Tapping back in, with big things to come…

This is what my kitchen looks like currently:

Yup, she’s back. And spent alllll day in the kitchen. Not posting recipes yet, but here’s a preview:

Double crust apple pie.

Homemade Samosas, in progress.

Homemade bagels for tomorrow morning.

Mini pumpkin cheesecakes. My favorite thus far.

… and this is just breakfast/half of the desserts. Tomorrow, the real cooking begins.

Tomorrow is a big day for the blog, not just in terms of cooking, but photography as well. Yes, dear readers, Santa came early this year, thanks to a sale at Ace Camera. I am now the proud owner of a Nikon D3000 DSLR camera,

Sigh. Isn’t it pretty!? I cannot wait to start snapping food pics tomorrow. If I can figure out how to use the darn thing, that is.

Off to peel potatoes!

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my future long term relationship

So, I spent the entire weekend in DC proper. The majority of the time I was dressed as an American Gladiator.

But sometime in between the Rally to Restore Sanity and the Halloween shenanigans, I fell in love. With a salad bar.

But not just any salad bar. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sweet Green.

This place had the best salad selection I’ve ever seen in my life. I got the “October Salad” (Mesclun with Mountain View Farm’s Feta Cheese, Sunflower Seeds, Fresh Basil, Butternut Squash, Raw Green Peppers, and Balsamic Dressing) with roasted tofu, sub goat cheese for feta, but I could have ordered anything on the menu and been in salad heaven.

 

Obviously my soul mate in restaurant form will serve fro yo. But not just any fro yo… STONY FIELD FRO YO!

This place is too perfect for me. Totally reasonable prices for the portions, too. I forsee a long, happy relationship between myself and this salad bar in the near future. Add Sweet Green to the laundry list of reasons I can’t wait to move into DC. 3 months in NOVA down, 3 months to go!

 

 

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Holy produce, Batman!

Ahh. Finally a relaxing weekend at home with no major plans. Well, other than dinner with friends, tickets to a Caps game,  cycling class, recipes to test, shopping for work clothes… this is how I do “relaxing.”

But, the best thing about not traveling for a weekend is that I finally, finally made it to the farmer’s market! After an 8 am cycling class, my mom and I went for a brisk 3 mile round trip walk to stock up on veggies. Here is our haul:

Note the farm eggs. Thank.Goodness. I had been without fresh eggs for far too long, and had had about enough of subpar dinner omelets.

A lot of the veggies were slated for a veggie soup! There are few things I love in life more than soup. Once it gets cold out, I could happily eat soup for lunch and dinner most nights of the week. It’s healthy, filling warm… one of the few “comfort” foods that is also nutritious.  And the best part is that you can make it in huge quantities on the weekends and enjoy it all week, plus freeze the leftovers future quick dinners. So, that’s what we did.

My mom and I make this soup often but it changes each time.. we like to experiment with new veggies and whatever grains extra throw-ins we have on hand. We’ve used all sorts of beans, edamame, quinoa, boca crumbles etc. etc. Some work out better than others, but it keeps things exciting. Variety is the spice of life, after all

We also don’t really measure anything.. sorry! But you really can’t go wrong.. if you love a particular vegetable, add more. Otherwise just use roughly equivalent amounts of each. Anyway, this combo was a winner:

First Veggie Soup of the Season, October 2010:

1 48-oz bottle of low-sodium V8 vegetable juice

2 boxes of low-sodium vegetable broth

Several bay leaves

Salt + Pepper to taste

1 red onion, diced

3 large carrots

Celery

Parsnip

Kale

1 can Black beans

1 can Garbanzo beans

1 can Northern Beans

~1 c Bulgur

All you do is sautee the onion with a little olive oil. Once they’re soft, add all the broths, the beans, the vegetables, and the bulgur. Cook on medium heat (or a gentle simmer) until all of your vegetables are tender. Note: when you cut you veggies, try to make them about the same size so they cook evenly. And you’re ton! Enjoy boatloads of fresh, filling, healthy veggie soup.

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Just a dollop

Yikes, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? Life sure gets in the way of blogging, sometimes.

I think the biggest struggle for me with blogging isn’t that I don’t enjoy it our I don’t have time- you can always make time for things you enjoy. But the problem is that my job involves sitting in front of the computer for 8+ hours a day. And three hours in the car. All I do is sit! So it’s hard when I’m home to plop myself in front of the computer again. That’s not a healthy lifestyle.

And on that note, with the few hours I have to myself after work, I often found myself faced with the desire to do three things, but only enough time to do two:

1) work out

2) cook a healthy meal

3) blog

A healthy living blog should not prevent you from having time to do 1) or 2). So if the decision comes to that, I should always sacrifice blogging, because skipping a run to write a post for a healthy living blog is just silly.

Now that’s out of the way, I’m going to write a short ode to one of my favorite products of all time: cottage cheese.

I sort of understand why cottage cheese can get a bad rap. As shocking as this may be, I used to be quite a picky eater back in the day, all through high school. Then over a period of about two years, my tastebuds matured and I learned to like almost any food. But certain foods (especially ones with weird texture) took some getting used to. I continued to dislike cottage cheese for a long time.

Then, when I went through my extreme dieting phase, I would pretty much eat anything filling and low-calorie, regardless of taste. When I think about the meals I used to eat it makes me cringe- plain boca burgers on 35-calorie bread with mustard for dinner?? Gag me.

But many of the foods I then “forced” myself to eat, I now really like- i.e. most vegetables, and cottage cheese!

This stuff is the gift that keeps on giving. I first started using it to make protein pancakes. Then I realized mixed with pumpkin and a little cinnamon and sugar, I could have a healthy sweet-tooth pumpkin pie-fix each night.

Then, when I was eating eggs for dinner three nights a week Ireland, I somehow thought to put a dollop of cottage cheese into my scrambled eggs. Best. Decision. Ever.

Please, please do this. Just a spoonful and your eggs will be super creamy and delicious. It’s the only way I can eat non-farm eggs… cottage cheese makes even lame grocery store eggs palatable.

Then this weekend, I tried some in my oatmeal. I had tried this before and was underwhelmed with the result- I expect the same creamy transformation as with eggs, but the lumps didn’t really mix in. But then, when I made them on the stove top (a la KERF method), and added the cottage cheese while they were still cooking, BAM! Huge, delicious difference. Pumpkin oat success!

I know it’s been blogged to death, but best bowl of oatmeal you will ever eat:

1/2 c rolled oats

1 c almond milk

1/2 banana

~1/4 c pumpkin

~1/4 c cottage cheese

cinnamon

pumpkin pie spice

 

Then today, just when I thought I had exhausted all non-traditional uses of cottage cheese, I added some to the standard chocolate protein powder-banana-spinach-almond milk smoothie I’ve made approx. 1000x. I thought hey, if a dollop of this stuff is good in eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, and pretty much everything else on the planet, maybe it will take this smoothie to the next level, and it did.

If I could find a boyfriend that made me as happy as cottage cheese does, I’d be a very lucky girl.

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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day…

…but give a girl a spaghetti squash and she can eat for… well, not sure, I still have some left.

Seriously. I have made three main courses and two sides out of one large spaghetti squash- admittedly a large one, and I’m the only person in my house eating it. I didn’t even anticipate how convenient the leftovers from this thing have become- instant vegetables with dinner, every night!

I’ve been wanting to try spaghetti squash for a while now. The idea of a vegetable serving as a pasta substitute intrigued me. Plus, as much as I love butternut squash, acorn squash, and the other fall gourds, they all have similar textures, flavors, and cooking methods. This seemed new and exciting!

I picked this baby up from Whole Foods last weekend. The first recipe, and the one I was most excited to try, was Emily’s Spaghetti Squash with Vegan Mushroom Cream Sauce – though I altered it slightly and mine, therefore, was not quite vegan.

So, the most annoying part of eating gourds: cutting them. Here’s me, purple pants and all, wrestling with the monster.

My first observation when planning out this dinner is how looong spaghetti squash takes. Between the cutting, the roasting, the resting, the forking… oy ve. Do not start this with your tummy rumbling.

My second impression, after cutting, was that it looked almost exactly like butternut, with a less funky shape and a yellow-er color. Neat.

I proceeded to make Emily’s recipe as she describes it in post, but with one crucial alteration/flaw. I only had unsweetened vanilla almond milk, not plain. I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference, so I did one cup vanilla almond milk and one cup skim milk. Sadly, the error did not go unnoticed- I could taste a slightly odd sweetness in the sauce.

Mushrooms are so fun, aren’t they? Ever since reading Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma I’ve had a newfound appreciation for the little guys. We forget that they are an entirely different kingdom than animals and plants, and they are fascinating. I feel like I’m eating something exotic, even though it just came from the grocery store- nerdy, I know.

For someone whose dishes usually suffer from abysmal presentation, this came out semi-pretty!

Despite the slightly off-kilter sauce, I could tell this vegetable was a winner. Loved the texture, slightly nutty taste, and most of all the versatility. You can season and serve this stuff  just like any other vegetable, but also dress it up in all sorts of creative sauces and dishes. Lots of room for creativity.

However, I did not anticipate that I would be in the only one eating the squash with mushroom sauce. I have quite the appetite, but even I’m not that good; there was a substantial amount of leftovers, and since everyone in my house is traveling this week, it’s all up to me to eat them! Which led me to my midweek creation..

Spaghetti Squash Cakes!

I suspected based on the texture of the strands that they would work well in patties. I did some googling, found this quick and easy recipe, and got to work. I topped a few with hummus, and a few with greek yogurt + sriracha hot sauce. Definitely a winner.

The third entree I got out of this one gigantic batch of spaghetti squash strands was essentially a lazy version of Emily’s mushroom sauce. But I’ll call it…

Spaghetti Squash with Garlic and Herb No-Cream Sauce!

Basically, I melted a wedge of garlic and herb laughing cow, stirred in some greek yogurt, a splash of milk, nutritional yeast (more on this later- this stuff is changing my life, thank you blog world), some minced garlic, salt + pepper. Stirred all together and spread over a heaping pile of squash, it made a tasty light dinner.

For the last two nights, when I decided that three nights of squash entrees would suffice for a bit, I still dug into the leftovers as side dishes. Topped with a little parmesan cheese, it was still pretty great.

But now, I think it’s time for me to say goodbye to the remaining ~1 cup. I did the best I could to finish it, and came damn close, but it’s a little past its prime. Talk about worth the time effort, though- that one hour I spent butchering squash on a Saturday afternoon saved me countless hours during the workweek! How often does one hour of cooking pay off so well.. never?!

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She’s baaaack

Most people either like to cook OR they like to bake. Not both. Many exceptions exist (especially in the blogging world), but watch an episode of Top Chef: just the thought of pastries and creme brulee strikes fear into the hearts of many accomplished chefs.

I like to cook. I don’t bake. I leave that to my little sister, Mary Beth. And bake she does.

Mary Beth, in addition to her full time job as a UVA student, is a semi-professional baker. At age 18 (almost 19!). She is amazingly talented. She picked up baking a few years ago and developed a passion for it; so much so that she started putting pictures of her creations on Facebook, and then when people started asking her to bake for them, a business was born.

She worked 40+ hours a week at a bakery in Northern Virginia while living at home over the summer, and then would come home and bake for “College Girl Cakery,” her brand name, for an addition 5-6 hours each night. The only way you can maintain that schedule is with true passion.

People around our hometown tried her goods at various parties and events,  she received her first bit of press- a story in a local newspaper- the orders really started flooding in. She started a website in addition to her Facebook page to manage her flourishing enterprise.

Here is just a sample of her creations- see the website for the full picture archive.

She can’t really maintain her side business during the school year. Mary Beth attends UVA, and even lives in my old apartment- which I love, because I get to sleep in my old room whenever I visit, which is all too frequently ;). But she plans to take orders over all of her school breaks, including this weekend for Columbus Day. So of course she begins baking the second she walks in the door and usually doesn’t stop until she leaves. And our kitchen looks like this for three days straight:

So I present to you… PUMPKIN SCONES!

Ingredients

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 7 tablespoons sugar
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
* 6 tablespoons cold butter
* 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
* 3 tablespoons half-and-half
* 1 large egg

Powdered Sugar Glaze

* 1 cup powdered sugar
* 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
* 2 tablespoons whole milk 

Spiced Glaze

* 1 cup powdered sugar
* 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
* 2 tablespoons whole milk
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1 pinch ginger
* 1 pinch ground cloves 

Directions

TO MAKE THE SCONES:.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Using a pastry knife, fork, or food processor, cut butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no chunks of butter are obvious. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half and half, and egg. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball.


Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle (about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide). Use a large knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough.

Place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 14–16 minutes. Scones should begin to turn light brown. Place on wire rack to cool.

TO MAKE THE PLAIN GLAZE:.
Mix the powdered sugar and 2 tbsp milk together until smooth.
When scones are cool, use a brush to paint plain glaze over the top of each scone.

AS THAT WHITE GLAZE FIRMS UP, MAKE THE SPICED ICING:.
Combine the ingredient for the spiced icing together. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.

These were incredible. Just like the Starbucks pumpkin scones, but homemade. 

She also made a cake for a my friend’s Bachelorette party this weekend. A lingerie cake, too fitting: 

 

I think I’ve convinced her to start blogging this summer when she’s baking regularly again. Sister-sister-healthy-living-baking-tag-team-blogging? Can’t wait for her to get started!

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Sunday funday

Let me tell you, packing a week’s worth of fun into a 48 hour weekend is tough. work. I have an oncoming sinus infection to prove it.

But for now, we’ll ignore the repercussions of my fun weekend while I reminisce. Picking up where I left off…

So, Sunday began promptly at 930 with family brunch downtown. This is why I prefer brunch dates with my family rather than friends; I simply can’t wait until noon for a full meal! I can barely shower and dress without something in my belly. Oh college kids, with their sleep-til-noon-roll-out-of-bed-for-pancakes lifestyle… my early riser self could never fully participate.

But my family all wake up early like me so I get to enjoy a full meal straight away. I really, really wanted to take my family to Bluegrass Grill, one of my all-time favorite Cville restaurants (and rated one of the best brunches in the South), but per usual the wait was incredibly long. No big, we went to my second favorite breakfast spot: The Nook.

It has an old school diner feel- big menu, big portions, quick service. But still interesting, good quality food. And cheap. <3.

I got a lox and three cheese omelet. It was exactly the eye opener I needed to energize for… Carter’s Mountain!

Nothing more seasonal than apple picking, pumpkin patches, apple cider, apple donuts, apple butter, apple jelly… you get the point. Especially when, ahem, you live in a town that has views like this:

My good friend Colleen and I picked all sorts of apples and I bought a little mini pumpkin just for decorative purposes. Carter’s also has a country store where I stocked up on pumpkin and apple butters. Plus 50 cent mini cups of cider! Perfect.

My baby pumpkin. I chose him because he has green flecks, like my freckles, plus green is my favorite color. I think this will make a cute desk accessory.

On the way home we made a requisite Arch’s trip, and we hit the flavor jackpot. Heellloo, toffee-coffee and chocolate chip cookie dough fro-yo.

Later that evening I got ready for the night’s event: the Ratatat show at the Jefferson Theatre downtown, possibly my favorite live music venue of all time- and that is saying something.

I have been dying to try the Butterbeer (aka Southern Tier Pumpking Ale) that Kath raved about, so immediately upon arriving at Beer Run my concert companion and I ordered these:

I limited myself to one 10 oz glass. I knew it would be delicious and I would want more, but I also knew I had a pre-6am alarm clock and 2 hour commute to work in the near future. I enjoyed every drop in that glass though- Kath, you weren’t lying! I was a tiny bit worried I would find it too “flavored,” if that makes any sense, but it just tasted like a really high quality pumpkin ale with an awesome vanilla-butterscotch-toffee-cream aroma. SO GREAT!

Buzz kill of the night: they were sold out of the bottles, so I couldn’t buy any to take home! And they don’t think they’re getting more all season :( Kath, if you and Matt have any left, you better savor them. But come to think of it, I’m sure I could track this down somewhere in DC…. this weekend. Mission.

I got a tomato bisque and a side of sauteed veggies for dinner, good but nothing to write home about, and then it was on to the show!

… until I saw Sweet Frog. So I made us stop. And I ate fro-yo for the second time in six hours. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I have a legitimate, diagnosable problem. Totally worth it though, because I tried a new flavor and it might be my current favorite. Hazlenut, aka nutella fro yo. If I could swim in the stuff, I would.

THEN it was on to the show. Posed for a quick pic with my pretty friend Nicole- we were first and second year college roommates, and we’re still as tight as ever! This shot is quite misleading, however- Nicole is 6 feet tall, and she played Division 1 softball on a full scholarship for UVA. I’m 5’4. She was practically on on her knees to get down to my level :)

This is why I love the Jefferson. This is the view from the worst spot in the house:

The show was great, full of noise and dancing, but after a far too brief four hours of sleep I was on the road to work this morning. These are the situations when many people skip breakfast. I refuse. I will eat breakfast no matter what. In a pinch, I simply eat peanut or almond butter from single-serving squeeze packets, on-the-go.

Totally normal.

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