necessity is the mother of invention {& that's why we're here, friends} we dance to the music, we play in the kitchen & sometimes that means one of us breaks the wine glasses {we're not saying who} the cook is a cubicle-warmer/learning & development specialist by day, & a writer/photographer/kitchen goddess by night who has fun inventing healthy things she can actually eat we seriously both need capes & a kick-ass theme song & the baker is a catering delivery superhero; no job too big or too early or too floral not to come home & make magic with a mixer & an oven we are always gluten-free, dairy-free, & magically delicious now, somebody turn up the music! we're about to get our dance on!

28 March 2008

magic beans

The calendar says it's spring, but I'm not convinced. Tell that to the scene outside my window. I'm looking out at blossoming cherry trees through a thin veil of snow mixed with rain. It's nearly April, but from the look and feel of it, it might as well be January.

And you know what that means friends: I'm in the mood for something that's going to warm me up from the inside out!

Our latest dish was inspired by my love of legumes and the weather that has me singing [albeit not nearly as well as Dean Martin], baby it's cold outside!

Today we're using some old favorites: black beans, green beans, and tomatoes. And some favorites are making their debut at the playful cook in today's recipe.

Meet some of my friends and allow me to tell you why I love 'em ...

Garbanzo Beans (aka chickpeas): Like many of our bean-y friends, garbanzos are rich in both protein and cholesterol-lowering fiber, keeping you satisfied with a minimal amount of fat. These friends of ours are rich in many minerals including molybdenum (good for detoxifying sulfites, a common type of preservative in prepared foods), manganese, folate, iron, copper, and phosphorus. All super-good stuff for your bod!

Kidney Beans: Ah, the kidney bean! Full of protein (about 15 g per cup!!) and fiber and very low in fat (less than 1 g per cup), the kidney bean also will do its part to keep you satisfied and regular. There's no use skirting the issue, that's one of the many things fiber can do! Almost a nutritional twin to the garbanzo bean, kidney beans are rich in molybdenum, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, and copper. This is another bean your body will thank you for.

Some other benefits of fiber? You already know that it helps reduce cholesterol. It also helps prevent constipation and digestive disorders. It prevents spikes in blood sugar levels after a meal. It lowers your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. It also helps improve absorption of essential minerals such as calcium.

You might have already guessed, but I'm a bit obsessed where fiber is concerned. With my history of digestive issues [see links on sidebar], I make a concerted effort to eat a diet that is rich and fiber and the bonus? I feel fantastic!!

And friends, this recipe is super easy. If you can open a can and turn on the stove top, you're good to go!

So without further ado ... let's get cooking!!

Extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Green beans (approx 1/3 lb.)
Snap peas (approx 1/3 lb.)
1 - 15 oz. can black beans
1 - 15 oz. can kidney beans
1 - 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 - 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
Cayenne pepper (approx 1 to 1-1/2 tsp)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Optional ingredients:
Brown sugar (approx. 2 tbsp.)
Chicken sausage

What else you'll need:
Chopping knife
Cutting board
Can opener
Deep skillet (or wok)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat
Add chopped garlic, allowing to brown & caramelize
Add green beans and snap peas
Add all the beans
Add chopped tomatoes
Add cayenne pepper
Add salt and pepper to taste

Stir occasionally until all the beans are heated through to desired done-ness; I think mine was done after about 18-20 minutes [mostly because I used frozen green beans & snap peas].

[see, I told you it was easy!!]

Enjoy with a fork or a spoon. Sit by the window and watch the precipitation as you feel the heat radiate outward from a happy belly.

five bean goodness photo by kirsten.michelle

12 March 2008

cilantro sensation

Jesus, don't cry
You can rely on me, honey
You can combine anything you want

Wilco, Jesus, etc.

I never used to like spicy things, but these days my tastebuds seem to crave that extra kick every now and then. Needing something light and incredibly easy when I came home a good deal later than usual last night, I put just a few things in a sauce pan that sounded good together in my head. And then voila!, (or should I say ole!), I had a super-simple dinner on a night when my appetite was saying, I'd like a little something, but there's no need to overdo it, girl. Gimme some nutrition and we're good to go.

Cilantro {like my good friend basil} is another green herb that elicits all sorts of crazy green affection from me. Any southwest-y or Mexican dish feels a little incomplete without it, if you ask me. Naked, if you will. And really, those lacy fragrant leaves are what inspired me to concoct today's recipe.

So what are we looking at today for ingredients? It's a pretty short list of ingredients, but I'll feature some of my favorites for you.

Black Beans: Rich in fiber, protein, antioxidants, iron, folate, manganese, magnesium not to mention being low in fat, black beans are a nutritional powerhouse. The fiber helps lower cholesterol and reduce risk for heart disease. Those of who who have known me awhile know about my love affair with the black bean. {Note: links to recipes in that post have been updated.}

Cilantro: Cilantro/coriander seeds are known through out the world to have some magical and mysterious healing properties {confession: I added the "magical and mysterious" bit, so don't try to take that one to the bank}. It's thought of as an anti-diabetic plant in Europe and in India, it is utilized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Here in the U.S., we've stood up and taken note that it helps reduce cholesterol.

Tempeh: You might be less famlilar tempeh. A close relative to tofu, tempeh is a food made from fermented soybeans that is both high in fiber and loaded with wonderful first-rate protein. Rich in numerous vitamins and minerals {including but not limited to: riboflavin, manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, essential fatty acids, and isoflavones}. And seriously, don't let that "fermented" bit put you off. All cooked up and in a tasty little dish like this, you'll be asking for more.

1 – 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 – 15 oz. can black beans
1 package Spicy Veggie Tempeh, cubed
Fresh cilantro
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt

What to do:
In a skillet, heat up olive oil to medium heat
Add cubed Spicy Veggie Tempeh
Cook until lightly browned

Add diced tomatoes and black beans
Reduce heat to low
Add sea salt & dash of cumin

Add cilantro leaves {as many as you want!!} & stir until heated through

Serving Suggestions:

  • If you're not that hungry {like I was when I made this}, eat by itself! It's kinda like a soup or something ...
  • Serve with rice or (my favorite) over oven roasted veggies such as green beans
  • Substitute tempeh with 1 lb. diced chicken breast {if you do this, you might want to add chili powder or if you're really brave, some habanero peppers to kick things up a bit}
  • Mixed in with cooked rice (about 2 c., I’m guessing) and put in a baking dish, top with cheese. Put in the oven on 375 until it's all nice & thick & bakey & the cheese is all melty.

Mmm … somebody stop me, I’m getting hungry!!!

10 March 2008

crazy about cupcakes

So the baker isn't so playful as the cook, throwing in ingredients here and there, and definitely not taking pictures of everything, but I do however love to that I guess makes me the baker by default.

Anyway, I recently purchased a cupcake cookbook called Crazy About Cupcakes by Krystina Castella. This is in my quest, journey, adventure, whatever you want to call it, in discovering a part of myself that I've been missing or putting on the back burner for many years. I've always enjoyed baking. I've made chocolate banana bread, that's pretty scrumptious. And I made my first cheesecake, which Sweet Potato Cheesecake, with flying colors and rave reviews. I've always been fascinated by cupcakes I guess and all that you can do with them. The fillings, the frosting, the decorations. Mini cake masterpieces. But I have never made any part of them from scratch. The credit can be taken by Duncan Hines. So I knew I had a challenge ahead of me, but with the willingness and the roommates willing to taste test, I figured what did I have to lose.

So this past week I narrowed it down to one particular recipe and then purchased the ingredients this weekend. And then I hunkered down in our tiny little kitchen and started this new discovery of mine...cupcakes.

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes--recipe taken from Crazy About Cupcakes

2/3 unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups (16 0z) sour cream
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely ground almonds, toasted
3/4 cup raspberry preserves

*Side note here, you are probably noticing that this isn't exactly a healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free recipe, so any of those ingredients could be substituted for organic or soy-made product. I wanted to see what the REAL cupcake was suppose to look like, so I used the real ingredients.

Baking instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert cupcake liners into cupcake pan.
2. In large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar with electric mixer on medium speed, for about 3-5 minutes, until fluffy. Add the eggs to creamed mixture, mixing 1 minutes after each addition. Add the almond extract and the sour cream.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, and slat. Add the ground almonds (I didn't add these, I think of these as optional).
4. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Mix until completely blended.
5. Fill the liners 1/2 to 3/4 full. Drop a teaspoon of raspberry preserves into each cup. Bake for 20- 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes on pan.

So I figured out along time ago that I am my own worst enemy and now cupcake judge. I didn't know what I was expecting because I had nothing to base it on, but they didn't come out looking like the cupcake I had in my head. So really I have no leg to stand on in this debate, so I'm going to stop because guess what...they tasted pretty good. Kirsten couldn't partake because I used real ingredients but from the five or six people that tasted them, which wasn't me having a cupcake five or six cupcakes, said they were really good. I got over what they looked like pretty quick.

Oh I did try a frosting recipe from the book, but homemade frosting is something I have yet to master. Something about boiling and having stuff melt and set, didn't really work. It look more like runny grey-ish clay, than something you'd want to put on your cupcakes. The cupcakes taste pretty good with out, so why ruin a good thing?

09 March 2008

basil inspiration

If I had eyes in the back of my head,
I'd tell you that you looked good as I walked away ...

Jack Johnson, If I Had Eyes

I love fresh basil.

Seriously, I love it. When I brought home today's featured ingredient, I planted my nose in its leaves and inhaled deeply. Repeatedly. I was in heaven.

I think our baker was a bit worried.

If I were getting married and if newspapers still wrote those high society-type wedding announcements that described the color of the ribbon on the flowergirl dresses and the scalloped lace used to make the bride's veil {those are two big "ifs", but work with me here, people}, mine might read: the bride carried a bouquet of fresh basil.

Aside from the unmistakable fragrant aroma of fresh basil, there's something that's so beautifully relaxed about those big leaves, all relaxed and hanging about, laden with their own green goodness. Chill. As if to say, dude whenever you're ready, I'm here. Until then, I'm just going to kick back, hang, and let people catch a whiff of all my basil-y goodness. So I'm cooking to Jack Johnson tonight, the ultimate in relaxed/kicked back/chill tunes.

Speaking of basil-y goodness, you probably want to know what else makes this stuff so good. I'm so glad you asked.

Basil is rich in flavonoids which provide protection for your body at a cellular and chromosomal level from radiation and oxygen-based damage. The volatile oils in basil also have anti-bacterial properties and helps prevent nasty, unwanted bacteria from multiplying. Not only this, but this little leaf is packed with anti-inflammatory properties, good for folks with rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions. Rich in vitamins A {good stuff for promoting cardiovascular health}, C, K {also known as potassium}, magnesium {good for your heart}, iron, and calcium. In other words, this chill little leaf packs a lot of defensive properties.

A Word From the Cook:

  • This dish doesn't have a name. So if you think of a fitting one, be my guest.
  • I rarely measure anything. This is terribly annoying for people who want to duplicate, I know. But the cook is playful, the kitchen a playground, and she likes every dish to be a true original. Have fun making it your own! And let me know what you come up with; I've already got a few ideas for modifying this one ...
  • It should go without saying here, but all the ingredients are organic & when possible, locally grown. Both those things are muy important to me.
  • You can click on the links below in the ingredients list to find out more healthful properties for ingredients in this dish.


2+ lbs. red potatoes, cubed
1 large bunch fresh basil
6 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced/chopped {however you like it, really}
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 package firm tofu, cubed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Meat Option:
Try with a white fish such as rockfish, cod, or halibut. Scallops anyone?
Meat-eaters at my house last night had salt & pepper chicken tenders

What Else You'll Need:
Baking dish
2 skillets
Cutting board/chopping mats
Kitchen knife

What To Do:
Heat oven to 450 degrees F
Place cubed red potatoes in a baking dish
Pour olive oil and stir potatoes until well-coated
Sprinkle with sea salt & pepper
Check potatoes & stir every 10 minutes or so
Potatoes are done when they brown at the edges & are tender when poked with a fork

In a skillet, heat up a good pour of olive oil on med-high heat
Sautee onions and garlic until onions are translucent
Add roma tomatoes, reduce to low-medium heat
After tomatoes soften, reduce heat to low
Add fresh basil and a generous pour of balsamic vinegar
Stir mixture occasionally

In another skillet, heat up olive oil & balsamic vinegar on medium-high heat
Add cubed tofu, and sprinkle with salt & pepper
Cook until any liquid is mostly gone

Putting It Together:
Place potatoes on a plate or in a pasta bowl
Top with onion/tomato/basil mixture
Top with tofu or protein of choice
Sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste

Makes about 4 helpings without leftovers.

Since my parents just happened to be in my neck of the woods for this particular experiment, I invited them over to partake. Dad was raised in the midwest & is very much the quintessential meat & potatoes man who is still genuinely shocked that something can taste good and be satisfying without meat, gluten, or dairy products, let alone be vegan {no butter? no cheese? no eggs?}. I'm just saying that he liked it. A lot. And has already asked me to make it again.

Now, I'll let Kaari talk about dessert ...

all photos by kirsten.michelle
check out more saturday evening dining fun here.

05 March 2008

spicy quinoa & lentils

{NOTE: This recipe originally posted here.}

The skinny on today’s featured ingredients:

Quinoa: an ancient grain native to South America, enjoying increased popularity in recent years. High in fiber and providing complete protein (meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids, essential for tissue growth & repair). A good source of fiber as well as the following minerals: manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, riboflavin, and phosphorous.

Lentils: a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, also helps keep blood sugar low after a meal. A good source of important B-vitamins, magnesium, folate, and other minerals as well as protein.

1 lb. green beans (fresh or frozen)
3 c. vegetable broth (I like No Chicken Broth by Imagine Foods)
½ c. quinoa
½ c. green lentils
Cayenne pepper (about ½ - 1 tsp; adjust as needed to your preference)
Cumin (about ½ - 1 tsp; adjust as needed to your preference)
½ large yellow onion, chopped
1 dry pint grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
Sea salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Olive oil

OPTIONAL: (for a non-vegan dish):½ lb. lean chicken sausage (with garlic is nice if you can find it!)

What else you’ll need:
Chopping knife
Cutting board
Sauce pan
Cookie Sheet


Green Beans:
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Spread green beans & snap peas out on a cookie sheet & add a good pour of olive oil, stirring until veggies are coated
Sprinkle with salt & pepper
Cook for about 20-25 minutes (or until they reach desired doneness), stirring periodically

Quinoa & Lentils:
Put vegetable broth in a sauce pan on high heat
Add cayenne and cumin
After broth comes to a boil, add quinoa and lentils
Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes

Onions & Tomatoes:
Pour olive oil into a skillet, heat to medium-high heat
Add chopped onion, stir periodically
After onions begin to caramelize (about 10-15 minutes), add sliced grape tomatoes
Cook until the onions are almost black and tomatoes are soft

Bringing it all together:
Quinoa and lentils are done cooking once the liquid is absorbed
Combine onion and tomato mixture with quinoa and lentils
Add salt/pepper to taste
Serve on bed of cooked green beans.

OPTIONAL: Top with chicken sausage (as shown)
Serving Suggestions:

As a side dish: Serve by itself, sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste
As a main dish: top green beans with quinoa & lentil mixture; sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste; top with cooked chicken sausage for a meaty main dish (as shown)


quinoa & lentils photo by kirsten.michelle

blog # 3!??! {interior dialogue}

I must be crazy.

But I like to cook.

I must be crazy.

And ... I like to take pictures of what I cook.

3 blogs?!!? I must be crazy.

And rumor has it that some people [besides me] actually like to eat what I cook.

Oh, why not ...
crazy girl in the sun photo by kirsten.michelle