Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's What's For Lunch: Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

My youngest daughter eats so many sweet potatoes that she started turning orange. I'm really not kidding. At her one-year check-up, her pediatrician walked in and said, "I see someone likes her orange veggies."

I was perplexed until she explained that her orange "hue" was called Carotenemia and is common in young children who eat a lot of orange vegetables. (I thought it was just her coloring, thinking she was what people called warm.)

So twice a week, I roast three huge sweet potatoes in the oven for her by simply setting the oven to 425 degrees, lining a baking sheet with aluminum foil and poking some holes in the sweet potatoes with a knife or fork.

At the same time, I've been scrounging around lately for lunch because I haven't made any bread and have been short of time. One day the stars, as they say, must have been aligned. I was taking the sweet potatoes out of the oven at the same time I thinking about ransacking the refrigerator for something to eat and it occurred to me: Duh. Eat some sweet potatoes; they're like the best vegetable out there for you to eat (I'm not making that up).

And sweet potatoes are so good and soft just roasted that all you need to do is scoop out the flesh, add a teeny bit of butter and salt and you've got yourself a meal. It's become my go-to lunch these days. One thing I did add for some texture are some pecans I "candied" (with a bit of maple syrup) that really should be bottled up and SOLD because they are so good.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes


3 sweet potatoes (or however many you want; one per person I say)
1 teaspoon butter (optional)
Dash salt
Candied pecans (optional)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (do this as they start to leak some black sugary substance all over that I imagine would not be fun to clean). Line up sweet potatoes and pierce holes all over with a fork or knife. This will allow the potatoes to breath and not explode all over your oven.

Put them in the oven for about an hour. I use my nose with this one. Whenever I start to smell them, I check on them and if they are oozing black foam all over the baking sheet, they are done.

I have found the more goo, the softer and sweeter they are; it must have something to do with the sugars. Anyhow, take them out and slice them open down the middle, pulling back the skin to expose the flesh.

These guys are hot, so allow them to cool for a bit. When you think they are cool enough to touch, mush the flesh around with a fork just to get any lumps out.

Then scoop out the flesh and mix with butter and salt (if you prefer), top with candied pecans and enjoy!

Maple Syrup Candied Pecans


1 cup pecans, quartered
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt to taste
Cinnamon to taste
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut pecan meats in quarters and place on the baking sheet.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup over the pecans and toss. (Tip: Spray your tablespoon with cooking spray before putting the maple syrup in and it will slide right off.) Sprinkle with salt. Put in oven for five minutes, careful to watch so they don't burn.

After five minutes, take them out and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of maple syrup. Toss them all together again. Put them back in the oven for one minute.

Take them out and immediately sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Put them on top of your sweet potatoes or just eat them, but be careful: These are really, really good.

Store them in an airtight container.

So you've got a yummy lunch packed with beta carotene, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. The pecans add rich antioxidants. Add protein (string cheese, anyone?) and you've got yourself a pretty well-rounded meal!

P.S. This page has been linked to Amy's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Quick Sweet Snack Without the Sugar: Green Jello Mold

After I had my second daughter, not only did my curly hair become pin straight, but I also lost the ability to digest gluten and sugar. I really don't have the slightest idea why, but after much trial and error and elimination, I was able to pinpoint both gluten and sugar as the culprits to my achy joints, headaches, seasonal allergies that were no longer just seasonal, restless nights and elevated body temperature. As soon as I eliminated these two things from my diet, it all went away. As soon as I bring these things into my diet, they all come back.

Go figure.

But eliminating these two things hasn't been exactly easy. The gluten I can deal with; it's the sugar that I desperately miss. I was one of those people who used to say, "Dessert first, please." I would save candy bars for later and I would eat around the chocolate ganache in the middle of a piece of cake so I could save it for last and savor each and every bite.

The rest of my family still eats both gluten and sugar (my youngest daughter, though, cannot tolerate dairy just yet), which is why my recipes feature all sorts of different meals. But I am still faced with the task of creating treats and snacks for myself that satisfy my undying, unrelenting sweet tooth -- without using sugar. (I have even found that agave nectar and honey don't always agree with me.)

As luck would have it, I was innocently watching Top Chef Masters the other day, when the chefs were tasked with recreating dishes from the 1960s. One of those dishes was ambrosia salad (which they were all retching at the idea of). It instantly reminded me of what my family simply calls Green Jello Mold. When I was growing up, I looked forward to each and every family party because I just knew that Green Jello Mold was going to grace the table.

It was this luscious concoction of smooth and creamy goodness. I was its biggest fan. And to continue the tradition, each family party I host, Green Jello Mold always graces my table. My mouth started watering as I sadly sat on the couch thinking of my most favorite dessert. And then it occurred to me: I can make this sugar-free. I thought it once more to really drive it home: I CAN MAKE THIS SUGAR-FREE! And so we have the Sugar-Free Green Jello Mold (it also happens to be gluten-free too!)

Sugar-Free Green Jello Mold

Makes 2 Servings*


1 cup cottage cheese (any kind, I use 1%)
1/2 cup crushed pineapple in juice, drained and squeezed dry in a colander
1/2 cup sugar-free cool whip
1 teaspoon sugar-free lime jello


Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.

Refrigerate for roughly four hours so the gelatin firms up a bit.

Pretty quick I would say!

*If you want to make this in a larger quantity (like I do for parties), just use a 24 ounce container of cottage cheese, a 12 ounce container of cool whip, a 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple and a .60 ounce box of jello.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Leftover Ham Bone Split Pea Soup

When I was little, I always heard my parents talk about split pea soup and it always sounded so mysterious, just like oxtail soup. But I never really wanted to try it because really, why were the peas split? It seemed highly suspicious.

A few years ago, I was racking my brain trying to come up with a way to use all of the leftover Easter ham I had when it dawned on me: the elusive split pea soup! I made it and it was absolutely delicious -- nothing suspicious about it at all! (I still don't know why they are split, but now I really don't care!) I now buy a bone-in ham every Easter so during the week that follows, I can make split pea soup using the bone.

By simply using the bone, a no-brainer soup ends up rich and velvety, smooth and full of flavor. But, don't fear, even if you don't have a ham bone, this soup still delivers on taste.

Split Pea Soup


5 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
5 cups water
16 ounces split peas, picked over and rinsed
Leftover ham bone
2 1/2 cups chopped ham
Salt to taste


Measure 16 ounces of split peas. Pick out shells and rinse.

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots. Season with salt. Allow to soften about 8 minutes. Add water, stock, split peas and ham bone. Increase heat and bring to boil.

Reduce heat, cover partway and allow to simmer for 35 minutes or until split peas are soft. Check occasionally to make sure you still have liquid in your pan. Once the peas have cooked, turn off heat and remove ham bone.

Purée half of the soup in a blender in batches. I say in batches because if you don't you'll end up with split pea kitchen and not split pea soup. Hot food expands in the blender. Trust me.

Once half of the soup is smooth, add it back to the pot and add the diced ham. Mix.

If you're serving right away, add some water if you need to thin out the soup. I always make this ahead of time because I have found that soups and pastas always taste better after they've chilled out in the fridge for a bit. If you do opt to refrigerate before serving, you will definitely need to add water when heating it up.

Serve with warm rolls or crackers or to really kick up the pork flavor, some crisped up bacon would be delicious too.

P.S.S. Did I mention how much 15-month olds love this soup too? Because mine just gobbled it all up for lunch!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Toasted Walnuts

I wanted to make a carrot cake of some sort this Easter, but since my grandpa couldn't make it to our annual blessing of the baskets celebration, I opted for cute carrot cake cupcakes. This way I was able to bring him some ahead of time without worrying about cutting into a cake!

My husband had one yesterday morning and said the cupcake itself was very moist, but not oily which was great to hear because the last few days I have been experimenting and all of the cupcakes had been too greasy and dark. I am chalking my success up to the use of butter instead of oil.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Toasted Walnuts

Makes 15 Cupcakes


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, plus 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup of water
5 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 1/2 cups)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin or line with paper cups.

In a small bowl, whisk together first seven ingredients (flour through nutmeg). Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter and two sugars.

Mix with an upright mixer or handheld until pale and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla, water and carrots and mix well. The batter with be on the thicker side.

With a spatula, add the bowl of dry ingredients. The batter will be on the thicker side, more like a cookie batter than a cake batter.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill cupcake tins 2/3 - 3/4 full, mashing down slightly.

Bake for 17 - 21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Take the cupcakes out of the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting with cream cheese frosting.

I used the Wilton tip 2D to frost these and most of the time I use a disposable 12 inch pastry bag so I don't have to clean anything more than necessary!

Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a simple frosting that makes about two cups. You're only really going to need about 1/2 of this recipe to frost these cupcakes.


8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted batter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 lb (about 4 cups) confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons milk (you can add more for a looser frosting)


With the paddle attachment on your upright mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the vanilla. On low (this is SO important unless you want powdered sugar all over your kitchen!), add the confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup or 1 cup at a time until combined. Add the milk.

Mix well with a spatula and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. Allow to come to room temperature for an hour before using.

Toasted Walnuts Garnish

If you want to add some texture, sprinkle some chopped toasted walnuts to the tops of the cupcakes.


1/8 - 1/4 cup walnut halves


Slightly chop the walnuts and place in a dry pan over medium low heat. Cook for a few minutes until you can start to smell them and before they burn. Chop coarsely and add them to the tops of your cupcakes!

Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lemon Pepper Soy Sauce Marinated Pork Chops

There's nothing like a good pork chop on the grill, but when the weather outside is frightful (even though it's almost May!), you can still eat a delicious -- and perfectly tender -- pork chop cooked in a stovetop grill pan. This marinade is so delicious that every time I make these pork chops (whether on the grill or inside), I always wish I would have made more.

Lemon Pepper Soy Sauce Marinated Pork Chops

Don't be scared off by the lemon pepper; it really adds a unique flavor in combination with the soy sauce.


1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning
4 pork chops (I used boneless this time, but have used bone-in, thick, thin, whatever)


In a casserole dish, whisk together the first five ingredients. Add the pork chops and turn to coat.

Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 1 1/2 hours. When ready to cook, prepare grill or grill pan. Depending on thickness, cook pork chops 3-7 minutes per side. The internal temperature of the pork chops should register between 145 and 160 degrees (145 degrees for medium and 160 degrees for well done).

Serve immediately or wrap in foil until ready to serve. I like to serve these with a side of Peas and Bacon.

If you're lucky enough to have leftovers (we had one chop leftover), enjoy it as my mom and I did today, cut up in a tossed salad of lettuce, cucumbers, onions, vegetable oil, salt and pecorino romano cheese.

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