Monday, November 30, 2009


Minestrone is ALL about "hodgepodge". In fact, there's no specific recipe for minestrone and barely any rules that need to be followed when making it - and that is music to our ears! Minestrone is all about throwing things together - chunky things, like hearty vegetables - and creating a wonderful flavor one might slurp up with a large spoon on a cold, blustery, winter day.

Sometimes though, in our attempt to create the best flavor we can, we may be tempted to use substances, like MSG, that enhance the flavor of certain foods. The jury is still out on exactly how unhealthy MSG is, but we'll let you google the word and decide for yourself.

We personally prefer to avoid it whenever possible because of the controversy surrounding it's effect on one's body, but even more than that, it feels like cheating when you use it in the kitchen. With today's fancy additives you can make food taste like anything...ANY THING! (Don't even get us started on that subject..) but taking vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, spices, etc. and combining them to create a delicious cuisine is the best kind of art there is!

We like to create flavors in the kitchen that come from the actual food themselves - after all, there are thousands of different foods and spices just waiting to show off their "talent". Don't deny them their time in the spotlight!

So, when it came time to serve up some Minestrone, we discovered a very tasty recipe, and it's flavor was off the charts, but three of the ingredients suggested contained high levels of MSG. What?! We felt duped. Anybody can create monstrous flavor with flavor enhancers, but can it be done with real food?

And the answer is YES!

Our soup gets much of it's pizazz from the Italian sausage and crushed red pepper, so choose your sausage carefully, or make your own - just make it super flavorful. As far as beans go, I hate beans - I really hate beans - so the first time I made this soup I did add them, but only because I wanted to feel like a grown-up. I do not, however, find them a necessary ingredient in this soup, but if you're a bean lover, go crazy, bean it up! Add pasta if you want more carbs, but we're pretty wild about the idea of meat and vegetables going it alone.

Our favorite way to make this soup is in the crockpot because you can make it in the morning and it will be ready to eat by dinner, but the stovetop works just as well. As with most soups, this minestrone tastes best on day two and three. Make it tonight, and you'll have a hearty bowl of heaven by tomorrow!


One Pound Italian Sausage
4-5 Strips Bacon, cooked (Oink or Gobble)
One Medium Onion, Diced
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
4 Cups Water
One Medium-Large Zucchini, chopped
2 Stalks Celery, diced
2 Large Carrots, diced
2 Cups Beef Broth
One Can Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed (OPTIONAL)
One 28-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
One Tablespoon Sugar
One Teaspoon Oregano
One Teaspoon Italian Seasonings
One Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

In a skillet cook sausage with garlic and onion. Drain if necessary, then place in crockpot. Add all other ingredients and let the crockpot do it's thing.

Return hours and hours later to taste your new favorite Minestrone!


As you can see in the photo above, we like to eat our Minestrone with blue corn chips - soooo good together!

Note: In case you were wondering what the 3 ingredients were that contained the unwanted MSG, it was Campbells Bean and Bacon Soup, Bob Evans Italian Sausage, and Swanson's Beef Broth. You can find organic beef broth in the health food section at your local grocery store.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mini Pumpkin Cakes

Are you really searching blogs on Thanksgiving morning looking for ideas on what to serve your guests today? Seriously?!

That's okay, we're procrastinators too! We love the thrill, the rush, and the panic of making something totally new, last minute, and hoping it turns out fabulous the first time out of the kitchen. It makes us feel ALIVE!

Well, in case you need a stellar dessert this Thanksgiving weekend, we have a great idea for you - one we came up with at the last minute too. Not long ago, we shared with you our Pumpkin and Spice Muffins that we think taste just like pumpkin roll. BUT, muffins can't be your dessert on a holiday as big and wonderful as Thanksgiving, so this is our idea.......wait for it..........

Little Pumpkin Cakes!

Make a single batch of Pumpkin Muffin batter. Pour half the batter- about 2-1/2 cups worth - into a greased and lightly floured 9x13 pan. Pour the other half into another 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees, I don't remember. I know I set the timer for 10 minutes, then a couple! I can't tell you exactly how long I baked it, but I know I kept a close eye on it. I was thinking it didn't take as long as the muffins did. Sorry! But I'm making these the night before Thanksgiving for Pete's sake - I'm under a lot of pressure here!

Moving on......When they are perfectly baked, remove from the oven and let cool. Using a 79 cent circular cookie cutter, 3 inches in diameter, cut out 12 circles from each pan.

Set one circle on a plate. Top with cream cheese frosting. Lay another circle on top and smear with more cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle crushed graham crackers on top for fun. Repeat 12 times!

How fantastic is that?!

Happy Thanksgiving from our kitchens to yours!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Salad

When's the last time you put pumpkin in your salad?

Yesterday? Really?

Wow! Until we ate it at the Squash Tasting, we never thought about adding pumpkin to our salad before, but that's exactly what makes this salad unique. There are a lot of wonderful flavors in this salad that makes it superb, but pumpkin is definitely the most unusual ingredient of them all!

Even though the pumpkin appears to take the spotlight in this salad, ALL the other flavors blend together beautifully to create the most peculiar, yet spectacular rainbow of flavors.

Not convinced? You don't like pumpkin??! Here's a crazy idea - leave out the pumpkin altogether and substitute apple instead...fresh cut apples. Apples would mingle perfectly with the feta, arugula, toasted pumpkin seeds and toasted garlic and lime dressing. AND... leaving out the whole "roasting the pumpkin" step would make this a quickie in the kitchen. Of course, you may have to rename the salad, but we don't want you missing out on this salad altogether if you have an issue with pumpkins - the dressing is soooo good!

Whichever way you go, go to the kitchen and create this salad for your next dinner - you'll fall in love with the rainbow!

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Salad

1/4 Cup Pumpkins Seeds
One Pumpkin (3-4 pounds) peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
6 Garlic Cloves, unpeeled
1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
Course Ground Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoon plus one teaspoon Pure Maple Syrup
3 Tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice
One Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1-1/2 Pounds Arugula
6 Ounces Feta Cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread pumpkin seeds on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until fragrant and starting to brown, 5-7 minutes. Set aside.

On that same baking sheet (lined with foil - trust us!) toss the pumpkin with 2 tablespoons olive oil, unpeeled garlic, red pepper, salt, and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender - about 30-40 minutes.

Remove garlic cloves from sheet pan. Set aside. Drizzle pumpkin with 2 tablespoons Maple Syrup; toss to coat. Return to oven and roast, tossing occasionally until glazed, about 5-10 minutes more. Let cool.

Squeeze out roasted garlic and mash to a paste. Transfer to large bowl. Add lime juice, mustard, and remaining one teaspoon maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk constantly as you add remaining oil. Set dressing aside.

Add arugula and pumpkin and toss to combine to combine. Serve salad sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbled feta.

Serve it up and eat it up and be prepared to be impressed!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Butternut Squash Polenta

Doesn't look like much, does it? A simple bowl of polenta with a splash of butternut squash? True, it doesn't grab your eye or incite the ever-embarrassing drooling process like a four-layered chocolate cake shamelessly dripping in rich, fudge-like icing does, but this humble side dish promises to warm your belly and soothe your soul with it's very first bite. Don't misunderstand, drooling is a good thing - embarrassing or not, but a soothed soul - now that's something to write about!

When this Polenta was served at the party, it came on the heels of the Maple Pumpkin Salad and the Chile-Roasted Acorn Squash. Both of these fantastic wonders had touches of sweetness and fire, which is what made them ROCK, but it's also what made this charming little polenta number so well-received at the table. It was like a warm, soothing, bubble bath after a night of sassy salsa dancing. Ahhhhhhh.......

So, warm that belly tonight and soothe your soul with this quick and easy Squash Polenta - your family will love you for it. And Hey, no one's stopping you from serving a rich, four-tiered, double chocolate, fudge cake, dripping in icing for dessert - certainly not us! NEVER US!

Butternut Squash Polenta

3/4 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
5 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 Cups Cooked, Pureed, Winter Squash
2-1/2 Cups Water
2 Cups Milk
1-1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper
3/4 Cup Instant Polenta
1/2 Cup Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook onion in 3 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat until very soft. Stir in squash and stir occasionally for 2 minutes.

Bring water, milk, salt and pepper to a boil in a heavy 4 quart-pot. Add polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Cook at a bare simmer, stirring with a long handled whisk. Turn down heat as needed to avoid spatter. Cook 5 minutes.

Stir in squash mixture and cook another 3 minutes, stirring now and again.

Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Eat immediately and SMILE, because it's deliciously fabulous!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's A Squash Party!!!

So, does that photo get you in the mood for a squash tasting or what? Totally part of Teri's plan, I'm sure. She sent this as a postcard all the way from Carmel, CA to remind us that squash was the superstar flavor of the month...and YES, that is her in the photo.

And THEN, she emailed us this beautiful fall-like photo of her loaded cart at Lynd's Fruit Farms just to raise the level of excitement!

Mission Accomplished!

With these Food Tasting Parties we have, each food we taste presents a different set of challenges. How one decides to go about setting up their party is completely the hostess's choice. Apples were easy because you just slice them up and take a bite - same with tomatoes - but squash wasn't going to be as cut and dry.


Because none of us were prepared to bring our own chainsaws and cut up each squash and eat it raw, which meant Teri had to roast them, steam them, or bake them. Of course, had men been invited to this swanky affair, they would have been more than happy to drop pumpkins off Teri's roof and eat the pulp with their bare hands - which is exactly why we leave them at home.

To be certain that each squash's unique flavor was tasted fairly from one squash to the next, Teri added just a teeny tiny pad of butter and a simple sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg to each bowl, so we could get a true taste of each one. With that said, let's get tasting, shall we?

The bowl taking center stage in the photo below, is the ever-popular Spaghetti Squash. As much as we all love using Spaghetti squash as a pasta impersonator, it most definitely got the least amount attention on this day - "Spaghetti who?" It's flavor is mucho-mild and brutally bland, which is how it disguises itself so well as pasta. Pasta's not bursting with flavor - it simply serves as a backdrop to whatever you're serving with it, on it, or tossed all up in it.

Today, the rich, earthy flavor of the other squashes overshadowed this simple, yet normally stellar vegetable. It's okay, Spaghetti, we still love you!!!

Then there was the Butternut Squash, which was a big winner among us girls - especially Teri, who blushed every time she even spoke of the fiery, orange mush - she had it bad. That's okay, we all loved the Butternut too - it was unanimous! We loved it even more, when Teri used it in a Polenta dish she served up later - YUM. MEE!

And then there was the Hubbard. Yeah, we've never heard of it either! But let me tell you this, Miss Carrie's world will never be the same after tasting this funky squash. We thought Teri loved the Butternut with enthusiasm, but our Carrie found True, True Love with the Hubbard. I've never seen her so happy about food....except for when she's eating cheese....we all look happy when we eat cheese though, right?

So, the deal with the Hubbard seemed to be that it kind of tasted like a sweet potato, which right away threatened to eliminate Jen and I as supporters, because we do NOT like sweet potatoes, (so don't go looking for any recipes for them on this blog...), but the taste was considerably milder than the sweet potato, and it actually, kind of, sort of tasted like an everyday white potato too. It was somewhat confusing, really. It had this gentle sweetness with a dense and starchy punch.

Anyway, we liked it. In fact, Teri put it in a pie, and made it face off against the All-American Pumpkin Pie.....we'll get to the results of that "pie-off" later.

And then there was my surprise favorite - the Delicata. I'm not a squash lover by nature - it's a texture thing...I can't help it - but I liked this squash. It had a mild, yet very pleasing flavor. I was very excited to discover the Delicata, and even more excited about it's supercool name, "Delicata". We all seriously liked this 'delicate' wonder!

Last but not least, was the Golden Acorn Squash, which Teri, being the hostess had already tasted and given it the two thumbs down, but Jen liked it. She doesn't like sweet vegetables, so she appreciated the mild flavor of the Golden Acorn, as did Patty. I don't know that any of us fell in love with the Acorn, but we most definitely respect him.

So, the squashes have been tasted so party over, right?


The party was just getting started. After all, there was more great wine to be sipped and slurped and we were going to stay until we were all slurped out!

So, now we move on AND start with a salad. I think it's safe to say, no one in the room had ever had a salad like this one. All I'll say is, roasted maple pumpkin bites, roasted pumpkin seeds, and feta on arugula, with lime dressing. Go ahead, take a peak - feta not included - and yes, the recipe will be coming.

OH! And then the Butternut Polenta was served and "Oh my!" heaven in a bowl! That first taste took us back to the best dressed Cream of Wheat we ever had! Can you say, "comfort food?" Jen knew for sure that her kids would inhale this in seconds, which makes it a double winner. And yes, the recipe will be coming.....

It was Patty's birthday the day before our party- I can't remember which one...probably because she paid me to forget, but she did NOT pay me to NOT post the pictures of us surprising her with a goofy birthday hat, bubbles, and banners, but I chose not to post them because she is my friend and the pictures were taken at less than flattering angles with a multitude of oddball expressions, so they'll be for her enjoyment only.

Anyway, Teri decided there must be Birthday Pie, which was a perfect opportunity to have a bake-off. The pie on the left is Pumpkin and the pie on the right is Hubbard. I would love to tell you there was a clear winner, but there was not. We know which pie Carrie chose - Hubba, Hubba! - and Jen liked the Pumpkin, but after that, it was pretty even. Personal taste is what this Pie bake-off came down to...personal taste.

Sidenote: Teri advises eating the Hubbard pie pronto, because if it sits a day or two, it tends to dry out a little bit, and no one likes dried up Hubbard. Just be prepared to eat the whole pie!

And of course, there was wine. Teri wowed us with her substantial wine collection, and being the friends we are, we offered to drink some of it. Jen and I started with a swig of the Azur, until Teri assured us the Hawley was a much better choice...and she was right.

Each wine we tasted was better than the last and each had it's own distinct flavor, so it was fantastic to enjoy all the squashes and entrees with the compliments of each new wine.

Sooooooo, Thank you Teri for a fabulous party, and Happy Birthday Patty!

Until next time!..........

Before we go though, I must tell you that when Jen went to this party, she thought she disliked squash - except for the spaghetti variety - but she happily went with hopeful optimism, as did I. ( I don't love squash myself) When the party was over and we got in the car to leave, the first thing Jen said to me was, "I am so excited. I thought I didn't like squash, but I really liked them all!"

"I. Like. Squash!"

And THAT is why we have these parties....... :)

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas

I found this recipe in a cookbook by the Moosewood Collective. Funny story about this book...I was a member of a book club called One Spirit at the time, and I had forgotten to send in my little card that says, "Hey, I don't want you to send me that book!"
I hate those little cards. They just don't gel with my habit of procrastination.

Anyway, I usually remembered to send them in, albeit at the last minute, so I thought it interesting that I had forgotten this time around. I didn't even know what that month's selection was, for pity's sake! So I thought I'd just ride it out and see what book the universe thought I needed so badly that it would make me forget to send my card in.
How's that for justification?

When the book finally showed up on my doorstep, I was intrigued that it was a cookbook...because, as you may or may not know, I LOVE cookbooks. It's a sickness, I tell you! I started flipping through it, just to see if there was anything good. Well, I hadn't realized it was a vegetarian cookbook! And although I am NOT a vegetarian, I like veggies. A LOT. Long story short, the book never went back. And most everything I've tried out of it has been deeeee-lish! Keeping in mind, of course, that I have no desire to try any of the tofu recipes. Tofu creeps me out. I'm just being honest here...and you do want honesty, don't you?

So one fine evening, Sheri, Sarah and Torben came out for dinner and we decided to keep it easy and try this yummy recipe. It had all the things we were looking for at the time...relatively healthy, easy, made enough for a group, and it had cheese. Cheese is good...VERY GOOD. And though we assumed they would be good, we were not prepared for how VERY GOOD they were. None of us could quit talking about them! And they've been a staple around these parts ever since....

I highly suggest you try them. Even the kiddos like them...but we call them "Mexican grilled cheese". Enjoy, peeps!

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas

1/2 Cup Sliced Onions
3/4 Cup Sliced Red or Green Peppers
1-1/2 Cup Sliced Zucchini
2 Cups Sliced Portabellas
2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
4 (8") Tortillas
Grated Cheddar

First off, let's get that oven going...425*!! Chop all of those yummy veggies and throw them in a big bowl with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper until everything in there is nice and coated in spices. One thing to note here...please don't feel fenced in with this selection of veggies! You can add asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, or anything else that tickles your fancy. This is just the way we like them! Now, spread them all out on a cookie sheet or a 9X13 pan to let them have a little space. Pop those babies in the oven and roast 'em for about 25-30 minutes. You'll know the time is right when the potatoes begin to get tender. Now, take a deep breath and smell all those wonderful smells coming from your oven...delightful!!!

Now the fun starts! Pile about 1/4 of the roasted veggies onto one half of each of the tortillas, making sure to leave 1/2" border around the edge. I know you'll be tempted to really fill 'em up, but trust me, less is better! We don't want them exploding! Now top the filling with about 1/4 cup of that yummy cheese we talked about, and fold the tortilla in half to form a half-moon shape.

Oil your skillet lightly and get it going over medium heat. Cook two quesadillas at a time, for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Slice them in half and serve with sour cream. Go ahead and oooh and ahhhh over how comforting this dish is. And feel free to check out the Moosewood Collective...even if you're not a vegetarian...they ROCK!!!

And besides, we could all use some more veggies, couldn't we???? :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkin Bars

Have we made it clear yet how much we love pumpkin? I mean, it's pretty obvious by now, isn't it? We've got pumpkin recipes coming out of our ears! But in the midst of all the autumn baking, we would be never be so remiss as to forget a treat as wonderful as pumpkin bars, smothered in cream cheese frosting, of course!

These have been a staple in our house for years, as well as in our house when I was a kid. Mom never lets a year go by without making at least one pan of them. We prefer to make them with our own homemade pumpkin puree (which is ridiculously easy, by the way), as opposed to the canned stuff you buy at the store...but either one will do just fine! And if you have non-nut eaters in your house like I do, just leave 'em out, or pour the batter into the jellyroll pan and then sprinkle half with nuts...that's what I do! Just don't forget which half has nuts once you frost them! I suppose you could sprinkle some toasted nuts on top of the frosting for a nice little effect, as well as to remind you...maybe I'll try that next time instead of playing the guessing game! Nah...the guessing game is much more fun!

Pumpkin Bars

4 eggs, beaten
1 c. oil
2 c. sugar
1 c. pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 c. flour
1 c. nuts (I prefer pecans)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a jelly roll pan with sides. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Let cool. Frost with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with additional toasted pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp. butter, softened
3/4 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. milk

Mix together and spread.

Make sure you have a big glass of ice cold milk're going to need it!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sweet & Savory Popcorn

Yes, we know it looks like your everyday non-microwave popcorn, but trust's not!

This popcorn is special, but not so special that you only want to save it for special's special in the way that your friends get really excited to be invited over to watch a movie because they're hoping deep down inside that you'll make some Sweet & Savory Popcorn for them when they get there! It's a cheap, easy snack that's healthier than a lot of the alternatives. Don't be put off by the Chinese Five Spice powder,'s found in the spice aisle in your local grocery and is the star of this tasty don't want to skip it!

Heat up your stove and let's get poppin'!!!

Sweet & Savory Popcorn

1/2 c. unpopped popcorn
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Put popcorn, oil and salt in a large kettle or saucepan. Cover with a tight lid and cook over medium heat. When corn starts popping, shake the pot in a back-and-forth motion. As soon as popping slows, remove from heat and add sesame seeds. Sprinkle 5-spice powder and sugar onto the popcorn and toss to coat. Sit back and watch all the eyes in the room light up when they taste your new treat!