Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kitchen Challenge: Clearing the Counter for Fall

This fall I plan to challenge myself with new pumpkin, apple, and carrot recipes. I don't know that carrots are necessarily a fall vegetable, but their bright orange color makes me think of fall, so I'll throw them into the mix.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I Googled "fall vegetables". Carrots qualify as a year-round vegetable in temperate climates, but unusual varieties of carrots are harvested in the late summer and fall. More than you wanted or needed to know about carrots today, right? Moving on...

And because I plan to start working my way through the 25+ pumpkin, apple, and carrot recipes I've already bookmarked online or cut out of magazines, I need to share with you my favorite summer recipes in order to free up a little virtual counter space (otherwise know as my "blog recipe queue"). Here we go!

1. Baked Spasanga
Adaptations: I substituted nonfat plain yogurt for half of the sour cream and used low-fat cottage cheese instead of Ricotta cheese. When it came to the sauce, I used ground beef and essentially made a batch of my usual spaghetti sauce (instead of just adding meat to a jar of store-bought sauce).
Comments: Tom and I LOVED this recipe, and Hallie ate three bites without complaining (which translates to a rave review from her). Will still doesn't like cheese, but this recipe lent itself to an easy adaptation for him: I just pulled out a serving of cooked noodles before mixing the rest with the cheese mixture and topped his serving with spaghetti sauce. A win-win-win-win in our household!

Double yum!
2. Strawberry Yogurt Cake
Adaptations: Instead of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt I used nonfat plain yogurt. I also didn't make the lemon juice/powdered sugar glaze because I had a feeling the cake would be sweet enough without it.
Comments: My adaptations in no way negatively affected the finished product; the sweet strawberry and tangy lemon flavors swirled together in perfect harmony, and the cake literally melted in my mouth. Like most baked goods that include strawberries, the cake didn't last very long, even in the refrigerator. Tom and I each ate pieces for three evenings in a row, but after that third night we had to toss the remaining 1/4 of the cake. I highly recommend this recipe, but make it when you're feeding a crowd. Or if you're planning to eat A LOT of cake in one sitting (I won't judge).

3. Toddler Muffins
Adaptations: I've made this recipe multiple times, each time using oats instead of oat bran. I also always replace the teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice with 1/2 teaspoons each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, simply because I don't keep pumpkin pie spice on hand. I've experimented with using Stevia instead of brown sugar, and while the muffins turned out just fine, the kids and I didn't enjoy the flavor as much. I've also experimented with using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, and while I could tell the difference, the kids couldn't.
Comments: These delicious muffins seem like a treat - they're a baked good, after all - but will fill your babies' (of all ages) bellies with healthy bananas, squash, carrots, and oats. I found that these muffins disappear especially quickly if they're made in "miniature" form - they're perfect for popping in your mouth on your way out the door to baseball practice or dance lessons.

4. Balsamic Chicken Thighs
Adaptations: The first time I made this recipe I followed it exactly. The second time I made this recipe I used chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs. The third time I made this recipe I slightly increased the amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossed all of ingredients together in a plastic bag, and marinated the chicken for a couple of hours before grilling the chicken on a charcoal grill. And the fourth time I made this recipe (yes, I made it four times this summer), I followed the same steps I took the third time around except I added one Blue Moon beer to the marinade.
Comments: First time = a simple yet truly delicious chicken dish. Second time = despite cooking the chicken until just done (as in I didn't overcook it by leaving it in crockpot for an extended period of time), it was dry and tough. I don't recommend using chicken breasts. Third time = oh heavens, it was good. Grilling really does make every meat (and most vegetables) better, doesn't it? Fourth time = everyone who ate this dish - my family of four, but also both of my parents, my sister, and my bro-in-law - declared it one of the best they'd ever tasted. In summary, the original recipe is worth making, especially on a busy fall or winter evening. But for an end-of-summer grilling treat, go with the adaptations I made the fourth time around - you won't regret it!

This picture, which shows a Spotted
Cow beer, motivated me to try this
recipe. Spotted cow is one of my dad's
favorite beers, and it's brewed less
than an hour from my parents' house. 
5. Roasted Garlic, Chicken, and Herb White Pizza
Adaptations: I used a store-bought/pre-baked pizza crust (no matter how hard I try, I cannot make pizza crust - all previous attempts have proven disastrous), so in the end I cooked my pizza for about 12 minutes. Also, it's likely I used more cheese than the recipe called for...I'm from Wisconsin, friends - using/eating too much cheese is in my DNA.
Comments: I felt strangely indifferent toward this pizza as I assembled it, but the end result was heavenly. Perfectly-seasoned crust, cheesy chicken, and crisp red onions, all held together by a warm, gooey white sauce? Mmmm. I may throw a few chopped red peppers on the pizza the next time around - I think they'd be a delicious addition, but on the other hand, why mess with perfection?

You can check out the recipes from my previous Kitchen Challenge blog posts by clicking on the links below:
Soup's On
Tomatoes (which, to clarify, has nothing to do with tomatoes)
Vegetarian Dishes

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