The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star. -- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin --

Monday, January 28, 2013

STOP! Don't dump that pumpkin! (Caramelized Spicy Pumpkin Seeds)

Happy Monday everyone!!  I’m back in Zig Zag after a wonderful weekend spent with some of my nieces & nephews - as well as my great-nieces & nephews.  I am so blessed to have such a large and loving family!

While we were staying at my nieces home, I found a large pumpkin on her widow sill, and asked about it.  My niece said that it had been sitting there since Halloween and just needed to be dumped.  Silly girl!  I told her that pumpkins will keep for quite a while, as long as they haven’t been cut open, and that hers still appeared to be in pretty good shape.  I convinced her to let me roast it to make some pumpkin puree, and of course we couldn’t waste the seeds either.

I thought it would be a good time to try a new recipe, so I googled pumpkin seeds from my phone, and found this recipe at .  I made a few adjustments (as always), and got busy.  That evening we had some yummy spiced pumpkin seeds to snack on during our game night, and I had a good batch of pumpkin puree to take home and put in my freezer for future baking.

The new recipe was a big success, so I definitely wanted to share it.  Give it a try next time you have some pumpkin seeds to work with.

Caramelized Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Original recipe makes 2 cups or 8 (1/4 cup) servings
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cumin (a/k/a comino)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds, washed and dried
cooking spray
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of sugar, the cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne pepper, and set aside.

Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and spray them with cooking spray.  (If you have any parchment paper, you may want to line your baking sheet with that before you start.  It makes it really easy to pour the pumpkin seeds into the skillet, and clean-up is MUCH easier too!)  Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds with salt to taste, then pop them into the oven and bake until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes (mine took a little longer…just keep an eye on them and use your best judgment).

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and stir in 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  Stir constantly until the sugar starts to melt and become a beautiful golden liquid.  Add the toasted pumpkin seeds along with about half of the sugar/spice mixture.  (The original recipe added all the sugar spice mixture at the end, but I prefer cooking them a bit to bring out a nice roasted spice flavor.)  Cook and stir the seeds until all the sugar is melted, and all the seeds have a nice coating.

This should only take 2 to 3 minutes. (This will burn easily if you’re not careful, so don’t walk away!)

Stir the caramelized seeds into the bowl of sugar-spice mixture and toss to coat.  Pour everything back onto the baking sheet and spread into a single layer.  Let cool, then break into pieces and ENJOY!!

(NOTE:  If this spice combination doesn’t work for you, you can always try my old standby recipe or simply roast them as above - with or without the salt - and don’t add the sugar/spices at all.  They’re wonderful plain too!) 

Have a great week my friends, and if you haven’t done it lately…spend some quality time with your family soon…you’ll be glad you did!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Favorites #5: Lentil Soup

I found this recipe on my friend kath001’s blog “What’s Cookin’ 4 Miles North of Nowhere” quite some time ago, and despite my good intentions, I just never got around to making it.  I finally decided that last night was the night, and I’m so glad I did!!  This soup is hearty, healthy and best of all delicious!!

My hubby and I worked on it together, and I must admit, he was a bit dubious after my previous attempts at lentil anything.  I’ve always loved the flavor of lentils, but haven’t made any in years because I was so frustrated at having delicious, but still hard and crunchy lentils every time I tried.  Despite many attempts, with some yummy-sounding recipes, I’ve always had trouble getting lentils to soften up when I cook them.

I’ve tried simmering them for hours on end, and even soaking them overnight before cooking - like I’d do with dried beans - but no luck.

I finally received a tip that cooking them (until soft) before adding tomatoes (because of the acid) or any type of salt would help.  (Those things are supposed to somehow prevent the softening process.)

I don’t understand the exact science, but I figured it was worth a try, so that’s exactly what I did.  I adjusted the original recipe a bit to change the order of things.  I waited to add the sausage and chicken broth (which both have salt in them) as well as the tomatoes until after the lentils had cooked for a while.

Guess what??  Soft lentils in my pot for the first time ever!!

I’m so excited about this success, that I’m going to start experimenting with lentils much more often again!  Meanwhile, this soup is a wonderful start.  Even my husband agreed!
You can throw it together very easily and just let it simmer while you do other things.  I’m sure it would work well in a slow-cooker too, as long as you wait to add the salty things and tomatoes until after the lentils have already softened.

Lentil Soup

1 onion, finely chopped
3 ribs of celery, diced
1/3 cup sweet red & yellow peppers, diced
1/2 cup shoestring carrots (or diced or sliced carrots - your preference)
6 cups water (approximately)
1-1/2 cups lentils (the original recipe called for 2 cups which would be fine…I just used up what I had on hand)
1 cup link sausage, diced (I cut mine pretty small because I like a little in every bite, but you can use larger chunks if you prefer)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (I added these too, because they’re my latest “secret ingredient” for yummy soups!)
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes (I prefer the no salt added variety - DO NOT DRAIN)
32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth (I added more than the original recipe called for because I wanted to stretch the recipe as much as possible)
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (the original recipe called for 1/2 cup, but my hubby & I both love spinach, so I added more…we both agreed that next time…and THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME…we’ll probably add even more)

In a large pan, heat about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Add diced onion, celery and carrot.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, till onion is translucent.

Add the lentils and 6 cups water, and heat to boiling.  Stir well, cover and reduce heat.  Simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, checking &stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender.  If necessary, you can add additional water.

Add sausage, red pepper flakes, canned tomatoes (with liquid) and chicken broth.  Continue to cook another 10 to 15 minutes to give flavors a chance to meld.  Stir in fresh spinach and cook to desired consistency.

Serve with crackers or a nice crusty bread.

Please give this yummy recipe a try, and stop over and say “HOWDY” to my friend kath001 over at Four Miles North of Nowhere .  Those of you who enjoy crafts and cooking are just gonna love her blog!

Have a fantastic week my friends!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter Favorites #4: Apple Pfannkuchen

Howdy friends!  I originally came across this recipe in a booklet that came with my Oster Kitchen Center more years ago than I can count!  My hubby and I first started making it not long after we first married, and we’ve adapted it over the years to make it our own.

I always start craving it the minute the weather starts turning cool each fall.  I guess it’s supposed to be a breakfast food, but we generally have it for supper.  For me it has become the definition of “comfort food.”

Sometimes, my sweet husband has it ready and waiting for me when I come in from a long day at the office.  Having that wonderful aroma and that sweet guy greet me at the front door reminds me how grateful I am for the blessings of home.

Do you have any recipes that bless you that way?  If so, please share them!!

Apple Pfannkuchen

1 cup skim milk (or whatever type of milk you prefer)
1/2 cup HEB Real Eggs (or 2 actual eggs)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have wheat flour, just use 2/3 cup all-purpose - that’s what the original recipe called for anyway)
3 Tablespoons Smart Sugar (you can also use Whey Low, or regular sugar if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon salt (the original recipe called for 1/2 tsp., but I cut that amount in half with no real flavor loss)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel (you can use dried, but the fresh adds a much brighter flavor)
2 Tablespoons Smart Balance Butter Blend sticks  (or real butter), melted

Put milk eggs, flours, sugar, salt & lemon peel into blender container.  Cover and process at a medium speed until well blended.

Pour butter into a 9” pie plate (you can use a cast-iron skillet, if you prefer) and turn the plate until the butter is evenly distributed, making sure to butter the sides as well as the bottom.

Bake at 400°F for 30 to 35 minutes.  (It’s ready when it gets puffy and deep golden brown.)

Pour apple filling (or whatever filling you prefer) into center of Pfannkuchen and serve immediately.  The pancake will collapse soon after removal from the oven.

NOTE:  Pfannkuchen is also good served with a simple topping of fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or whatever you have on hand) and a little powdered sugar.

Apple Filling:
2 Tablespoons Smart Balance Butter Blend sticks (or real butter)
2 cups diced Granny Smith apples (The original recipe called for peeled, sliced apples, but I prefer diced - it’s easier to eat that way - with the peels on.  The peels are yummy and add color along with a nutrition boost!)
2 Tablespoons Smart Sugar (again, you can also use Whey Low, or regular sugar if you prefer)
1 Tablespoon sugar (the original recipe calls for 3 Tbsp. sugar - I generally substitute Smart Sugar for the entire amount, but in this case adding some real sugar helps with the caramelization process)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Hillshire FarmTurkey Lit’l Smokies sliced, optional (I usually use about 10 or 12 of them - the original recipe didn’t include these, but my husband came up with the idea of adding them, and it was so good that we’ve made it part of our recipe!)

(I’ve also served regular smoked sausage links, on the side, in place of the Lit’l Smokies)

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add apples, sugars & cinnamon and cook over medium-low heat until the apples are tender.  (I usually have the apples already diced, so I can start cooking them when I put the Pfannkuchen into the oven.)  Stir in the sausage (it’s pre-cooked) and cook it just long enough to get hot.

PLEASE give this one a try…it’s soooooooooo good!!  Feel free to make it your own as well, but let me know what variations you try.  I’m always open to new ideas.

Have a GREAT weekend my friends!