Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Two For One: Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice and Whats For Dinner Tonight

I was at the grocery store earlier, and Pumpkin Pie Spice was on the top of my list.
This little canister was $5.79! Yeah RIGHT.
I can make that for a fraction of the cost...and I did! And it is so overwhelmingly better than this overpriced little bottle, there is just absolutely no comparison!
I know it's not the most convenient, but grinding your own spices really is the key to success here.

If you have a spice grinder by all means, make things easy on yourself. Unfortunately mine is buried deep somewhere in our storage unit so I had to put some muscle into it. First, the easy part:

Measure dried ginger into a small bowl.

Next, grind whole cloves into the finest dust you can manage and add to the ginger.

(I have no idea why some of these photos came out sideways, and equally have no ida how to fix it, eesh!)

Now, using a Microplane (if you do not own one of these, invest now, they are a wonderful and necessary kitchen tool!), grate the nutmeg.

Last, certainly not least, and certainly most difficult...the cinnamon. I ended up using an entire stick of cinnamon, and it took forever to grate down!

Be careful when using the Microplane, I got a little careless and chipped off part of my nail polish, oops!

It was well worth the work, the smell emanating throughout the whole kitchen was so delicious, and incredibly richer with a depth of warmness that you just can't get with the bottled stuff. And did you know that spices start losing flavor and intensity as soon as they are ground? Who knows how long the pre-ground stuff has been sitting around, losing all that complexity. And they want us to pay for that?

Stepping off my apparent soapbox now...mix the 4 spices together. 

I added a mere dash of allspice and salt to bring it all together, and wooowie it's good!
My first order of business with it is Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal that I'm going to try out for breakfast tomorrow, recipe to follow!

Pumpkin Pie Spice:
Yield: 2 Tablespoons

4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
A dash of allspice, an even smaller pinch of salt.
Mix and store in an airtight container.


For dinner tonight I tried out a recipe I stumbled upon over at The Cilantropist's blog:
Sausage and Goat Cheese Pizza with Balsamic Onions and 
Fresh Figs

Oh. My Word. This recipe is going to the top of my must-have-again list! The perfect harmony of ingredients and flavors was out of this world delicious! 

First up: The original recipe calls for italian sausage, but I had a stroke of genius at the grocery store and bought this instead:

Have you ever had aidells? This chicken and apply sausage is so full of flavor it's ridiculous, and you would never know it's chicken, I promise! Best. Sausage. Ever. 
I removed the casings and crumbled it and browned it in a saute pan and set aside.

Next up: the balsamic onion and fig marmalade. I sliced up one large onion thinly... 

(seriously annoyed that some of the photos flipped...that's what you get when you upload photos to your blog app from your phone?)

...and put it in another saute pan with a tablespoon of evoo and 2 tsp. of brown sugar. If you've ever caramelized onions, it's the same idea, cook them down low and slow.

Mmm, beautiful, perfectly ripe figs! Figs have a very short season and are pretty pricey; I've found that my local asian market has the best price on figs, they were a whole dollar and a half cheaper than a regular grocery store!

Next, add the balsamic vinegar and allow the mixture to further reduce. After that the recipe called for chopping the figs and adding the onions to them and microwaving the whole thing, but I didn't like that idea so I just added the figs right into the pan and let them cook with the onions, and they came out beautifully!

I know, it's looking pretty gnarly, but it tastes (and smelled!) amazing!

Next up: assembling the pizza. 
I used this extremely delicious garlic olive oil on the crust, to help it keep moist and add extra flavor.

I took a shortcut and bought ready-made, fresh whole wheat dough and rolled it out super thin for a crispy crust. Yum! The recipe calls for slicing the goat cheese and layering it on, but I was too impatient so I just grabbed a hunk of it and crumbled it evenly over the dough.

Then I spread the onion/fig marmalade on it:

Then I sliced the figs up and put those on:

Then the cooked and crumbled sausage:

And finally I tore some sage leaves and sprinkled them on top.

I cooked it in the oven for about 15 minutes, and out came perfection!

mmMMM this was good pizza!

To go with the pizza, I made a Fall Harvest Salad. This is probably my favorite salad, the flavors are at once complex and defined, it is rich and satisfying, but the ingredients are rather light. 

The dressing is balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, dijon mustard, salt and pepper, a small minced shallot and extra virgin olive oil. SO good!

The finished salad, including slices of pear, candied pecans and shaved parmesan:


I had made a vegan Pumpkin Gingerbread Smoothie for dessert, but it didn't turn out so well, lol. Ah well, dinner was delicious and satisfying enough!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Flavors

I had a myriad of stacks of recipes laying all over the place; some needing a test run, some done and needing editing, some classic favorites from the past I want to re-create, recipes recipes everywhere! I'm kind of a Type A personality (my husband would laugh at the generality of that statement!), and enough was enough, I needed to get organized! I spend way too much time thinking and plotting out how best to do this (seriously, if we all stopped thinking about petty things so much and concentrated on the major issues, I'm pretty sure we would have both world peace and the cure for cancer by now! :), and finally came up with a solution that is best for me. I have created three separate files: one for recipes that I have not yet made but want to try out, one for all of my holiday recipes, and one strictly for fall recipes. Yes, I have created an entire binder dedicated to nothing but recipes that are best served during autumn. It is by far my favorite time of year, the food is just so outrageously delicious! I simply bought a binder, dividers, sheet protectors and a few scrapbook-y things, and came up with something I'm pretty proud of:

Here are some of the recipes within that are my favorite: 
All of these recipes are tried and true; the butternut squash lasagna has been a family staple for years and is literally one of my all-time favorite dishes, top three for sure!

I'm working on a holiday binder now. Each section is it's own holiday, I have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years Eve, Valentines Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter and Fourth of July. Whew! I'll post pics when I finish that up, but it may be some time, there aren't too many scrapbook-y stickers for Easter just yet! 
I've already hit a snag in my oh-so-well-thought-out plan of action: I have no place for normal recipes. I have a recipe book that I was given at my bridal shower, full of recipes from friends and family to help start my marriage off right (I LOVE that gift more than any other!), and I want to keep it as a book full of recipes that people have given me...unless I can figure out another way to incorporate regular recipes I just may have to...any thoughts or ideas on how I can accomplish this? I don't need 10 recipe binders floating around, I already have that many cookbooks!! :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The junk is just not worth it anymore...

So, I cheated a bit. My parents are out of town for the week, and since yesterday was the weekend still, and I was feeling all sorry for myself being all alone (I hate being all alone, I got a whole lifetime's worth of it last year!) and missing my husband like crazy (sometimes I feel like it will actually drive me crazy!), I cheated with my food. I made chocolate chip cookies. And ate a few. And ate chips. And I feel like crap today. That is mainly why I'm posting this; after having adopted a healthy lifestyle and changing my diet to mostly unprocessed, whole foods, eating junk does not make my body happy! A little suffering is in order I suppose, I did it to myself! It's interesting to me to connect the two, before I changed my habits I ate junk all the time, and while there was a general low level of crap-feeling all the time, I never associated it so closely or realized just how harmful to both body and mind it really is. I feel lethargic, my mind seems a bit muddled and my tummy is marching in a protest parade. Sooo not worth it! I think I'll go make myself a green monster and press play on my workout dvd...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bridging the gap between family and the military...

A lot of people, upon hearing that we are an military family, ask us where we have been, and where we would like to go. After hearing that 'home' is our number one choice, most everyone exclaims something to the effect of, 'But you can go anywhere in the world!' 'If you have the opportunity, take it!' 'Have an adventure!' While all of these are well and good, that's just not where we are at. Family is the most important thing for both of us (I even have it tattooed on me!), and if we have the opportunity to move back home, where our family (and hearts) is, that is what we shall do. You can always travel, but you can't always create memories and make the most of time with your family. Now that I'm married, and children are somewhat close on the horizon, I especially want to be close to home, how special to be able to experience a pregnancy and birth with my mom by my side, and giving my child(ren) the gift of grandparents. I understand that the world is a big place and there is so much to see (believe me I understand; in a three year period I was lucky to travel the world and visit Asia and Africa multiple times), but of even greater importance to me is my family. When everything else in the world fails you, you still have your family. You can never sever those ties. You can injure and disable them, but they are a permanent part of you. Having lost a cousin a few years ago, this is highlighted for me even more. I cherish my family and want to spend as much time as possible with them. This is why we want to come home, it's where our roots, and our hearts, are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chocolate cravings and a crazy cookie.

Chocolate. I want chocolate! It's surprising, because I am by no means a chocoholic, I guess every once in awhile I just get the craving. I want something sweet, and I want it now! 
Today was one of those days. I was doing a little grocery shopping this morning, and was searching in earnest for a vegan bake mix, alas to no avail (I know Whole Foods has them, but with the nearest one to me about 40 minutes away, it's not reasonable to travel all that way for just one item...because I've never done that before...honest... :). I got excited when I saw the No Pudge Fudge Brownie mix, but it has egg whites, boo. I stayed strong (for once) and left to check out sans a sweet something. Well, lady luck was with me today in the checkout line...there, in a glorious display, calling my name...vegan cookies from the Alternative Baking Company! I'd had them once before a long time ago and wasn't thrilled, today however, one of those cookies completely satisfied my craving! I wanted something sweet, and I wanted it chocolate. With a cookie that is dairy-free, cholesterol-free, egg-free, soy-free and made with whole wheat flour, you wouldn't think it could possibly deliver on it's addictive promise...until you realize that you've just eaten the entire cookie and are left distraught, wanting more! You're lucky I had the presence of mind to snap this photo when I did, seconds later it was nothing but an empty package of crumbs and I was resisting the urge to run back out to the store and clean them out of stock! It's a testament to how good they are that I enjoyed it as much as I did, I'm quite a cookie snob. I think that  a cookie should always be soft, slightly chewy with a hint of underdone-ness, and nary a nut in sight (I love just about every kind of nut I've come across, I just strongly feel that they have no place in my cookie/brownie/cake/etc.) The only crunchy or crispy cookie I find acceptable is an oreo. These babies fit my cookie bill wonderfully! It was perfectly chewy with a stand-up texture and the middle extra soft, mmMmm! It was perfectly filling without leaving me feeling like an oaf, and almost an hour later I have yet to experience a sugar crash. I highly recommend these cookies, run out and get one today! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

From animal to vegan, a challenge.

I love to cook. I have for as long as I can remember. I love the challenge of creating a complicated dish, and getting inspired from someone I admire.
Recently, I love learning about and eating healthy, following a plant-based diet. You wouldn't think the two are natural companions, but I shall make it so. You see, I'm not willing to compromise flavor and creativity when it comes to culinary creations (alliteration alert!). While I am continuously surprised by the scope and breadth vegan fare has to offer (I've made and consumed everything from enchiladas to pizzas and burgers, even!), I sometimes find it stimulatingly lacking. I get that it is totally all in my head, the food is creative and delicious, but for whatever reason I often find myself un-willing to cook, thinking that it will be boring because it's healthy. (Really, what a road block, what is wrong with me? I once made a vegan pizza so good that my mom's friends asked for the recipe, she was going on about it so much!) No longer.
I also love a certain food blogger who now has her own show on the Food Network. The Pioneer Woman lives on a working cattle ranch in Oklahoma, and her food demonstrates it! There is really nothing healthy about it, lots of meat and potatoes going on! I've made a ton of her recipes, all absolutely delicious, all a huge hit with my husband (who definitely has his own preferences when it comes to food!) and 99 percent of them pretty unhealthy. I was watching her show the other day, almost drooling over her Cajun Chicken Pasta. 'Man, I need that in my belly!' I though to myself. I caught myself in time to remember my new healthy eating habits, and reluctantly didn't run to the kitchen to whip it up. A couple days later I was still thinking about it and just HAD to have it! I was upset that I had to restrict myself from something so tasty, and knew there had to be a compromise. There was, and a new era of my journey has been born! I will be taking unhealthy meals, tweaking them a little and re-creating them into something healthful and still delicious, not compromising the integrity of the dish. I am SO excited about this and can't wait to share more!
I'm happy to share with you now my take on the Pioneer Woman's Cajun Chicken Pasta!

The original recipe:
  • 3 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, Cut Into Cubes
  • 3 teaspoons Cajun Spice Mix, More To Taste
  • 1 pound Fettuccine
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 whole Green Bell Pepper, Seeded And Sliced
  • 1 whole Red Bell Pepper, Seeded And Sliced
  • 1/2 whole Large Red Onion, Sliced
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 4 whole Roma Tomatoes, Diced
  • 2 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 cup White Wine
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • Cayenne Pepper To Taste
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
  • Salt To Taste
  • Chopped Fresh Parsley, To Taste

What I did:

-Substitute the chicken for 2 bricks of extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed.
-Substitute the chicken stock for vegetable stock.
-Substitute the heavy cream for vegan heavy cream.
    -Now, this was a real challenge. I spent about an hour researching vegan heavy cream substitutes. I found an extremely simple recipe and went with that, after all, PW is all about simplicity! Two ingredients: 1/2 block silken tofu, and 1/2 cup soy milk. (I used almond milk, it's what I like.) The flavor was fine (non-descript), but took a little longer to thicken once it was in the pan.

I also used quinoa pasta instead of regular. Quinoa has but two ingredients, whole corn flour and whole quinoa flour. It's still high in carbs (though lower than regular varieties) but the quality of ingredients is much better. Honestly, if you didn't know, you wouldn't know that it was any different from normal pasta, definitely switching to quinoa pasta from now on! 

Look at those heirloom tomatoes, mmm I'm going to miss summer produce!

Everything else remains the same. I followed the same methods, the same order. The result?
A dish so delicious you would never think 'vegan' at the same time! It was a direct hit, my dad even high five-ed me he loved it so much! It's already been determined that tomorrow's dinner will be the leftovers from tonight, that's a success if I ever heard one!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


It always seems that the hardest part of writing a blog is clicking the button, and putting your fingers to the keyboard. I always feel like I don't have enough to say, or that no one is interested, yet time and again I am proven wrong. When I finally do open up to a new post and put my fingers on the keys, I always have something to say. I have had so much interest in my blog and so much encouragement to continue writing, it has been an eye-opening blessing. 

Today I want to talk more about my food journey, more specifically my journey towards health and fitness, learning about the foods we put in our bodies and what they do (or don't do) for us. 

An old roommate of mine got in contact with me as a direct result of following my blog (again, I never think this reaches as far as it does, it is so humbling.). She and her husband had recently been introduced to a new health product on the market and thought I might be interested in it. Turns out she was on the mark, I have fallen in love! The product is ViSalus, a health and wellness product. In one shake you receive a full day's worth of all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals, you need. It is a non-GMO (my favorite part!) soy based protein powder. The added benefit? Weight loss! It is not an appetite suppressant, rather an all-natural metabolism booster. It was not originally intended to be a weight loss tool, that just happened to be a happy by-product. 
I'm still continuing my vegan journey (though not eating it strictly, I am committed to education and one day will happily say I am a full vegan!) and learning about what it is exactly that we are consuming. One of the bigger challenges with eating a plant-based diet is ensuring I receive enough of the nutrients I need that I no longer get from eating animal products (calcium from milk, protein from chicken, i.e.). The ViSalus shake ensures that no matter what I eat during the day, I will have consumed exactly what I need. For me, that is is best reason for joining the ViSalus community and incorporating the shakes into my daily regimen. 
For many others, the best reason is the added health benefits...a lot of people suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes; all diseases that are (in part) perpetuated with poor eating habits or not receiving the proper nutrition. Thousands of people who have joined the ViSalus challenge have reported huge drops in the amount of medications they have to take, or reversing their diseases completely! 
My dad deals with high blood pressure, and when I learned just how beneficial ViSalus is to your health, I talked to him about it. Now, my dad is as analytical as they come, let me tell you! He isn't easily hoodwinked, and has made learning about foods for health a large part of his life as well. I told him everything I had learned, he checked out the package to see the nutrition information, and researched it himself, and believes in the product! If nothing else, that gave me the final stamp of approval.

You can not buy the product in stores, only through distributors (it is, at the end of the day, a multi-level market product). I have long hesitated becoming a distributor, I loathe the idea of 'selling' myself, or have others think I'm viewing them through the eyes of a marketer, a potential sale for me (let's be honest, doesn't everyone who knows someone who is self-employed with a multi-level marketing company wonder, sometimes, if someone sees them as a friend or just a market?). I've thought long and hard about it, viewed it from every possible angle, and have come to one conclusion: I have to. I believe in this product so completely, I am willing to put my name behind it. In my vegan journey and learning about food, this aligns so completely with my mission, I can't help but be excited about it and want to share it with others. I realized that at the end of the day, I just want people to be aware of ViSalus and know that it is a realistic option for them, whether or not they buy it from me. If you are interested in the product or want to know more, go here, but better yet, ask me about it, I promise to tell you everything I know without once asking you to purchase. :) I feel like I am quickly becoming passionate about health and true nutrition, and feel it unfair to not share this with everyone I know (I can't even think of the last time I was so excited about something in this way!).
At the end of the day we are all responsible for our own health and doing what works best for us. For me, ViSalus is a necessary and welcome part of my diet! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I have learned so much on my journey towards freedom from food, and learning to love myself enough to eat what is best for my body, I wanted to spend a little time in reflection...

For me, vegan eating is slowly but surely becoming a lifestyle choice for me. No matter what form your healthy food journey takes, it has to start from the inside. No amount of outer motivation will work, really, I tried it all. There are plenty of reasons why we should all eat right, but until something clicks inside, it doesn't matter. I finally got tired of, well, feeling tired. I had no motivation left for anything. I depended on coffee to get me through the day. I started to look as bad outside as I felt inside. There was never any huge 'a-ha' moment, or lightbulb clicking on and suddenly I saw the light. One day I just decided that I had had enough, and was ready to get my life back on track, starting with food. I had been curious with the vegan lifestyle, and it intrigued me enough that I decided to give it a go. Why not start big, right? I decided to eat strictly vegan for one week. That week ended up being the breakthrough I needed, everything about it just clicked with me. 

I found a few vegan food bloggers and prepared all of my meals from their recipes, reviewing each one. Everything I thought about vegan eating was wrong. The range of foods you can have is so broad, that I honestly didn't miss the ones I couldn't have. Everything from enchiladas to pizza and even sorbet, nothing is off limits if you are willing to tweak ingredients and substitute for healthier options.

At the end of the week I had been expecting to want to gorge on all things meat and dairy, making up for the lack of it in my life. To my immense surprise (and pleasure), I found I didn't want anything to do with it, I just wanted to keep eating healthy! I felt so good about myself, I loved that feeling and wasn't willing to part with it. I had so much natural energy from eating the right kinds of foods that I never even reached for coffee! 
That ended up being the biggest lesson I have learned so far; you crave the foods you eat. By turning my back on packaged, processed, GMO laden foods and discovering how great I felt about not just what I was eating, but everything in general, I decided I didn't want to go back to those foods, they did nothing for me and I no longer wanted anything to do with them.

The biggest test for me was a few nights ago. I was having a rough and emotional couple of days, and by that evening all I wanted was a hot bath and some cookie dough. Or brownies. Something sugary and 'comforting'; foods I had always turned to before in an emotional time of need (the night my husband called to tell me he was going to be deployed, I baked and ate almost an entire pan of brownies. No lie). I went to the kitchen but stopped short. I actually really didn't want any of those things, I had been doing so well with my new food habits and didn't want to break them. I knew that I wouldn't feel better afterwords about anything, it would only serve to make me feel worse. So instead of stuffing my feelings down with cookies, I ate nothing and went to my room, choosing instead to confront and work through what was going on. It was the most freeing moment I have had in my journey thus far. 

Researching about the foods we consume has been a huge eye-opening experience for me. I am learning a lot about the benefits of eating gluten-free foods, why organic is best, and especially about GMO's and the toxicity they are in our bodies. As I learn more I will be sharing on this blog.

I am slowly becoming adapted to this lifestyle, I call it 'Vegan Lite'. I don't feel the need to give up all animal products forever, but on a day-to-day basis I am happy with choosing vegan. The more I learn and research about this, the more I know it is for me. And honestly? The thought of eating meat turns my stomach a little, who would have thought! I must admit that I haven't placed chicken into that same category yet, and have had it several times, but am committed to moving forward and slowly phasing out the worst and making room for the best.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To cheat or not to cheat...with food ;)

Breakfast was another Green Monster. Tomorrow I try it with blueberries!

For lunch I...cheated, eek! My mom and I went to Panera Bread and I ordered the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and Asian Sesame Salad. If it weren't for the feta on the sandwich and chicken on the salad I would have been golden. Even though I cheated, I don't feel too bad about it, I still had an overall healthful meal, and I don't intend to cut out all animal products for the rest of my life. On a day-to-day basis sure, but every once in awhile, I'm ok with it. And it was so good. :)

I was on my own for dinner tonight, and didn't feel like cooking an entire meal, so I made two Crack Wraps (what a name!) using two different kinds of tortillas. I ended up making the trek aaaaaallll the way to Whole Foods specifically for spelt tortillas, I used them last time when I made enchiladas and no one knew they weren't normal tortillas until I told them! Of course the Whole Foods I went to this time didn't have them (of course!) but I did find tempeh bacon (to be discussed tomorrow), which I couldn't find anywhere else. I went next door to Trader Joe's (favorite grocery store ever!) to see if they had a better selection, and wouldn't you know it, spelt tortillas! They looked different than the other ones I used, but were just as delicious! So I made one wrap using spelt, and the other a brown rice tortilla. Both were totally edible (I know they don't really sound like it!) and had their own distinct texture and taste, so good! The brown rice wraps are gluten-free as well, I like to get gluten-free products when I can, an easy way for a better-for-you food item. In the wrap was simply hummus and vegan cheese. Wrap it up, grill it, eat it! It was so simple, and surprisingly satisfying, exactly what I was looking for in dinner tonight. I was so skeptical about vegan anything-dairy but times, and technology, have changed, and vegan cheese is comparable to dairy cheese, in my opinion. The selection is limited of course, but the companies producing these products do it well. 
I really need to come up with an appropriate way to end my posts...