartedly welcome about this time of year: warm food. Sure, I enjoy a salad every once in a while, and a good yogurt parfait is none to be trifled with, but in the end, I like my food hot. Autumn and winter give me the only excuse I need to churn out meal after meal of warm deliciousness: a chill in the air. If you’re at all like me, you’re probably gearing up for this kind of cooking, and if so, I have the perfect recipe for you.

If you don’t find yourself getting excited over a dish titled “Chickpeas and Spinach,” call it the much more exotic, traditional name of “Espinacas con garbanzos.” However you refer to it, though, know this: this is easy comfort food at its finest. It’s light in a way that most vegetarian dishes tend to be – that is, it’s certainly filling, but doesn’t leave you feeling physically heavy by the end of it. It also has a very nice heat to it, and this time, I’m talking spices, not temperature. The first time I made it, I brought it to a potluck and didn’t even get a taste of it before it was gone. So, it went onto my “try again” list, and just a month or so ago I gave it a second shot. I don’t recall what foul thing happened the day that I planned to make this for dinner for round 2, but whatever it was, I was in no mood to fuss around. I wanted food – good food, comforting food, hot food – and I wanted it a.s.a.p. Lucky for me, this recipe was wondrously forgiving, and I was able to throw the ingredients in without much measuring at all, and I was, in fact, able to have good, comforting, hot food in front of me in no time at all. (Unlucky for all of us, but mostly for you, said bad mood also meant that I just took a last-minute picture of the dish with my phone, rather than a thought-out picture with an actual camera.)

Espinacas con garbanzos / Chickpeas & Spinach, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 4-6 servings1

The Ingredients
1/2 pound (230 grams) dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender2
6 tablespoons olive oil3
1 pound (450 grams) spinach
1-2 slices hearty bread, cubed or pulsed into crumbs
1/2 cup (4 ounces) tomato sauce
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon paprika4
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
lemon juice, to taste

The Method
Place half the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, adding in the spinach once it’s hot. Work in batches, if necessary, and stir well with each addition. Remove the spinach when the leaves have just become tender, and set aside in a colander to drain.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the saucepan, followed by the bread for 5 minutes, until golden brown all over. Finally, mix in the remaining tablespoon of oil with the garlic, cumin, and pepper, cooking for 1 minute or until  the garlic has turned a nutty brown.

If using bread cubes instead of crumbs, transfer the mixture to a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle, and create a paste by blending in with the red wine vinegar. If using crumbs, however, simply mixing the bread crumbs and vinegar in a bowl is sufficient.

Return the bread paste to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce, stirring until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and have heated through. Season with freshly ground black pepper, and adjust for consistency by adding water (to thin) if necessary. Finally, mix in the spinach and cook until it, too, is hot. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and serve with paprika on top.

1Depending upon how hungry you are, and if you’re serving this as a main or a side dish.
2I cooked my beans in a slow cooker covered 2-3 inches of water, 3 hours on high. I let them cool in the cooking water pretty much overnight. Check out this article about dried beans and why they're so awesome. If you still haven’t been won over by the ridiculous cheapness and ease of dried beans, though, 2 15-ounce cans will do just fine for this recipe.
3I can’t imagine that I used all of this oil, knowing how stingy and skeptical I am when it comes to greasing a pan. If you’re nervous, use it all – but don’t be afraid to experiment with less, either.
4Use smoked if you have it.


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Thirty Minute Thursdays: Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Potatoes. Yeah, I went there.

My high school gustatory passions pretty much consisted of cheesesteaks, French fries (cheese fries were even more heavenly), and buffalo wings – the hotter, the better. I remember one time actually needing to hold ice cubes to my lips after a particularly harrowing experience courtesy of a hotel room service menu in Colorado. I haven’t bitten into a real cheesesteak since giving up non-grassfed beef almost a year ago, and my French fry consumption has mostly been weaned out and replaced by things like roasted root vegetables cut into fry shapes (lest you think this is some form of self-deprivation, I’d like to add that I find the roasted veggies to be much tastier now than a plate of greasy fries). I also haven’t chowed down on a good plate of wings in what seems like eons.

So when I saw a recipe for buffalo chicken sandwiches in Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals, I couldn’t get it off my mind. Every week when I sat down to plan my menu, I would think of that recipe. It was only a matter of time before I gave in and tried it out. Of course, I revamped it, giving it my RD-to-Be stamp of approval (without, of course, disappointing the high schooler who is still very much a part of me, believe it or not). I also like to think that I cut back on some of the total calories, making it a more me-sized meal, since I tend to eat several smaller meals throughout the day. One super-stuffed baked potato and a chicken sandwich and dessert just seemed like a bit much.

Words cannot describe what I wound up with on my plate that night. This was a total indulgence, 100% enjoyable, and not even something that anyone should feel overly guilty about (brushing aside the whole-other debate of whether or not there’s really any food we should feel guilty about in the long run). With this meal, you get fiber, lean protein, and more flavor than some people might know what to do with. This is also the first time I’ve liked celery in a dish – it gave the potato filling a nice crunch and freshness – so bonus points for that.

Next time, I might make it a little spicier – the buffalo flavor came through loud and clear, but needless to say I didn’t need 10 glasses of water to help me through the finish line. I also need to remember that microwaving times vary depending on how much food is being heated in them, so when I cut the recipe down and didn’t change the potato cooking time, I wound up with some pretty shriveled potato skins. Not the end of the world.

In the end, this is probably my favorite from Rachael Ray’s cookbook so far. I may actually catalog this in my real, honest-to-goodness recipe box, and if you’ve been following my Thirty Minute Thursday posts at all, you’ll know that most of the time I tell you that her recipes are really just rough guidelines to keep in the back of your mind. They aren’t the kind of meals you need to follow step-by-step. It’s true that you can tweak this and mess around with it just like the other recipes, but I do want to remember this for future meals because you can bet it’ll be gracing the Floptimism kitchen again. And again. And again…

Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Baked Potato, adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
4 small all-purpose potatoes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
olive oil, to drizzle
½ cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 celery ribs, chopped
¾ cup crumbled blue cheese
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup hot pepper sauce
for serving:
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
4 celery ribs, cut into sticks

The Method
Pierce the potatoes with a fork to allow for venting and microwave on high for approximately 12 minutes, or until well-heated and cooked. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, lightly grease a large skillet. Cube the chicken and season with pepper, paprika, and chili powder. Place the chicken in the skillet over medium-high heat and cook all the way through, flipping halfway, approximately 5-10 minutes total.

Return to the potatoes while the chicken cooks: slit the tops of the potatoes and scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Mix in the greek yogurt, onion, chopped celery, blue cheese, and pepper. Divide the mixture evenly back into the potato skins and broil to lightly brown the tops.

While the potatoes are browning, put the finishing touches on the chicken by transferring the chunks to the bowl you just used for the potato filling. Add in the hot sauce and toss to coat. Serve with the potatoes and carrot & celery sticks on the side.


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Kitchen Sink Pasta Pie Saves the Day!

I used to post any old recipe on here that I attempted, regardless of how wonderfully or horribly it turned out. I noticed, however, that most food bloggers – the ones who had really been successful and had a lot of followers – only, for the most part, posted the Good Stuff. I was faced with a dilemma: do I try to emulate the bloggers who I admire so much and, ultimately, strive to be more like in terms of success; or do I throw caution to the wind and stick to the fact that Floptimism is all about taking the good with the bad, and sometimes that means telling you all about how much of a failure a particular recipe wound up being?

In the end, I decided to do a combination. I try to make the good outweigh the bad, just as I’m trying in general to focus more on the positive things in life, but I do confess to royally messing up every now and then. I also try to refrain from posting about a recipe that either didn’t quite live up to expectations but had potential, or something got in the way of making it a really classy post, like I forgot to take a picture or for some reason wrote next to nothing in my notes about alterations to the original or my opinion of how it turned out. For those situations, I stick them on my “make again list,” and every once in a while I go back and give them a second chance.

This pasta pie is one of those recipes that got its chance at redemption only recently. I originally made it back in February and found it to be a little lackluster. Still, it was easy to make and had a lot of potential as one of those “clean out your fridge” recipes that you find yourself in need of every so often when your fresh produce has seen better days and your pantry is more of a mash-up of half-used containers than anything else.

The second time I made it, I made a lot of changes, admittedly. I don’t think all of them are necessary to make it a first-rate dish, but that’s the nature of a recipe whose purpose is to help you clean house. You can either roast the vegetables first (which I did in round 1), or not; you can add breadcrumbs, or not; you can use the herbs and spices suggested, or go with whatever you have on hand; you can make it gluten free and vegan, or absolutely 100% traditional; it can be based around leftover pasta, rice, or – as I did in round 2 – a really nice combination of the two. I mean, this really shouldn’t even be called a recipe – it’s definitely one of those “guideline” meals - but it should be called delicious, and simple, and wonderful to have on hand in times of culinary emergencies. 


Kitchen Sink Pasta Pie, adapted from the Gluten Free Goddess1
Yield: 4-6 servings

The Ingredients – The Pie
1 ½ - 2 cups cooked pasta or rice
3-3 ½ cups vegetables
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
various dried herbs of your choice
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
basic white sauce (recipe below)

The Ingredients – The White Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups low-fat milk
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour, divided
(3 tablespoons cheese of your choice)2
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
pinch of nutmeg
1 onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites
1 teaspoon baking powder

The Method
If roasting the vegetables, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice and chop the vegetables coarsely and arrange on a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with dried herbs and pepper; toss to coat, then place in the oven to roast until tender, approximately 30 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, you can make your white sauce. If not roasting, start with this step. Whisk the olive oil, milk and 1 tablespoon flour together in a sauce pan over medium heat and allow it to thicken. Optionally, add in the cheese, continuing to whisk together. Lastly, stir in the vinegar, mustard, nutmeg, onion and garlic until thickened. Mix in the egg whites, followed by the remaining flour and baking powder.

Assemble the pie in a lightly greased pie plate by tossing or layering the cooked pasta with the vegetables and additional herbs and spices. Pour the sauce over the mixture and shake the plate gently to get everything to mix. Top with bread crumbs and additional herbs, if desired, and bake in the center of a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Allow the pie to rest 5 minutes before serving.

1Refer to the original website for ideas on how to make this gluten-free and/or vegan.
2I left this out twice because the original recipe called for nutritional yeast, and I didn’t understand what that meant. I found out recently that it’s used to mimic the flavor of cheese in vegan recipes, so although I enjoyed the recipe without any cheese at all, it certainly would make the flavors pop even more.


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Taste-Testing My Way Through "Gorges" Ithaca, NY

Ithaca, New York is the kind of town where I dream of living. Perched atop a mountain, the landscape boasts of wooded areas that burst with color at this time of year, peaks flow into valleys, and farm animals dot the occasional pasture by the side of the road. The Commons, their main shopping strip, is closed off to car traffic, allowing pedestrians to stroll along and visit all kinds of shops, from an exquisite craft store to an old book shop whose second floor is host to a quaint café. The town has character. Its two colleges keep it young, but the architecture and atmosphere have an old, well-weathered je ne sais quoi about them. Drive up into the hills, and you’re greeted by a 40 or 50 mile stretch of vineyards overlooking Cayuga Lake. Take a Sunday morning hike up one of their many waterfalls or gorges, and then swing by their formidable Farmer’s Market just outside of town. All of this, and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet.

I know, I might as well be a walking brochure for the place.  The ironic part of the whole thing is that I attended Ithaca College for one semester, and was miserable. I didn’t fit in with the students there. The weather was enough to spiral even the cheeriest person into seasonal depression – and I left before the winter even got into full swing. I just wasn’t happy there, so I transferred. It took a lot of people by surprise, then, when I said that I wanted my big birthday gift this past year to be a trip back to Ithaca. Didn’t you hate it there? Everyone would ask. Sure, the college wound up not being right for me, and I did have some negative experiences with unrelenting rain, wind, and gloomy skies, but the town…the town, I missed. I missed the hippie feel of it all. What’s more, I was only 19 when I was there, so I never even saw the wineries that Ithaca has to offer. I wanted to go back, as an “adult,” just to visit.

Last weekend, that’s exactly what I did. My parents, L and I left early Sunday morning, a 4 hour drive ahead of us. Originally, I was going to tell you about every place we visited and ate at, but that’s too monstrous of a post and I didn’t think to take pictures at most of the places. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a bad meal anywhere, and the vineyards were exceptional. At the bottom of this post I’ll link to all of the various places I visited, in case you ever find yourself in Ithaca and want some tips on great places to go. To sum it all up, I had everything from defrosted veggie burgers (not the finest dining experience, but that’s ok) to grilled salmon with peach salsa, and a sizzling cookie dessert that was worth the obscene spike in blood sugar and impressive ability to clog your arteries that most certainly came with it. You see, dietitians are human, too.

What I really want to tell you about is where we ate lunch on Monday before leaving for home. Although I wanted to go to the vineyards, I also made it a point to say that I wanted to eat at the famed Moosewood café once while we were there. It was a risky move – it’s not the kind of place my dad prefers, and while L and my mom may have had an easier time there, I still don’t think it would have been there first choice. But Moosewood is everything I love to see in a restaurant. They change their menu every single day, using the freshest ingredients they have on hand. They serve vegetarian and vegan meals, with the occasional fish thrown in. They sell cookbooks full of recipes that make my heart melt and my stomach start to rumble. I had to eat there once, that was all there was to it.

We started off with some “appetizers” – simple house salads, a fruit platter, and I ordered a vegan Jamaican tomato soup that was one of the most fantastic soups I have ever tasted. It was light and citrusy, with a refreshing bite from cilantro. The fruit was bursting with flavor. The salad was, well, a house salad – I can’t go nuts over it, but it was certainly tasty. I also ordered a ginger ice tea, which is different for me. I’m a water girl at restaurants, and really just overall when it comes to beverages, but I thought I’d try something a little different, and it was very good!

For the main course, both L and my mom got a salmon cake with a side white bean salad, a dish that I almost got, too. I snuck a bite, and both the salmon and the salad were wonderful. My dad got a simple roasted vegetable ciabatta, which apparently was served cold, and took him by surprise. Still, he didn’t have any true complaints, and I take that as a thumbs up considering what a good sport he was for taking me to Moosewood and trying it in the first place. In the end, I chose a vegan Thai rice salad with tofu, which was also surprisingly served slightly chilled rather than hot. After I got past the temperature, though, I couldn’t get enough of it! It was perfectly spiced, with a creamy texture and a nice crispness from what I imagine was pan-seared tofu. The only downside of it was that the portion was enormous, and I was much too far away from home to ask for a doggy bag. I would have loved to have enjoyed it the next day, but I had to let it go.

I’m usually not a dessert-during-lunch kind of girl, but this was Moosewood we were talking about. I’m likely only going to have a handful of opportunities to eat there in my life, so I was not about to leave without sampling some of their sweeter options, gosh darn it. We ordered a chocolate mousse and a plum trifle to split amongst the four of us, and what excellent choices they were! The chocolate mousse was bitter-sweet, just how I like my chocolate desserts to be, and it felt light but filling. The trifle was a little sweeter, but still good, with my only complaint being that the plums needed to be cut into more bite-sized pieces (and we only had spoons, so you can imagine the inventive ways we had to go about eating that one). I left full, and more than satisfied. The only real negative of the whole experience was that the service was not wonderful; my dad described our waitress’ attitude as, “you’re at the famous Moosewood, so sit down and eat what I serve you, and be happy about it.” I, unfortunately, can’t really argue too much there – she was very helpful when I had questions about ingredients, so it wasn’t terrible, but compared to some of the outstanding service we experienced at other places that weekend, it was a bit of a disappointment. Still, I do own one of the Moosewood cookbooks and now more than ever can’t wait to test out some of those recipes - and there are at least half a dozen more Moosewood cookbooks that I would absolutely love to own, too.

After Moosewood, we pretty much headed back to good old Pennsylvania! We did stop on the road at another restaurant, Platz’s, that wasn’t really my ideal cup of tea – bar food, etc. – but the service was out of this world and they were able to tweak some menu items to make them a little more appealing to my health-snobby tastes. 

Overall, it was possibly the best vacation I have ever taken. I felt calmer afterwards, totally relaxed, and I’m still smiling as I write this and think back on everything that we did last weekend. If you ever find yourself in Ithaca – and I do encourage you to find some excuse that will take you there – definitely take the time to visit some of these places, especially Moosewood (well, if you’re into that sort of thing, anyway).

You never know who you're gonna meet!


-Glenwood Pines: A side-of-the-road, no-frills burger joint. Not for the health conscious.
- The BoatYard Grill: The kind of restaurant that Applebee’s can only dream of becoming.

Vineyards/Wineries (in order of how I would recommend them):

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Thirty Minute Thursdays: Eggcellent Sandwiches with Spinach & Tomato Soup

It’s been a little while since I last posted. I’m used to sneaking in an entry every other day, but Columbus Day Weekend brought along Fall Break from classes, and I took the opportunity to take a 2 day trip to Ithaca, NY with my parents and L. While there, we visited several wineries, explored the town, and ate at some pretty phenomenal restaurants – the famed Moosewood included! I’m planning to write up a post all about my food-related experiences on the trip, but for now, I have to celebrate Thirty Minute Thursdays with a less exotic but certainly delicious meal by Rachael Ray.

One Sunday evening a few weeks back, I set out to make a tomato & spinach soup for dinner from Rachael Ray’s cookbook, to be paired with what she refers to as an “Eggcellent” sandwich. I made a few changes, naturally – I used an onion instead of a shallot, decreased the oil in the soup, swapped oil in for the butter for the sandwich, and opted for a quartered whole wheat bagel instead of an English muffin for the bread. Then, of course, I left some things alone (shocking, right?) – I did cook with ham, something that is more or less unchartered territory for me, and even bought the called-for muenster cheese instead of scrambling for whatever I had on hand. One neat thing that I learned from this is that you can go to your grocery store’s deli counter and order a single slice of meat or cheese! How fantastic is that? You see, I did cook with ham and muenster cheese, but there was no way I was going to go through a whole pack of either one, so this option was absolutely perfect for me. Each slice cost me about $.60 - you really can’t beat that.

The tomato and spinach soup turned out to be…okay. Not bad, but it did lack a little bit of multidimensionality that I tend to gravitate toward with my foods. I did like the chunks of the tomatoes, and reheated the next day for lunch I actually enjoyed it even more. It might be nice to add in some milk (not even cream! Just milk) or some broth to cut the intensity of the tomatoes.

It’s also possible that my less-than-enthusiastic response to the soup had everything to do with how much I (internally) raved about this sandwich. It was everything you could want in a ham, egg and cheese sandwich. It was savory with a hint of sweetness, just a little bit salty, and warm and melty with a perfect chew from the toasted bagel. I really loved it, and it was pretty simple to make, so I’m sure I’ll be returning to the “recipe” again soon. Well, maybe not too soon – even if I can buy ham by the slice, the high degree of processing still skeeves me out a little bit. Still, this is a Really. Good. Sandwich. 

Tomato & Spinach Soup, adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 ounces (no salt added) diced tomatoes
28 ounces (no salt added) crushed tomatoes
2 cups (no sodium) stock
5 ounces spinach, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

The Method
Heat the olive oil, onion, and garlic in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Saute for 5 minutes, then add in the diced and crushed tomatoes. Stir in the stock to combine, followed by the spinach in handfuls until it wilts and mixes with the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow it to reduce a little. Season with pepper.

Eggcellent Sandwiches, adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
olive oil, to lightly grease the pan
4 eggs
¾ cup egg whites
4 thin slices reduced-fat deli ham, diced
2 whole wheat bagels
4 slices muenster cheese

The Method
Halve each bagel, and then slice each half into two once more so that you wind up with 8 slices of “bagel thins.” Lightly toast the bagel slices, then set aside in a single layer on a cookie or baking sheet.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs and egg whites in a small bowl and set near the stove. Add just enough oil to coat a small frying pan, using a paper towel to make sure the pan is greased thoroughly enough. Add the ham and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the eggs have started to firm up, 4-5 minutes.

Evenly distribute the egg mixture amongst 4 of the bagel thins, top with 1 slice of muenster each, and place under the broiler to just melt the cheese. Remove from the oven, top each egg-and-cheese bagel thin with a plain bagel thin to make a sandwich, and enjoy!


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A Cathartic Soup for a Cathartic Day

As excited as I am to announce the winner of my very first giveaway, I have to preface it by saying I chose a pretty bad day for the contest to end. Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I don’t feel 100% right about getting all congratulatory and celebratory on such a solemn day. So, know that I am excited that there is a winner to announce, and I’m very happy to be able to give out this truly wonderful software – I just may not have all of the capital letters and exclamation points to show it.

Without further ado, I would like to congratulate…(drumroll please…) Mollie, our winner! Mollie said:

“I liked the "Snow in Love Quick Page" it was really pretty and it is getting closer to the winter season. I would use the software to add to my scrapbooks. Since I have never tried digital scrap booking it should be fun to experiment with :)”

She was actually the one and only person to enter, which just goes to show that sometimes it can be worth it to get out there and take a stab at something.  You never know what will happen! I do wish that there had been a greater turn out, but I’m thrilled that someone will be able to try out and take advantage of the My Memories software, as I was so fortunate to do.

I’d also like to remind everyone that even if you didn’t win, you can still get a discount on the software ($10 off, plus a $10 credit at the My Memories online store) – all you need to do is enter in the following promotional code when you go to check out: STMMMS25846. Easy as pie! L suggested that perhaps more people didn’t enter because scrapbooking is not intuitively food related, but if that’s your hesitation I urge you to get the software, anyway. I created a really wonderful project on food memories from this summer, and have every intention of creating my very own cookbook as I continue to create original recipes. The sky really is the limit with what you can do with this program.

Now. About this Yom Kippur thing. Over the past few years, I have struggled to find a way of observing many Jewish holidays that fits with my own, decidedly liberal set of beliefs when it comes to religion. I won’t go into all of that, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was fasting on Yom Kippur because it truly meant something to me, or if I was just depriving myself of food and drink for 24 hours out of routine and habit. It just so happened that as Yom Kippur approached this year, I was struggling with my weight a little bit. I had unexpectedly dropped a fair number of pounds, and was in the process of trying to figure out if it was going to stabilize on its own, or if it was really something I should be worried about. It made me rethink the idea of going 24 hours without eating – would that really be a good thing for me? Should I put my health in jeopardy over an observance that I wasn’t even confident I agreed with anymore?

When I mentioned it to my roommate, she suggested eating, but not indulging. I took that idea and mulled it over, and it transformed into this novel way of approaching the Day of Atonement. To me, the point of this day is to look within myself and pinpoint the areas in my life, especially my relationships with others as well as myself, that could be improved upon. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, I think this is a healthy practice to do every so often. On this day each year, I take an introspective look at my decisions and actions, and ask myself how I can be a better person in the year to come. This day necessitates a freedom from distractions, and eating modestly and choosing plain, unassuming foods seemed to complement this idea perfectly. I would eat simply, keeping my love for robust flavors and colors at bay – I would eat for sustenance and health, but not for delight.

I woke up this morning and had a cup of plain greek yogurt, which held me over through services. When I got home, I had a wheat puff and a plain egg white omelet – no salt, no pepper, not even a drizzle of oil to grease the pan (cooking spray came in handy today). I’m not carrying my usual 30oz. water bottle around with me, but I am drinking sparingly to prevent any serious dehydration or discomfort. Yes, the calorie count is low so far. I’m thinking that a handful of plain, unsalted almonds is in my near future. But I feel good about my decision. Neither hunger nor gluttony is getting in the way of my ability to observe this solemn day. I think I’ll make this a new, personal tradition – a new way of interpreting a religion that will always be a part of my life, even if that role has been continually changing since that first day of Hebrew school all those years ago.

I do want to leave you with a recipe. In keeping with the notions of modesty, simple health, and atonement, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a “Detox” soup that I tried the other month. It’s a cold broccoli stalk soup, full of kale and other quintessentially “cleansing” vegetables. In the end, I couldn’t eat it cold – I’m just not a cold soup kind of girl – but thoroughly enjoyed it warmed up. I even stirred some leftovers into an omelet later that week, which was excellent, too. I paired it with a decidedly un-modest (but totally delicious!) parmesan biscuit, so I think I’m going to merely link you over to Dinner with Julie, where I got the recipe for that. But the soup…the soup was refreshing, everything I would imagine a detox soup should be. I might consider adding more herbs in the future, as well as making it either broth- or milk-based rather than stirring in the yogurt at the end. 

One Year Ago: Israeli Spice Chicken

Broccoli Stalks Cold (or Warm) Soup, courtesy of Health Nut
Yield: 2-4 servings1

The Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small broccoli stalk, sliced
1 cup kale (or other leafy green)
2 cups combination of broccoli florets, cauliflower, and carrots (or other vegetables of your choice)
½ medium onion, chopped
fresh thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon freshly minced ginger
¼ cup greek yogurt, whipped

The Method
Place the oil and onions in a sauté pan over medium heat and allow to sizzle for about one minute. Next, add the rest of the vegetables (including the broccoli stalks) and ginger. Cover the pan and cook until all of the vegetables have begun to become tender, 5-6 minutes. Season with pepper, then transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender) and puree with 1 cup water and the thyme leaves until smooth. If serving warm, swirl with whipped yogurt and serve; if serving cold, chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours before adding the yogurt and serving.

1I halved it, and still ate it in more than one sitting, which is why I’ve given the range – the original indicates that it’s meant for just two people, though.


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