Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't forget about pumpkin - it's not just for holidays!

It's not just for Halloween....
When I was little, my sense of adventure did not include food.  Tried and true foods were my staples, with pasta being a highlight.  Holidays brought a bit of stress as they also brought different, more traditional (though not in my mind) foods to the table, and I found myself frequently refusing to eat them.

Pumpkin was one of those foods.  In my mind, pumpkins were meant for carving, not eating.  Slices of creamy Pumpkin Pie were left untouched and untasted, and it wasn't until I reached my 30's that I discovered what I was missing.  Today, I can't get enough pumpkin, and it's not just for fall anymore.

During this fall holiday season I stock up on the canned version, and we pull out cans year round for pumpkin treats.  When my kids were little, pumpkin was a staple in pancakes and muffins, adding a nice dose of Vitamin A as well as fiber while keeping calories low.

We've had Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls for July birthdays, Pumpkin Chocolate Cake for August Jazz in the Park, and a lovely Pumpkin Gorgonzola Pasta for the first day of Spring.  That being said, I do enjoy the plethora of pumpkin recipes and lore that come with this fall holiday season, and I found myself captured recently by a story from friend of a friend a few weeks ago.

As Leslie told me about Vi, her face lit up with the glow of happy memories.  She reminisced about the days when she was a little girl, and also about a Pumpkin Pie that only Vi could make taste so good.   Vi promised the "secret recipe", and you'll have to read the story to be in on the secret...

by Leslie L.

Yes Viola, or Vi as we called her, would come each Thursday to help my mom around the house with ironing and light cleaning. As soon as Vi arrived all five of the Laurer kids would sit at the kitchen table and wait for the weekly ritual of Vi making peanut butter toast for breakfast. It wasn’t the toast we anticipated but rather watching our dad frantically search in every cupboard looking for his jar of peanut butter. Little did he know that Viola had hidden it in the oven on purpose.  I don’t know to this day if dad was on to her or just played through the scenario for the delight of his kids.

Viola was married to Ernie, who was a cobbler. And that is what he called himself, a cobbler. Vi and Ernie lived in a little, lavender house in the center of Baltimore City. Lavendar was my favorite color and I remember thinking that I had never seen such a pretty house in my life. 

Viola was a wonderful cook. After school we would come home knowing that Viola had made a special pie. With the remains from the pie crust she would bake triangles smeared with butter and cinnamon. It was a little bit of heaven to pop them into our mouths! She made an amazing beef stew too, but her specialty was Viola’s Pumpkin Pie. We used to say, “Vi … how come your pie tastes so good?” She would just smile and say, “One day when the angels come to take me away, I will leave you my secret recipe.” 

Viola and Ernie eventually sold that darling, little lavender house which was now ensconced by skyscrapers for a great sum of money. They contributed to their church, got on a bus and toured the United States for the remainder of their lives.

When Viola passed away she was true to her word… and left her most precious Pumpkin Pie recipe to my sisters. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have over the past 49 years!

The recipe comes from the pumpkin pie filling can.  One large can makes 2 pies.
Viola’s secret ingredient?  One cup of Kentucky Bourbon and ½ teaspoon of maple syrup!
Remember liquor evaporates a little while cooking so we always add a little more...


I would love to have known Vi, and I'd be willing to bet she had some fabulous story to tell... many thanks to Leslie and her family for sharing Vi's story with us.  What an incredible woman who deserves to be remembered.

As I don't see pumpkin season really coming to an end, I thought we'd bring you some of our favorites from this year as well as years past... Don't forget to stock up on a few extra cans of pumpkin so you can enjoy the heart healthy ingredient year round with us!

Jeanette's Healthy Living

Lemons and Anchovies


Friday, November 23, 2012

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

With the hoiday season now upon us, calories, thankfully, don't count.  At least that's what I keep telling myself every time I tuck into a luscious bowl of Captain Greg's Salted Caramel Ice Cream...

You may remember my gelato loving neighbor, Captain Greg, who provided us with some fabulous concoctions over the last year.  My personal favorite?  The Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Chunk Gelato.  Filled with chocolate chunks and chopped peanut butter cups, the creamy gelato brought a minefield of goodness.  The end of summer, and ever so popular Plum Perfect Gelato made its rounds featuring plums harvested from Greg's tree with the help of some young neighbors, and the Lemon Lime version?  Tangy and reminiscent of a perfect margarita (minus the tequila), Captain Greg has what it takes to make people smile.

One of the kindest and most giving people I know, Greg is the Captain of a local Team in Training Chapter for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Mentoring new members as they begin their marathon training, Captain Greg provides the positive support that keeps these runners moving and a love of life that is contagious to everyone he touches.  Included in that verve for life, Greg also has a touch with Gelato and other frozen concoctions that doesn't disappoint.

Join me as we sit with Greg while he chats up his newest creation!

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Monday, November 19, 2012

Butternut Squash and Beet Quinoa Salad

Some 20 years ago I cooked my very first Thanksgiving, and from that day forward my collection of family favorites evolved into a menu that has remained almost constant for the last few years.  This year however, I daringly changed things up and thankfully was met with resounding success. 

With our schedules somewhat of an issue, Liv Life celebrated our 2012 Thanksgiving last Friday with a simple family affair featuring most of my traditional dishes plus a little something new.  Bringing in my latest obsession, quinoa, was a bit risky.  The kids have not been as receptive to quinoa as I would have hoped, and as their vegetable eating habits (like my husband's...) are also a touch, shall we say, lacking, adding two of my other favorites, butternut squash and beets, to the quinoa added even more risk.

Roasting the vegetables with drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano, the house took on the aroma off autumn in no time.  The beets turned a beautiful crimson red as they roasted, while the butternut took on hues of brilliant pumpkin.  Enhanced with chunks of onion, the veggies were tempting enough to eat on their own, however tossing them with quinoa and arugula added the protein/flavor punch I was looking for.

Dressing the concoction with a simple oil and white balsamic vinegar combo brought a delightful tang, and the sprinkle of pomegranate contrasted beautifully with the savory flavors.  Feta and walnuts added additional texture, and the only other thing needed was a fork.

Beautifully jeweled hues had the salad looking the epitome of autumn, but it was the mixture of flavors and textures that had me weak at the knees.

My Dad's eyes lit up at the list of ingredients, however the rest of the family hesitantly scooped small servings next to their traditional mashed potatoes and turekey.  Dad and I gushed about the dish, and keeping my eye on everyone else, I was thrilled to see nearly everyone reach for the new dish for a larger helping after their initial tastes.

A perfect Thanksgiving dish that can be made ahead of time, this healthy addition is one you can feel good about serving whether your meal is simple or formal.  Flavorful and filled with textures, my only advice is to make extra... it also makes a fabulous day after Thanksgiving breakfast.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Bread Braid

Holiday Bread Bread on a baking sheet

Every once in a while I sit back and revel at how lucky in life I am.  Thanksgiving often gives me inspiration to reflect back on my year to indeed, give thanks, and this year I once again have so much to be thankful for.

I'm extraordinarily thankful for the family who surrounds me with love, for Liv's smiling face each morning the moment she wakes, for my son who is getting old enough to take care of me on occasion, for my husband who works hard to keep us happy, for my parents who are always so supportive, for my Father in Law whom I've grown to know so much better this past year, and for all of our continued health.

In addition, I'm so thankful for my Food Blogging community where I've come to know a talented group of people who continually brighten my day, for the ultra supportive ladies in my Inspired Plate Photography Group, and or my fellow crazy Dance Moms.

I'm thankful to the vet who saved our pups life when he ate dark chocolate.  I'm thankful to the server in Rome who brought the most wonderful pasta and wine.  And last but not least, I'm thankful to Roxana, of Roxana's Home Baking, for picking us as one of her winners in her Red Star Platinum Yeast Giveaway.

I don't win things very often, and when Roxana's email notifying us that we had won her giveaway arrived, Liv and I set right to work deciding what we would bake.

A long time bread baker, I understand the frustrations of working with yeast.  While I usually have success, on occasion I have been known to produce loaves akin to hockey pucks, loaves that make wonderful door stops, and loaves that would most likely sink like rocks if dropped into water.

Years of practice has thankfully made these occasions few and far between, but every once in a while a little extra lift is appreciated (in more places than one... but we'll keep this post on the topic of bread...).

Receiving a beautiful bow tied gift box with the Platinum label prominently affixed to the outside, our first use fell to one of our favorite holiday breads.  A traditional Bread Braid, the bread tends to be a bit fussy since we have altered the ingredients to make it dairy free.  Occasionally becoming a bit heavy, the beautiful loaf has failed me a time or two (or perhaps my kneading technique failed it...), but being that it is my son's all time favorite holiday food, the loaf graces every holiday table we host.

After Roxana's high praises of the yeast along with a comment of, "Kim, you are going to love it!"  I couldn't wait to get kneading, and everything she said in her posts was right.  According to Red Star the yeast contains dough enhancers, "This simple-to-use yeast strengthens and improves your dough, increasing oven spring and finished volume of any recipe."  While I've only tried the yeast with this one loaf, Roxana spent days trying bread recipe after recipe and her results had me excited.

Dough for Holiday Bread Braid rising on a bakin sheet

Citing slightly quicker rise times along with greater loaf volume, I maintained high hopes as our day proved chilly, and with no heat on in the house I worried that the bread would not rise well, but it did.  Once in the oven, the words "oven spring" gave full meaning as I peeked in after 10 minutes to behold a beautifully shaped loaf puffing over the confines of its braid.

Some 10 minutes later, pulling two perfectly golden loaves from the oven I reined in every bit of strength in me to resist ripping a crusty end piece off one end, purely for tasting purposes, of course.  Snapping a pic instead, I immediately sent it off to my son who quickly responded from class, "Don't eat all the bread before I get home!", and I set out for my rounds of school pick up.

With a soft texture and plenty of flavor, I think I need to add that I'm also thankful for irresistible holiday bread.

Holiday Bread Braid topped with Golden Sesame Seeds

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce for Mom and World Diabetes Day

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce, low sugar and diabetic friendly

See below for a Sweet Giveaway!!
(giveaway now closed...) 

Over the years, cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for my family has become more and more challenging.  I have a treasured list of traditional recipes made up of everyone's favorite requests.  However, the health factor of said recipes has, on occasion, been questionable.  Years ago I would think, "No worries... it's only one day.  We can worry about eating healthy next week.".  Lately though, "no worries" has become "not an option.".

Last year's dinner had me catering to the following:  1 quadruple by pass, 1 lactose intolerant, 1 lactose sensitive, 2 high blood pressure, 1 congestive heart, and 2 diabetics.  Oh, and add in the one who doesn't like onions, and my traditional recipes have required some work.

The turkey?  Luckily, he's not an issue.  Sweet potatoes?  Reducing fat was easily managed by reducing the butter.  Mashed Potatoes and the bread?  We adapted those to be dairy free with a little trial and error.  But the cranberry sauce?  That I struggled with...

With the high in sugar (but oh so wonderful...) Grand Marnier Cranberries being my Mom's favorite part of the meal, her recent diabetes diagnoses had her last year spooning just a taste onto her turkey.  As her diabetes is relatively mild, it has been easily controlled through oral meds and dietary changes, and this year I was on a mission to find cranberries she could eat with abandon.  Or at least eat a decent share of without issue.

As is many times the case, timing is everything.  An email a few weeks ago from my fellow food blogger, Carolyn Ketchum, of  All Day I Dream About Food, made me aware of November's special status of Diabetes Awareness Month, and that today, November 14th, is World Diabetes Day.

If you know Carolyn, you know that she is one of those amazing people who manages to care for 3 young children in combination with producing a fabulous blog filled with gorgeous photos and her own low carb and mostly gluten-free recipes while making it all look so easy.  Carolyn was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in her third pregnancy, and when the diabetes decided to stick around, she embraced lifestyle changes in order to continue her lifelong passion of baking and cooking.

Today, Carolyn has put together over 40 food blogger friends who are posting their own diabetic friendly recipes to bring awareness to World Diabetes Day.  I highly recommend taking a gander over to Carolyn's site to check out her KitchenAid Mixer Giveaway, in addition to perusing the rest of the diabetic friendly links that she will put you in touch with.  And as luck would have it, Carolyn has put many of us in touch with Swerve, an all natural sweetener she swears by that measures cup for cup like real sugarThe people at Swerve have kindly offered us an opportunity to do a Swerve giveaway of our own (see below!).


I will admit to being hesitant in the past to trying sugar replacements filled with chemicals and other "stuff", and have instead opted to either reduce sugar, replace with honey or agave, or not make the recipe at all.  Swerve though, is made from a unique combination of ingredients derived from the fibers of fruits and vegetables, and the fact that Swerve contains no artificial ingredients, preservatives or flavors, enticed me to give it a try.

Not being able to find the ingredient in my local West Coast stores, I used my preferred shopping method of online shopping, and had a box on my doorstep in mere days.  They even sent me an email confirmation saying, "Thanks for your order Sweetie!"  which had me smiling from the moment I met them.

Swerve Sweetener
Have your cake and Skinny Jeans Too!
While my immediate family has no diabetes issues, Liv does have a fairly strong sweet tooth, and as a wee one had been found on more than one occasion with a unapproved spoon in the sugar bowl for a snack.  As such, I do whatever I can to try to reduce the sugar in her diet, and little does she know, she has been eating Swerve all week long in her muffins, pancakes and cookies.

This week I've made recipes for her and our car pool girls, and I asked pointedly how they liked the snacks.  Happily receiving a resounding, "Awesome!" as an answer along with requests for more, I also asked if the recipes were sweet enough (a common complaint with the girls as I'm always reducing sugar), and every girl answered yes.  Quite a testament, I'd say.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, my next project turned to Mom's cranberries.  Making my usual recipe of our favorite Grand Marnier Orange Cranberries, I simply subbed 1 cup of Swerve in place of 1 cup of granulated sugar.  While the consistency proved to be slightly different, not quite as "jelled" as with the regular granulated sugar, the taste was just the same, heavenly.  As mom can have some sugar, we did add the usual amount of orange juice to the recipe, so the recipe is not "sugar-free", but it is greatly reduced, and will work beautifully into her meal.

Liv Life's Sweet Swerve Giveaway

Swerve Sweetener has earned its place in the front of our pantry this week, and I'm eager to share a fabulous gift pack of two 1 lb. Swerve Sweetener packages along with an adorable Baking Kit (Liv's eyes lit up when she saw the one they sent to us!) including spatulas, cupcake wrappers, measuring cup and spoons, along individual Swerve Sweetener packets, all packaged in a cute little lunch box.  (Liv has actually taken hers to school where she had everyone asking "Where did you get that??").

Instagram I shared to make my friends envious!!
Here's how to enter (ie:  the small print)

1.  Leave us a comment telling us your favorite Thanksgiving can't live with out dish!

2.  Like Swerve on Facebook for an extra entry

3.  Follow Swerve on Twitter for an extra entry

4.  Pin a pin from this post on Pinterest for an extra entry

Our winner will be chosen at random at 3 PM PST on Tuesday, November 20th and will be notified by email (please leave your email if your comment does not link to it).

Good luck, and thanks for joining us in supporting World Diabetes Day!

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce, low sugar recipe for World Diabetes Day

Friday, November 9, 2012

Saffron Rice from an Edible Mosaic

Saffron Rice, Golden Raisins, Pistacios, An Edible Mosaic

Have I mentioned how much I love cookbooks?  With my book shelves currently bowing under the weight of my ever growing collection, I've been known to pull a volume down and drift through page after ingredient filled page as I while away a chilly evening by the fire.  The dream of actually having my own name on a cookbook filled with my photos and recipes is probably one that many of my food blogger friends and I have shared, but today, one of my talented friends is actually living this dream.

Just 3 days ago, Faith Grosky had the pleasure of releasing her first cookbook - An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, and Liv Life had the pleasure of reviewing one of her recipes, which we share below.  In the book, Faith focuses mainly on dishes from Levant (according to Wikipedia: "Levant is the crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa"), however other areas of the Middle East are covered as well.  The book is available through the Amazon link above or additionally at Barnes and Noble.

Faith gained a love of Middle Eastern cooking after getting married and living in the Middle East.  With lessons from her Mother in Law, Sahar, Faith brings over 100 authentic Middle Eastern recipes which have been streamlined for those of us with not so authentic Middle Eastern roots.  In addition, she helps demystify some of the traditional ingredients and cooking techniques.

Jar of Saffron
While I haven't had a chance to actually get my hands on the book yet, the Saffron Rice recipe Faith shared with us has made an appearance twice this week in our kitchen.  Flavorful and easy to get on the table, the rice appealed to the whole family, hence requiring a second batch in just a few days.

And today, Faith is hosting a Virtual Launch Party where you can follow other food bloggers and their reviews of Faith's recipe as well as participate in what I hear is a pretty darn fantastic giveaway featuring all kinds of goodies.

Our biggest congratulations to you Faith!  May you continue living the dream...

Saffron Rice, Golden Raisins, Pistacios, An Edible Mosaic

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

PBJ Banana Waffle Sandwiches

Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Waffle Sandwiches

Even the most organized of us sometimes run out of an ingredient, but to run out of syrup on the day one makes waffles is unforgivable.  Or so I've been told.

With a batch of steaming Banana Waffles (our Blueberry Waffle recipe with bananas replacing the blueberries) ready to be eaten, Liv shook her head in despair as less than 1/2 of a teaspoon of syrup slowly dripped from our empty bottle.  Minutes before heading out the door to school, I had no alternative suggestion other than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, something she is not particularly fond of.

A look of deep thought flashed over her face, and I was commanded to grab the peanut butter.  As I reached for bread as well, she smiled, but shook her head no.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Waffle Sandwiches
Grabbing the top waffle, the triangles were quickly separated, one side slathered with creamy peanut butter and the other with her favorite strawberry jam (Personally, I love how the peanut butter and jelly sinks into the little waffle squares...) Smooshing the triangle sandwiches together, I tapped my watch and told her, "Make it to go.".

Settled in the car she took her first bite.  Here eyes momentarily closed followed quickly with a broad smile as she went back for more.  Finishing the first waffle sandwich she had only one comment,


Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Waffle Sandwiches

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Day in Lipari and a tour of the Aeolian Islands

Lipari Island, viewed from the Seabourn Legend

Lipari... it was the one port on our 2011 Legendary Cruise that I was not familiar with.  Located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands with a population of a little over 11,000 permanent residents.  Popular with tourists, the May-September population of this volcanic archipelago swells to over 20,000 with its beaches becoming popular destinations.

The 5th day of our itinerary began before the sun rose while on our way to the port of Lipari,  a scenic cruise through these beautiful Aeolian Islands welcomed the day in style.

Aeolian Island at sunrise, Seabourn Legend

Aeolian Islands a sunrise, Seabourn Legend

As our ship entered the archipelago chain at sunrise, this was an entry not to be missed.  Greeted by a dazzling pink sky which in turn changed to hues of gold, orange and yellow, my camera shutter happily clicked away for hours capturing image after stunning image as we made our way through the volcanic area.

Vulcano erupting
The erupting volcano, Vulcano.  Part of the Aeolian Islands
Sailing past multiple volcanic rock formations as well as an actually erupting volcano, aptly named Vulcano, the sights went beyond brilliant.  After our morning "tour", the Captain thoughtfully tucked the ship directly under the St. Bartholomew Cathedral and we settled in for breakfast with a view before heading into town.

Seabourn Legend breakfast in Lipari
Breakfast with a veiw
Making our day a leisurely one, we left our ship, the Seabourn Legend, with no direction in mind, and immediately loved the sights of the little fishing village.  Fishermen mending their nets greeted us at the port, and cobble stoned streets led from the port area into the main town, itself called Lipari.  Shops, cafes and restaurants lined the wending streets providing endless places to stop, and the local men and women just opening their doors greeted us with smiles as we wandered by.

Streets of Lipari - Seabourn Legend
Streets of Lipari
Numerous shops filled with locally made pottery had my eye immediately, and Lipari ended up filling the rest of the empty space in my nearly full suitcase.  Jewelery made from igneous stones from the island also found its way into my bag as well as around my neck, and I'm still enjoying my morning espresso from my little blue ceramic Lipari cup.
Streets of Lipari, Seabourn Legend Itinerary
Ready for some shopping in Lipari
Making our way to the St. Bartholomew Cathedral, I expected just another church as we had already viewed so many on the trip.  This Cathedral though, took my breath away.  Originally built around 1100, the Cathedral was the home of Benedictine Monks for many years before it was burned along with much of the town during a Turk invasion.   Rebuilt in the second half of the sixteenth century, the original cloister was converted into a graveyard, and eventually, after a major earthquake it was covered and forgotten.

Cloisters of St. Bartholomew, Lipari, Seabourn Legend
Original cloister rediscovered
While the remaining Cathedral has undergone numerous renovations over the last few centuries, the original cloister was rediscovered more recently around 1978 and has been restored to its original beauty.  The center garden, enclosed by stone pillars has become a much visited destination for those visiting the Cathedral.

St. Bartholomew, Lipari

Stepping over rice strewn cobblestones to enter the brilliant white and blue Cathedral itself, the colorful ceiling frescoes depicting biblical scenes date back to the 18th century and had us sighing with awe.  Lit beautifully from the side windows allowing so much light to enter the structure, the church is bright and filled with color.  Dedicated to St. Bartholomew, the Cathedral is said to have been the resting place of the Saint after his casket somehow washed up on Lipari's shores.

Frescoes in St. Bartholomew, Lipari

Making our way around the grounds, the views of the blue ocean below and the surrounding town provided stunning vistas and views of the island.

Occasional ruins can be seen around the grounds, and an archaeological museum is nearby.

As our time ashore drew to a close, Lipari's charming streets and friendly people left me wishing I had more time.  Definitely on my list of places to return to, my day in Lipari and our views of the Aeolian Islands remains unforgettable.

Lipari, Seabourn Legend Port