Friday, November 30, 2007

Well, now.

November 30. The last day of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. I can't believe that these simultaneous thirty-day whirlwinds are about to come to a close in two short hours, and already have in other, earlier parts of the world. But most of all, I'm finding it hard to believe that I made it. In thirty days, I wrote over 50,000 new words of fiction and completed a (very rough) first draft. For a month, I posted here daily. So. The question now becomes, was it worth it? Am I glad that I took on these challenges?

In a word, yes.

I am glad for mostly obvious reasons about my participation and success in NaNoWriMo 2007. But I'm also glad that I participated in NaBloPoMo. This is the first time that I have been diligent about my blogging, and I find that I am now more interested in what else is percolating in the blogosphere, what other people are saying and thinking. Is everything out there worthwhile or weighty? Of course not. I mean, I posted a barely cohesive blurb about and, at best, a passable photograph of my dirty kitchen. Whoop dee doo. But even so, I am glad for this adapted view of the internet community, for the fact that I can write the words "internet community" and believe that it exits with only a fair amount of mental scoffing.

So what did I do to celebrate my twin November victories? By finishing up the first draft of my novel to the taste of Moxiberry frozen yogurt with mango, blackberries, and pomegranates (the first time I've ever eaten pomegranate seeds -- they were okay, although not my favorite fruit product) and getting a nifty haircut. The yogurt was a chilly reward on this last day of icy November, but ridiculously delicious and so very healthy to boot. Yum!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thirteen things that I love about the end of November...
  1. The end of NaNoWriMo (500 words to go!).
  2. The end of NaBloPoMo.
  3. Snow.
  4. Leaving Thanksgiving behind.
  5. Christmas decorations.
  6. Holiday craft fairs.
  7. Coffee shops bringing out their holiday flavor lattes (mmm maple...).
  8. The art and sport of speed angeling.
  9. Snuggling up under tons of blankets to keep warm at night.
  10. Christmas cookies.
  11. Christmas cooking.
  12. Christmas in general.
  13. Snow!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

While browsing through today on a quest for a soup recipe that combines kale and black beans (I didn't find any, but did discover a couple of recipes that could be merged in a tasty way), I came across some rather weird recipes. Check out these odd culinary creations!

Do you have any out of the ordinary recipes? I'd love to see some more of these kinds of fun and silly concoctions! My favorite of the above are the Sushi Rolls, although the Dog Food Dip takes a close second since it really does look like dog food (or, I shudder to mention, dog vomit...) in the photographs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

After getting some minor surgery done today (my first surgical procedure of any kind! anesthesia is fun...), dinner is a quiet and simple affair.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My birthday present for the Best Husband Ever. They are extraordinarily delicious. Chex + chocolate + peanut butter = amazing. Unfortunately, I was in a rush at the grocery store and forgot to grab powdered sugar, so I had to make these with regular granulated white sugar. As a result, the texture is off. But they still are wonderful to my tongue!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

As I have mentioned on here before, I recently started a new job. I now work as a barista for a local coffee shop. And . . . I really enjoy it. There is something very satisfying about making coffee for people and selling them delicious goodies. Plus it is exciting to meet so many new people. I've already heard some wonderful stories. There is a book waiting to be written about that coffee shop, I'm sure. Or perhaps a short story collection. Anyhoo, I'm excited about this new development, even if it is very far outside my logical area of expertise (I have a Master's degree in education), and excited to see what happens with it. Huzzah for coffee-making!

Photo by Stedman, taken during a visit this evening from him and Ed. I gave them pumpkin pie. Mmm.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One of the things I love most about cooking is that it is a perfectly legitimate excuse to make a mess. I can scatter whole wheat flour across the counter while making pancakes (which I often do) or get cinnamon caked under my fingernails when sprinkling the spice over the top of some muffins, and that's okay! Making a mess is fun, and, in the right circumstances and with the proper cleaning follow-up, quite healthy. Don't believe me? Try taking a hike during the spring or fall -- in the midst of some kind of precipitation is ideal -- and don't try to stay clean or dry, but rather embrace getting your jeans caked in mud up to the knee. It's a wonderful game! So enjoy the mud, and enjoy the lovely mess that often goes hand in hand with culinary creation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Well. I made it through Thanksgiving without posting anything too Thanksgiving-y. (And in case you take offense at my flagrant disregard for the rules of the English language that I continue to break, just remember that I'm a writer and it must therefore be okay. Expected, even. Yes.) But then I got around to looking at the photos I took yesterday and just could not resist sharing this one of Eddie, my wonderful in-laws' dog, inspecting the turkey as it waits to be de-stuffed. It's so good of him to look out for us, don't you think? He'd probably even be so kind as to discreetly dispose of the bird at the first sign of inadequacy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The cheesecake turned out well, more or less. I think that I may have covered it with tinfoil a little too early because today the foil had tiny holes in it and the top of the cheesecake had gray flecks all over it which my husband guessed were foil remnants. Can warm cheesecake burn holes in tin foil? I'm not sure, but that's the theory I'm going with. So, after we scraped off the top layer, the cheesecake was fairly tasty. My husband's family seemed to like it. His mother said that it tasted like cheesecake without leaving you feeling heavy and sick after eating it. I don't know that it tasted as much like cheesecake as I would like, but it was definitely sweet and light and not bad at all. I'll count this one as a success!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So. Thanksgiving. It's never been a favorite holiday of mine, although you can't really go wrong with a celebration centered around eating especially tasty food with folks that you love. I suppose the Thanksgiving obsession with football (which I disliked before four years of marching band membership during which I was required to attend all of the high school's football games) and turkey (it's okay, but not fabulous to me).

However, I do like dessert. Specifically, pie. You see, although my favorite baked good to make is the lovely muffin, my favorite baked treat to eat is pie. Mmm. Favorite kinds of pie are apple, with pecan and pumpkin coming in at a close second and third. Mmm. Are you hungry yet? Because all this talk of pie makes my tummy rumble.

The Best Husband Ever and I are spending the holiday with his family. I couldn't decide what dish to bring, however. I wish I felt brave enough to tackle a pie, but I just didn't have it in me. However, I did find this very intriguing recipe for vegetarian Italian cheesecake. I decided to try it.

For the crust, I spied Honey Maid's holiday-themed gingerbread graham crackers at the store and couldn't resist. (By the way, the graham crackers taste okay. If you want graham crackers, get the plain ones, and if you want gingerbread, eat a gingerbread boy. I don't think the combination is necessary or adds anything particularly great to the munching world.) Instead of soy cream cheese and soy sour cream, I used the fat free regular versions of each. I forgot to buy lemon zest and didn't have any on hand, so I just squirted some lemon juice into the food processor (the first time I used the lovely appliance -- how exciting!) and hoped for the best.

"Hoped for the best" -- I would say that sums up my current feelings about this cheesecake quite precisely. My kitchen is filled with the pleasant aroma of baked cheesecake, and I think the cheesecake looks quite beautiful, if not exactly how cheesecake traditionally appears. However, before throwing the thing into my oven, I took a little taste of the uncooked filling mixture and -- it tasted rather bland. Perhaps the taste of the crust, which I found much more pleasant and sweet, will cook into the filling. Or maybe the heat will magically activate the sugar or some hidden secret that will turn this rather average dessert into something amazing and delicious as well as healthy. Only time will tell. The cheesecake is currently setting in the refrigerator, possibly transforming into a paragon of cheesecake, or perhaps just stewing in its own mediocrity. I will wait and hope for the best and be thankful that I live in a society where I have the luxury of playing with my food.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tonight's dinner: delicious homemade black bean burgers with sweet potato fries. I highly recommend this recipe, although I would halve the amount of cumin. I also cut out the hot sauce. My burger tasted great topped with barbecue sauce and a tiny bit of salsa and fat free sour cream. I've been looking forward to this meal for quite some time, and it was almost as good as I expected it to be. My two regrets are that the fries were limp instead of crispy, and that I waited until the last minute and so couldn't find any good quality wheat burger buns in the bakery section of Albertson's at four o'clock in the afternoon. Even in spite of these factors, the meal felt especially cozy in my belly after coming in from the snow.

The snow finally stopped coming down, but some still remains. It was amazingly beautiful and magical yesterday, and lovely even as it melted and turned the streets into treacherous ice sheets. It reminds me of Narnia. I can't wait to put my Christmas lights up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's an exciting time here in western Montana. Starting early yesterday afternoon, it began to snow -- and it didn't stop until today, dropping over a foot of accumulation in some places. Right now it is cold and icy and all-around soppy. Not so much fun for driving in, but lovely for settling down with a cozy, home-cooked muffin. If a muffin can in fact be cozy, that is. But I think that it's allowed, and so onward with Muffin Monday!

I had some leftover spaghetti squash in my fridge that was starting to get a little aged. There wasn't quite enough to make a meal of, so I thought it would be interesting to put the stringy squash into a baked item. And what could be more versatile in bridging the baking chasm between sweet and savory than the humble muffin? So into my mixture went the spaghetti squash, along with some cranberries and applesauce. Also, I wanted to use some yogurt but unfortunately had run out of the plain yogurt I typically use for cooking. What I did have was a Costco-sized case of individual Yoplait yogurts in strawberry and peach. I decided on peach (on account that peaches and spaghetti squash are both orange, and must obviously go well together on the palate), and I could not discern any difference.

The result was a very bready muffin, due more to the fact that I used 2 cups of whole wheat flour as opposed to half wheat flour and half white or all-purpose flour. But the muffin was also moist and filling, and it left me feeling that I had eaten something good but hearty. Which is exactly what I was after on this snowy not-quite-winter's day.

Snow Day Squash Muffins

2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Yoplait fat free peach yogurt
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup sugar free maple syrup
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp plus a little baking powder

1 cup fresh spaghetti squash
1 handful cranberries (I used frozen)
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Stir the dry ingredients together. (Leave the squash, cranberries, cinnamon, and nutmeg for later.) In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Mix well. Combine the two bowls and stir. As the batter smooths, mix in the squash, followed by the cranberries. Add the nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir until smooth. Scoop the batter into a greased muffin tin (I used canola oil cooking spray). Sprinkle the tops of the muffins lightly with cinnamon. Bake for 20 minutes, adding approximately 5 minutes if you are using a six-muffin tin. If you can stab a muffin with a fork and have the tongs come out mostly clean, your muffins are done!. Cool and remove muffins. Makes 6-12 muffins, depending on your tin of choice. A slather of honey on this muffins would not be amiss.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not-quite-ripe fruit -- is there anything better? Not to me. I like my pears crispy, my bananas green and somewhat firm. So when I saw ultra-unripe bananas at Costco last week, I couldn't resist (especially at Costco prices!). But as the week passed, the bananas -- which really were too ripe, even for me -- did not seem to ripen at all. On two separate occasions I tried to partake of some potassium goodness, only to be foiled by bananas that I could not even peel, let alone eat. With the second banana, I actually cut the peel away, sure that a deliciously unripe treat awaited beneath. I was wrong. It was sticky and hard and incredibly bitter. So I continue to wait, yearning for the bunch to ripen just a little, and then -- I will devour! Perhaps that is why they are being so devious. They know what an end awaits them in my belly the moment they succumb to the pressing of time and nature.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just a light breakfast/brunch salad this morning. I continue to be amazed at the high quality of fresh vegetables and fruit that Costco sells. To my mind, bulk anything should be low quality, especially fresh food. And yet the produce section of Costco continues to delightfully defy all my expectations.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ahh, Friday. The not-quite end of the week, the not-quite beginning of the weekend. I love Fridays in the some way that I enjoy the trailers when I go to see a movie in the theater -- I'm watching something fun and new and often well put together, but the movie itself hasn't started so all the anticipation and excitement at popcorn-scented entertainment is still there. Fridays are the same way for me.

I thought it would be fun to participate in Flashback Friday this week. In fact, I had already been thinking about doing an "unofficial" flashback post today even before I discovered an actual meme for it, intrepid muffin that I am. So today's flashback hearkens back to a fun and sneaky cookie-making adventure that the Best Husband Ever and I embarked upon in April of this year. I give you this photo and the caption I wrote for it at the time.

A recent addition to the IV house in the last few weeks has been a can of creole seasoning. I find this seasoning extremely intriguing. At first I thought it was rather repulsive, but also liked the smell of it. After trying some on a biscuit (not the best choice), I thought it would actually be pretty awesome in a burger. I've since heard that it's great with chicken and cooked with vegetables. The can itself, however, purports to be "great on everything." Josh and I decided to test this claim.
Today we baked a batch of chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (yum!). One of these cookies had a bit of seasoning sprinkled on top, and two had quite substantial pockets of seasoning concealed in their centers. I tried the first of the creole cookies, and it just seemed extra salty but not so bad. Brad was our first and only victim, picking out one of the creole-centered cookies. After a few bite he asked if we had added pepper. When he rejected the cookie, I tried some, and it was pretty darn spicy. Josh had the last creole cookie, and didn't like it too much either. So is creole seasoning "great on everything"? After careful analysis, I think we can safely say that it is not.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Have you noticed that it's Thursday already? Which means that it's nearly the weekend, that ER is on television tonight, and that it is time for my second Thursday Thirteen. I thought it would be fun for you to learn more about me, the head honcho of this muffinpalooza. So my topic for this week's list is thirteen things I enjoy in addition to making muffins, once again in a (mostly) random order.
  1. God.
  2. Spending time with my fantabulously amazing husband, the Best Guy Ever.
  3. Spending time with the people I love.
  4. Reading. What books is my nose currently stuck in? I just finished Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which I enjoyed immensely, to my very great surprise and delight. I'm also reading the rather lengthy but amusing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, as well as Ann Brashare's (thus far) cute YA novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Other books that I love include The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (and just about any other writing by Lewis), The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
  5. Climbing mountains.
  6. Writing. I have enjoyed writing, first fiction and later poetry, since my late elementary school years. To date, I have written three novels/novellas (two of those for NaNoWriMo) and am currently working on my fourth, have published four poems in various journals and magazines, and have written a respectable number of short stories, blog posts, and other rants. I even earned my bachelor's degree in creative writing, although I'm not sure how much that's worth.
  7. Playing scrum. It's like free-for-all rugby. Bring it.
  8. Photography. I'm very much the amateur, but enjoy it nonetheless. I especially enjoy photo days with the Best Husband Ever or with some of my talented photographer friends. You can browse my photo madness here.
  9. Yoga. I take classes at the local YMCA, and also enjoy online classes with Hillary and Elsie.
  10. Watching movies. Especially good ones. Some favorites include Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Seabiscuit, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, The 10th Kingdom, and The Snowman. Honorable television series mentions go to Buffy, Firefly, and Smallville. I'll even admit to following America's Next Top Model.
  11. Teaching. In addition to writing, I earned my Master's degree in elementary education. Although I grow increasingly unhappy with what seems to be an eternal stint as a substitute teacher, I really do enjoy working with kids and being in the classroom. I hope to do it full-time someday, somehow.
  12. Crocheting. I can't say that I'm much good at it, but it's quite exciting to see my fingers turn a skein of yarn into an only moderately lumpy scarf or other project.
  13. Musicals and show tunes. The cheesier, the better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I really like to use spices in unconventional or unexpected ways in my cooking. So when I found a recipe for cinnamon chicken on All Recipes, I was intrigued. Sweet chicken? It seemed a bit odd at first, but also potentially tasty. After all, I love carrots glazed with cinnamon and brown sugar. Why not chicken?

So I tried it out. It tasted tangy, instead of sweet as I expected. The chicken was moist and flavorful. And -- I loved it. My husband liked it. It was healthy, filling, and delicious. In short, a winner. As a result, my tweaked version of this recipe has earned itself a permanent place in my cookbook. It hits the spot on chilly days when an oven-warmed kitchen filled with the aroma of cinnamon and spices is especially cozy.

Cozy Cinnamon Chicken

canola oil non-stick cooking spray
skinless & boneless chicken breast halves (I use the frozen 99% fat-free version from Costco)
1 tsp cinnamon
dried basil, oregano, & parsley
1.5 tsp diced garlic
1 tsp black pepper
1 dash of salt
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat your oven to 350 or 375 degrees F (this will vary by altitude -- if you opt for the lower temperature you may simply have to bake the chicken longer).

While the oven is heating up, mix the applesauce in a bowl with everything except the chicken (and the cooking spray, of course!). Be sure to use only a single teaspoon of cinnamon, otherwise the taste will be overpowering. You can, however, be quite liberal with the basil, oregano, & parsley. You probably want to end up with about 2 teaspoons of all three combined in the "marinade," but I never measure these three spices out. Instead, I just give each spice jar about 3-5 shakes into the bowl. Stir well.

Coat both sides of the chicken in the applesauce mixture. Set any extra "marinade aside." I apply the concoction straight onto the frozen chicken, but you can also put it on thawed chicken and adjust the oven time. Place the chicken in a baking pan coating in cooking spray. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30-45 minutes. Bake until the chicken is cooked through. When the chicken is almost done cooking (I try to aim for when it's got about 10 minutes to go), remove the foil and continue baking.

I use any extra applesauce mixture on a side of vegetables to round out the meal. My favorite choice is French-cut green beans and cranberries. Again, I used frozen beans and berries, but fresh is a great choice as well. I just find that I don't use enough green beans and cranberries to warrant buying a slew of fresh ones. I take the greens and berries and mix them with the rest of the "marinade." Cook them any way you'd like! My favorite is to simply throw them in the same pan with the chicken and bake for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Then remove, serve, and enjoy. Yum!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It seems that I have been something of a lazy muffin regarding my blogging of late. Sure, I've managed to get some new content posted every day to tip my hat to NaBloPoMo. But, sad to say, that content has been rather paltry and full of somewhat titillating but vacant food porn instead of actual muffin-related chit-chat. My apologies, dear reader. I pledge to get my blogging butt in gear. Or at least, in a better gear. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well yesterday, so that's my "legitimate" excuse (and also why I didn't novel a word for NaNoWriMo either). On the up side, yesterday I started my new job as a coffee shop barista, which I found extremely enjoyable. I'm excited to return tomorrow and sell the hungry folks of this Montana town the muffins a growing body needs.

But right now I've got a food adventure cooking that does not have anything to do with muffins, as shocking as that is. No, I've got bagels on the brain. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps it's because yesterday I sold quite a substantial number of people breakfast bagels, and that set me wondering about what people see in those doughy circles of fun and how difficult it would be to make a more nutritious version of my own. So I set to researching recipes and found one version that seems relatively simple, does not involve a bread machine, and can be completed in a couple of hours. So there you have it -- my next baked Everest is the humble yet seemingly tricky bagel. When will this attempted conquering occur? Soon, I hope, very soon. Otherwise, I'll have to buy a bagel to squash my rising craving and that's just not as much fun. Besides, then I wouldn't have as much to blog about.

(Image nabbed from Zabar's -- and you should check out their gift baskets, some of them look quite tasty, especially the babka and rugelach. That's saying something coming from me, as I am not normally one for food baskets.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

I began a new job today that lends another spiffy hat to top this muffin -- coffee shopbarista! And it was fun selling the world their caffeine and bakery goodies, even if I didn't get to actually make any of it myself . . . yet.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today's brunch, cooked with the Best Husband Ever after the season's first snow (yes, that's right, snow. You can see why that would make it a pancake sort of day). These are from a buttermilk mix with added berries, but I also made whole wheat berry pancakes for me. Yummm.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In a previous comment, Julie asked what sorts of ingredients find their way into my pumpkin burritos. Normally, the burritos are quite a simple affair, as they were for tonight's dinner. I simply wrap a wheat tortilla around a spread of pureed pumpkin (I use canned, although you could puree your own) and sprinkle the whole thing with cinnamon. If you are looking for variety, try adding black beans, raisins, or walnuts. I love this meal because it's simple and quick to make, easy on the wallet, and healthy. Plus, it's fun to pull a tray of crispy-edged pumpkin burritos from the hot oven when the weather is cold and blustery outside and let the burritos' orangey goodness fill and warm you up. This is comfort food at it's best -- cozy and healthful!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ah, November. The trees are shedding their last leaves before the winter slumber, and the clouds grow heavy and dark with increasing frequency as the birds, bees, and the rest tuck in or follow their hearts' urgings to warmer habitats. It can all only mean one thing -- Christmas is nearly here.

Hang on a sec, that can't be right! Holy holly, Batman, haul in those reindeer. Christmas can't almost be upon us, can it? We've barely said farewell to Halloween 2007, and Thanksgiving is still a fortnight off. And yet, commercial America is already decking the halls of malls, Wal-Mart, and the like. Starbucks, to my not so very great surprise, is also in on the advance of premature holiday cheer, pushing their Christmastime-only flavors like gingerbread, peppermint, and eggnog. I wouldn't find this so terrible if they hadn't discontinued my all-time favorite holiday drink, the amazing mmmaple macchiato. How in the world am I going to get my caffeinated cheer on now? Bah humbug.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

How sad! I had just typed up my first entry for Thursday Thirteen -- and then I closed the window by accident. My witty list of my thirteen favorite foods and eats, all gone! What can I do now but growl and retype? So

For my very first Thursday Thirteen meme, I have decided to list my thirteen favorite foods. Mmm. I hope you're hungry! Actually, I am quite hungry myself. But I've got some spaghetti squash in the oven, pasta waiting in the wings for the Best Husband Ever, and am ready to gnosh. Can you guess the first item on my list? That's a toughie . . . . And so, in no particular order (mostly, anyway), behold the thirteen foods I most like to fill my stomach with.
  1. Muffins! Especially muffins with bran and/or fruit in them.
  2. Salad. All kinds of salad, although my grandma's cabbage salad is my special favorite in this category.
  3. Enchiladas. Cheese-tastic!
  4. Pie. Special favorites are apple, pecan, and pumpkin. And I wouldn't be opposed to a combination of all three.
  5. Trail mix. It makes me want to climb mountains.
  6. Pizza. And it must be floppy, thin-crusted, grease-soaked Jersey-style pizza. Fancy gourmet pizza is good, but nothing beats a gooey slice of extra cheese or pepperoni or mushroom pizza from back east.
  7. Ice cream. A shout-out goes to cookie dough, Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, and just about anything with peanut butter, chocolate, and/or caramel. Mmm.
  8. Nachos. Preferably piled with sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and olives.
  9. Burritos. See #8 for garnish preferences. Have you spied a trend? Also, pumpkin burritos get an honorable mention, as do cheese quesadillas.
  10. Spaghetti. What can I say, I'm Italian! Half, anyway. Lasagna ain't bad, either, especially when my mom makes it.
  11. Waffles. Or pancakes. I'll take either, although I prefer Belgian waffles. Especially if its doused in pure maple syrup and fresh fruit.
  12. Huevos rancheros. Again, see #8. Artery-clogging and delicious.
  13. Chocolate. It had to be at least mentioned! The only chocolate that I dislike is Hershey's. I find it powdery and fake-tasting. But Reese's (peanut butter and chocolate!), Cadbury's (cream eggs!), chocolate chip cookies, plain old chips. . . yum!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Today saw multiple culinary adventures blossom into various stages of success. After leaving the black beans to stew in water for about an extra twelve hours (note: although I could attribute this as my fantastic bean know-how at work, it's really because I was feeling uninspired and lazy last night), I decided to see what they were made of. Or, to be more accurate, to see what I could make of them. My palate plan of attack? Sweet and spicy.

The result turned out to be almost exactly what I wanted -- sweet (although a little too sweet) and spicy (again, a tad too spicy for me, but my husband said he could go for more of the taste bud inferno). The original plan that I pieced together from several on All Recipes called for a whole lot of white sugar. It seemed a bit excessive, so I replaced the sugar with applesauce. When I taste tested the cooking beans and veggies, my eyes and mouth watered -- in pain. I enjoy tangy foods, but spicy foods, while still yummy, are not quite as much up my alley. So I added some sugar-free maple syrup (which is surprisingly yummy by its own right). While I think I may have added a little too much of the syrup, I think it turned out well in the end. I really enjoyed this meal. My only regret is that, due to concerns about the concoction turning into a soupy mess, I served it to two rather full stomachs, so we did not get to enjoy it as much as we otherwise might have. Would I make it again? Oh, yes. Maybe even sometime soon.

My other adventure arrived in the form of healthy, low-fat cookies. Isn't that a grand word combination -- "low-fat" and "cookies"? Unfortunately, I negated the healthful benefits of these treats by munching away on trail mix while attempting to thread together a plot for my NaNo novel. Nonetheless, I wanted to create a cookie that combined oatmeal, banana, and peanut butter. Based off of a recipe from All Recipes, I came up with the beauty you see here. Healthy? For sure. Tasty? They're okay. I wanted something crispier and these were baking more like bread, so I broiled them for a few minutes before removing them from the oven. They were still quite fluffy in the middle, so next time I will flatten them after plopping them on the baking sheet. Ah, well. I suppose you can't be too fussy when it comes to healthy cookies . . . right?

Sweet 'N' Spicy Beans

canola oil non-stick cooking spray
2 cups black beans, soaked in water 24 hrs (or 1 can of black beans, rinsed)
1/2 cup chopped onion of your choice (I used yellow)
2 T minced garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 T dry cilantro
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 dash each of chili powder, cumin, cinnamon
1/8 cup maple syrup (you may also want to try honey)

Cover the bottom a skillet with the cooking spray and cook the garlic and onion over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Stir in the rest of the vegetables, followed by the spices and maple syrup. Let the whole mess cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black beans and allow the concoction to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer at least one hour. (I had mine cook for about 1.5 -- 2 hours, and the beans were still rather firm. If this happens, increase the temperature slightly.) Serve hot or cold. Be creative with your presentation -- these beans would be great served in tortilla-lined bowls, topped with tortilla chips and salsa, or as burritos. Have fun!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Oh, how I shouldn't have. But caramel rolls are so tasty, and free day-old rolls are too good to pass on.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I have long held designs on conquering various intriguing recipes that all have one element in common -- their use of the ubiquitous black bean. But I didn't want canned black beans. After all, why go for a preserved, ultra-salty product when I could just as easily get my mitts on dry beans? So I bought a bag of Goya's dry black beans . . . and it has been sitting in my pantry for at least the past month. Why? Because I haven't taken the initiative to soak them for the twenty-four hours prior to my need of them. Blame my inner and very active procrastinator. However, the game is about to change because, at this very moment, I have a commune of black beans relaxing in a bowl of water, waiting to blossom into a tasty meal tomorrow. Will it be a black bean burger, or a Mexican soup? Or perhaps something else entirely . . . . Only tomorrow will tell! Regardless of what I decide, however, I am excited about my next culinary caper. Suggestions and prognostications are very much welcome. I am considering using at least some of my beans to solve this problem.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I enjoy coffee (and tea!). I especially enjoy flavored lattes (my favorites are caramel, and Starbucks' maple macchiato, which is sadly only available during the winter holiday season). However, I usually do not indulge in fancy coffee as it is more expensive and less healthy. When I do partake, it tends to be a special treat. Today, I had a plain latte with skim milk at a local coffee shop. The occasion? The first official NaNoWriMo 2007 write-in, of course! And I have to say, this was the prettiest latte I have seen in quite some time. It wasn't all that tasty (I've never tried the non-flavored variety and was curious), but it sure looked nice and packed a strong caffeine-laden punch that I continued to feel long afterward. I'm still not sure if that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

One of my favorite things about the weekend is making and eating pancakes with the Best Husband Ever. These are whole wheat berry muffins, and are delicious, especially with maple syrup.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Spaghetti squash takes over the world! Or at least, my kitchen. The past few months have seen my discovery of and subsequent addiction to the wonderful world of the squash.

The most recent newcomer to my squash fetish is the spaghetti squash. Delightfully yellow, pleasantly oval, it is healthy and amazingly delicious without the addition of any spices, sauces, or other flavors. When I hacked my first spaghetti squash in half the other evening in preparation for dinner, I simply baked the halves in the oven for about forty minutes face-down in a shallow pan of water. When they emerged, steam billowing to fog my glasses and sear my forehead (well, just a teeny bit of searing, really), I removed the halves to let them cool. Once I could handle them, I began to scrape a fork through the tender flesh, pulling it out in the squash's trademark noodle-like strands. Curious and unable to resist, I put a forkful in my mouth. Then another. And then -- well, you get the idea. Soon, it felt as if I'd eaten just as much of the squash as I had included in the lasagna.

Which brings me to the part of the meal that required actual cooking, not just haphazard sawing. Having seen quite a few recipes in which the brave spaghetti squash is a healthful replacement for those pesky, carb-laden pastas, I couldn't resist making a discounted squash I found at the grocery store my own. Sifting through the recipes I had discovered, I decided on baked lasagna. I thought this meal was all-around fantastic. It is healthy, fairly easy, and extremely delicious. Even my husband, who on the best of days really dislikes squash, said it wasn't all that bad.

My one criticism is that the meal is time consuming -- I had to bake the squash for at least forty minutes until the flesh was usable. You can hasten this part of the process by stabbing the squash like a fork-wielding serial killer and then microwaving it for about 15 minutes. That way it will be easier to cut in half, and it will bake in the oven faster. But if you don't mind the wait, this meal is very much worth it.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1/2 (15 ounce) can black olives, sliced (I rinsed my olives to remove excess salt)
tomato sauce of your choice (I used Ragu's organic varieties)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (use more if your heart desires it! I used part skim and fat-free versions, which baked and tasted great, and you can easily substitute vegan alternatives)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese (optional -- I only added some for my husband's portion to make it a bit heartier for him, and again I used part skim)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. You will want to play with the temperatures here. If the squash is taking forever to bake, try turning up the heat, or turning it down if the lasagna crisps too quickly on top.

Place the squash halves face-down on a cookie sheet or shallow pan in a thin layer of water. Bake for 30-40 minutes (again, be flexible with the time, and also remember the option to microwave the squash before halving it -- just make sure to stab it a few times with a fork to prevent a huge, squash-y mess from coming to live in your plucky microwave!). When you can easily insert a knife into the squash, remove from the oven and allow to cool (approximately 15 minutes). When you are able to handle the squash, run a fork through its flesh, removing the squash strands. It should peel right up in lovely threads. If you're having a hard time, throw it back in the oven and let it bake more.

Once you have harvested all the squash, it's time to assemble your lasagna! You need a casserole baking dish or metal baking pan of some kind. I used a small bread pan. What you bake the lasagna in is up to you -- would you rather have it deep or shallow? Let your preferences inform your choice. My lasagna was fairly deep -- the layer of squash reoccurred three times.

Layer the dish/pan with alternating strata of spaghetti squash, sauce, olives, and mozzarella (and ricotta if you use it). Once you have used up all of your ingredients and/or are satisfied with the depth of your creation(I ended up with quite a bit of leftover squash as I was only cooking for two), sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and bake that bad boy for 20-25 minutes. If the center is baked but the top layer of Parmesan is not melting, you may want to switch your oven to broil for a few minutes to get it nice and crispy. Remove, serve, and love!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

NaNoWriMo (and, for that matter, NaBloPoMo) is off and running. Or writing. I'm very pleased to say that I surpassed the daily minimum word count of 1,667 words, which is a strategy I hope to keep up to give myself a nice buffer for Thanksgiving/having of a real life/procrastination. What's my survival strategy? Bribery with cookies, like this Moose Bar from The Break Espresso, a wonderful cafe and bakery downtown. This cookie is an amazing concoction of oats, chocolate chips, and peanut butter. I tell myself that the oats make it healthy.