Friday, October 30, 2015

Lasagna Stuffed Pumpkin with Spinach-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

With Halloween happening this weekend and Thanksgiving coming soon, I thought I would experiment with some pumpkin recipes.  Pumpkins are very versatile in the cooking world.  They can be hollowed out and used for decorating tables, holding soup, or serving dip.  Cakes can even be baked inside them.  Today, I present you with a lasagna stuffed pumpkin.  If you love pumpkin lasagna, this will be an easy and elegant equivalent.  I suggest serving this to your guests for the holidays.  It's vegetarian and gluten-free friendly.  You can purchase raw pumpkin seeds for the pesto instead of shelling your own and you can also adapt the recipe for a larger pumpkin or different ingredients.  I like to peel off the skin and slice into the pumpkin and lasagna, with a little dip into the spinach pesto.  Yum!! 

1 (3-4) pound pie pumpkin, washed and dried  
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 gluten-free brown rice lasagna noodles, uncooked
9 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
3-4 ounces spinach leaves
1½ cups half-and-half
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground sage
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1½ cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated Romano cheese

Spinach-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

2 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, shelled
1 clove garlic
½ tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside.  Cut off the lid of the pumpkin and set aside.  Remove seeds and fibers and rub inside of pumpkin with oil and garlic. 

2.  Break one lasagna noodle into two or more pieces to fit inside bottom of pumpkin.  Cover with about ¼ cup ricotta and an ounce of spinach.  Mix half-and-half with nutmeg, sage, salt, and pepper.  Pour about ¼ cup over spinach layer.  Cover with a heaping ¼ cup of mozzarella. 

3.  Repeat Step #2 three more times.  Cover with remaining noodle and half-and-half mixture.  Sprinkle with the grated cheese and replace pumpkin lid to cover.  Bake on prepared sheet for about 2 hours or until noodles are tender and sauce is thickened.  Remove from oven and let rest. 

4.  Place spinach leaves, shelled seeds, garlic, and lemon zest in a food processor and process until minced.  While the machine is running, slowly pour in olive oil and blend until smooth.  Add the cheese and process until combined.  Stir in salt and pepper, to taste. 

5.  Remove lid from pumpkin.  Cut pumpkin into quarters.  Serve with pesto. 

Servings:  4

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tres Leches Cheesecake with Horchata Whipped Cream

Happy Cinco de Mayo!!  In honor of this celebration, I'm bringing back a recipe I developed a few years ago when I was in my cheesecake making mode.  It's a tres leches version that combines a cake layer and a cheesecake layer all in one delicious dessert.  I updated it for today by adding a horchata whipped cream as the topping.  Horchata is a Mexican drink made with rice and cinnamon.  Enjoy!! 

Tres Leches Cheesecake with Horchata Whipped Cream

Cake Layer: 

1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs

Cheesecake Layer:

3 pkgs. (8oz. each) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar                                               
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract                                        
3 large eggs                                                         

Tres Leches Sauce:                                                      

1 cup whole milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup evaporated milk

Horchata Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons rice flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1.     Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil.  Extend ends of foil over sides of pan.  Coat foil with cooking spray. 

2.     In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Gradually add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined.  Pour into prepared pan.  Set aside. 

3.     In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed until well blended.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Carefully pour on top of cake layer, spreading evenly.  Bake for 40 minutes or until center is almost set.  Remove from oven and run knife around edge of pan to loosen.  Let cool.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Lift cake from pan, using foil extensions.  Using serving plate, carefully invert cake (so cheesecake layer is on bottom).  Using a fork or skewer, poke holes evenly across surface of cake. 

4.     Mix three milks in medium bowl.  Slowly pour sauce over top of cake.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, whip cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Slowly add flour, sugar, and cinnamon, beating until stiff.  Spread whipped cream over cake.  Cover and refrigerate until serving. 

Serves:  16

Friday, May 1, 2015

Heel and Toe's Onesie Walk and The Walking Mess (Eton Mess in a Bag)



Happy Foodie Friday!!  Today's post is dedicated to Heel & Toe Children's Charity ( in County Durham, England in honor of their Onesie Walk happening on Monday.  My charity, Be the Light of the Party Foundation, is again sponsoring the snack packs for this one mile walk around the lake at Hardwick Park, Sedgefield.  So I thought I would send them some "virtual" support today in the form of an exciting edible creation. 

My children recently introduced me to something called "the walking taco" or "taco in a bag."  It's basically made by crushing a bag of tortilla chips and adding taco meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and other toppings in the hopes of creating a messy-free, portable lunch or snack.  So I'm thinking, why not expand this concept to include dessert?  Eton Mess is a traditional British dessert made with meringue cookies, strawberries, and whipped cream.  It could be considered a little messy, but in a magnificently delicious way!!  And since we are honoring a Walk in this post and it's occurring in England, using Eton Mess seems like a good decision.  As usual, I put a gourmet spin on it.  This version uses jasmine whipped cream and champagne simple syrup.  And so I give you, The Walking Mess.  Enjoy! 

The Walking Mess (Eton Mess in a Bag)

1 cup heavy cream (double cream)
1 tablespoon loose-leaf jasmine tea
½ cup pink champagne or sparkling wine
½ cup granulated sugar (caster sugar)
3 tablespoons powdered sugar (icing sugar)
3 cups coarsely crumbled meringue cookies (or 6 snack size bags of meringue cookies)
6 treat/food bags (omit, if using snack bags of meringue)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
Cacao nibs or chocolate shavings (optional) 
6 disposable spoons
1.  Combine cream and tea leaves in small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
2.  In a small saucepan, bring champagne and sugar to a boil over medium heat.  Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat; let cool.  Pour into bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. 
3.  Remove tea-infused cream from refrigerator.  Pour through a strainer into a medium bowl.  Discard tea leaves.  Add powdered sugar and whip with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.    
4.  Fill bags equally with meringue cookies or open up bags of packaged meringues.  Top with strawberries.  Drizzle with champagne simple syrup.  Follow with a layer of whipped cream and more syrup.  Garnish, if desired, with nibs or chocolate.  Serve immediately, with spoons.    

Serves:  6


Friday, April 24, 2015

Vanilla Passion Fruit Brigadeiros

Party planning is an essential part of running my charity, Be the Light of the Party Foundation.  Since we "give parties," it's the core of our service organization.  And the big focus of course is FOOD!  The goal of any event is to find and serve at least one delicious morsel that is memorable (in a good way!) and also easy to prepare for a large crowd.  When I entertain for family and friends, I like to choose bold flavors with an exotic flair. 

Brigadeiro is a Brazilian candy that's very easy to make and quite memorable.  In today's post, I put a spin on the traditional recipe by using vanilla powder instead of cocoa.  I also added passion fruit syrup for a little taste of the tropics.   

Vanilla Passion Fruit Brigadeiros

3½ tablespoons pure vanilla powder
1 tablespoon butter
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup passion fruit pulp
Decorating sugar or sprinkles

1.  Combine vanilla powder, butter, and milk in a medium saucepan.  Place over medium heat.  Cook and stir until mixture thickens and begins to loosen from the side of the pan.  This should take about 10 or 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool. 

2.  Combine sugar and passion fruit in a small saucepan.  Cook and stir over medium-low heat until sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and set aside. 

3.  When brigadeiro mixture is cool enough to handle, form candy into small balls and roll in cooled passion fruit syrup and then in decorating sugar.  Store on wax paper or parchment paper in the refrigerator. 

Makes about 24 brigadeiros. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Molten Lava Cheesecakes with Champagne Sabayon

Happy Foodie Friday Everyone!!  Today I'm going "back to my roots" so to speak and presenting you with one of my cheesecake recipe creations.  I began my journey down the recipe writing path many years ago by experimenting with the versatility of cheesecakes.  I'll admit this dessert is time consuming, but well worth the effort!  I suggest serving these decadently delicious cheesecakes for a special occasion, a dinner party, or an upscale afternoon tea. 

Molten Lava Cheesecakes with Champagne Sabayon

1 ¼ cups chocolate cookie crumbs
¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup finely chopped macadamia nuts

3 pkgs. (8oz. each) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons flour                                                                         

½ cup champagne
4 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup heavy cream

Garnish:  (optional)
12 strawberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Put on a kettle of water to boil.  Coat 12 (oven-freezer safe) custard cups or ramekins (6 ounce size) with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, mix crumbs, butter, and nuts.  Press about 3 teaspoons into the bottom of each cup.  Set aside.  

  1. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed until well blended.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Pour about a heaping ⅓ cup of cheese mixture over crust in each cup.  Place cups in a deep baking or roasting pan.  Add enough hot water to the pan to come half way up the sides of the cups.  Bake for 20 minutes or until center is set.  Remove cups from oven and water bath and transfer to a baking sheet.  Set aside.  Increase the oven temperature to 425°F. 

  1. Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on high power for 1 minute.  Stir until chocolate is melted.  Stir in sugar until blended.  Whisk in eggs and egg yolks.  Stir in flour.  Top each cheesecake cup with a heaping ⅛ cup of chocolate filling and bake for 6-8 minutes or until sides are firm, but centers are soft.  Remove from oven and place cups in freezer for 5 minutes.  Carefully run a knife around edges and down sides of each cup.  Invert cakes onto individual serving dishes.  Let cool about 10 minutes or until warm, but not hot. 

  1. Place sabayon ingredients (except for cream) in top of double boiler and whisk until well mixed.  Set over bottom of simmering water and continue to whisk until mixture thickens and is fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Immediately place top of double boiler in ice-water bath and continue whisking until cool.  In a small bowl, beat cream to soft peaks and fold into sabayon.

  1. Serve cakes with sabayon and garnish with strawberries, if desired.  Refrigerate any leftover cakes.  To reheat “molten lava,” place cake in microwave (crust side down) and heat on 50% power for 20-30 seconds or until center is soft or “melted” to the touch. 

Serves:  12




Friday, April 10, 2015

Spaghetti Squash with Apple, Sage and Walnut Pesto

Spaghetti squash is a healthy alternative to pasta and a great option for gluten-free living.  It can be prepared like traditional spaghetti with red or white sauce and is also delicious when tossed with a little pesto.  Today's dish puts a spin on pesto by featuring sage, apple, and walnut instead of basil, cheese, and pine nuts.  It is lower in acid than traditional tomato-based sauces and lower in fat than Alfredo sauce.  And the sage gives this spaghetti a culinary kick, so the cheese is optional. 

This is one of my most versatile dishes.  It is gluten-free.  It can be prepared vegetarian or vegan.    You can add meatballs for the meat-lovers in your family (hint: pork works well with sage!).  And if you are on a low-acid or GERD diet, you can leave out the raisins and lemon juice to reduce the overall acidity.  So many options and so easy to make - ENJOY!!!     

Spaghetti Squash with Apple, Sage and Walnut Pesto

1 medium spaghetti squash
¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 medium-sized red apple, cored and chopped
⅛ cup sage leaves
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Romano Cheese, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Use a fork to poke holes all over the squash.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 1 hour or until the squash is fork-tender.  When cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.  Scrape squash with a fork to remove the strands.  Place strands in a large serving bowl.  Set aside. 

2.  In a food processor or mini chopper, finely grind the walnuts.  Add olive oil, juice, apples, sage, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Process until smooth. 

3.  Toss warm spaghetti squash with pesto.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Sprinkle with cheese, if desired. 

Serves:  4


Friday, April 3, 2015

9 Ways to Easy and Elegant Vegetarian Antipasto

I'd like to focus on easy entertaining today since it's a holiday weekend.  How about an appetizer that can be customized to meet the needs of any diet?  An antipasto board can be a great party pleaser.  Although it traditionally contains meat, a delicious antipasto can be vegetarian and still satisfy all of your dinner guests.  Here are five ways to ensure vegetarian antipasto success: 
1. Sweet - Always choose something sweet to include on your board.  It will balance out the other ingredients and appeal to children and/or sweet-loving-adults at the party.  I like roasted figs, dates stuffed with nuts and rolled in sugar, and fresh fruit. 
2. Salty and Tart - Select a food or two from the salty and/or tart category.  I usually include pickles and a few different types of olives. 
3. Crunchy - Sweet and salty are all about taste, but let's not forget about the other senses.  You want to hear your food too!  Add some crunch appeal!  Nuts, carrots, or breadsticks will make some noise. 
4. Protein - Adding a protein to your antipasto board will help guests with pre-dinner hunger cravings.  This will also satisfy non-vegetarians looking for meat.  Cheese and vegetarian pepperoni are easy options. 
5. Color - Try to pick foods that vary or contrast in color.  You want your board to come alive and be visually stimulating.  If you have green pickles, for example, and want to include a vegetable, choose the orange carrots instead of the green celery. 
6. Texture - Bumpy pickles, soft cheese, and creamy dip are good examples of "feel" variety.
7. Aroma - Include a fragrant food item to "wake" things up.  You could purchase blue cheese or even roast some garlic. 
8. Spice - Spices enhance flavor.  The same is true in antipasto.  Choose spicy buffalo cheese or cinnamon-sugar coated nuts. 
9. Uniqueness - Do you have anything unusual on your board?  Pick something to impress your guests and get them talking.  How about pickled watermelon or dried star fruit?