Holiday Pies – Visually Beautiful, Deliciously Delightful!!!

I’ve never been a baker.¬† I LOVE to cook though, and reading cookbooks at night is something I’ve done for fun ūüôā¬† Back when our oldest was little, and I had more time to venture out, we would go to a beautiful bookstore, and he’d play while I thumbed through French Cookbooks – even the memory of that is so blissful!

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But baking?¬† It’s just not something that comes natural to me at all, but¬† I force myself to do it anyway ūüôā , and along the way I’ve found some tricks that have made it a lot easier than I thought baking would be.

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Every year over the holidays I always get the chance to make something to bring to our family feasts.¬†¬†¬†Since I’m usually the youngest woman there and¬†at the bottom of the family female totem pole ūüėÄ for years I’ve only been allowed to bring the Green Bean Casserole LOL (you know… the meal thats like super easy and if you mess up you’re an idiot –¬†kind of dish)!¬† But along with that, I’ve also been allowed to bring a dessert pie each year.¬† And THIS year, this past Thanksgiving, lo and behold I got the privilege of being in charge of ALL the dessert pies, and wow was it a lot of fun!¬† And a serious privilege I didn’t take lightly.

My older son also loves cooking, and so he’s kind of come with me on this journey of trying to become a baker ūüôā¬† He and I have perfected our own Cherry Pie with lattice work and cut out designs – made from our own homemade pie crust (which is SO delicious you can actually just eat the crust by itself)!

Here some of the things we’ve tried (or similar ones since some I didn’t blog about):

Cherry pie

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Here’s a great cherry pie recipe (not our’s but very good!)

Pumpkin pie (from Pioneer Woman’s amazing recipe!)

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Sweet Potato Pie (a classic of the SOUTH ‚̧ and one I made a few years ago and blogged about it)

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Chocolate Tarte (the most AMAZING chocolate dessert I’ve ever eaten and super easy! Find it here)

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White Chocolate Banana Cream Pie (still working on perfecting, but THIS ¬†girl’s recipe is what we go off of)

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Marshmellow Fluff Pie Topping:

for the marshmallow fluff:

  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 scant cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (if you want them stark white; if you don‚Äôt mind a little ivory color, use the pure vanilla extract)

from: http://aperiodictableblog.com

 

Great video on homemade pie crusts:

 

If I had to pick a favorite one we’ve tried to perfect over the years, it would definitely be the Chocolate Tart recipe.¬† It is just TOO easy, and yet it is beautifully presented visually, and never fails to impress with it’s immaculate taste.

I hope you readers get to eat some pie this year!¬† If you don’t have time to make one, I know restaurants tend to make some really great homemade-style ones.¬† And if you’re in a pinch, I’ve found some brands are VERY good at making pie filling (like for cherry pies) – that along with a homemade crust makes it hard to tell if you made the filling or not.

Enjoy all the eating and drinking!

‚̧

Stephanie

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Depression Cooking with Clara

Just found this woman from Mrs. White’s blog. ¬†Fascinating stuff! ¬†She reminds me so much of my paternal grandmother, whose husband never gave up his depression-era habits. ¬†‚̧

She even makes a remark about her mom giving them just a drop of coffee in their milk… but that they “were happy.”

So sweet.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

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This is the epic soup of Fall.  The combination of all the ingredients with their surprisingly opposite notes of flavor (onions + maple syrup anyone??), all came together to almost taste like a prelude to a Thanksgiving dinner.  It was like eating a Thanksgiving Soup!

Anyway, I’ve never successfully made this soup before, I think I have tried maybe 2 years ago or so, and failed miserably – somehow it just tasted horrible. ¬†But this recipe I found at our local grocery store (HEB for you Texans) was a new spin on the traditional Butternut Squash Soup. ¬†This soup is drastically different from it’s more widely consumed version; it has maple syrup, brown sugar, and apples – giving it a much deeper flavor and intensity as the regular version sticks with the plain ingredients.

I loved how it gave our family a taste of Thanksgiving to come!  I hope you try it and enjoy it!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup – HEB Recipe

  • 3 pkg. HEB Butternut Squash or 1-Whole Butternut, cleaned and diced discarding peel
  • 2 Apples, cored and diced (Ambrosia Apples are great flavor), or 2 cups Apple sauce (Unsweetened preferred but sweetened works just fine)
  • 8 oz Diced Savory Vegetables (HEB wants you to buy their packages, but I just looked online to see what “diced veggies” could go into this soup normally. ¬†It’s a blend of 1/2 an onion diced, 1 potato diced, along with other optional things like 1 carrot or 1 celery stalk. ¬†It’s up to you what you use really).
  • 6 oz Maple Syrup or 1 cup Brown Sugar (I used 1/2 cup Maple Syrup and 1/2 cup Brown Sugar because I liked the idea of having both in the soup).
  • 1 Tbsp Texas Prime Coarse seasoning (I simply used some parsley & garlic as I didn’t want to buy more seasoning)
  • 1 qt HEB Chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream (I used 1 1/2 cups of milk, whisking it in after the soup was pureed)
  • Salt & Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400’F.

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Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

1 Potato diced

1 Potato diced

The beautiful veggie mixture, onions were added afterwards.

The beautiful veggie mixture tossed and coated, onions were added afterwards.

After roasting for 1 hour

After roasting for 1 hour.  Smelled heavenly, like a Thanksgiving Soup!

After puree, the end result!

After puree, the end result!

Combine all squash, diced apples (applesauce) and veggies and place into baking pan.  Drizzle maple syrup and add seasonings.  Toss to coat.  Roast for 45 min to 1 hr.  Allow veggie mixture to cool and add into food processor in batches to create puree. In a stock pot, pour broth, cream and puree and simmer for 10 minutes.

Adjust to your favorite consistency (by adding more water or broth if you have any left over, or the texture of the puree). ¬†My husband loves soup that isn’t completely pureed, so I make sure to leave some of¬†chunks of the veggies in the soup. ¬†It was glorious!

Bon Appetit!

Creamy Poblano Soup & Taco Soup

Creamy Poblano Soup

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I love a good, hearty, hot soup in when the weather gets cooler, or for those freezing Winter nights of which we have very few here in Texas. ¬†This soup was just amazing! ¬†I modified a recipe from Epicurious, adding in about a pound of ground beef seasoned with garlic, cumin, and pepper spices, substituting heavy whipping cream for a large can of Cream of Mushroom soup, and adding in a cup of our favorite salsa to add a little more kick, and omitting the butter altogether (it doesn’t need it!).

The roasted poblano peppers really make this soup sooo delish! ¬†It’s hard to stop eating it!

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Taco Soup

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This recipe I came up with on the fly, based very loosely on the traditional Chicken tortilla soup Рbut instead, using beef seasoned with taco seasoning (garlic & cumin), adding black beans (canned or already cooked, otherwise they get crunchy Рask me how I know!), a cup of salsa, two-three cups of frozen veggies from our fridge, cooked for a few hours in a slow cooker, creates the most wonderful, scrumptious, complex-texture of soup with Mexican flavor.  We ate it with cheese, guacamole, and chips to garnish!

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My picky-eater actually really enjoyed it!  Success!!!!

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So. Amazing.

Healthy & Loaded Spaghetti Carbonara

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Our family loves a good, hearty Italian dish, and this is a modified form of the delicious Spaghetti Carbonara I came up with based on whatever leftovers we had on hand this week. ¬†Because we’re big on eating protein in our foods, I added in some cooked chopped chicken (2 breasts boiled and chopped) I had done earlier in the day, the traditional recipe only uses chopped pancetta (a pork product very similar to bacon). ¬†We never typically have real bacon or pork products on hand, however we use different kinds of sausage to flavor meals fairly regularly, and this was the perfect time to use some beef sausage to capture that intense, aromatic and spicy flavor to go with the sauce.

Traditional Carbonara doesn’t use any kind of cream base sauce, however, I find that whipping up a quick white sauce- made from flour, butter, and milk to be super easy and healthier than the typical cream cheese or other cream based sauces used in Chicken Alfredo or restaurant Carbonaras. ¬†I used to make¬†this simple sauce when we were students, not only is it far healthier than using heavy cream or cream cheese, its also more cost efficient.

It’s so rustic, and one usually always has on hand flour, milk, and butter – making it a quick solution without an extra run to the store.

Boil a package (1 lb) of spaghetti, while waiting for it to cook, make the simple white sauce if you want a creamier base for your Spaghetti Carbonara without the extra calories of real cream or cream cheese.  Traditional Spaghetti Carbonara has no cream sauce, if you desire to cook it that way, skip to egg picture.

Healthy White Cream Sauce – Gravy

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Use 3/4 stick butter, or half a cup of margarine, in a pan on medium heat Рmelt down until in liquid form.  Add 1/2 cup flour, mix together to form a wet, clumpy mixture.  Take OFF heat.

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Add in 1 cup cold milk, and 1 1/2 cups cold water, put back on heat and whisk the mixture until its incorporated into the milk and water to form a smooth, white cream.  Let cook on heat for 5 minutes, slowly stirring every now and then, sauce will thicken nicely.

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I used fresh basil and oregano from our garden, along with some fine garlic to give the sauce flavor.  Add in 1 tsp of kosher salt along with crushed black pepper (1 tsp or to taste).

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Use 2 eggs (or 4 if you’re omitting the white sauce), beat until pale yellow. ¬†Once spaghetti is cooked, pour eggs over drained, hot spaghetti, stirring quickly. ¬†The heat from the spaghetti cooks the eggs and creates a unique texture over the noodles. ¬†Incorporate as much freshly grated Parmesan cheese as you’d like (typically 1/2 a cup to 1 cup).

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This is what it looks like with just the eggs cooked onto the hot noodles (below).

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This is what it looks like when the cream is poured over the egg and cheese mixture (below).  We like it to be creamier this way.

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I briefly cooked (reheated)¬†the meats in the pan and then added them into the spaghetti. ¬†This would be a great time to add in chopped onions, mushrooms, chives or extras you’d like in your dish!

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So there you have it… a healthier version of Spaghetti Carbonara, loaded with chicken, beef sausage, and creamy white sauce based on pantry or fridge leftovers.

Extras you might love to try:

From the Real Italian Foodies, a adorable couple who have an Italian restaurant in Limerick specialising in simple authentic Italian food, and also have a range of fresh Italian pasta sauces under the Real Italian Foodie brand

From ¬†Johnney’s version – not as traditional, but a great alternative and presented in such a manly way….

Pico de Gallo and Low Calorie Taco Salad

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We had an exciting and long day trip yesterday… our summers are like that, full of long, hot and humid days, seeing beautiful sights around our area, taking in the sunlight and baking in the heat. ¬†We were out all day, playing in the heat and water, and came back for dinner and watching Pirates of the Caribbean. ¬†Another severe thunderstorm came in the dead of night, waking everyone up except our oldest, but because of yesterday’s hot adventure, we slept in and awoke to a beautiful, bright morning.

I was planning on making some pico de gallo to go with some refried beans I made from this recipe (modified to add Kosher salt while mashing beans and diced cilantro).  Pico de gallo is like the taste of a crisp fresh Summer, and makes me actually crave tequila Margaritas.

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Fresh cilantro, diced

It’s too easy to make, a bit of fresh cilantro (only fresh should ever be used for pico), 1/2 to 3/4 of a medium sized white onion, diced.

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And about 5 Roma tomatoes, or 2 salad tomatoes, diced.  3 Limes juiced over the diced mixture, or one lemon will do.

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This made a ton of cilantro! ¬†It’s perfect with the homemade refried beans with a little cheese – you feel like you’re eating the famous 1,000 calorie taco salad.

The homemade refried beans are done without lard and much healthier.  This tasted incredible!  Healthy but full of intense flavor.  We ate it in lettuce leaf (just pull off the leaves from a head of lettuce, wash the leaves individually so that the lettuce head will keep longer in the fridge.  Dry off the leaves and fill with practically anything you want to eat!

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Enjoy a delish and cozy “Taco Salad!

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Summer Foods for Your Health & Body

So I’ve been a health-food nut for awhile now…. ¬†I grew up eating pretty healthy, my mother was the one who cooked, and even though she worked a full-time job she still made sure we ate low-fat, non-greasy, mostly homemade foods. ¬†But because she was working so much, about half the food we consumed was packaged and processed foods – foods that are low in nutritional value and protein, but high in salt & fat (making them addictive and easy to over-eat), additives, and preservatives. ¬†Now that I’m a wife and mother, I’ve managed to largely cut out most of the processed foods we eat daily. ¬†Sure we still have some crackers in our pantry, I still sometimes cook with flour, and we let our son eat white bread, but the majority of the food we eat is as close to homemade or natural as we can get or make. ¬†We eat this way because our health is a priority to my husband and I. ¬†We are an active family, constantly going, and I want to be active even in our old age together, and that starts with what you take into your body.

We are also that family that eats healthy regularly at home, but doesn’t think twice about eating a donut every week, or eating out at our favorite fast food places sometimes. ¬†When eating healthy is simply your lifestyle, you aren’t worried about ordering a pizza, or eating a high fat, high calorie burger with fries sometimes. ¬†So we are those people who look really fit, but who you’ll see eating out and enjoying ourselves regularly, we don’t believe in sticking to a super strict diet. ¬†This means that around the holidays, we do tend to indulge in those incredible comfort foods more often than not, and then modify our exercise and diet lifestyle come January. ¬†Our love is to enjoy the seasons, and we’ve embraced that the holiday season in particular, is one filled with foods that we normally don’t eat year round. ¬†We embrace the tastes, the pleasures of eating those gustatory delights, but we equally embrace eating clean again come the New Year on.

Europeans (especially the French) tend to live that way. ¬†They aren’t as obsessed with cutting out all carbs or certain food groups, wine, or doing insane diets for short periods of time, because the way they eat daily is beneficial to their bodies – they aren’t gaining weight because they typically just don’t over-eat.¬† They also stick to natural, mostly unprocessed foods… even their chocolate is healthier because it typically has no high fructose corn syrup, modified starches or milk products, and more cocoa %). ¬†When French women in particular, do happen to notice they might be gaining weight, they simply step up their daily exertion – like taking the stairs instead of the elevator when they feel a shirt or dress becoming tight. ¬†They self-moderate their weight because they are in tune with it and their bodies, they eat slower as well, which helps them feel when they are full.

Summer is the season when our food lifestyle starts to be really harrowed down to the necessities for survival, however, we still eat so that we don’t feel deprived.

Here are some of the snacks or sides we use during the year that help us eat clean:

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1) Fresh cut fruits …. The best way to ensure that your fruit won’t go to waste in the basket is to, as soon as you get it home from the market, find some time to slice and dice it into portions that are easy to pull out for a snack or for the lunch sides. ¬†It saves so much more time and will keep you from reaching for packaged snacks like goldfish that are just empty calories. ¬†Make sure you have a variety of fruits and veggies stocked up and sliced each week so that your family doesn’t get bored. ¬†We do bananas (obviously no need to slice except for smoothies if you use them that way), apples, kiwis, peaches, oranges, watermelon (we cube it – also easy for smoothie throw-ins), and anything that piques our interest while out at the store.

2) Ready to bake Veggies fries or chips …. Same principle as the fruits, cut them into slices or fries or “chips” as soon as you can so that they are ready to go. ¬†This works well with sweet potatoes which are one of the super foods for your body, zucchini, butternut squash, or kale (kale chips). ¬†When they are cut like this and are ready to go, it makes getting dinner on the table so much easier – and rather than reaching for some prepackaged or processed dinner side, you’re getting something natural and raw.

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Coat fries in olive oil lightly.  Bake until crisp.  Use Kosher salt (lower Sodium content) while still hot

Coat fries in olive oil lightly. Bake until crisp. Use Kosher salt (lower Sodium content) while still hot

3) High protein snacks, lunches, or side dishes …. ¬†Two words, Greek Yogurt.¬† I usually grow our own yogurt during the Summer when it’s hot (I do it a med-evil way… I suggest you buy a yogurt maker!!), and separate out the whey so that it becomes the “Greek yogurt” sold in the stores. It is INSANELY cheaper to make your own yogurt (I make about a half gallon for $3 every week) rather than buy the individual cups they sell at the store. ¬†I once had a woman trying to sell me the store brand of their yogurt, and I told her I had started making my own. ¬†She was excited, asked me how to do it, and told me that when she used to live in Italy, a family next door used to do that, and it tasted incredible. ¬†More proof in my mind that Europeans understand how to eat better than Americans.

Another plus about homemade yogurt, you don’t have to worry about the preservatives added, high fructose corn syrup, dyes, or fillers. ¬†If you do have to buy it, make sure you buy it plain, as close to natural as possible, and try to avoid a brand that has High fructose corn syrup.

Greek yogurt is delicious and one of the super foods because of the high protein and fat busting properties it has… eat 1 to 2 cups a day replacing one of your normal snacks to see a noticeable difference in your body fat % (it will mysteriously go down) ūüôā .

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The way my son eats his nutritious, protein packed Greek Yogurt… with a little chocolate sauce, and dark chocolate (anti-oxidant) chips! Dress it up however you like… I usually make a vanilla kind or black cherry yogurt (sooooo delicious). You don’t even know you’re eating healthy, it’s like eating ice cream. Limit it to one cup though, and that’s your dessert.

How I eat my chocolate Greek yogurt? ¬†With apples to dip ūüėČ

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Another great high protein snack/lunch/side dish is tuna or chicken salad… I simply avoid using the fattening sauces when making them and typically opt for 1 tbs of mustard, or for chicken salad… 1 tbs of yogurt to substitute for mayonnaise. ¬†The tuna or chicken salads are great for lunch by themselves, or in wheat pita pockets, or as snacks served on crackers. ¬†Huge boost of energy if used as a snack!

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Super Delish!

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4) Handy veggie snacks …. Cut carrots or baby carrots, celery sticks, etc… the key again, is to keep these things cut and sliced, ready to go in your fridge so that you are more motivated to actually eat enough of them during the week before your next trip to the market. ¬†We also do use dips, you can create your own easy yogurt dips or just use 3 tbs ranch… a little ranch is great if it will help you or your kids to get down some veggies they’d otherwise never want to eat!

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Our family’s secret weapon??? ¬†The Super food smoothie. Say good-bye to fat as it melts off of you!

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You get SO MUCH energy from these simple, cheap drinks you make in your own home!  This was berries blended, carrots, and peanut butter.

5) Frozen fruits and spinach, kale, and carrots for drinking in smoothies …. ¬†This is probably the most unsuspecting thing our family regularly does in the Spring and Summer months. ¬†We drink loads of fruits and veggies in smoothie drinks (water or yogurt based), it is kind of like juicing except we really do blend the fruits and veggies. ¬†It is hard to describe what it feels like to drink these icy cool concoctions… when I’ve been doing it regularly (daily), it’s like my veins themselves feel cool and refreshed. ¬†The fat in your body melts away, your energy is magically increased… it really is our family’s best kept “secret” of the one¬†thing you should be eating (or drinking) in the Summer.

Blueberries, Sweet Pineapple chunks, water, and protein powder, 1 tbs sugar

Frozen Blueberries, Spinach, Sweet Pineapple chunks, water, and protein powder, 1 tbs sugar

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Green Drink…. not as tasty haha… but still so good for your body! ¬†

Another thing, these are not the high-fat, sugary smoothies you’ll find at Smoothie King or other smoothie shops. ¬†These are no-fat (unless you use an Avocado base or yogurt base – good fat), they have no cream and very little (1 tbs tops) sugar added. ¬†They are pure fruit, water, and vegetables. ¬†You can make them into a meal replacement for lunch or dinner (or breakfast – I like hot breakfasts so I usually don’t) by adding the recommended scoop of a high quality protein powder. ¬†We use Muscle Milk Protein Powder, but there are many good brands out there.

You can do so many different kinds of healthy smoothies… “chocolate, spinach, berry blend (my favorite),” ¬†or a “berry blend, carrots, and peanut butter (really delicious)” ¬†you just have to get creative and try different ways to drink your veggies and fruits. ¬†Strawberry, banana, kiwi, + protein powder… ¬†Chocolate, peanut butter, spinach/kale blend. ¬†The possibilities are endless.

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Our homemade pizza - making the dough from scratch.

Our homemade pizza – making the dough from scratch. ¬†It’s nice to eat bad food in a healthy way (homemade)

What we ate tonight... Chicken cooked with onions and garlic, mixed with veggies

What we ate tonight… Chicken cooked with onions and garlic, mixed with veggies

And then just make sure to create healthy dinners of low fat (lean) meats, use noticably less starches like rice and corn meal,… use more protein-packed sides like chickpeas, beans, legumes, and grains like quinoa. ¬†And eat 1/3 to 2/3 of your dinner in vegetables for a healthy, rejuvenated Summer.

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For Tracy Anderson’s chili burrito recipe (above)

I love this tiny woman, and this chili recipe was amazing.  I altered it to add my own black bean recipe because in my mind, they taste amazing together in a wrap or burrito.  We use those large spinach tortillas since they are our favorite, but you can also get tomato or even jalapeno tortillas to go with this and any kind of wrap you’d want!

CHILI INGREDIENTS

  • 1-1/2 lbs grass-fed ground beef

  • 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes

  • 1/2 jalape√Īo, seeded and minced… (CLICK HERE)

Israeli Couscous

Even though it’s been rain off and on, flooding in various areas, and muddy shoes galore, we found some time to get to the store to do our weekly shopping this week.

2015 rainntx

I’ve always wanted to try out a recipe with Israeli Couscous… and why not in a celebratory way of kicking off a hopefully scorching summer? ¬†This was easy, quick, and full of wonderful aroma and taste, amazing if you’re in any kind of rut emotionally or sensually.

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First, find a good, economical brand of Israeli Couscous. ¬†They typically aren’t expensive by any means, and the minute extra price is a good bargain for adding different flavors and experiences to your children’s repertoire of foods at the dinner table. ¬†My son was wide-eyed to see the pearlescent balls of noodle-like flavor! ¬†Eating can be exciting!

The littlest tomato came from our garden!  Ha!  We were proud :)

The littlest tomato came from our garden! Ha! We were proud ūüôā ¬†It’s flavor was more intense!

Dice about 1/2 or 3/4 of a cucumber, and about 3-4 Roma tomatoes.

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I save the extra cucumber slices for sandwiches or quick salad options, putting them a separate ziplock bag from the diced

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From our garden!!! Basil, Thyme, Oregano leaves

From our garden!!! Basil, Thyme, Oregano leaves

It was fun to stop the cooking, run outside to our garden and pick the necessary herbs, it reminded me of living in the country.  Cooking with fresh grown spices and herbs or vegetables is a different experience, the flavor of the herbs, the sheer aroma is overwhelming while your cooking.  It is incredible for the senses, and the taste is wholesome.

Cilantro from our garden... be sure to plant it in an area where it only gets partial sun.  Cilantro is tender and fragile, I've mistakenly had it scorch when it was planted in full sunlight.

Cilantro from our garden… be sure to plant it in an area where it only gets partial sun. Cilantro is tender and fragile, I’ve mistakenly had it scorch to a burnt crisp when it was planted in full sunlight.

Next, saute in Olive Oil, some chopped onions (I keep some handy in the fridge or freezer for quick need like this), add garlic, and your garden herbs to taste.  Cook on low heat, and enjoy the breathtaking aromas that fill your kitchen.

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The couscous should be done by now, add in the cooked & fluffed couscous, the diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and the torn cilantro leaves.

Bring to boil 2 cups of water, add 1 cup of Israeli couscous, turn OFF the heat, COVER the pot, and allow to sit for 10 minutes

Bring to boil 2 cups of water, add 1 cup of Israeli couscous, turn OFF the heat, COVER the pot, and allow to sit for 10 minutes

Mix it all together off the heat

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And it is incredible!  Eat hot or cold, by itself or in a lettuce leaf.  I chose for us simple pita pockets

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Cinco de Mayo!

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I loved being a part of a family where my mother had little traditions for the holidays.  Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, is a holiday that was always marked by my mother getting some authentic Mexican cookies or pastries, candies, or even chocolates,  It was never a big ordeal or a huge party, but was rather a little family tradition that simply brought joy and different kinds of food into our house for the occasion.

This year my husband brought home some Mexican wedding cookies last night, and we went out today to get some festive sugar cookies my older son is crazy about… plus a chocolate pie for tonight to go with some Mexican Espresso (Espresso coffee with a dash of cinnamon and vanilla).

Delish!