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I heard a story on NPR the other night about a recipe called “Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good”. It caught my interest for a few minutes but I didn’t think much about it since it really did have a bit of that smarmy NPR edge to it that makes food and recipes out to be something they’re not. I’m not slamming NPR at all considering that it’s pretty much the only thing I listen to in the car if I’m not listening to music, it’s just that their food reporting always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This morning, someone on Facebook linked to the story and I saw the picture that went along with it and was amazed at how beautiful the food looked. That’s when I decided I was going to give it a try. Tonight. On short notice. Yeah, I’m that kind of crazy. Besides, we were having a friend over for dinner and I wanted to make something unique and special: this certainly fit the bill.

I just happened to have some beautiful pumpkins that we had gotten last month as a local farm that we support. They were the perfect size for individual servings. On my way home from work I stopped by Trader Joe’s and picked up what I needed to make this a great dish. I also picked up a few different cheeses and other foods to snack on while our guest was with us. There’s nothing like a fresh cheese plate to say “welcome to my home”. I had a delicious Stilton, a unique goat’s milk Gouda and a triple cream Brie that was rich and creamy to the extreme. But, enough about cheese! Let’s get on to the main course.

My goal was to make something vegetarian, healthy and gluten free. This meant I was going to have to go off book for this recipe and fly blind. I was totally comfortable with that since it just makes the experience that much more fun for me. Yeah, I’m that kind of crazy.

With those goals in mind, I cooked up some brown basmatti rice and some French green lentils for the main body of the stuffing. While they cooked, I enlisted my son to help me remove the seeds and the guts from inside each pumpkin. I saved the seeds for later and then prepared the rest of the filling. I cut up some Gruyère cheese into half-inch cubes and cut up some fresh eggplant into bite sized pieces (this is the third time I’ve had eggplant this week; that’s three times more than I have ever had it before: who knew?). These were followed by some chopped chives, fresh thyme and some roughly minced garlic. Last, I gave an onion a quick cut and sauted it until it began to carmalize. Once everything was prepared, I mixed it together well and then stuffed my pumpkins to the point of bursting. Once they were as full as I could get them, I took some almond milk and added freshly grated nutmeg to it. The milk/nutmeg mixture got poured into the pumpkin and filled up what little space there was with more yummy goodness. The pumpkins went onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for 90 minutes. After the 90 minutes, I pulled the tops off to allow some of the liquid to cook off and let the top get crusty and delicious. The pumpkins stayed in the oven for another 30 minutes while they finished turning into something even more magnificent than a coach that will take you to the ball.

While the pumpkins were cooking, I prepared a second meal for my wife and kids and got the cheese plate ready and prepped some IQF shrimp and got a small buffet going on a table in the kitchen so that our guest would be able to sit and eat some appetizers with my wife and kids while I was able to participate in the discussion from behind the stove. It worked out great. Everything came out at the same time and the pumpkins were perfect. The finished product is below.

Stuffed Pumpkins - fresh from the oven

This is what it looks like when the top comes off

Isn't that cheesy and good? Yes, yes it is.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful these tasted. The pumpkin was tender and the flavor of it had soaked into the filling. The brown rice and green lentils held up wonderfully and made for a great way to get complete protein from the meal. The cheese had melted throughout the filling and every bite you took was gooey and yummy and warm. The eggplant was tender and had a great flavor to it and the texture was different enough from the other items that it added a great counterpoint to the other ingredients. This was one of the most unique things I’ve ever made and I think it’s a dish that we’ll remember for a long time to come. The great thing about it is that you can stuff it with pretty much anything you want and it will come out well.

I was only able to eat about half of my pumpkin so I have a really good lunch to look forward to tomorrow. Right now, even though it’s been a few hours since I ate, I’m still stuffed. This dish was quite filling and really did make quite an impression sitting on the table. If you’re looking for something to make this Thanksgiving that will be different but still capture the feeling of the season well, you can’t go wrong with something like this. I wish that I still had more pumpkins left as I’d be making this again in a few weeks.

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My trip to Trader Joe’s the other night scored me another item for my pantry that comes highly recommended: Trader Joe’s Three Grain Tempeh. Instead of just making fake bacon, I did my research and found a recipe I just happened to have all the ingredients for. Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and made some minor adjustments to make it more to my liking and I was quite pleased with the results. In order to attempt this recipe you must like tempeh, chili peppers and onions. If you do, this is totally worth it. The sweetness of the onions really plays off the heat of the jalapeños and the soy sauce brings out the flavors. Then, the crunchy tempeh rounds out the dish very well. Unfortunately the pictures of this didn’t come out as well as I’d like them to but I was trying out the new camera on the phone instead of using my normal camera to get pics of the food.

Oniony Tempeh

Ingredients

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 package tempeh
1 yellow onion
1 red onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 red jalapeño
1 green jalapeño
1/2 tsp. low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar

Directions

1. Dice the tempeh into small rectangular pieces.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the tempeh. Cook the tempeh until it is crispy and brown on all sides.
3. Remove the tempeh from the oil and put aside
4. Cut the yellow and red onions in half from top to bottom and then cut each half lengthwise so that you end up with long strands of onion (think half circle onion rings) – incidentally,  this type of cut is referred to as Lyonnaise.
5. Sauté the onions until they are translucent and aromatic. While the onions are cooking, mince the garlic and slice the jalapeños into thin pieces.
6. Sauté the mixture briefly the add in the tempeh and stir around.
7. When everything is mixed well, add the soy sauce and the brown sugar. Stir continuously until the brown sugar has dissolved and the tempeh and onion mixture has been completely coated.

 

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Well not really but sort of. I guess I need to preface this with the news that we finally have a Trader Joe’s here in Maine. Now that the crowds have died down (a bit), I ventured over there last night. It was great to see all the old familiar Trader Joe brands along with low prices on all kinds of great things. One of the things picked up was the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice mix. It came highly recommended from another blog that I read a while back and don’t remember the address of right now. That blog included a few recipes for what to do with this spice mix. One of the recommendations was to put it into oatmeal. I tried this today and am pleased with the results. It’s a little odd at first but pumpkin pie flavored oatmeal works. Now, if I only had any coffee left at home I could try making my own pumpkin-spiced flavored beverage. I guess that will have to wait for another day.

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Sometimes, there are foods that I am aware of but I have never had the opportunity to try or have not made myself. Last night, those two forces combined into one fantastic dinner. For a long time now, I have known about tempeh: a soy product that is related to tofu but contains grains in addition to the soy protein. I had never had it and didn’t know what to do with it. Then, I saw a recipe for tempeh bacon. Needless to say, this intrigued me. I bought a block of tempeh, got out my cutting board and my sharpest knife and sliced the tempeh as thinly as I could. I then covered the tempeh with liquid smoke and seasoning for flavor. I proceeded to fry the tempeh slices in some hot olive oil and they came out crispy, brown and DELICIOUS.

I really liked the flavor of the tempeh. It is a bit earthier than tofu and it’s a lot easier to work with. You don’t need to press it or worry about getting the liquid out of it. Plus, it’s really versatile for cooking. You can bake it, saute it, fry it or steam it just to name a few preparation methods. I took my tempeh “bacon” and I put it on top of a salad. It took an otherwise standard salad to a whole new level. My daughter came out as I was making it, saw the tempeh sitting on my plate and asked me, “Is that BACON?” I explained to her that it wasn’t and offered to let her try some but she politely declined. I think her words were something along the lines of rather having her teeth pulled out than have to try something that gross but she’s only 10 so I can’t blame her for not being as adventurous as I am when it comes to trying new foods. If you are looking for new ways to expand your vegetarian arsenal, I would really suggest checking out this great ingredient. It looks a little weird but it works great in just about anything I’ve seen it in.

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Since I’ve started eating more mindfully and being aware of just what I’m putting into my body I have started to try a lot of new vegetables. This was so that I could have variety in my diet and also to learn what kinds of wonderful things the plant kingdom offered to eat. I just got done cleaning up from dinner and I was putting some things away and couldn’t believe how many green things are sitting in my refrigerator. It really is a different view from the one I would have seen before I started making all of these changes.

One of the greater finds that I’ve had is yellow squash and zucchini. These are vegetables that I just couldn’t stand the thought of eating before I made a committed effort to eat vegetarian. Now, I am able to enjoy the sweetness and flavor that they bring to dishes I put them in. They’re still not my favorite but I can enjoy them like I never imagined I could. A week ago, I had a vegetarian burrito that included some squash and zucchini and I really enjoyed it. I decided to make my own version of it tonight.

Vegetarian Burritos

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
2-3 bunches of green onion, chopped
1 yellow squash, halved and then sliced
1 zucchini,  halved and then sliced
1 can black beans
1/4 tsp coriander seed
1/4 tsp cumin
hot salsa for filling and to top off burritos
1/2 cup spinach, washed and dried
whole wheat low carb, low-calorie tortillas

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat
  2. Add onions and sauté until tender and translucent
  3. Add jalapeño and sauté for one minute more
  4. Add green onion, squash and zucchini. Stir together and heat thoroughly
  5. Add the black beans and stir to combine
  6. Add the cumin, coriander and salsa to the rest of the ingredients, stir
  7. After the filling is cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
  8. Heat the tortillas and add the filling. Add spinach to the filling.
  9. Roll the burrito and top with more salsa.

That’s all there is to it. It’s very easy and very tasty. Be sure not to over-fill the tortillas so that you can completely roll the burrito. With something like this, it’s actually safer to eat it with a knife and fork because it can get a little messy. I’ve found that the healthier tortillas aren’t as big as I’d like for burritos but they taste great. The tortillas I used had only 60 calories each and were whole wheat. I had two burritos and figure that the total calories of this meal may have topped 220 max. Combine that with a zero calorie Life Water and I’ll be good until morning with a very low-calorie dinner that’s full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. ¡Muy bueno!

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Tonight for dinner, I decided to try a new salad. I looked around in the fridge to see what I had and I noticed I had a lot of spinach and shredded carrots. Then, I went to the pantry and I saw my unopened bag of dried cranberries. I have recently discovered that I really like them, especially on salads. I was always reluctant to eat them because I hate, Hate, HATE raisins. I can’t stand the little rotten grapes that have shriveled up and should have been thrown away instead of boxed up and sold as food. Eww, nasty things. So, because of that, I hadn’t tried dried cranberries. Eventually I realized that was a stupid reason to not try them so I was pleasantly surprised when I found I enjoyed them.

Then, in the back of the pantry, I saw the last of my red quinoa. That’s when inspiration struck. I made the quinoa, washed the spinach, plated it and added the carrots to the spinach and then plopped on a bunch of quinoa and topped it off with the cranberries. It was delicious. I dumped a bunch of spicy ingredients in with the quinoa as it was cooking so it was full of flavor and a lot of fun to eat. Here are the pics and the full recipe.

Spicy Quinoa and Cranberry Salad

Spicy Quinoa and Cranberry Salad

Spicy Quinoa and Cranberry Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp Jamaican Jerk seasoning
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup shredded carrots
dried cranberries

  1. Rinse and soak the quinoa for 15 minutes. If you haven’t shredded your carrots before hand, this would be a good time to do that. While shredding your carrots, think about how procrastination has caused you more work while you could be enjoying the 15 minute soak time doing something else.
  2. Drain the quinoa and add it to a medium pot along with the 2 1/2 cups water. Bring water to a boil and add the jerk seasoning and the garlic powder. Stir quinoa for one minute.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the quinoa for 20 minutes.
  4. During the last 5-10 minutes of cooking, rinse the spinach and add to the bottom of your serving plate(s).
  5. Place shredded carrots on top of the spinach.
  6. When the quinoa is done, add it to the top of the salad
  7. Top the salad with dried cranberries and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

That’s it. It’s an easy to make salad and it tasted great. Usually I don’t add things like garlic powder to my food but in this case it’s an easy way to get the garlic to dissolve and be absorbed by the quinoa. The jerk seasoning is one that I’ve had sitting in my spice rack for a long time. I used to add it to chicken but I haven’t done that in a long time. I think I finally found a new use for it. If you choose to make this, enjoy. I know I did. Just make sure you don’t hiccup right as you’re bringing a fork full of spicy quinoa to your mouth. You could end up inhaling it and getting it stuck in your throat where it will burn and make you cough for the next half hour.

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    As is obvious from many of the recipes that I’ve posted here, I really like Quinoa and Lentils. I just saw this “related story” link on the recipe I posted yesterday about the quinoa and lentil stuffed peppers. I checked it out and can’t believe how good this looks. I’m definately going to be making this one soon. Falafel is a great food but it’s not the healthiest thing in the world. I think the preperation here would be a nice alternative for a healthy dinner.

    http://cupcakepunk.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/lentil-quinoa-falafel/

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    I spent some time in the kitchen tonight having fun trying to come up with a new recipe. This is what I came up with.

    I took some red and white quinoa and cooked them risotto style along with some French green lentils. I then stuffed them inside some peppers and baked them at 415 for about 15 minutes and served them with a fresh salad. It was quite tasty. French green lentils are different from the normal brown lentils you find in most locations. I get mine at a local health food store. They have a bit of an earthier flavor to them and hold up their shape and texture a little better when cooking them like this. They are a great addition to this dish because they add a lot of flavor.

    Curried Quinoa and Green Lentil Stuffed Peppers

    1 cup red quinoa
    1 cup white quinoa
    1 cup French green lentils
    1/2 large red onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    3 1/2 – 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth or stock
    1 tablespoon curry powder
    4 peppers, cored, seeds removed with tops cut off

    Directions

    1. Begin by soaking the red and white quinoa in a bowl of water. Soak for at least 15 minutes.
    2. While the quinoa is soaking, dice the red onion and mince the 3 cloves of garlic.
    3. Drain the quinoa and set aside.
    4. Heat the olive oil in a 10 inch pot over medium-high heat and add the red onion. Cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.
    5. Reduce heat and add the garlic and sauté for another minute making sure the garlic does not burn.
    6. Add the quinoa and sauté for a minute making sure to stir constantly to coat all of the seeds with oil.
    7. Add the lentils and enough vegetable stock to cover the quinoa and lentils at least 1/2 inch.
    8. Return heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the curry powder and boil for one minute.
    9. Reduce to a simmer and lightly cover the pot. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes until liquid is absorbed.
    10. While quinoa is cooking, heat oven to 415. Cut the tops off of the peppers and remove the cores and seeds.
    11. Place the four peppers in an oven safe baking dish setting aside the tops.
    12. When quinoa and lentils are done cooking and liquid is absorbed, spoon the quinoa into each of the peppers. Replace the tops of the peppers and then bake for 15-20 minutes until the peppers are beginning to brown on the outside.
    13. When peppers are done, carefully transfer each pepper to a plate and serve with a salad.

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    Today I went to the store and picked up a bunch of stuff that I’m going to use to work on creating a few new recipes. Once I have a recipe or two, I’ll post them here along with pictures of what I have come up with. For now, a sneak preview.

    • French Green Lentils
    • Red Lentils
    • White Quinoa
    • Red Quinoa
    • Polenta
    • Rainbow Chard
    • Red Pepper
    • Orange Pepper
    • Jalapeño Pepper
    • Carrots
    • Red Onion
    • Shallots
    • Garlic
    • Ginger
    • Tofu
    • Various herbs/spices
    • Low Sodium organic vegetable stock

    I’ve got a few ideas about what to do with some of the ingredients but I haven’t come up with anything firm yet. I love going to the store and finding ingredients that I either really like or have wanted to work with for a while and just picking them up with the intent of cooking something with them. It’s a challenge to come up with something good and interesting and I’m going to have fun doing it. The great thing is that all of the produce was local and organic so whatever I end up making will have supported local farms and farmers. It’s a win/win for everyone.

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    One of the great things about living in Maine is that there is a lot of local foods available. These are usually fresh and organic and delicious. Today I was at the grocery store and I saw some amazing looking tuna steaks for sale. I couldn’t pass it up, because it looked so good: deep red and visibly fresh. I knew I’d found my dinner.

    When I got home, I had to figure out what to do with it. I realized I had leftover sesame seeds from the sesame crusted tofu that I made the other night so I did something that you usually find done way too much in restaurants: sesame crusted tuna. It’s extremely easy to do. You put your sesame seeds on a plate, add some pepper and, because I like it, cayenne pepper. Put the tuna on top of the sesame seed mixture and press down firmly. Turn and do the same with the other side. Then, do the edges. Set it aside for a minute or two to rest. While the tuna rests, heat a little olive oil in a pan and then add the tuna. Cook it until the seeds start to brown and then flip and cook the other side. Then, do the edges. It’s quick and extremely easy. I prefer my tuna practically raw on the inside so I don’t cook it very long at all. It came out looking like this.

    After I had the tuna resting on the plate, I decided I needed something to go with it. I remembered I had some pears in the refrigerator that needed to be eaten so I grabbed one, cut it up into slices and then drizzled some Blueberry Balsamic vinegar that I got down at Whole Foods the other day. It is made by a really great lady here in Maine and is only available locally here. I met her and we talked a bit about the vinegars she makes and how to use them. I loved the Blueberry so much that I had to get some. If you really want to try this, I did find a recipe for it that looks pretty good over on the Food Network site. Between the tuna and the pears, I was quite full and very content till breakfast tomorrow.

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