Thursday, December 10, 2009

cheesy squoodles (starring the spaghetti squash)

Since my husband has been home full-time, I've been more conscious of the names I give certain dishes. My husband is quite a bit more....selective...discerning...okay, picky than I am, a trait which can easily influence my daughter's perceptions of our meals. While she used to extol the flavor of the spaghetti squash, for example, a few dozen times of Daddy telling why he doesn't like it (doesn't like the taste of squash, doesn't like the texture of it, prefers real pasta, etc...), she has now decided she doesn't like it either.


This is what happens when you live in a household where everyone can be their own authentic selves and give their real opinions out loud instead of smiling and nodding until the kids go to bed, I guess. Or maybe this is what happens when you live in a household where the kids are always awake at the same times you are. When else can you give your real opinions?!

So to my six year old's newly discovered sense of supper independence, my response has been to try to make the foods sound amazingly fun and kid-friendly. Hence, on the menu tonight were cheesy "squoodles": the spaghetti squash noodle.


Spaghetti squash
1 Tbls. Butter
1 Tbls. Flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cheese (colby or cheddar works well)
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup Ground beef crumbles (optional)
Chives (optional garnish)


1. Bake spaghetti squash. (Cut in half, scoop out seeds, place face down in a baking pan with 1 inch water on the bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until soft.)

2. In a skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Stir in the flour with a fork until it browns a bit. Quickly stir in the milk and cook 2-3 minutes until thick. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Scrape out the spaghetti squash, placing the squoodles in a serving dish. Top with the cheesy sauce. Layer ground beef crumbles on top of the cheese sauce (if desired) and top with a garnish of chopped chives.

thanksgiving leftover pot pie

While all those Thanksgiving leftovers are long gone this year, this recipe is thinking way ahead for next year and right on time for Christmas dinner remains. :-)

leftovers, including:
• turkey
• gravy
• cooked vegetables
• mashed potatoes
cheese, shredded or sliced


1. Using a food processor or a knife, roughly chop the turkey & vegetables.
2. Mix with the gravy and put into a baking dish.
3. Top with the mashed potatoes and shredded cheese.
4. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until cheese starts to brown.

Serve warm with hot sauce and/or sour cream, if desired.

This was such a simple recipe that I threw together just to get rid of our leftovers and it turned out far better than we expected. I love it when that happens. Certainly those times are what keep me addicted to being creative in the kitchen and loving my time there. The family gave rave reviews as well, which made it a true success.

Monday, November 16, 2009

syrups and extracts

Am I the only one who misses Hershey's syrup? And am I the only one who has had serious sticker shock when pricing the organic chocolate syrups?

I made some chocolate syrup the other day, and it got me thinking about the other things I make at home that aren't big drains on our grocery budget, but are still organic and simple.

I'm listing three recipes here. The first is for simple syrup, with which you can make just about any flavor of syrup, the next is for chocolate syrup, and the last is for vanilla extract.

Simple Syrup
As the name implies, simple syrup is very simple.

All you have to do is mix together equal parts sugar and hot water. I've used honey but honestly, it's not the same.

You can make any number of flavored syrups by mixing a little flavored extract into the simple syrup to taste. You can try vanilla syrup using the vanilla extract recipe below or peruse the extracts next time you grocery shop and plan a syrup you like. We sometimes like peppermint syrup for hot chocolates, almond syrup for Italian sodas (just mix your flavored syrup with sparkling water), or hazelnut syrup for coffees.

Then there's always...

Chocolate Syrup

Mix organic cocoa powder into your simple syrup to taste. It will be a little hard to mix in at first, as cocoa powder is so light it has a tendency to sit on top of the liquid. This is normal and as you stir, it will gradually mix together. Whisking with a fork helps.

The key to a good chocolate syrup is a true 50/50 ratio in your simple syrup. If you try to cut back the sugar in your simple syrup, you'll end up with a sweet chocolatey liquid, but it won't be thick and syrupy.

Vanilla Extract
If you'd like to try your hand at an extract, I think vanilla is about as easy as it gets.

Whole vanilla beans
Rum or Vodka, 80-proof (not diluted)

I purchased my vanilla beans on eBay and ended up with about 500 beans for around $35. A quick search on eBay just now gave me the Vanilla Products USA eBay store to give you as an example.

When buying vanilla beans for extract, the key to getting a good price is to buy beans labeled "Grade B" or "extract beans." This simply means they aren't considered to be the pretty beans of the Grade A label. They are only graded for appearance, not for differences in taste.

Slice your vanilla beans lengthwise, exposing the seeds inside. Fill a jar with undiluted rum or vodka. Place vanilla beans inside, cutting them to size if needed for use with shorter jars so that the beans are completely covered by the alcohol. Let sit for 2 months at room temperature to achieve full flavor, although you can begin using the extract as early as 30 days. Keep the extract at room temperature until you use it up; no need to refrigerate.

For a half-pint jar, use 1 bean.
For a pint jar, use 2-3 beans.
For a quart jar, use 5-6 beans.

When the jar is emptied, do not give into the temptation to just refill the jar with alcohol, as the second batch will mold. Don't ask me how I know.

Monday, September 14, 2009

power balls

I've played around with this recipe for quite some time and the more I make these, the more I love them. They are high in protein, as low in sugar as you'd like, easy, and very versatile. There are so many options in the ingredients that you can use whatever you have on hand and they will still turn out great. You don't have to cook them, you can mix them all in one bowl, most sick pregnant mamas can handle them, and you can hide things in there that you want your kids to have. What's not to like?


1 cup of any or all of the following:

nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, whatever you have on hand)
seeds (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds)
shredded unsweetened coconut
dried fruit

1/2 cup grain (wheat germ, dry oats, puffed rice cereal, granola, not plain flour...only use what you would take a bite of straight)

1 cup nut butter

honey, 3 Tbls. to start

optional: health food additions (bee pollen, 2 tsp. raw butter, probiotic powder, 2 tsp. wheat germ oil, 2 tsp. flax seed oil, blackstrap molasses)

optional: cocoa powder and/or chocolate chips


In your food processor, finely process any large nuts, seeds, & dried fruit. If you don't have a food processor, you can finely chop them, it will just extend the preparation time. Grind the flax seeds, if using, in a separate grinder. (Grinding the flax seeds before using them allows your body to digest them more fully.)

In a large mixing bowl (your counter-top mixer if you have one), use a wooden spoon (or mixer paddle on a counter-top mixer) to mix together the chopped nuts, seeds & fruit, grain, nut butter, honey & any of the optional ingredients.

Test for sweetness. Add more honey if desired.

You should have a "dough" that will cling together on its own. If not, add a little more honey and/or nut butter to achieve this consistency.

Roll into balls, about 1-inch in diameter, and store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

5-minute shortbreads

I am in love with my new method of cutting in butter using my large-capacity food processor. We were invited to a potluck today in which each family was to provide their own lunch, but to bring a dessert. I enjoy potlucks quite a bit, but when every family brings a dessert, I quickly suffer from sweets overload. I considered cutting up a big watermelon, but since it was my first potluck with these folks, I thought shortbreads would make a better first impression. :-)

Here's the recipe:


2 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks butter (not margarine)
6 tbls. granulated sugar


Put all the ingredients in the food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture looks like crumbs. Turn on a low steady speed until the dough begins to cling together. Turn on a medium steady speed until you have a nice looking shortbread dough. Start to finish time in the food processor? About 2 minutes.

I hate hate hate rolling things out. (Really it's just the cleaning part before and after that I hate so much.) So, I shaped mine into 4 equal shortbread logs. They ended up about the same diameter as the long cookie dough packages you'd find in the dairy section, but about half the length.

Cut these into rounds to make cookies. Refrigerating for 2-24 hours first will make for more uniform cookies. However, they will also cut just fine right out of the food processor. I cut one log for after dinner and refrigerated the other three logs to cut this morning for our potluck.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until you see the first edge of the smallest cookie turn brown.

Shortbreads are so forgiving and hard to mess up that I'm always surprised they aren't a staple in everyone's dessert repertoire. But they always seem to garner such surprised and happy reactions at potlucks, I have to assume they are not. We'll see how the response goes today!

Happy shortbreading!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

oven-dried tomatoes

Does anyone else have a garden bursting with tomatoes right about now? Here's one way to preserve them that takes little space, no special equipment, and of course, 15 minutes or less of your time.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Slice all tomatoes into sections about 1 inch by 1 inch. (This is roughly the size of a grape tomato.) Leave seeds in or remove them -- either way is fine.

Toss in a bowl with a little olive oil and sea salt.

Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 170 degrees overnight or up to 225 degrees under a watchful eye. When they get chewy (like packaged sun-dried tomatoes), they are finished.

Store in freezer bags, label & toss into the freezer. 10-12 tomatoes will fill one quart-size freezer bag.

Use throughout the winter to make sauces, tomato paste, or as a salad topper.

This method has several advantages over other preservation methods. As I mentioned before, no special canning equipment or know-how is needed. And unlike canning, you can use tomatoes that aren't the best of the bunch. Just cut out any bruised spots or holes and use what is still good.

Drying them compacts them to a fraction of their original size, which is a big help when Fall freezer space is at a premium.

And finally, when the tomatoes are finished, they are nearly shelf-stable. If that winter storm knocks out electricity this year, it's unlikely they'll be ruined before you get back on the grid.

If you have no freezer or if you are living off-grid, you can also package fully dried tomatoes into oil, making them completely shelf-stable. These should be used within 6 months.