Don’t judge a book by its cover…

…or vegetables by their ugly. Not long ago, I read an article on how a European supermarket took a stand against food waste by promoting and selling the ugly cast-offs of the produce world in their stores (at a discount, of course). They touted these quirky veggies by proving that they were just as nutritious and delicious and worthy of love as any other. And they sold out quickly! (Their marketing video, here, is actually really great and definitely worth a watch).

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Well, I have to tell you that these little purple potatoes that I had in my pantry aren’t so sexy looking either. The skins are wrinkly, the ends lumpy, and what’s up with that root?! However, I was beyond excited to get my hands on these little guys. Any idea why a girl like me would get this pumped about a potato? Well, just cut into one and see!


Wow! That color! The modest purple potato, everyone…And hey, the bunch was only $1.00. Of course I couldn’t wait to eat them. With pigment like that, you know they’re going to be good. I cleaned their nubbly skins by scrubbing under running water and cutting off anything too unsightly (like eyes and roots). There is no need to peel since the skin tastes great too (and just think of the extra vitamins, ya’ll!).

I prepared them by boiling in water until just tender, about 15 minutes. While the potatoes were boiling, I sautéed some sliced Kalamata olives in a little olive oil along with some fresh chopped rosemary. Once the potatoes were cooked, I drained them, sliced them into thick rounds, and added to my skillet. I added a small dab of butter (aka flavor gold) to the pan and sautéed them for a bit on med-high just until the skins began to brown. I then finished with a little sprinkle of Kosher salt.

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You can see how they turned and even darker shade after cooking. So fun. These babies are actually pretty sweet, almost like a yam, so I would consider that when pairing with other foods. I tossed mine with some fresh steamed green beans (not only for taste but because of the beautiful complimentary colors), added an extra drizzle of olive oil, and just a pinch more of salt. Fresh, quality ingredients need little fussing over. Delicious!


The Last of the Really Great Muffins

Have you heard of the Whangdoodle? He lived among us at one time, and was the wisest, the kindest, and the most extraordinary creature in the world. However, fearing that people were losing their imaginations in the pursuit of power and greed, the Whangdoodle disappeared, going off to create his own magical world where creatures like him could live in peace and love*. Except for those that pursued him long ago on a once grand adventure, the Whangdoodle, to this day, has sadly become a thing of myth and has essentially been forgotten.

Today, as I leaned over the kitchen counter and munched on the last of my pumpkin muffins, I pondered this mysterious creature. I wished that I could tap into child me’s imagination again, to lose my inhibitions and journey to Whangdoodleland where the world is open for exploring and creating and for pursuing magical things just for the fun of it. Perhaps Whangdoodleland is only myth, but perhaps we could use the dream of this place and our own creativity to create a little bit of magic in our own land. Do I sound like a dreamy fairy princes? Those who spend time with young ones can attest to the great heights at which unbridled imagination soars. Why can’t this cardboard box become a home (or a chair or a table)? Why can’t these weeds plucked from the woods become a fantastic meal (with proper research and precaution, wild foraging is a marvelous thing)? And why couldn’t a muffin be both healthy and delicious?

I suppose these muffins must have little bit of magic in them to be called healthy and tasty at the same time. I mean, let’s be honest here. Muffins are really just cake in disguise. Any muffin in the supermarket being marketed as “healthy” under the guise of a “bran” label or some other nonsense are typically loaded with as much “bad” stuff as a candy bar. P.S. Have you ever had a Costco muffin? Holy moly are those good and so so bad at the same time. However, because they’re called muffins and not cupcakes they’re cool to eat for breakfast, right? Right?! Hah. Well, with all that in my mind, I resolved to use my imagination to seek out the mythical, healthy AND (key word) delicious muffin. Chocolate of course needed to be invited, because…chocolate. I also needed something to bring the substance, so nuts and dried fruit were in order. And finally, I had some leftover pureed pumpkin in my freezer that I was intending to use for a pumpkin roll (which, for those unfamiliar with this little gem, is cake and pumpkin and cream cheese and drooooool…), but that didn’t happen. It seemed a bit odd to make something so “fall-esque” in January, so on to the healthy muffin quest!

The Last of the Really Great Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 T flax meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (*Canned is fine. But making your own is so easy! I’ll post instructions when sugar pie pumpkins are back in season next fall)
One large egg

Mix Ins:
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit, chopped if larger pieces.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease a muffin tin. Mix your dry ingredients together then your wet. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Stir in your mix ins. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes. These muffins are moist so it’s okay if you insert a toothpick into one after your timer goes off and it comes out a little gummy.

*This creature’s story is told by Julie Andrews in The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which was one of my favorite books growing up and still is to this day. I highly recommend that you enjoy these muffins while reading this book to your children, or to your cat or just to yourself.

Challenge #1: Food aversion turned craving

In my quest to become a better home chef and provider of healthy eats for my husband there are several foods, previously held in low esteem, that I am bent on making into something that we not only enjoy but perhaps even crave. These are your “you’ll eat it ‘cus it’s good for you” foods, your “plug your nose and chew” foods, your “smother it in cheese sauce to mask the flavor” foods. This is your kale, your brussels sprouts, your broccoli. Now, in no way am I saying that there is anything wrong with smothering a food in cheese sauce. There is something very special about that liquid gold known as queso dip or a molten pot of welsh rarebit served with plenty of crusty bread. What I am saying is that there is something even more special about fresh wholesome ingredients prepared simply and in such a way as to make the true inherent flavors shine.Mary's Blog pic

As I hone my skills as a cook and allow my palate to expand, I’ve learned that a big part of the reason why we have these aversions to some truly delicious foods (often certain vegetables) is a lack of understanding on how to properly prepare them. In my husband’s case, veggies like broccoli and asparagus were prepared only by boiling and were understood to be “done” when they were limp, mushy, yellowish, under-seasoned, and most certainly void of flavor and thus called for your cheese sauces, your mayonaise (don’t even talk to me about that one) or avoidance all together. In this recipe for kale and roasted cauliflower salad with tahini dressing, it was my goal to take two things neither my husband nor I were very fond of (cauliflower and kale) and turn them into something delicious. My previous understanding of kale was that it is tough when raw and still tough even after being cooked. And cauliflower was thought to be a bland vegetable used for display purposes only on veggie trays. There are many ways to prepare cruciferous vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, such as sautéing, steaming, roasting or eating raw. Each most certainly has its place. Don’t be afraid to experiment in cooking them different ways to see how the textures and flavors change. I used both raw and roasted veggies for this dish.

Cutting the cauliflower into small florets and roasting them in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes really does turn them into something magical. The sugars begin to caramelize and the edges become golden brown and toasty while the centers become tender and creamy. As for the kale, I left that raw. Perhaps my tastes are changing, but I nibbled on the raw kale and realized that a) the leaves aren’t bitter at all as I remembered but actually quite sweet b) they aren’t so much tough as they are “hearty” and have nice crunch, and c) because of their heartiness, they can stand up to thicker creamier dressings. Even after adding the dressing, this salad lasted for days in our fridge without becoming mushy. This makes it a good make-ahead dish for parties or potlucks. However, I doubt that you’ll be able to keep your fork out of the bowl long enough to let it last more than a day. We just happened to be eating it for lunches, so I did my best not to snack on it every few moments. It was that good!Mary's foodblog pic2

Kale and Roasted Cauliflower Salad With Tahini Dressing (courtesy of Real Simple)

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (Pine nuts would be nice as well, but these are very expensive. Pumpkin seeds add a good crunch and toasty flavor.)
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into florets
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
10 cups stemmed and chopped kale (about 1 bunch)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing once, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Increase heat to 450° F. On the rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with the cayenne, 2 tablespoons of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, ⅓ cup water, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper (adding more water if necessary, to achieve the consistency of heavy cream). Add the kale, onion, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and cauliflower and toss to combine.