flavor of fall

winter squash

Working at a pumpkin market down the street this fall, I’ve had a chance to taste my share of different pumpkin and squash varieties (the farmer grows over 30). They range in color – from steel blue to burning hot orange – size, shape, ugliness, skin type – pimply and lumpy to smooth as plastic – and of course the taste and texture of their nutritious flesh. I did a taste test of a few that I had never tried, but my preference still goes back to my all-along favorite: the kabocha type.

Kabocha or Japanese pumpkins have a dense, dry yet silky texture and sweet but mild taste, resembling to me a pumpkin and sweet potato combined. They make the creamiest hearty soups when pureed and melt in your mouth when roasted or baked in chunks. My favorite way to enjoy it remains the simplest: chunks of baked squash drizzled in good olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. As simple as possible to let the flavor and texture of the squash shine.

pumpkin varieties

When talking pumpkin recipes with David (the farmer), he said he likes to stuff acorn squash with mac n’ cheese and bake it. Uh, why hadn’t I ever thought of that? Homemade macaroni + cheese is something I allllways look forward to in the fall (but secretly wish included more vegetables :), and I can never get enough of winter squash. So combine the two? Done.

mac n cheese ready for the oven Continue reading

mom’s apple cake, healthified

This is my mom’s old fashioned apple cake. Sans the 2 ¼ cups of sugar. She made it earlier this season and we gobbled it up, oh yes… but no one can feel good about ingesting that much refined sugar. So I decided to do something about it.

In my version, winter squash puree replaces the shortening to keep it moist, sugar is reduced to just 1/3 cup, accompanied by erythritol—a natural (calorie-free) sweetener—and vanilla protein powder, whole wheat flour replaces the white, and an egg yolk is omitted to reduce cholesterol. *check my notes at the bottom for simple vegan substitutions.

It’s basically a balanced meal in itself. Squash = fiber and vitamins; Apples = more fiber and vitamins; Whole wheat flour = whole grains, more fiber; Eggs + milk + protein powder + nuts = PROTEIN! And that’s my excuse for eating a big ol’ slice for dinner ;)  Try it, I dare you.

^Check out that original recipe….. got enough sugar?!

Autumn Apple Cake

  • ½ cup pumpkin or winter squash puree
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup erythritol*
  • 1 t nectresse*
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 egg + 3T egg whites, or 7 T egg whites
  • 1 cup buttermilk (make your own by adding 1T vinegar to a cup measure, and fill the rest with milk)
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup vanilla protein powder – mine is sweetened with stevia
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 4 cups apples, peeled & chopped fine Continue reading

southwestern polenta bowl

This time last year (strangely, this exact day), I discovered and posted about my newfound love for polenta. The obsession lasted a good while, as it was an easy ‘cooking-for-one’ meal while I was in school and always comforting during the colder months. Then springtime cravings for salads and fresh veggies took over my attention, and my bag of corn grits was left to its lonesome in the back of the pantry.

Until now! The moment I whisked up these grits today and heaped them with some southwestern-inspired fridge finds, it all came back to me. Deliciousness. A warm, nourishing, well-balanced, fuel-filled meal that’s anything but bland. A comfort food, but one without the post-indulgence guilt.

In this one-bowl meal, polenta [or corn grits] serve as the base as lettuce does for your springtime salad, and you get to be the creative genius to toss whatever your tummy desires on top.  Possibilities are endless, of course, but this one deserved to be documented and made again and again in exactly the same way…..


southwestern-inspired polenta bowl

  • 1/2 cup yellow corn grits
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 T olive oil
  • onion
  • ground veggie sausage
  • black beans
  • roasted cubed pumpkin
  • chopped kale
  • fresh cilantro
  • fresh spicy salsa / pico de gallo

Bring vegetable broth and salt to a boil in a pot. Add oil. Lower heat to simmer. Add the polenta in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk for about 5 minutes, until polenta is thickened. Keeping heat low, cover and let cook for 20 more minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

While polenta is cooking, in a pan sauté some onions with crumbled/ground veggie sausage and sprinkle with a little s+p. I then added in some black beans, leftover roasted cubed pumpkin and chopped kale. Once the sausage is cooked through, you may want to pour in some vegetable broth to help wilt the kale and keep everything from sticking.

When polenta is thick and creamy, spoon into a bowl and pile on your sautéed medley. Top with fresh cilantro and spicy salsa and devour!

Enjoy! -m

autumn: spiced & baked

Haaaaaappy Halloween! Hope everyone is safe and recovering from crazy superstorm Sandy ♥

While I’m always one to dread the end of the warm months for the long, cold ones to come, I’m realizing how wonderful seasons are for the soul. The change of seasons brings so much to look forward to: we do different activities, eat different foods, change up our wardrobe, and watch as nature transforms around us. I did always miss the color-intense fall we have in Maryland while I was down south at school. So this year I’m taking advantage of the season’s beauty, from camping and taking many a hike on the mountain, visiting the local vineyard (just voted “Best Of D.C.”!!), carving pumpkins, and eating so much squash I should have turned into one by now.

We’ve had a gorgeous autumn here, with crisp mornings and mild days, deep blue skies, plentiful sunshine and sunset-hued leaves. And so naturally what else would I do but combine all this autumn beauty into something edible. Something simple: a squash picked from the farm across the street, spiced, sweetened with pure maple syrup, and baked into perfection. A mix between pumpkin pie sans crust, custard, and flan ……. If you could taste autumn, this would be it.

Spiced Baked Pumpkin, adapted from Adventures in Cooking

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 T Earth Balance (or butter), melted
  • 2 eggs (or flax eggs to keep it vegan)
  • 1 t maple extract (if you don’t have it, sub vanilla)
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/4 t ground cloves
  • 1/4 t allspice
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • 1/4 t baking soda Continue reading

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: sweet-spicy-savory

This should have been posted ummmmm just about one month ago, when the Halloween pumpkins were plentiful. My bad. I took pictures and everything, but somehow it slipped my mind until we were roasting squash seeds over the Thanksgiving break and someone asked if I had any good recipes.

Well of course I do! After my roommates and I carved our pumpkins (or rather I just cut the top off mine to get the seeds out), I was put in charge of the roasting. I decided to try out two recipes: spicy tamari and a sweet—spicy—savory combo. The tamari seeds were tasty with a savory-sweet soy-honey flavor, but seemed to char quickly yet were still sticky and soft. meh. The other recipe however, a unique combination of brown sugar/honey, rosemary, salt, cinnamon, cayenne and black peppers, was an explosion of crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet, buttery flavor. Way too addicting. My family can vouch for this. Melissa made them while we were cooking dinner and we munched by the handful, then ate some with dinner over a green salad and on top of Tara’s gingered apple-carrot-squash soup. They added a nice crunch and intense flavor to everything!

This will definitely be my go-to pumpkin seed roasting recipe for the rest of my life unless I find something better which is unlikely. A touch of rich brown sugar and butter, savory rosemary and sea salt, and spicy cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper—there couldn’t be a better combination in my opinion. Enjoy!

sweet-spicy-savory pumpkin seeds, from here

  • approximately 2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 3 T earth balance / butter
  • 3 T brown sugar or honey
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary or 1 t dried
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and then stir in the brown sugar, salt, rosemary, cinnamon, cayenne  and black pepper. Stir for 2 – 3 minutes until the sugar has mostly melted. Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds. Spread on a well-greased cookie sheet. Don’t worry if it seems liquidy. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring 2 – 3 times during baking (important!). Keep a close eye on them as they can burn really fast. (You can also bake these at a lower temp like 300, for a longer time like 1 hour.) Let cool, scrape off the pan, and store in an air-tight container if you don’t eat them all first :]

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Thankful for this

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!

It was hard to come back to school knowing I only have a week left of classes. Sitting on the cozy couch with my puppies and baking Christmas cookies for the next month instead of going back to work was ooh so tempting….

But we did in fact begin the cookie baking while everyone was home—starting off with mom’s famous peanut butter balls. They’re usually the first to be made, and always the first to go.. sadly. Which is why we almost always end up making another batch closer to Christmas! (hey, we give plates upon plates of cookies away, and there would be some major disappointment if someone received a plate with missing peanut butter balls.)

Thanksgiving day was beautiful at home in Maryland—definitely not as cold as I was anticipating! We met up with mom’s neighborhood walking group along with some of my friends on a beautiful quiet country road for a nice Thanksgiving morning, pre-turkey run/walk. What a refreshing morning it was, and twenty-something people came out!

After that dad put us to work in the yard gathering leaves, chopping wood, and all the winter-preparation work he hasn’t been able to do. Then it was time to relax and cook the feast! We had possibly our smallest Thanksgiving ever, with just the sisters, mom, dad, Jeremy, and our two non-related family members, Melissa and Steve! Steve surprised us all with his gorgeous wild-rice and mushroom stuffed squash picked from his farm, and Melissa made a delicious side of sautéed kale, green beans and mushrooms. Tara wanted to try out her bread-making skills with a whole wheat country loaf. It turned out a little flat but almost had the consistency of ciabatta—I loved it! Mom brined and cooked the turkey and whipped up some mashed white + sweet potatoes and everyone’s favorite cornbread-cranberry-sausage herbed stuffing (which there were not enough leftovers of!). It was a fantastic meal and I was just perfectly stuffed, therefore had room to enjoy my vegan frozen pumpkin mousse pie! Yum. Writing about this makes me want to eat it allll over again.

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pumpkin spice and everything nice

Is there such thing as too much pumpkin spice at this time of year?

I don’t think so. But just to warn you, I may be about to go [a bit] overboard with this delicious combination…

First on the list is this spiced up pumpkin bread (above) which is originally vegan (I used a real egg however), whole grain, fat free and contains just ½ cup of sugar! It’s so moist and soft—almost scoopable—and is perfect warmed up for breakfast with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Needless to say it was devoured.

Next I tried out pumpkin beer bread, which does not contain actual pumpkin but rather pumpkin ale (aka the best kind of beer) and pie spices. I always loved when mom made beer bread at home…. so I have no idea why I’ve never tried to bake it considering how simple the recipe is!

The dry ingredients (above). I used whole wheat pastry flour and lots of cinnamon :]

Then pour the beer in and watch the bubbles take over!

Now the ultimate fall breakfast: pumpkin pie french toast. I spotted the idea here, but didn’t really feel the need to follow the recipe. Just whisk some milk, egg, pumpkin puree, vanilla and spices, dip your bread and throw it on the skillet! Then of course drown in maple syrup :]

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Hello fall. let the pumpkin recipes begin!

In celebration of the cooler weather and crisp blue skies that graced Charleston about a week ago, I jumped right into the seasonal-inspired baking.

Pumpkin is great for baking as it keeps everything moist without all the added fat! These muffins are spiced up, touched with maple, and then swirled with slightly sweet + cinnamony neufchatel cheese. Think of them as pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting that are healthy enough to eat for breakfast :]

spiced pumpkin & cream muffins, adapted from here

for cream cheese filling:

4 oz neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 less fat), at room temp

3 T powdered sugar

1 T agave

½ t pumpkin pie spice

½ t cinnamon

milk as needed

for muffins:

2 cups sifted whole wheat pastry flour

1 t baking soda

½ t salt

1 t ground cinnamon

½ t ground ginger

¼ t ground cloves

1/8 t ground nutmeg

½ cup brown sugar [I loosely packed this, but feel free to add more]

2 T maple syrup [original recipe called for molasses but I didn’t have any]

¼ cup canola oil [or use applesauce in place of some or all of it for a lower fat muffin]

2 large eggs, OR 6 T egg whites, lightly whisked

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 t vanilla extract, [plus some maple if you have it!]

¾ cup buttermilk [I made my own with vinegar and soymilk]

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin or a mini muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper cups. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, pie spice, cinnamon and agave until well mixed. You don’t want the mixture to be too thick, so add some milk if necessary. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. In a large bowl, whisk together  sugar, maple/molasses, oil, and eggs until combined. Whisk in the pumpkin, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add dry ingredients into wet and stir just until fully moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup a little over 2/3 full. Spoon about 1 heaping tsp of the cream cheese mixture into the center of each cup. Swirl the two together gently with a skewer. *Alternatively, you can fill cups halfway with batter, add a tsp of cream cheese, swirl, add more batter, another tsp of cream cheese, and swirl again for a layered muffin. Sprinkle tops with some cinnamon if you’re crazy in love with the spice like I am. Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (the cream cheese may cling on to the toothpick, but the batter should not.) Let the muffins cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Then I decided—why not have double the pumpkin fun and make a pumpkin spice latte?!

Say goodbye to Starbucks (I actually haven’t tried their oh-so-popular latte), because this is one seriously easy drink to make! Just follow the recipe from thekitchn. I halved the recipe for one serving and used Organic Zero in place of the sugar, which is all natural erythritol made from fermented sugar cane. This latte was super comforting and definitely put me in the fall mood :]

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