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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quick Healthy Meals for 1 (or 2): Dijon Tilapia and Vegetables

 Thanks to our good friend, Jen Check, I've been making this deliciously simple tilapia and vegetable bake time and time again.  She turned me onto this easy meal a few months ago and I'm completely head over heals with it.  It's a riff on several tilapia and salmon dishes that I've made with the twist of cooking the vegetables along with the fish, making this one of the easiest dinners I've ever cooked.  You can cook this in a toaster oven and in less than 20 minutes, you have a meal for one or two people (or lunch and dinner for yourself!)

I had planned on making this for my Cooking for 1 (or 2): Quick and Healthy Meals cooking class at ExtraordinaryEd this week, but alas, the class did not run.  Which is too bad because the folks who might have been interested in taking a class with me would have had a delicious meal served to them! My menu had the tilapia dish with couscous; a tofu and vegetable stir fry over somen noodles and an easy and healthy chocolate pumpkin cake, cooked in the microwave!  Instead, I'm having these meals for my dinner and lunches this week while sharing the recipes with you.

Dijon Tilapia and Vegetables Ingredients:

  • Finely diced Vegetable Assortment: 1/2 Small Carrot, ¼ Onion, 1 Small Celery Stalk, ¼ piece Zucchini and ¼ Piece Yellow Squash - all finely diced or minced
  • 2 Teaspoons Olive, Canola or Vegetable Oil - divided
  • Tilapia - 6 ounces per person, or 2 small fillets (which would be the equivalent) per person
  • 1 Teaspoon of Dijon Mustard per fillet
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Sheet Tray lined with a Silpat, Parchment Paper or Aluminum Foil
  • 1 Teaspoon per Fillet chopped Parsley or Cilantro for Garnish - fresh or dried (optional, for colour)

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Line a sheet or baking tray with a Silpat, Parchment Paper or Aluminum Foil
3. Peel, clean and finely mince/dice the vegetables, using the amounts indicated per serving. If cooking for 2 or more, use a whole carrot, ½ an onion, a medium stalk of celery and half each of the zucchini and squash.  After the vegetables are diced, place them together onto the prepared sheet tray and season lightly with a pinch of salt and a grind of freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with a teaspoon of oil then place in preheated oven for 5  minutes.
4. Lay the tilapia fillets onto the prepared sheet/baking tray and brush the mustard over each tilapia fillet then season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Top with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or cilantro and drizzle with the remaining teaspoon of oil.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes.
6. Remove, serve hot immediately with the vegetables and serve with starch of choice. (I served my meal over left-over fried rice!)

· 2/3 Cup Boiling Water
· 1/3 Cup Uncooked Couscous
· Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste
· 1 Teaspoon Olive or Oil of Choice
1. Put the couscous into a heat-safe bowl.
2. Bring 1 cup of water to a rapid boil. 
3. Pour the boiling water over the couscous; cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap.  Let the couscous sit for up to 5 minutes to absorb the water.
4. Fluff with a fork and season to taste with salt, pepper and oil. Serve hot immediately.

Flavor enhancers – couscous is a mild, almost bland pasta that can take on flavors and works well as a cold side dish or as a breakfast cereal.  Add-ins such as dried apricots, craisins, raisins, toasted and chopped nuts, such as almonds, cashews, or pecans will work for savory and sweet dishes.  For a savory side-dish starch, add in the dried fruit to the couscous when you add in the boiling water.  Toss with salt, pepper, oil, the zest, juice and segments of 1 orange along with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Serve hot or cold.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Party Food & Ghoulish Treats

Our Halloween Buffet - with more ghoulish surprises to be added
We threw a Halloween-themed birthday party for our son, Nate. He turned 3 last week and his party was the Saturday after his birthday.  Close enough to Halloween to warrant a full-on kids' costume party, complete with all the decorations and catering that we could muster together in a few days.  It wasn't difficult to pull this party together, we have more than enough decorations and Halloween platters, bowls and urns.  We I had to stop taking stuff out of my storage boxes and bins as I have so much stuff from over the years of parties and events that we've thrown or catered.  We also had to stop finding clever ideas for food decorations.  Between what Liz and Susan Hill found on the Internet, we were over-whelmed with great ideas and recipes.

7 or more Taco Layer Monster Dip on a pumpkin shaped platter
Nothing was difficult and we learned to step away from the Martha Stewart Halloween books and magazines that I've saved over the years.  Short of going full-out Pillsbury Best's Halloween Idea Book and tearing pages out of Crazy-Drunk Sandra Lee's Semi-Half-assed-Homemade books, we channeled the ideas that we knew would work best for us.  And then I threw in a few dashes of my own crazy and tried to make vegetable critters and a 7-layer taco monster dip.  I used a layer of guacamole, salsa, sour cream, black beans, olives, pickled jalapenos and a low-fat shredded Mexican cheese blend.  For the eyes, I had 2 clean rubber balls with eyes imprinted on them and for the fingers I took baby carrots and cut out notches for the nails and knuckles. Easy!  Serve with Tortilla Chips or if you're really ambitious, cut flour tortillas into Halloween Shapes using cookie cutters, then brush oil onto them, sprinkle with Chili Powder/Mexican Seasoning and bake for 10 minutes or until crispy.

There aren't any real recipes here, more like ideas and suggestions that we borrowed and re-created.
A vegetable platter with turnip and radish creatures.  I forgot to make my scallion ghosts.  I should have made them at the same time when I made the turnip and radish.  Oh well... My vegetable dip was low-fat sour cream with dried bell pepper flakes, Italian Seasoning, celery seed, toasted onion flakes, a pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Make it the night before so that all the dried seasonings can blend together, absorb into the liquid and reconstitute.  Stir well and serve with the veggie platter.

We decided to serve hot dogs and home-made (but made simply) macaroni and cheese.  Not satisfied with serving hot dogs in buns, we made one package of Mummy-Dogs, using Pillsbury Bread Sticks, cut into strips and wrapped around the hot dogs.  You bake them for about 17 minutes.  Each bread stick is cut into 4 thin strips.

Using the same bread stick dough, we also made bread bones.  These were even easier to make. Years ago, we made home-made pizza dough, which we then shaped, boiled, brushed with an egg wash, dipped herbs onto them and then baked.  TOO MANY STEPS!  All these required was rolling out the dough to a long strand and tying the ends into knots.  Brushed with egg whites and sprinkled Italian Seasonings and Parmesan Cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly golden.  Serve with a bowl of dipping blood, um I mean, pizza sauce!

Halloween Mac & Cheese
Halloween Mac & Cheese: I found Halloween-shaped pasta at Wegmans. I wish I had purchased 2 bags; one wasn't quite enough.  So I added a half-pound of small shaped pasta to it to make a bigger batch to fill this half-pan. I made a low-fat cheese sauce, using skim milk, light butter and whole wheat flour for the bechamel/white sauce.  Seasoned it with nutmeg, dry mustard powder, a dash of cayenne pepper, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  For the cheeses, I used a combination of low-fat Velveeta (yes, I did! and it melts great and kids love it!), low-fat shredded cheddar cheeses and a cup of pured butternut squash. This is a true riff on the semi-homemade/Deceptively Delicious recipes that I have grown to love.  For the topping, I used wholewheat bread crumbs, some dried parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle this over the top, drizzle with oil or dab with some butter; bake to heat through and brown the top.

Finger Foods - Severed finger cheese sticks and chocolate dipped pretzel rods
Nutterbutter Ghost Cookies
Severed Fingers: We used mozzarella cheese sticks cut into pieces, which we dabbed with cream cheese and stuck a half an almond onto the tip to look like fingernails.

Halloween Pretzels: For the Pretzel Rods, we melted white and dark chocolate and into which we dipped the rods and the sprinkled with Halloween Candy Sprinkles.  You have to cool and refrigerate them so they set.

Cookie Ghosts: The Nutter Butter Cookies were trickier to do at first but then we figured out how to make these. Basically, melt white chocolate and then either dip them in the chocolate (which is messy!) or just coat one side of the cookie so that it's "enrobed" with the white chocolate.  Then add some sprinkles, jimmies or tiny candy pieces for the eyes and mouth.  Set in a cool place or refrigerate until the chocolate hardens.

The Birthday Boy and his "Kitty-litter Box" Birthday Cake

The  piece de Resistance was the Kitty Litter Box Birthday Cake that our good friend, "Mommom" Susan Hill made.  She had sent me a web page link to this cake idea and I loved it immediately, gross as it looks.  Liz wasn't too keen on the idea but I asked Susan to go ahead and make it.  One is supposed to use a new, clean, small cat box, but that might take the idea too far over the edge.  Susan used a lasagna pan and bought a new, fun, cat scoop.  The cake is baked, then crumbled and re-assembled with pudding and yogurt.  The top is dusted with cinnamon.  The cat, ahem, leavings or deposits, oh, heck, I'll say it, TURDS/POOP/SH!T can be melted tootsie rolls or, as Susan made them, shredded apples, cocoa powder, maybe some powdered sugar, and oats.  Looks rather authentic but tasted, as Nate says, Really Great!

Naturally, there are nearly 100 other photos from the party, including a video of everyone singing Happy Birthday along with the kids cracking up over the "cat poop".  Nate's watch himself in the video nearly 100 times already!  I'm sure I'll post the event at his blog,
 Thought the food and how-to recipes would be more appropriate here first.  Wonder what we'll do to top this party next year?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sauteed Turkey Cutlets with Pumpkin Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti Squash

It's pumpkin season and I'm adding it to as many recipes as I can dream and cook!  Actually, it's not just this time of year, pumpkin is a super ingredient you can use all year long. It's just fun to post recipes that feature pumpkin in them as a seasonal ingredient during the Autumnal Equinox!  I haven't been in a cooking mood for a week or so.  We've been busy with events, a wedding, and I was sick too; the desire and time to cook decent meals was off my usual rotation.  I haven't made anything so inspiring to warrant a blog post.

Tonight's dinner is a riff on several other pumpkin, tomato and vegetable medleys that I've made over the years.  It's also a true use what you have on hand recipe.  A package of turkey cutlets, a few zucchini, a spaghetti squash from Susan Hill's garden, and a need to create a healthy, "clean" meal for a change!  I knew that I wanted to make a sauce of some sort to tie together the vegetables, turkey and whole wheat egg noodles.  A plain tomato sauce sounded boring.  Pumpkin, the super vegetable, to the rescue!

The noodles can be omitted for a carb-free version. Serve the turkey and zucchini over the shredded spaghetti squash with the pumpkin and tomato sauce.  Or omit the spaghetti squash if you don't have one, have the time to cook one, or just don't like spaghetti squash.  I wanted to use it and I like the additional fiber and vegetable in my dish!

Sauteed Turkey Cutlets and Pumpkin Tomato Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil - use 1 tablespoon at a time
  • 3 Tablespoons Italian Seasonings - divided
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - cut into 1 to 2 inch 1/4 inch bias cut slices
  • 1 Pound of Turkey Cutlets - cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Small Onion (about 1/2 cup) - Medium Dice
  • 3 Garlic Cloves (about 1 Tbsp) - Minced
  • 1 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 3 Tablespoons Italian Seasonings - divided
  • 1 Small Spaghetti Squash - Cooked and Shredded (see recipe here for cooking tips) - OPTIONAL! 
  • 1 Small 8 ounce Can No-Salt Tomato Sauce (or one cup of tomato sauce!)
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper -  to taste
  • 1/2 Package (about 6 to 8 ounces) Whole Wheat Egg Noodles - cook according to package directions in a large pot of rapidly boiling and salted water


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil, then add in 2 tablespoons of salt.  Cook whole wheat egg noodles until they are al dente - firm but not mushy.  Reserve 2 cups of the pasta/noodle cooking water.  Drain the noodles and keep warm.  Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.
  2. While the water is boiling and the noodles are cooking, make the tomato sauce.  Whisk together the can or cup of tomato sauce with one cup of pumpkin puree.  Add in 2 tablespoons of the Italian Seasonings, a pinch of salt and several dashes of freshly ground black pepper.  Set aside.
  3. Prepare the spaghetti squash - cooking it in a microwave is faster.  When the squash is tender and cool enough to handle, shred the squash into spaghetti strands.  Set the strands aside until ready to use.
  4. Season the turkey cutlets with a tablespoon of the Italian Seasoning, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Set aside.
  5. In a large, non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan over medium heat until it shimmers, then saute the cut zucchini.  Cook the zucchini until they are tender and begin to take on some colour - about 5 minutes.  Remove the zucchini from the skillet, add them the cooked whole wheat noodles and keep warm.
  6. In the same skillet, add in another tablespoon of olive oil and saute the cut and seasoned turkey cutlets, sauteing until the cutlets are cooked through and well-browned - about 6-8 minutes.  Add the cooked turkey cutlets to the whole wheat noodles and zucchini.  
  7. Saute the diced onions and minced garlic in the same skillet, adding a bit more oil if needed.  Scrap up the browned bits in the pan using a non-stick safe spatula.  Pour in the cup of white wine and reduce it down until less than a quarter of a cup of wine remains.
  8. Add in the pumpkin tomato sauce and 1 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water and heat until the sauce just comes to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the sauce to the noodles, zucchini and turkey.  Toss gently to combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding in salt, pepper and more Italian seasonings.
  9. If using, plate the spaghetti squash and top with the noodles, sauce, turkey and vegetables.  Or in not using the noodles, plate the turkey, sauce and vegetables directly onto the spaghetti squash.  
  10. Makes 6 servings.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Best Friend's Wedding

My best friend, Rachel, got married over this past weekend.  I had the honor of being her Matron/Maid of Honor for this extremely wonderful occasion.   Rachel asked me to give a speech/toast for the wedding and I happily obliged.  I spent a few months thinking about the content, on and off.  When I sat down to write it, I did it in one pass, with a few edits to tweak it during the week leading up to the wedding.  When it came time to give the speech, I had to follow several other people and I was nervous.  I was also full of emotion for my friend; so happy to have reach this day; elated to bear witness to their union; proud of my friend for making life changes that brought her to this day. 

I share this speech with the world, as it was such a hit! I wish I could have the audio delivery of it - that seemed to have made the biggest impact.  I'm sure I'll post other photos and remarks about the wedding, but having the speech available was important to me.  Mazel Tov! Rachel & Jim! May you both move forward into your knew life together and know a long life of happiness and love.

Good evening ladies, gentleman, friends and family.  Thank you all for being here in honor of Rachel and Jim.   My name is Denine Gorniak and I am Rachel’s Bride’s Maid/Matron of Honor. 

I’ve known Rachel for over 27 years.  We met when we were 18 yrs old, students living in the dorms at Temple University, Ambler Campus, in the fall of 1985.  The two of us were sort of outsiders, living in a dormitory of noisy, girly girls.  Fate, cemeteries and a poster of a Frenchman carrying a baguette while riding a bike brought us together.  Music, Movies and M&M’s sealed our friendship.  Later we would add travel, cats – so many cats! and baseball to our lives. 

Over past 27 of our friendship, we’ve been like sisters and parents to each other. Sometimes we’ve even been like an old bickering couple.  Rachel has seen me though countless dates, hair colours & hairstyles (remember the Mullet - which I called the Gloria Estefan?) - and several triumphs and tragedies of our beloved and this season, beleaguered Phillies.  She is my son’s “fairy godmother”; my trusted confidant; She is Grace to my Will; and my best friend.

I always wished that Rachel would meet a wonderful man, who would see all the loveliness and sweetness that I see and know in her.  Still waters run very deep and within Rachel is a well of the deepest thoughts and dreams.  I knew that the man who would be adept at divining would be the one to find this wellspring within her.  You, Jim, are that man.

When Rachel told me that she had a date with you, she said that she was smiling at your photo and at the thought of meeting you in person.  I knew, at that moment, you were the person for Rachel.  Sure enough, she was smiling and giddy when she called to tell me all about your lovely 1st date at Beyond Bread  Even though we were nearly 1,000 miles apart and a 3 hr time difference, I knew in my heart you and Rachel were fated to be together.  After hearing about your trip to San Diego and then when you came to Phila to meet her crazy East Coast Contingency of friends and family, I knew you were a keeper.   

We met you and fell for you just as hard as Rachel did.  At a Phillies game we all attended, I surreptitiously took photos of the two of you, holding hands, knowing then that I’d have them for this day to share.  I could see the love between the two of you. I could see how perfectly in synch you were.  I could also see that you were the right man for whom she had patiently waited.

As we celebrate this marriage, I want to read to you these words of relationship wisdom I asked several of my friends who have long-term, loving marriages and relationships to share with you.

Keep a sense of humor about the roadblocks that surface
Cherish Each other and show it in loving ways every day
Never go to bed angry and remember to kiss, often, each day
Be Kind to each other
You are each a rare treasure - share it and allow each other to grow.  You don’t have to grow at the same rate, just make the space/room for the others' growth
Relationships are work, but they don’t have to be hard work. It may not always be easy, but nothing worth having is.
Laugh often and tell each other you love one another, every day.

And now, may we all raise our glasses and toast the couple - Rachel and Jim!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DIY Crafting: Window Shades/Privacy Covers

This is a quickie post, to share a little DIY Craft I recently completed.  It only took me a few minutes to make these window shades/privacy covers/light catchers, or whatever you want to call them. It took me a few months to get around to starting this little idea project though! I saw these place mats at IKEA - 4 for $3, and I knew instantly that they would work well as window coverings or as a sort of "stained" glass art-like piece in my kitchen windows.  All I needed was a traverse or tension rod, some French Cafe Clips or curtain clips and a hole punch.  A total expense of under $20.  What I put off buying were the cafe hooks, the traverse rod and the hole punch! Then, when I did buy these items, I forgot how many cafe hooks I needed, so it took me another month to get around to buying more!

Anyway, this is an easy, one-day, less than one hour project.  You can buy these translucent place mats as well as the photo hooks or curtain clips at IKEA for about under 5 Bucks.  A Tension Rod, may set you back another $3 to $5, depending on where you purchase it.  You only need to punch holes in the bottom place mat.  Or just use small rings to join each mat together.  In which case you'll need to punch holes in the bottom of one mat and at the top of another to join them.  Two-Six-Quick.  

Our little window covering will suffice until I can find a pair of stained glass windows to add to these windows.  In the meantime, we have a pretty window and a tiny bit of privacy on the side of our house.  Plus, these birds are just so darn cute and colorful.  What great and inexpensive crafty ideas do you have to share? Please let me know - I'm always looking for new decorating or gift ideas!