Pumpkin Coffee Cake, and Dreams of Fall

coffee cake I had a bee in my bonnet this weekend, as my husband lovingly likes to say. I was seriously in the mood for Fall. I wanted our fireplace lit, with romantic ambient candles on tables while my family gently played crossword puzzles and nibbled on gingerbread cookies, and I lit the kettle for tea. I wanted the smell of pumpkin pie spice to fill my house on this glorious chilly fall weekend, and I wanted an autumn wreath hung on our door with neighbors smiling at us and commenting how lovely the mums looked with the pumpkins on our front door step. None of these things happened.

Reality: a trip to the dollar store to stock on Halloween decorations with my nap-deprived 3-year old who screamed at the top of his lungs for the orange loader trucker he found in the toy aisle, while my husband desperately tried to get through the long check-out line which was 9 people deep because naturally they only have one cashier during their busiest times, paired with my sheer disappointment at the luck luster quality and variety of fall decorations. In truth, their seasonal aisle was more stocked up for Christmas than Halloween. On the up side, yellow cake mix was on sale this week for .99 cents at the grocery store, so for a busy mom who likes to cook but hates to bake, this was a perfectly easy compromise to usher in the change of season and satisfy my dreams of Fall!

PUMPKIN COFFEE CAKE WITH BROWN SUGAR GLAZE
⅓ cups Water
1 can Pureed Pumpkin (15 Oz)
2 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 box Yellow Cake Mix (18 Ounce Box)
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Brown Sugar, Divided
½ cups Flour
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
¼ cups Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¼ cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1 cup marshmallows (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl mix together the water, pumpkin, eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Add the cake mix and baking soda and mix until just combined. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and pour batter into pan. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. Use your fingers to sprinkle over the top of the cake. You can also throw some marshmallows on top for an added bonus if you like! Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. For the glaze, combine the other 1/2 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved. When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over the cake, making sure to cover all surfaces. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

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Greek Lentil Taverna Salad

asher and everett This week we reached a major feeding milestone when Everett nonchalantly picked up a Cheerio from my hand, popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. No choking. No gagging. Then he reached for another, and angrily slapped my hand away when I tried to put one into his mouth without giving him the chance to practice his fine motor skills. He has only just recently started snacking on the Gerber puff snacks which all but melt in your mouth so this came as a bit of a shock to me. I can’t believe our 9 month old is already self-feeding!

I have been racking my brain thinking of all the crazy baby recipes I used to make for Asher. Which reminded me of how he absolutely LOVED pureed lentils as an infant. Even to this day, I can pop open a can of Progresso lentil soup on a no-cooking day of desperation and he will gobble the contents of the can without even cooking it. Can I admit that to the world? I guess I just did.

lentils So today’s recipe is for an oustanding Greek Lentil Taverna Salad which did amazingly well in the fridge for a few days. It really could not be easier, and cost around $12 for 6 huge portions. Needless to say, Asher loved the lentils.

GREEK LENTIL TAVERNA SALAD
1 English cucumber, chopped into half moons
4 large beefsteak tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
1 red onion, sliced into slivers
1 package of crumbled feta (traditional flavor)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups of lentils
2 packages of cremini mushrooms, sliced into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, diced

DRESSING
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a sauce pot, boil 5 cups of water. Add lentils then let simmer for 20 minutes. When lentils are done, immedialty drain in collander and set aside to cool. In a frying pan, add olive oil and diced garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then add mushrooms and sautee for 7-9 minutes until the mushrooms have a nice brown color. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled lentils with the mushroom mixture then add the salad dressing ingredients and let marinate for 10 minutes in refrigerator. Meanwhile, add fresh salad ingredients in a large salad bowl. When you are ready to serve, scoop a heaping portion of taverna salad with 1/2 cup lentils as a topping. The flavors from the lentils will act as a dressing for the salad, but you can add additional red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper if needed. This can be made vegan without the feta, you will just need a tad more salt to bring out the flavors.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

mexican quinoa saladQuinoa is an amazing and versatile ingredient that is cholestorol-free, fat-free, and high in protein, iron and fiber. It is also a complete protein, which means it provides all of the essential amino acids. I use quinoa as a substitute for pasta and other grains because it is AWESOME. In fact, when Asher was a baby I used to mix cooked spinach with apple sauce and quinoa in a bowl and he literally could not shovel it down his throat fast enough! However, as soon as his fine motor skills developed he learned that this concoction also made a nice splatter of mess all over the walls and floors, and then quinoa became purely an adult entree in our household. This week we enjoyed a delicious Mexican Quinoa Salad that would make a delicious addition to picnics or dinner parties, and also would work nicely as a stuffing in peppers if you want to make something easy to keep in the fridge for the weeek.

MEXICAN QUINOA SALAD

1 cup quinoa
2 ears of corn, “kerneled”
1 green pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 2 limes
Salsa
Queso fresco

Boil 1 1/2 cups water is small sauce pan, then add quinoa and simmer for 20 minutes. In small bowl, combine lime juice, salt, cumin, chili powder and cumin. When quinoa is cooked, let cool for an additional 20 minutes. Combine in mixing bowl with corn kernels, green pepper, black beans, and cilantro. Top with salsa and queso fresco when served. And did I mention this entire dish costs around $10?? Enjoy!

Italian Stuffed Pesto Tomatoes

tomato There is nothing quite like a fresh tomato: whether it be the crunchy, sweet cherry tomatoes of early summer or the hearty colorful heirlooms of fall – they are a staple year-round in our household. While tomatoes are botanically a fruit, they are used as vegetables in the culinary world which means they cross over into a variety of dishes! This week the grocery store had some enticingly large beefsteak tomatoes and I couldn’t resist trying this new recipe for Italian stuffed tomatoes. The recipe yielded 8 very large stuffed tomates, and the total cost was around $11. Asher loves beans and pesto, so the stuffing also doubles as a great vegetarian toddler meal! I usually use green peppers for “stuffed” dishes, but these were SERIOUSLY good. You could also make this as a cold salad dish for lunch by keeping the kale leaves fresh and not baking the tomates.

ITALIAN STUFFED PESTO TOMATOES – VEGAN!

8 large beefsteak tomatoes
2 cans cannellini beans
1 can artichoke hearts in water
1 bunch kale
1/2 cup pesto (either fresh or store-bought)

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F. Drain the cannellini beans and arthichoke hearts and toss in a mixing bowl along with the pesto. Slice the tops off your beefsteak tomates about 1/4” down. Use a spoon to scoop out the insides of the tomatoes then add to your bean mixture. Remove ribs from the kale and roughly chop the leaves, then cook in a large saute pan on medium heat for 5 minutes. When the leaves are wilted, add the pesto bean mixture and cook for another 5 minutes. Use a tablespoon spoon to stuff the tomatoes until they are overflowing, then bake in a casserole dish for 15 minutes. You want the tomates to stay firm enough for serving, but the cook time allows the flavors to marinate nicely.

Take It With a Grain of Salt, and a Smile

Amanda Profile PictureI am not a gardener. I do not sprout my own peas, grow upside down tomatoes, blend my own toxin-free home cleaners or room sprays, nor do I buy bulk dried beans and store them in mason jars. I have never marinated olive oils or made a wreath. I would love nothing more than to be that person. But I’m not. I don’t water plants. I don’t recycle containers in clever ways. I don’t follow directions well. I spend hard-earned money on unimportant items like a soap dispenser at the Container Store. And by the time I usually get around to finishing the almonds at the bottom of that $8 bag, they are stale. So why am I writing a food blog??

What I AM is a mom on a budget, a home cook, a full-time worker who spends two mind-numbing hours commuting on a train every day, a Virgo thrown into the mix, and a vegetarian. So I have the challenge of feeding three adults (we also feed our world-class nanny who deserves a medal for Best Nanny Ever Period so here you go Alisha – it’s official on my new blog!), and two young boys for around $100 a week.

Making sure that my family is stuffed and eating healthy, nutritious food is vital to me. Cooking the most amount of food in the least amount of time. This is essential. Meal planning.  I have First World Problems, I know. But I thought I would share with you my family and my part-time hobby that consumes me for more hours than I care to admit every week: FOOD. While life is chaotic, I always have the grocery store to look forward to. I take life and my cooking with a grain of salt and a smile, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

So kick up your feet if you don’t have kids… or spend 20 minutes cleaning up spat up pears like I do and THEN kick up your feet after the kids are in bed because you’re now too exhausted to enjoy a hot bath, and read my blog!