Apple "Pie" Cups

or all the comfort food, half the guilt, weekday dessert

First one thing, then another, and just when you think it's all past - boom!  Something else comes barreling in like a bull in a china shop.  We all have those times when it seems that your schedule, mind, and heart have just been overloaded for a bit too long - well, for me this has been one of those months. As you can see, in the glaring evidence in the side column, I have not been faithful in my writing over the past few weeks.  This does not mean, however, that I have ceased my experiments (though "take out" has become the dinner option more often than I would care to admit lately).  I have in fact made time to "play" with my food, sadly it has not been as enjoyable as usual because the benefit merely raises my emotions to near balance rather than the usual boost I get straight into happiness, but I pushed on all the same.  So when last night's concoction actually got me excited again I knew it was time to sit down and share it with the world (well, with the handful of people in it that may actually be reading this).

I wanted dessert. Not ice cream from the freezer or popcorn from a bag, but a real homemade dessert.  Add to that the fact that my early morning exercise routine has instilled the fear of fat into my daily food consumption and I was truly in a pickle, so to speak.  Now after several days passed of longing for cookies, pie, and frozen drinks I finally had inspiration - and came in the form of an aging bag of Gala apples on the kitchen counter.  They were just a touch soft so they had been cast aside for canning, which was hopefully in the near future, and since a fresh bag had taken their place for snacking they were the perfect canvas for my new dessert.  I didn't have time to make apple pie, or even apple crisp, since my energy was fading fast.  I knew I had to deconstruct it even more.  So out went the crust, along with the sweet pie filling, and hopefully at least a few dozen calories.  What I had left was this - apples and crumb topping.  I wasn't terribly confident, but that little voice in the back of my mind whispered hopefully "try it, this could work!"  And wouldn't you know, it was right!  These delicious little perfectly proportioned desserts brought all the comfort of dutch apple pie in a fraction of the time.  Now, I admit, I wasn't thinking this out while I was making it so some of the quantities may need to be adjusted for the ingredients.  But believe me, once I gobbled this up I made every effort to recall the information as precisely as possible.  So here we go:

6 Gala Apples
4 tbsp softened butter
6 tbsp flour
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F

1. Cut the apples in half around the middle.  Use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds/core.  It's ok if it goes slightly through the bottom, just don't make a giant hole or all the delicious pie top goodness will escape while baking.

2.  In a medium sized bowl combine the butter, flour, and brown sugar.  It should look a bit crumbly but be even in texture throughout.  Don't fret about perfection, just get it all mixed in there.

3.  Line the apple halves up in a deep baking dish and top with equal amounts of the crumble mixture.  Place the baking dish in the oven carefully so that none of the topping goes overboard.  Bake for approximately 30 min or until the tops are sizzling, looking melted, and getting a touch of golden brown in color.

4.  Allow to cool for about 10 min, top with whipped cream or caramel sauce, and enjoy!  Store in the fridge and enjoy the leftovers at room temperature or heated a bit in the microwave.

One bite and I was happily transported back to the holidays and my mom's amazing dutch apple pie.  Not a substitute by any means, but certainly a delicious option for the rest of the year.  This is a fantastic weeknight dish to toss into the oven when serving dinner that will be ready just about when everyone's finishing up and looking around hopefully for dessert.  The leftovers also make a nice addition to lunches, a somewhat healthy way to indulge at work or at school just when you need that sort of escape.  I hope that you give this quick, easy dessert a try and find it as delicious as I do.  Enjoy!


Adventures in Vegetables: Spaghetti Squash Casserole

or how to play with your food the healthy way

Thanks to our local Farmer's Market the late Summer has yielded a series of experiments into the depths of the vegetable world that I had not yet dared to seek, the fresh produce has lured me away from the safety of green beans and broccoli and straight into the high stakes world of squash.  I first dabbled in zucchini to build up my strength, sauteed in a stir fry one day and then stuffed with a ricotta mix the next.  Feeling confident after a few different trial runs that I'd begun to like this once loathed vegetable, previously only acceptable in zucchini bread if - and only if - it came with chocolate chips, I began to look around for a close relative.  There I found Patty Pan.  An adorable, bright yellow squash that looked to be more for decoration than eating.  This turned out to be, however, even more delectable than the zucchini!  And it most certainly made an attractive little side or main dish stuffed and served up as it's own little bowl.  I considered this Summer Squash Success!

And then came the Spaghetti Squash.  The plain, long, heavy squash with no apparent character or visual inspiration.  I thought there must something I can do with this, but what?  Turns out there is not the plethora of recipes out there for it as there was for zucchini, and those that I did find seemed a bit daunting at first glance, so there it sat - next to the onions - day after day.  I came home from work each night, looked sadly at the squash, and then reached for the green beans or peppers or even zucchini sitting in the basket just a few inches away.  Finally the day came when I couldn't face it any longer, I had to do something - anything - with that squash.  So I cut it open, removed the seeds, and once again stared.  This could not be spaghetti squash - where were the strings?  It was just more of the same mundane color inside as out, and it certainly didn't look like pasta strands could be pulled out of it.  So I took a deep breath, chopped up te insides, and tossed it into a vegetable saute.  Not bad, not bad at all.  I was surprised to like the subtle flavor of the squash and the different texture alongside other vegetables.  But I was determined that I could do more with this, so another squash made it's way into my home and onto my kitchen counter.  Not long after, Spaghetti Squash Casserole was born.  I had intended to follow a generic squash recipe that I had found online, really I did, but when it came out of the oven a miracle had happened - the strings had appeared!  And not just the appearance of strings, but texture and color, that's where the recipe went South and I really had a chance to play with my food.  Here's what I did:

1 small spaghetti squash
2 tbsp butter
House spice blend
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
4 tbsp Italian bread crumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Place the squash on a large cutting board and carefully cut it in half lengthwise.  Put both halves of the squash cut side down in a deep baking pan and add enough water to come up about 1 inch on the sides so it has a nice little bath to soak in.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

2. You'll know the squash is ready when it can be easily pierced through the skin with a fork, but don't push too hard there's no need for extra holes or reckless damage to the skins it will only make the next part harder.  Remove the squash from pan and allow to cool for 5-10 min on the cutting board.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard, be careful not to pull out the flesh too much with it.  Now that the seeds are out of the way, take a fork and pull the "strands" of squash from the skin.  Once you get into the motion, you'll be able to hold the thin edges of the skin easily while maneuvering the fork around inside.

3. Put the strands of squash in a bowl and season with the spice blend, garlic, and dried onion.  Stir to incorporate, making sure the spices are spread out evenly.  Toss in the Parmesan cheese and stir again.  Add the butter first in the bottom of a small baking dish and then pour the squash over top.  

4.  Sprinkle the Panko crumbs and then Italian bread crumbs evenly over the dish.  Spray the top with a bit of olive oil or drizzle a little extra butter.  Before putting in the oven, use a fork to push some of the breadcrumbs into the squash with a gentle stabbing motion, this should create some ridges in the surface texture that will brown nicely.  Now place in the oven and broil until lightly golden on the peaks.  Remove and allow to set for a couple minutes before serving.

The picture does not do this justice.  I will work for a better image next time, unfortunately it was almost gone by the time I made it back to the kitchen to snap a picture.  It isn't the most colorful dish, that is true, but the flavor has surprising depth and the texture made an excellent compliment to the baked chicken tenders and potatoes that I served along with it.  Quite healthy and fun, not only to make but also to twirl around your fork while you eat, and it was so good that my husband made a face when I snuck the last spoonful into a container for my lunch today.  Who knew?  That long, plain, heavy squash blossomed into a light and flavorful side in less than an hour's time.  And now, sadly, I must go.  I hope that you enjoy this dish as much as we did last night, and I will this afternoon.  Take care, and remember - you're never too old to play with your food.  Enjoy!


Darling Sweet Potato Bites

or dessert with dinner anytime of the year..

Ok, so I'm a bit late on this entry, I know.  I feel appropriately ashamed and guilty.  But I have been trying to post a healthy recipe for baked "fried" chicken, for the past week, and could not seem to get the words flowing.  Then came my experiments in sweet potatoes and that's when everything changed.

Starting this process definitely took some motivation, I dislike sweet potatoes (more on principle then flavor, but still).  And by the end I had tweaked and mashed and seasoned and mixed until I found a combination that I really liked, albiet not really near any of the recipes I had drawn my inspiration from.  All those recipes tried to hold on to that seemingly essential savory side of the starch, but I am happy to say that I broke free of that grasp.  These aren't pretending to be healthy, but in all honesty they really aren't that bad for you either, they are just boldly saying
"I'm here, I'm dessert, and I am on your dinner plate."  So why not give them a chance to prove themselves?  After all they do make a good point, they are traditionally a side dish.

Now I know what you're thinking - those smelly things are just for the holidays, that's what Aunt what's-her-name makes every year, why would I ever want to make that?  Well I can tell you why, one word: marshmellows.  When else do you get to eat marshmellows for dinner?  Admittedly this falls a little more on the dessert end of the meal spectrum, but toss in a veggie or two and you can allow it on the plate with your main dish.  Give it a shot and maybe you'll discover a new found love for this forgotten starch just as I did.

Here's what you'll need:
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1/2 cup mini marshmellows
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/3 tsp cinnamon
Nutmeg - just a dash
2 tbsp melted butter
2 egg whites
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup Panko crumbs

Prep work - I'm usually a big fan of instant gratification, but in this case it truly helps to get started a bit in advance.  The day before, while you're making dinner or popcorn or whatnot, toss the sweet potatoes in the oven on 350 F and bake until they are easily pierced with a fork.  Take them out and once they cool a bit let them rest in the refridgerator overnight, they need a little time to cool off (and let's be honest, don't we all sometimes?).

Now we're cooking - preheat oven to 400 F

1. Peel and mash the cold sweet potatoes, this is a great time to focus on any of that stress weighing down on you - just pound all that tension into the potatoes (they're tough, they can take it).  To make them a bit more smooth, first combine the melted butter and almond extract then mash the liquid into the potato mixture. 

2. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar along with the cinnamon and nutmeg to the potatoes and stir until incorporated throughout, pockets of spice never do anyone any good.  Once it's looking pretty consistent stir in the mini marshmellows, adjust the amount as needed to ensure that there will be at least 1-2 per potato ball, and don't forget a few to munch on (you have to make sure they're still good don't you?).

3. Use a fork to mix the egg whites and water in a deep dish.  Set up a "breading station" with the bowl of potatoes, the bowl of egg whites/water, a container with the remaining brown sugar combined with the Panko bread crumbs, and a greased cookie sheet.

4. Roll balls of the potatoes about 2 inches in diameter, taking care to make sure that there are marshmellows enclosed in each, and procede to the "breading station."  A couple at a time take them down te line: a quick bath in the egg mixture, a playful roll in the dry mix until covered, then lined up on the cookie sheet.  Once all have been through the routine, spray the tops with spray butter or oil spray so they will crisp up nicely.  Escort them into the oven and allow them to bake for 15-20 minutes.

5.  Now the hard part - once they are becoming golden on top take them out of the oven, set them aside, and just walk away.  Don't look back, it will only make it harder.  Leave them there, on their own, for about 20 minutes.  They need time to settle down.

When, and only when, they are no longer hot to the touch can you bring them to the plate.  Feel free to serve with a little dusted brown sugar or drizzled melted butter on top, but personally I like just picking them up as is and enjoying.

So there you have it - the sweet potato recipe that finally won me over.  Who knows?  Maybe there's a whole world of sweet potato-y goodness out there just waiting for me to dive in..  I'm guessing not, but at least this was able to get the noble starch's "foot in the door" to my kitchen, and we all have to start somewhere don't we?  Now back to paperwork, meetings, workouts, family, and more.  I hope you enjoyed today's adventure and that you find these delightful little bites as delicious as I did!