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Month: December 2016

Greek Spaghetti Squash

Greek Spaghetti Squash

Greek Spaghetti Squash is the next recipe I made as I was working on eating the rest of the winter squash I bought back in October.  I lost one squash to rot, which made me quite sad (and surprised me – our garage is quite cold, so I’m not sure what happened).  I love spaghetti squash as an alternative to pasta.  It’s easy to cook and great with all the traditional sauces that go well with spaghetti.  I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately about a restaurant we used to go to quite a bit when we lived in Southern Oregon called Alexander’s.  Alexander’s is a Greek restaurant that serves the most yummy hummus and falafel but they also have a pasta dish on their menu called Athenian Pasta, which is a mix of spaghetti, a creamy Alfredo style sauce, feta cheese, and garlic.  I’m salivating a little just writing about it.  I absolutely loved having this pasta for dinner the various times we’d go there, particularly in the winter.  It was totally a comfort food.

So – I had a spaghetti squash in the garage and some feta cheese in the fridge, so thought, why not try to replicate Alexander’s Athenian Pasta?  As it turns out, this version of Greek Spaghetti Squash is as yummy as the traditional pasta version, minus the carbs of the pasta.  I tossed in a little bit of rosemary just because.  I really liked the slight pine taste the rosemary imparts – it’s a great counterpart to the salty feta cheese.

This is another squash dish that survives a few weeks in the freezer without any problems.  The cream sauce can get a little grainy – but give it a few stirs and it tastes just fine.  This dish pairs well with a nice crisp green salad.  If you aren’t too worried about the carbs, it would be great with a little fresh bread as well.  And if you are eating this and not at work, it would be lovely to serve with a Greek Retsina.

greek spaghetti squash

greek spaghetti squash

Greek Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or half and half
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary (optional)
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese plus 3 tablespoons

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stem from the spaghetti squash. Make a few small slits in the squash with a knife. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes or until the squash is soft. Cut in half and let cool.
  2. When the squash is cool, remove the seeds. Gently scrape out the flesh of the squash - it will come out in small strands that resemble pasta.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan or frying pan. Saute the garlic for about a minute and then add the spaghetti squash, cooking for two minutes. Set aside.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour, a bit at a time and whisk with each addition. When all the flour is incorporated, add in the milk or half and half, the rosemary, and the ground pepper. Bring to a low boil and stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of feta cheese.
  5. Add the spaghetti squash and garlic to the sauce and combine. Distribute to three or four bowls and sprinkle the remaining feta cheese over each dish. Enjoy!
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Mandarin Orange Mule

Mandarin Orange Mule

Mandarin Orange Mule

I’ve been a little slow to get on the Moscow Mule train, but here I am finally, posting a recipe for a Mandarin Orange Mule.  I’ll confess that I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, nor was I convinced that I needed a copper mug just for one particular drink.  Then I had a Moscow Mule at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  I was completely sold, even going so far as to track down a copper mug at World Market.

While I’m sure I’ll be making a traditional Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice) at some point soon, I thought I’d start with a variation on the theme.  I’m in full out citrus mode right now – tracking down all manners of citrus-y treats, including seedless mandarin oranges.  I decided a Mandarin Orange Mule would be a festive drink this time of year, to sip while listening to Pink Martini’s holiday album and admiring the Christmas tree.

On a side note, we’ve managed to make it to December 9 without Christmas tree catastrophe, which is amazing given that the cats have been chewing on it (it’s a fake tree – not sure what the appeal is) and Daisy has been wagging her tail every time she gets near it.  Maybe I just need a Mandarin Orange Mule to soothe my nerves this time of year as I wait for Christmas tree catastrophe to occur.

Whatever the reason, this is well worth making.  These would be lovely at a holiday party or maybe served on the side of a date night meal.

Mandarin Orange Mule

Mandarin Orange Mule

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces ginger beer
  • Juice from 3 mandarin oranges
  • Mandarin orange slice to garnish

Instructions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a copper mug. Add ice and garnish with slices of a mandarin orange. Enjoy!
  2. Serves 1
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Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes and 1 Year Blogiversary!

Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes and 1 Year Blogiversary!

Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

I’m sharing my vegan chocolate cherry cupcakes recipe today on the blog, in celebration of Fix Me a Little Lunch’s one year anniversary!  It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this for a full year now – it seems like just yesterday that I was setting everything up and stumbling around in WordPress.

As I was preparing to write this post, I went back in to see when I actually posted my first recipe.  As it turns out, my first recipe was posted on December 9, 2015 and it was a pasta and kale pesto recipe – no surprise there.  I love kale pesto this time of year and never say no to pasta as a comfort lunch food.  So much has happened in the past year since I started regularly blogging: I changed jobs, moving from a small rural Southern Oregon town to the growing metropolitan area of Portland, Oregon; we downsized a significant amount of our stuff to make moving easier, since I’m on a short-term contract right now and anticipate moving again in the near future; some other things happened in 2015 that were emotionally exhausting.  The blog has been a saving outlet for me – a creative safe space to explore food and food photography, and an opportunity to work with a community of bloggers I didn’t even know existed when I started.  There have certainly been challenges: as we were moving, I had to stop blogging for a bit as I simply didn’t have the time to cook.  I’ve figured out a lot of things the hard way (who knew you could easily resize photos in WordPress?  I didn’t until about a month ago).  I posted a recipe to a Food 52 contest and left out a key ingredient.  I’ve also delved into social media, starting an Instagram feed, which is so much fun, and learning the basics of Twitter.

Some really great things have happened, too: one of my all time favorite bloggers, Toni at Boulder Locavore started following my Instagram feed.  One of my photos was (finally) accepted on Food Gawker.  I posted quite a few recipes to several of my favorite bloggy linkups, including Cook the Books, Food ‘n’ Flix, Cook Once and Eat Twice, and Novel Foods.  I realized I especially love blog challenges that combine my two loves: cooking and reading, so you’ll be seeing a lot more recipes inspired by the book selections for Cook the Books this upcoming year.  I’ve had a chance to get to know one of the bloggers, Becca, from the Facebook group The Blog Passion Project better via the holiday mug exchange.  If you get a chance, check out Becca’s blog: The Fit Foodnista.  All and all, it’s been a great year.

I’m definitely looking forward to a new year of blogging.  I’ve started up a real editorial calendar, as I’m finding it helps me stay on track and post regularly.  I anticipate that I’ll have a newsletter up and running some time in the New Year and I’m going to start working on an e-book.  I’ll keep sharing recipes for lunches, of course, but will also be posting recipes for freezer meals, for cocktails, for things I’ve baked.  I’ll also keep being seasonal, as it’s pretty much the way Clay and I eat all the time.  I’m sure I’ll be traveling in the New Year, so expect more Travel Thursday posts.  Wherever I land for a job, know that I’ll be exploring the food there and posting about it.

In the meantime, my little blog has turned 1 and in celebration of this first blogiversary, I made some vegan chocolate cherry cupcakes.  Fix Me a Little Lunch is a holiday blog-baby, so I thought I would cook something that would look and taste equally good on a holiday dessert buffet.  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog this year and I’m looking forward to many years of food to come.

Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

vegan chocolate cherry cupcakes

blogiversary-cakes-with-candle-and-ornaments

 

Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup baking cocoa
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup soy milk or almond milk (unflavored or vanilla flavored)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 dried Bing cherries
  • For the vegan vanilla bean frosting
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon almond milk or soy milk
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla pod

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients (from the flour to the baking cocoa) in a medium sized bowl. Stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients (from the coconut oil to the vanilla extract) and stir until most of the lumps are out. The batter will be a little lumpy, which is fine. Grease or use muffin cup liners for either a 24 cup mini-muffin pan or for 12 cups of regular sized muffin pans. If you are doing mini-muffins, cut the dried Bing cherries in half and place one at the bottom of each muffin pan cup. If you are using regular sized muffin pans, put one dried Bing cherry at the bottom of each.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes for mini-cupcakes (check after 15 minutes).
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes for regular sized cupcakes (check after 20 minutes).
  5. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the frosting. Combine the powdered sugar, soy or almond milk, and vanilla pod seeds in a small bowl and mix until they are combined. Add more powdered sugar or soy/almond milk if you desire a different consistency. Enjoy!
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This post is linked up to the Treat Petite for December, hosted by The Baking Explorer.  Check out The Baking Explorer and Cakeyboi for previous month’s petite treat recipes.

Spinach Pear Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Spinach Pear Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Spinach pear salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette is a festive and easy salad to chase away the rainy day blues.  I’ll admit that even though I really love rain, there are some days when I miss the sun just a little bit.  Meyer lemons always cheer me up – there is something about their sunny color and floral smell that promises that summer is just around the corner.

I love salads.  I try to eat them with my lunch every day when I can, especially in the winter time when I just find myself craving greens, whether its lettuce or spinach or kale.  I think some of my near obsessiveness with vegetables comes from the two years I lived in Majuro in the Marshall Islands when I was in my late twenties.  I was there to teach at the College of the Marshall Islands, and while I loved the experience, sometimes finding local fresh food could be incredibly challenging.  The Marshalls are coral reef islands, and as such, there is limited top soil, which makes it tough to grow things like lettuce.  Most of the food to Majuro is shipped in in great big container ships that would only dock every other week.  To get things like salad greens or onions, you had to be at the store at just the right time, or otherwise crews from the purse seiners (large fishing boats) would buy out the entire stock of vegetables and fruits.  In my second year there, there was an increased focus on local foods – local tomatoes, eggplants, pumpkins, and so on, but even then, quantities were limited.  As you can imagine, I ate a lot of fish while I lived there and while it was abundant and tasty, I often longed for just a large green salad.  I remember, particularly, one time that a friend of a friend brought raspberries with her from another island (the island had a significant American military presence and she was able to get the raspberries from a source there).  Those raspberries were the most precious dessert I’ve ever eaten.

So, salads with all sorts of various ingredients, locally sourced, make me tremendously happy.  Since I’ve moved to the PNW, I’ve gotten much more adventurous about pairing salad greens with fruits.  This particular salad is a simple combination of spinach, pears, and walnuts, topped off with a tangy Meyer lemon vinaigrette.  Since this is Meyer lemon season, now’s the time to add Meyer lemons to everything that you can.

Spinach Pear Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Salad in a jar

Spinach Pear Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients

    For the vinaigrette
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallots
  • Juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fennel fronds or parsley
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • For the salad
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1 ripe pear
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

Instructions

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the Meyer lemon vinaigrette in a small jar. Tighten the lid and shake vigorously.
  2. Combine the spinach, pears and walnuts. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Enjoy!
  3. Serves 4
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Winter Squash Stuffed Shells with Greens Pesto

Winter Squash Stuffed Shells with Greens Pesto

winter-squash-stuffed-shells

I am a huge fan of all things winter squash (as you’ve probably figured out), making this recipe, a winter squash stuffed shells with greens pesto, one of my absolute favorite December lunches.  This has everything I most love about the fall and winter: the slightly sweet squash, salty cheese, pasta, and pesto made with kale, spinach and walnuts.  Since there is a small chance that there might be a little bit of snow in this part of the PNW tomorrow, this comfort food just seems perfect.

I used a combination of red kuri (my favorite) and the rest of the pumpkin puree I’d frozen earlier in the fall.  Fortunately, I still have one more pie pumpkin in the garage – I figure we still have a few more months of cold weather and might need to make some more pumpkin bread.  I also used a bit of the sage that is still growing out in the herb bed.

The pesto consists of both kale and spinach – really, you could use just about any combination of greens.  I also used walnuts, because it’s what I had on hand.  Pesto can be made out of any combination of herb or green, nuts, garlic, and Parmesan or other hard cheese.  I love to try out different combinations.  I also have started hand chopping my pesto – I think it helps the herbs or greens retain their integrity and not get mushy like they might in a food processor.  The taste is a lot closer to pesto I had in Rome many years ago, so I enjoy it for the nostalgic value, as well.

All together, the winter squash stuffed shells with greens pesto takes about forty minutes to make, and most of that time is hands off while it bakes.  It’s well worth the time.  It also makes a great freezer meal – making it very appealing for lunch.  Since it’s vegetarian, it would also make a great main dish for the holiday festivities for vegetarian friends and family.

winter squash stuffed shells with greens pesto

Winter Squash Stuffed Shells with Greens Pesto

Ingredients

    For the shells:
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree or similar winter squash puree
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 + 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 box of large pasta shells
  • For the pesto
  • 1 cup tightly packed greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring a pot of water in a medium saucepan to a boil. Add the shells and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente.
  3. In the meantime, combine the squash puree, the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the parmesan cheese, the sage, and the pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Drain the shells in a colander and rinse under cold water. When the shells are cool enough to handle, stuff each with about 2 tablespoons of the squash and cheese mixture. Place the shells in a single layer in a 9 X 13 baking pan. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese gets lightly browned on top.
  5. While the shells are baking, prepare the pesto. Put the greens, the walnuts, the garlic, and the parmesan in the middle of a cutting board and gently chop until the ingredients are finely diced and combined. Put the pesto in a small bowl and add the olive oil, gently combining.
  6. Serve the stuffed shells with the pesto and enjoy!
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This post has been linked to Tinned Tomatoes: Meatless Monday.  Check out her great posts!

Muddy Russian

Muddy Russian

This Muddy Russian is a rich blend of Kahlua, vodka and eggnog, perfect for the first happy hour of December. Since we are at the beginning of December,  I’m so ready to start baking and cooking for Christmas.  I have the tree and all the lights up already – our tradition is to do all of this the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The tree has already had multiple kitty cat incursions – a lot of nudging, rubbing up against, and rattling the jingle bells, just because they can.  The bigger threat, as it turns out, seems to be Daisy’s tail.  If she gets too close to the tree and wags, all the ornaments sway.  It’s a bit unnerving, but pretty funny as well.

I made a Muddy Russian the night we put up the outdoor lights and stood outside after dusk, drink in hand, enjoying the sights and tastes of the season.  I can only imagine that this would be a lovely cocktail to enjoy in front of a fireplace, maybe after a day on the slopes.  For now, I’ll settle on drinking a Muddy Russian with Daisy sitting on my feet, Pink Martini’s Holiday channel on Pandora, and the PNW rain battering the windows.

muddy-russian

Muddy Russian

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Kahlua
  • 3 ounces eggnog

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail glass. Add ice and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Enjoy!
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Eastern Oregon and Chicago – Travel Thursday

Eastern Oregon and Chicago – Travel Thursday

I haven’t posted a travel round up in a while, and I was waiting to cover all of November at once, thinking I had one more trip in November when that trip was…cancelled.  Is it too wrong to be delighted about that?  I have to admit and it’s hard for me to admit that I just might be, just a smidgen, totally and completely traveled out. 

So let’s go back to the beginning of November, shall we?  November was a whirlwind of travel to three locations – two in the PNW and one outside the PNW.  I went to Sunriver, Oregon sometime in early November and then back to Bend, Oregon in later November with Chicago sandwiched in between.

I’m going to start with the east side of Oregon.  Bend is a hip little place along Highway 97, east of the Cascade Mountains.  Sunriver is a little further south of Bend and is a resort complete with its own golf course, air strip, and shopping center.  Both are sandwiched between multiple volcanoes, because after all, what else would you expect in a state that is technically along the ring of fire?  It’s hard for me not to drive past Mt. Hood on Highway 26 on the way to Bend and not think to myself, hm, I’m driving along an active volcano.  Wonder what would happen if it pulled a Mt. St. Helens? 

Eastern Oregon reminds me so much of New Mexico, where I lived for four years.  Though I love living in the rainforest ecosystem of the Cascades, I do miss these kinds of sunsets:

eastern-oregon-sunset

Though Bend has many restaurants, it just so happened on the first trip that we were hungry enough to pull off in Redmond, which is about 20 minutes north of Bend.  We discovered a charming Mexican place called Diego’s Spirit Kitchen and ate dinner there the first night…and then went back for lunch…and then went there again for lunch when we went back to Bend two weeks later.  Here’s why:

chicken-with-mole-verde  fish-tacos-redmond carnitas-ravioli

From left to right: chicken mole verde; fish tacos, carnitas ravioli

Plus on the first night, each table had these gorgeous little yellow mums that played so well off the brick red walls:

 restaurant-flower-in-redmond

Redmond was looking all festive already and I positively love this pic:

 small-town-holiday-decorations

There was a little stopover in Sunriver for business and then I turned around and went back home.  On the first trip, we stopped at a rest stop on Hwy 97 to check out a canyon.  This is not a place that is for the faint of heart when it comes to heights.  Especially when you can’t stop thinking about that active volcano thing and all the potential for earthquake activity along the Cascadia fault zone.

bridge2

I rested up for a weekend for the next trip – did some laundry and repacked.  Then it was off to Chicago.  I’d been to Chicago once, about 20 years ago with my ex-husband.  This was back when I was younger, stubborn, and absolutely petrified of flying, to the point that I insisted we take the train to Chicago and then drive a car to Appleton, Wisconsin to meet the ex’s family.  I have four memories from that trip: 1) I should have been more worried about train wrecks than plane wrecks, because the train hit an unloaded flatbed and nearly derailed (no one was injured), 2) reporters in rural Iowa must be really, really bored, because they tried storming the train as we sat there waiting for a replacement engine car to show up to get eyewitness stories; 3) only having time to go to the gift store at the Chicago Art Institute will eventually lead to a relationship break-up; and 4) we went to the most amazing haunted house experience I’ve ever had in Milwaukee – it was in an old 1900s house with actors and was incredibly scary and good. 

My more recent trip to Chicago was much less eventful.  I was there for work, of course, and stayed in the Palmer Hilton Hotel.  If you are at all into art deco architecture and style, this is place is a must see.  There is a spectacular peacock door at the entrance and murals on the ceiling in the lobby – it’s breathtaking. 

peacock-door

ceiling-detail

The food was really good, too – and not just from room service – the conference food was good (trust me – that’s a rarity). 

pavlova caprese-and-greens salmon-caesar

From left to right: berry pavlova, caprese salad, salmon Caesar salad

I slipped away from the conference for about an hour during a social time and went to the Chicago Art Institute.  This time, I actually saw the exhibits (not just the gift shop).  This was a powerful moment for me, as I was traveling the day of the US election, so was in Chicago both during and after and will confess that the state of the country was weighing heavily on my heart.  I’m not here to get into politics, but will say that wandering the halls at the Art Institute made me feel heartened by the extraordinary beauty and creative power of human beings: from the anonymous sculptures of Buddha to the Hopper painting “Nighthawks”, I just felt at peace.  It was a perfectly timed visit for me.  I also left my phone in my purse and didn’t take photos – art museums to me are nearly holy places and I just wanted to absorb.

But I did get a picture of the lions outside the museum, all decked out in their Cubs caps. 

art-institute-lion

Then it was back to Oregon and one more time to Bend.  It had started to snow over the pass on Highway 26, so I got this beauty of a picture, which made me just the slightest bit nostalgic for Colorado, where I grew up.

snow

We had a little change of pace with dinner, going to a pizza place in Bend that served great beer (and great pizza, too).

pizza-and-beer

On the way home, we had just enough time to stop by this really cool roadside attraction – the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras.  Despite my youthful fear of flying, I’ve always been a little airplane obsessed – I know, weird, right?  I love going to aircraft museums and just taking in the ingenuity and engineering that goes into airplanes.  The Erickson collection is a private collection of mostly World War II era planes.  I particularly loved the pinup girls painted on some of the planes.  There were several more but they were a little too NSFW for this post.

tangerine-tango madras-maiden

So – my short summary to a long post.  If you happen to get to the east side of Oregon, there are some great things to do and places to eat.  I can’t stop raving about Diego’s Spirit Kitchen – it’s rare that we keep going back to one restaurant when traveling, especially when there are lots of options as there are in Bend.  Chicago is such an utterly different kind of place, but as far as I could tell, it had a bit of the PNW vibe, which I really appreciated.  It’s high on my bucket list of towns to back to for pleasure rather than for business, and I will definitely be spending time at the Palmer Hilton again, because, just wow. 

And that should be it for a while for travel.  I’m looking forward to some staycation time in Portland, with maybe a trip or two to the coast.  Until then, feel free to share some of your great travel adventures in the comments below – I’d love to read them!

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