Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 12: Silicon Baking Mat

I've fallen behind, did not reach my 20 blog goal and tomorrow is the end of October. Last week the little one and I were both under the weather. That is possibly the cause. Or perhaps my day to day life keeps me away from the computer. Maybe it's a little bit of both. I have a toddler who is very demanding of my time and I prefer to spend as much time as possible with her.

This doesn't mean I don't love all my readers. I love the comments and the fact that I, maybe even a little, am inspiring others.  Makes me smile!

Keep reading folks. I'm here, just busy busy with a non-stop toddler. Seriously, non-stop!

Let's get to kitchen gadget #12. This one is a gadget I first discovered in culinary school. The silicon cooking/baking mat. This handy dandy little mat is quite amazing. Non-stick, reusable, heat proof (I wouldn't put it in the broiler though), and washes well. Versatility is it's #1 plus!

After I finished up in school I moved several times. Among the many moves I lost my silicon mats (among other kitchen items). I thought, for sure, I would not be able to locate another set at a descent price. They seemed so pricey in the high end kitchen stores, the only ones I was able to find them in.

But, a few weeks back my luck struck! I found a set of three (2 large, 1 small) at Costco. They are the perfect size for my set of baking sheets I picked up there as well. And, they were of reasonable cost. I was so very excited!!  These are great for many baking applications. Cookies, squares, potatoes, fries, roasted vegetables, and of course, with this time of year, pumpkin seeds.

I absolutely love pumpkin seeds. Actually, I love pumpkin as well. This I did not realize. I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie and just assumed that is what ALL pumpkin tasted like. For my very happy palate I found it to be a semi-sweet tasty squash. Delicious!

There are many benefits to pumpkins as well, the seeds too. I love that my little one loves pumpkin seeds seeing as they are high in iron, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin K, and protein. Pumpkin seeds are also a source of ALA which is then converted into EPA (an Omega-3 fatty acid), the conversion, however, is slightly inefficient but adding pumpkin seeds to your daily food intake (yogurt, cereal, as a snack) will boost the amount of Omegas you get, also great for my little one!

The pumpkin I cleaned out yesterday did not get carved. Yes, Halloween is tomorrow and we should have carved pumpkins this past weekend but I wanted to do a trial run for Thanksgiving. This year will mark my very first vegan Thanksgiving. There will be no turkey cooking in my oven this year. Rather, we will be making up stuffed pumpkins. I will do small individual pumpkins, last night I made one large. But, each time I clean out a pumpkin I'm sure to roast up the seeds because I could eat them daily!

We went this weekend to a pumpkin patch about an hour from us. It was a pumpkin patch and fall festival. Lot's of great things for kids to do. My only issue with Marana Pumpkin Patch was the lack of variety, which the website specified, of food choices. The website informed us we were not to bring in any of our own food. I had planned on packing a lunch for the hubby and I, the little one always has food no matter what is posted, and we planned on purchasing food there for BK and my mom. When I called and informed them we would be purchasing food for 2 of our party members they still said we could not bring in a packed lunch. What a hassle. Their idea of wide variety was not my idea, nor is it the idea of many. They did not even offer a vegetarian option. I wonder, for those who have food allergies (lactose, gluten), what they might do in this particular situation. We often go to Apple Annie's to do our pumpkin picking and I believe we go again next year. They not only offer a food option for vegetarians they also allow other foods to be brought in for consumption. We had to try and plan the whole day around the fact that we could not eat at the Marana Pumpkin Patch. By the time we left, hungry, the little one was so exhausted she passed out in the car. This only meant we could not stop for food on the way home. Yes, Marana Pumpkin Patch was fun, but inconvenient for those of us who don't eat the "conventional" way. I wouldn't recommend it for vegetarians/vegans with small children who, like me, need to get home in time for naps. Or, perhaps, pack a lunch and eat it in the car. Re-entry is permitted. If we do go next year that will be our plan.

We did get some great pumpkins! We took a tractor out to the patch and picked our own. We came home with four!

I still have some left. I hope we have time to carve them up for Halloween. It's tomorrow!

The seeds, of course, roasted with some salt and garlic came out excellent. Love them!

If you are able to find these silicon mats at a reasonable price. Pick them up. They are excellent for many baked items. You aren't wasting foil or parchment because you can easily wash these up and reuse them. I think they are great for cookies, veggie/black bean burgers, seeds, and tater tots. Yep, tater tots. I don't have to use any cooking spray, no added oil and they cook up superbly.

Give them a try!

Cheers and happy eating!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 11: Get out of the kitchen!

Sometimes it's nice to just get away. I spend my days with my little one, in the kitchen, on the laptop, busy, busy, busy. So, getting out of town (even if close by) is a pleasant experience.

The hubby and I realized we haven't been away together since right before we got married, 3 years ago. That's a LONG time!

For the past 19 months our lives have revolved around the little one. Infant to toddler takes a lot of effort and time. We also haven't wanted to leave her. And, until 17 months I nursed her daily, leaving wasn't an option.

This past weekend, we did it. We left town. We drove an hour and stayed in a lovely cabin off the beaten path with a couple of our close friends. We were, essentially, off the grid. I must admit, before I left I had a bit of a break down.

We stayed in the top two floors of this cabin. The bottom floor is the gift shop.

What if my little one wakes in the middle of the night and needs me? What if she hates the fact that we are gone? What if something terrible happens? What if she is suddenly unruly for the In-laws? Some many questions and concerns. I cried, I contemplated not going, I felt stressed and frazzled.

But, I did it anyway. Knowing I needed it, the hubby needed it, and to be honest the little one needed it too. She was in fully capable hands! I knew this.

The, what I called, "The Alice in Wonderland" flower.

I'm so glad I went! It was the most relaxing weekend I've had in a long time. Sitting on the porch of a beautiful cabin for basically an entire day is unheard of and fabulous! Playing board games, chatting, and enjoying great food with friends was amazing. The weather was beautiful, chilly nights, light days. I had such a wonderful time!

So, not necessarily a kitchen tool. But, getting out of the kitchen, sometimes,  brings one back to the love of being in the kitchen. In my case it did anyway. Monday was my "cook for the week," day, I felt refreshed and ready to go. I missed the ease of my kitchen therefore felt more connected. Gosh, I hope this doesn't make me sound weird!

Time away to rejuvenate is what I needed. The very best kitchen gadget is to get out, get fresh air, have fun, enjoy life, love, live, all those wonderful things we often don't have time for with our busy day to day lives. I even got to see a plethora of hummingbirds which was quite an unusual sight for me as I don't see them much at home. Many other birds were around, so many the small gift shop has a daily sign highlighting the countless birds you will most likely see.

Each evening right by our cabin the wild turkey's walk down the street and take a path up through the trees to a "take off zone" of sorts. They then coast down to perch on the trees for the evening. I never knew turkey's would fly like that. Such a short distance to keep them out of harms way each evening. What a sight to see.

When we returned we were greeted with the biggest smile on the little ones face. She was so happy to see us. With the mood she was in (very happy indeed) I know she had a blast with her Bubbie and Zehdeh! She missed us for sure but had a fun and exciting weekend. She went to the Botanical Gardens to watch the butterflies, played, read books (lots of books!), went for walks, and got a new toy car. She loves cars!

The place we stayed had a kitchen so I can't actually say I was completely out of the kitchen, but I did prepare food ahead of time to just take some time to reheat. I made a warm lentil soup (up in a chilly cabin, so devine!) with yummy bread on the side. The next night our friends brought up Lasagna, which was excellent! The cucumber salad was a simple side that tasted so good! Breakfast was provided by the B&B (we brought our own almond milk) and lunch was sandwiches. A little Tofurky, tofu cheese, avocado, and whole grain bread makes a great lunch.

After a hike, lunch was yummy! We hiked a smaller trail (we are all out of practice), the views were spectacular. Then we just hung out on the porch. I couldn't even read much into a book because I was so distracted by the chirping birds, beautiful landscape, and the people who biked, walked or drove by. What a lovely Saturday!

Monday, I got back in the kitchen. I tried a new recipe out of Let Them Eat Vegan (I know, I've had so many out of that book!) which was excellent. I can't believe I didn't try it sooner. Maybe going on vacation opened my eyes to what I have yet to try. I made the Cauliflower Chickpea Pumpkin Curry. I served it over rice. So tasty!

Was it hard the first time you left any of your children to take a much needed spouse vacation? 

Cheers and happy eating!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 10: Cookbooks Pt. 2

This is a continuation of my kitchen gadget, one of my favorites, cookbooks. Part 1 can be found here. I love cookbooks. My kitchen thrives on them. I aspire to, one day, write one or two of my own.

Here is the list from part 1:

In part 1 I covered Eat Raw Eat Well, Veganomicon, Let Them Eat Vegan, and The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook.

Here's the mini reviews for the rest of my favorite cookbooks!

The Engine 2 Diet is a book I received from my nutritional health coach. Rip Esselstyn wrote The Engine 2 Diet to better health for everyone, not just athletes and firefighters. As a firefighter and athlete himself, though, he's found he has been able to continue with his regimen because of this simple, clean diet he follows. This book came about (extensive research by himself and his father were, of course, conducted) based on an argument. In a firefighting house competitions are plentiful. One day, Rip and a couple of his work buddies started talking about health and cholesterol. He believed that he would have the lowest of all three. So, they ventured out to get tested. When the results came out it turned out that his buddy had the lowest, as he was in the middle, and the other firefighter was severely high. What was concerning to Rip was that his friend with the highest cholesterol had a family history of heart disease and bypass surgeries. He decided he would "rescue" him through a healthy diet. And that he did. They continue on with the plant-based diet based off an argument.
Rip was included in the movie Forks Over Knives as well. My favorite line, "real men eat plants," was said while climbing a pole at the firehouse. Amazing!

In this book you will find many different recipes. All plant-based and oil/fat free. I love his breakfasts, easy, simple and tasty. But, I must tell you about the Raise The Roof Sweet Potato Vegetable Lasagna. First off, when I wasn't eating a plant-based diet I didn't much care for lasagna, mostly because traditional varieties always had ricotta cheese. I didn't like cheese, much less lumpy curdled cheese. Gross! So, I was hesitant. But I also knew this version would contain no ricotta. Yay! I set out to make it one winter night and after some time (lasagna always takes time) and cooking it came out to be so wonderful I've made it several more times. I was so impressed I often make as my "look what vegans eat!" dish for my non-veg friends. Best lasagna I've ever had! A must read, this book!!

The McDougall Program is a book I picked up at a conference in town. A conference where John McDougall spoke. It was an amazing conference. I count myself very lucky for being able to attend. I have yet to dive into this book but many of the recipes look/sound fantastic. Check it out! Dr. McDougall has great information regarding health all packed into one book.

Ah, Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan. I discovered this book through Twitter. Can I say Christy is my Twitter friend, I really hope so! I have a few Twitter crushes and she is certainly one of them. I've tested recipes for her and we've chatted. She is a true sweet heart! I love her style and I love her cookbook!  I love this book based on the fact that it's been done by seasons. Produce changes with the seasons and she certainly takes that into consideration with this book. Christy is sure to include gluten-free, soy-free and oil free options as well.
The pictures are beautifully appetizing and thoughtful placed. Is it okay to want to eat the pages right out of this book? They are that wonderful! I must admit, one of my favorite photos is one of Christy chopping food in the kitchen. She has pigtails. Maybe it's me but I love to wear pigtails and this picture made the book feel like home.

My favorite recipes include; Mixed Berry Couscous Surprise, Heirloom Gazpacho, Winter White Bean Stew, Summer Fruity Kale Salad, Lemon-Roasted Asparagus, Magical Raw Tacos, Pineapple Not-So-Fried Rice, Red Quinoa Salad and the Fiesta Quinoa Salad to name a few. I have yet to try the Sea Vegetables section but I can't wait to do so.

Checkout Blissful Bites, you won't regret it! Christy offers light, tasty, make you feel fantastic after eating, meals.

Everyday Happy Herbivore is just that, an everyday cookbook. This book is written by Lindsay Nixon, another Twitter peep who's super friendly! I could use this book everyday. I love it! Over 175 quick and easy meals. What's not to love? What's even better is these meals can be on the table in 30 minutes or less. Seriously, what's not to love?

This book has smoothies, breakfast, muffins, sandwiches, soups, salads, veggie dishes, casseroles, beans and faux meat, pasta, desserts, and sauces and gravies. She even has a Do-It-Yourself section, like applesauce, bread crumbs, and no-beef broth. 

I found this to be a great "transition" book as well as an everyday book. I'm not huge on fake meats but during my transition period this book with the faux meats really kept me going. 

My favorites include; Eggless Salad, Kidney-Quinoa Burgers, Bella Tacos, Shiitake Miso Soup, Moroccan Lentil Soup, Red-Red Stew, Bell Pepper Stir Fry, Chana Saag, Moroccan Sweet Potatoes & Chickpeas, Harvest Home Fries, and the Chipotle Mayo.

I'm so excited for Lindsay's new book, Happy Herbivore Abroad, I pre-ordered it a few days ago! If this book is an indication on the greatness I can't wait!!!

The Best Baby Food on The Planet as well as The Petite Appetit Cookbook (not pictured) I used extensively when my little one was starting out with foods. I love all the sections for pureed baby foods. I was not sure on the logistics on how to cook all the foods and these two books helped me tremendously! If you have a little one and you want to make their food I highly recommend both these books!

I hope you are able to check out some of these wonderful cookbooks and I certainly hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

All of these wonderful people, including myself, are willing to help answer questions on your healthy journey. That's what I love about finding all these wonderful folks on Twitter, on blogs, through cookbooks. 

Cheers and happy eating!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 10: Cook Books! Part 1.

I have plenty of kitchen gadgets but I sat here thinking, "what to post about next?" I drew a blank. Why? Who knows? The baby has been in a fussy mood all day and I'm a bit spent. Moms/dads haven't you had those days before?  Yikes!

I looked around the kitchen, my eyes fell upon the cookbooks on one of my counters. Seeing as we don't, yet, have a bookshelf in our kitchen, I keep those I use often on my counter. Anyway, I looked at them and the thought occurred to me, I use those ALL the time. What better kitchen gadget, right?

So, here is a little review on some of my favorites.

My favorite vegan cookbooks (one is a baby food book which is mostly vegan):

Eat Raw Eat well is my first raw foods cookbook. When I changed my diet to a plant-based diet I had no idea what raw foods meant. Raw food? Like salad? Sure, I like salad. Who doesn't? But, once summer hit here in the Southwest I couldn't fathom cooking inside. It was just too hot. As I kept up with my Twitter peeps I found Doug McNish, a raw foods chef. Doug's background is like many Americans, overweight, acne and migraine headaches. Of which, his doctors, treated with medications. Most doctors don't ask what your diet consists of, I know mine never do. After Culinary school Doug decided to change his lifestyle. He changed his diet, went vegan and lost more than 100 lbs over a two year period.

Inspiring! After reading all that, I continued on through the book. The "meat and potatoes," so to speak, the recipes. There are 400! 400 raw delicious recipes. The cover photo was what I wanted to try first. To be honest, I thought that was pasta on the cover and wondered how on earth pasta could be consumed raw?   This dish was actually the Pesto-Coated Carrot and Parsnip Fettuccine. What you should realize about raw foods, though, is they are not quick meals. This meal took some time to prepare and some effort but I assure you it was worth it! With lemon juice, hemp oil, hemp seeds, garlic and cilantro this light pesto dish was remarkably good. I ate a few servings and had some again for lunch the next day. I was highly impressed.

I've made several other items from this book and in all actuality I have yet to find something I haven't liked. This book has it all. How to equip your raw foods kitchen, breakfast, smoothies and juices, dips, soups, salads, sauces, mains, sides, snacks, breads and desserts. Doug certainly covers it all. He also does well at putting your mind at ease when it comes to the unknown, raw foods.

Veganomicon was my first vegan cookbook. I bought it because I liked the name. The hubby likes the humor Isa Chandra has throughout this entire book. This book is rather large with many tempting recipes. From snacks, appetizers, dips, spreads, to dressings, desserts, grains, vegetables and beans. It really does have every aspect of the vegan diet. I've tried a few of the recipes and most have been good. One, however, is my absolute favorite and makes this book worth the read! Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-fry. This recipe is simple, fairly quick, and incredibly tasty! I love that the quinoa is cooked in pineapple juice. Such a simple yet pleasant technique.

I recently tried the Pumpkin Saag. This too was very tasty. I altered it a bit and it was wonderful. Especially with Halloween and Thanksgiving right around the corner.
This book is great! So many different areas are covered. There are so many recipes I can't wait to try more!

Let Them Eat Vegan is by far my most favorite cookbook! Without this book I'm not sure how far I would have made it in my plant-based journey. I've found so many books rely on fake meats, something I'm not fond of. Dreena relies on whole simple foods, nothing processed. That's what I love most about this book!  You can see my whole review of LTEV, here.

Dreena is the mother of 3 plant-powered kiddos, cookbook author, and genuinely compassionate lady. She's written 4 cookbooks and I'm sure there will be more. She and her daughters even produce some super videos. She seriously makes being vegan fun, easy and awesome!

I admit, I have yet to read the entire cookbook. I've read several, but with this one I couldn't wait to dive into those recipes! But, when I get some free time I will certainly read up on what Dreena has to say about tools to get the cooking job done, what you need to know before strapping that apron on, and the plant-powered pantry and kitchen buzz. I'm sure it's knowledgeable, plentiful and informative. I dove in to the recipes. From Chia Banana Muffins, Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls, any of the smoothies, to the Kale-Slaw with Curried Almond Dressing, Raw-nch Dressing, Vegveeta Dip, Beans 'n Greens Soup, and Jerk Chickpeas I've tried so many. I love them all! Mac-Oh-Geez, DJ's Hummus Salad Dressing, Winter Veg Chickpea Potpie, and Troll Cookies. These recipes are so good. Healthy, whole, fantastic. I use this book often, it's quite dirty, and I use it as inspiration to boost my own vegan kitchen.

Dreena is as sweet as sweet can be too. What better than a great cookbook? A wonderful cookbook author. If you are thinking of eating better, feeling better, and getting healthy start here!

The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Coobook is a cookbook with 125 recipes to jump-start weight loss. I didn't purchase this based on weight loss, more to add to my repertoire of vegan books. This book, written by a doctor, adds in the science behind a healthy diet, foods that fit your goals and ways to revolutionize your menu. The menu includes; breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, dips and desserts. There's even a section for entertaining. If you are looking for more than just a diet this is your book. This book gives you a lifestyle. Gives you health!

My favorite recipes include; Udon Noodle Salad, Italian Fusilli with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts, Soba Noodles with Chinese Vegetables, Cassoulet, Pepper, Mushroom, Tomato, Spinach, and Garlic Pizza (my first vegan pizza!), and Quinoa Timbales. Each recipe has been excellent. Simple, feel good, healthy food. Love it!

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Barnard at a conference in town. He is a genuine guy who just wants to give everyone the opportunity to get healthy. He's a great speaker, inspirational.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to come soon. I will finish the mini reviews for the rest on my list.

My cat decided to get in on the fun too!

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Cheers and happy eating!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 9: Metal Mixing Bowls

There are a few (maybe more than a few) items in the kitchen that I just cannot live without. One of those items is a metal mixing bowl. I like to have at least a medium-sized bowl and a large-sized bowl on hand whenever possible.

I discovered these bowls in Culinary School. Before then I only used those of the plastic or glass/ceramic variety. Metal bowls didn't seem as readily available at stores.

When I got back from school I promptly went to the restaurant supply store and picked up a few of these bowls. They may be more accessible now days but they are far cheaper through restaurant supply. And, the good news, restaurant supply stores are generally open to the public.

I use these bowls for just about everything. Mixing large salads, tossing potatoes for roasting (with all the yummy seasonings), eggless salads, anything that needs to be marinated. All sorts of things. They are so handy.   I even throw the small one on top of boiling water to melt my chocolate. My own version of a double-broiler.

As I've mentioned before, I'm lazy in the kitchen. I like to make things as easy as possible. Sound familiar?  I hope so. I certainly don't want to be the only one.

I use garlic all the time! I've tried buying the jars of already minced garlic but after being opened for a week or so they seem to lose some of their garlicky flavor. I've tried just peeling those cloves that I need but I seem to always get tons of garlic stuck up under my nails and smell like it for days. It's also time consuming. Once I get those little suckers out of their wraps I easily press them in my garlic press. Love that kitchen gadget as well!

But, what I've discovered is how to make peeling garlic really easy!!

Break the cloves from apart, individual pieces and place them in a large metal mixing bowl. Put the medium-sized metal bowl on top and shake! Shake like there's no tomorrow.  Keep shaking!!

Great! Now, lift off that medium bowl and...

Bam! You've got freshly peeled garlic. Throw them in a bag and refrigerate for about a week or so. Easy!  I love this little trick. I use up about a head of garlic per week. The beginning of each week you'll find me shaking garlic like Shake N' Bake! ***Remember that stuff?? I do! Yuck! Ha!

Do you use metal bowls for anything in particular?

Cheers and happy eating!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 8: Old Fashioned Popcorn Maker

I love popcorn. I've always loved popcorn. It seemed like a family tradition to me. We ate it nearly nightly as a family treat, even the dog loved popcorn. My mom and I looked forward to the buttery goodness each time we went to the movie theater. They just made it differently. Add some salt and you've got heaven in a bucket!

For years I've eaten easy microwave popcorn. I'd buy it from Costco to secure myself, you know, so I wouldn't run out. That was often disastrous. I'd throw it in the microwave and 3 minutes later I'd have my bowl of happiness.

When I changed my diet to a healthier plant-based version I quickly realized I would miss out on my beloved popcorn. I was distraught! Microwave popcorn has butter and who eats popcorn without butter? How else would I pop my popcorn? How would I pour non-dairy butter on my popcorn without getting most of the pieces soggy?


What I focused on was a neat little machine, the Old-Fashioned Popcorn Maker. With the cute wheels and the popping mechanism just like one you'd find at the movie theater I was sold. Still not very sure how I'd actually make it happen.

Of course, the first thing I did when I bought this contraption was get the manual out to make some popcorn. I added the oil it suggested, canola, and the amount of popcorn kernels. I let it do it's thing as I watched in elation. Happiness like when I was a child. I got all the popcorn out of it's warm bed and added salt. I tried it and was surprised. It was good! Not just good but so very good! No butter! Who knew?

I know you can pop popcorn without oil but tiny amount gives the whole batch such great flavor. Nothing soggy about it. BK (bonus-kid) said it's his favorite popcorn. Yay!

I love movie nights in this house! Love them. I know I can have heathy popcorn ready in about 6-7 minutes and boy is it tasty!

Popcorn tidbits:

  • Air popped popcorn has fewer calories than the microwave and movie theater versions. About 30 calories per cup. That's without oil and butter.

  • 3-4 cups of this popped goodness gets you to one serving of grains. Good for you snack!

  • Popcorn is loaded with polyphenols, an antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage. One serving of popcorn has up to 300 mg of antioxidants. That's more than fruit! 

  • Popcorn is considered the perfect snack food. But, be aware of how you prepare it. Air popped is best with fewer calories. 

The hubby finds me to be quite odd. I rarely finish my freshly popped popcorn. Why? Because I love for it to sit out for a day sometimes even two. I will eat leftover stale popcorn. It is my favorite treat!

Do you have a love for popcorn? Add any fun flavors? I often add chili powder and salt. Yum!

Cheers and happy eating!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kitchen Gadget #7: Silicon Muffin Cups (take 2)

I'm not generally one to do much baking but on occasion I bring out the bakers hat and get to work. I don't do fancy cakes or fancy pastries. Just the good ole' fashion muffins, cookies, and breads. This past Christmas I tried my hand at sugar cookies. And, while the cookies came out fine the frosting (I thought I'd be adventurous and decorate) was not so fine. I have no idea what I did wrong, those cookies were mostly just looked at.

I'm still working on perfecting my chili recipe which means, now that the weather is cooling off a bit, a lot of chili round here.

Tonight was no exception. It was chili and rice. Yes, rice. I grew up eating chili on rice. I remember going to a restaurant, ordering chili, and being shocked when they did not bring me any rice. Doesn't everyone eat their chili on top of rice?

We headed out for a jog before dinner and as I jogged around the park my mind wondered to corn bread. I'm not a huge fan but when mixed with pumpkin I could very well jump on board.

I got home, pre-heated the oven and through some ingredients together.

Brought out my silicon muffin cups, large and small, and baked up some yummy pumpkin corn bread.

These silicon muffin cups are incredibly easy to use. Muffins pop right out when cooled, they clean up easily and they are reusable. When I got 12 of the large muffin cups I also picked up 12 mini muffin cups. I used those a lot when I made baby food for the little one. I made muffins for her on a regular basis. Great way to introduce protein and other great nutrients in a small portion size. Just right for baby. Now, she's fascinated by these little mini cups.

She loads them up with her food (tonight she loaded them with edamame) and proceeds to give it to her bear. I think she likes the vibrant colors.

I don't mind the paper cups especially when baking for a crowd or on the go but these silicon cups are so useful for just baking at home.

Pumpkin Corn Bread (Southern Style)

2 cups spelt flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 cups cornmeal
1 15 oz can organic pumpkin puree
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons flax meal
2/3 cups apple sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup almond milk

Pre-heat oven to 350º. Line your muffin pan with silicon cups (or paper cups).

In a small bowl whisk the apple cider vinegar and milk together, set aside.  In a large mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients, spelt, baking powder and soda, salt, spice, and cornmeal. In a medium bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the milk mixture to the wet ingredients, stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until incorporated.

Get your hands in there, it's fun!

Fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full. I use an ice cream scoop. Bake for 20 minutes. For mini muffin cups, bake for 10-14 minutes.

Southern style muffins are less sweet, keep that in mind when you make these. I loved them! Me, the one who isn't a huge fan of corn bread.

Cheers and happy eating!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 6: Convection Oven

In most of the US Fall has arrived. And, although, technically it has here as well it's still quite warm during the day. Here in the Southwest temperatures don't start to drop until closer to Halloween. I remember when I was a kid the weeks leading up to Halloween were warm and delightful, so I seemed to always choose my costume accordingly. But, without fail, each year, that evening would turn cold and I'd have to cover my carefully thought out costume with a coat. I should have learned. :)

Halloween Time!
With the warm weather still holding on like a squirrel with his last acorn I decided to bring out my convection oven.

This small oven is wonderful on a hot day! My kitchen doesn't heat up and foods cook just a tad quicker. It's small which makes it great for cooking for a small bunch. Cooking for a crowd? You may need to stick with the regular oven.

What have I cooked in this tiny marvel?

Tater tots (my vice!)
Sweet potato fries
Small casserole
Small lasagna
"Meat" ball subs
Roasted peppers (it has a broiler too!)
Brussel sprouts

I've used it so much (you can tell by how dirty it is) for so many things! I don't know what I ever did without one. It also doubles as a toaster oven. Toasting bread, garlic toast, pita bread. It's all done in a snap without heating up the house.

Basically, anything you cook in your large oven you can cook in a convection oven. Of course, this would depend on the size of the food item.

Tonight I roasted some brussel sprouts. These are my newest favorite vegetable. I hated them until I roasted fresh brussels. Wow! What a difference fresh and roasted makes!  If you are like me and have sworn these puppies off, please just give them one more look.

So Much Better Than I Ever Thought Brussel Sprouts:

1-2 lbs brussel sprouts, brown ends discarded
1-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste (I like mine salty)
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Toss all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven 400º. Line your baking sheet with foil and spray, lightly, with olive oil spray.  Place the brussel sprouts on the lined baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes. They should be brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Even preheating takes no time at all. Trust me, if you don't have a convection oven, they are so very worth the purchase!

Do you have a convection oven? If so, what do you love to cook in it? Do you bring it out during the warmer months?

Cheers and happy eating!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kitchen Gadget # 5: Rice Cooker

I spent another day in the kitchen testing, testing, testing. What kitchen gadget did I use quite a bit today?

You said it, rice cooker!

I know, I know, rice is super simple to cook on the stove top. Boil some water, add rice, lid, simmer for 20 or so minutes and done. But, for some reason I absolutely love my rice cooker!

I use it all the time! This small one is my favorite of the two that I have. I have a larger rice cooker but I never seem to know when the rice will be done. Makes it more difficult to time food. The manual just gives a ball park which doesn't seem to work well for me. Their ball park and mine are so different. Besides that, I tend to make 1-1 1/2 cups of rice at a time so a little rice cooker is just what I need.

Today, while cooking for the week, I made some jasmin rice to go along side my chili and basamati for a pumpkin saag.

The good thing about my larger rice cooker is it's ability to cook brown rice. My pressure cooker does a fine job as well. But, that's for another day.

There are many different brands out there to choose from. This little Rival has worked well for years! Easy to clean. Easy to use. Holds the perfect quantity of rice.

I've made quinoa and couscous in my rice cooker as well. Couscous is so very simple. I bring the water to a boil in the rice cooker, add the couscous and the lid and let sit for about 10 minutes. Perfect every time!

This evening for dinner I went all pumpkin!

Pumpkin Saag. Slightly modified recipe out of Veganomicon.  Naan. Basamati rice. And, to make it all super, Wasatch Pumpkin Ale.  The Pumpkin Saag was so good! I'm glad I added more seasonings to it though. Started off a bit bland for my taste.

You can find the recipe here.

With the seeds, I roasted them with some chili powder and salt.

Pumpkin Seeds, spiced!

Seeds from 1 pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-4 tablespoons chili powder
Salt to taste

Clean out the pumpkin. Remove all the seeds and wash well in a strainer. Place in a bowl with the other ingredients, mix well. Roast at 400º for 20-30 minutes.

This recipe was modified from one I found from a lovely blogger on Twitter, Queen of Quinoa.

Dinner was excellent!

 Do you cook anything different in your rice cooker?

Cheers and happy eating!