Pumpkin Spice Coffee Syrup

This is not my best photography.  Stating the obvious.  However, this recipe could change your life so if you make it you'll be able to forgive the not so awesome photo!  I found this recipe on Pinterest and I've made it many times...most recently I made a triple batch because we seem to be going through it rather quickly.  It's great in hot or iced coffee (it's still ridiculously warm here) with a splash of cream and almost makes you think you never need to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line again. 

I realize that you can buy a bottle of Torani pumpkin pie syrup at World Market pretty affordably, but this recipe tastes even better than the bottled stuff and ends up being way cheaper than that.  I live an inconvenient drive from World Market and it is very fast to whip up a batch of this so this frugal foodie is sold!

I make this with Splenda, which I realize is probably the equivalent of drinking cancer, but I just can't stop.  And I'm allergic to stevia.  And every other non-calorie sweetener is cancer-causing too so I'll just stick with the Splenda.  (I don't give it to my kids EVER though...if that makes you feel better.)  Anyway, that whole rant to say...the recipe works with sugar substitutes!  The syrup is thick and the pumpkin settles, so always shake well before using. 

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Syrup
recipe adapted from Cook Like a Champion

1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar (or substitute)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tb. pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

Mix water and sugar together in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Cook until the sugar or sweetener is dissolved in the water.  Whisk in the spices and pumpkin puree and cook over medium heat about five minutes.  You don't want this to boil.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Pour the syrup into jars and refrigerate.  To make a coffee, shake the syrup and stir 2-3 tb. of the syrup into strong iced or hot coffee and add desired about of cream (not cream-er).  Enjoy with whipped cream!

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Lentil & Sweet Potato Tacos with Chipotle Cream

In my quest to cook more vegetarian/vegan meals I've become much more creative and open to possibilities further than: pasta, boca burgers, beans & rice and salads.  Thanks to wonderful blogs and Pinterest I've found many recipes and ideas for recipes.  This taco recipe came as a compilation of many things I've seen.  (Taco "meat" inspired by this recipe first!) I kept wanting to try lentil taco "meat" and continued to put it off, but finally gave it a go, and am happy to report we all loved it.  I will put this on our regular rotation. To quote Rob directly, "This is by far the very best vegetarian meal you've ever made!"

The lentils prepared this way remind me of actual meat, and would be great in a burrito with rice, on a taco salad or nachos.  The whole chipotle-sweet potato-combo is one of my new favorite flavors.  One of our favorite restaurants serves a chipotle dipping sauce with their sweet potato fries and we've been in love with it since our first try.  I'd say you could definitely make this vegan without the cream...but it would be missing something awesome!

To prepare the lentils is super easy so I recommend making the entire 1 lb bag of lentils and freezing half for your next taco night. I thought I'd give you an idea of how frugal it is to use lentils in place of grass-fed ground  beef. One pound grass-fed ground beef: $4.99.  One pound dried lentils: $.99 (once cooked a bag of lentils equals 2 lbs ground beef). Holy cow that's a savings of $8.00 not to mention the health benefits of eating less red meat...just sayin'!

Lentil Sweet Potato Tacos with Chipotle Cream

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp smoked paprika
generous sprinkling of sea salt
1-2 tsp granulated garlic

1/2 lb. brown lentils, cooked and drained (equals about 3 c. cooked)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 packet taco seasoning
1/4 c. water

1/2 c. sour cream or greek yogurt
2 Tb. chipotle puree (see directions below)
1/2 tsp granulated garlic

corn tortillas
red leaf lettuce

Heat oven to 400 and spray a cookie sheet with oil.  Layer sweet potatoes on the sheet and sprinkle generously with cumin, smoked paprika, sea salt & garlic.  Bake for 15 minutes, stir with a spatula and bake another 10  minutes.  Remove sweet potatoes from the oven and set aside.  In the meantime, prepare the lentil mixture.

To make the lentils, saute the onion in a frying pan with a little spray of oil until the onion is tender, add in garlic and cook another minute.  Stir in the lentils.  Continue cooking over medium heat, smashing the lentils a little bit with the back of a wooden spoon.  Sprinkle in the taco seasoning and stir in water and continue cooking until thickened and hot. 

While the lentils are heating/cooking, quickly stir together the chipotle cream.  Mix together sour cream or yogurt, chipotle puree and granulated garlic and set aside.  You can easily make this spicier or more mild by adding more or less of the chipotle puree.

To assemble tacos layer lettuce, lentils, sweet potatoes and chipotle cream.  Enjoy with a Corona, if you like.

Chipotle Puree

1 7 oz can chipotle in adobo (Click here to see on Amazon)

Pour the entire can into a blender or food processer.  Pulse until mostly smooth, a few chunks are fine.  Pour the mixture into a ziploc back and roll into a log shape.  Freeze.  Cut off chunks of the mixture as needed for recipes where chipotle or adobo sauce are called for. 

The reason for this recipe is that very few recipes call for an entire can of chipotles, which makes for lots of waste.  This puree will stay good in the freezer for up to a year! Something to keep in  mind with this puree is that it will be much spicier than just plain adobo sauce, so use less.

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Mango & Avocado Salsa

I had some mango avocado salsa at a friends house and I was sort of skeptical about the mango/avocado combo.  But I loved it!  The next week in my produce basket I got some avocado and mangoes so I whipped up a batch.  We love it!  My kids ate it with a fork too so that's always a good sign.  One tip is to toss this together quickly because if you stir too much the avocado will mash up.  I served this on honey-lime grilled chicken (as a marinade I used the dressing from this salad) and it was great.
Mango & Avocado Salsa
2 large mango, diced
2 avocado, diced
1/4 c. red onion, finely chopped
1/4-1/3 c. cilantro, chopped
few dashes of cayenne pepper
salt & pepper to taste
Toss it all together and serve with chips or on top of chicken or fish.  Yum!
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Kale Salad

I have recently come to enjoy kale.  It took a few tries and a little bit of getting used to the strong flavor but I love it now!  Sauteed is one of my favorite ways but after I had it raw in a salad at of my favorite restaurants, Windsor I had to try it.  Because the kale is so hearty it helps to toss the salad with the dressing and let it marinate in the fridge a while to soften up the leaves.  Rob and I loved this, the kids were a little more skeptical, but we will make it over and over again for us and force the kids to take a few bites!  Citrus goes well with kale so I used the dressing from the Quinoa Salad with Shrimp & Lemon Vinaigrette recipe, with plenty leftover to marinate some chicken another time.
Kale Salad
2 bunches kale, rinsed and chopped
2 carrots, grated or shaved
2 roma tomatoes or one large beefsteak tomato, seeded & chopped
handfull of dried cranberries or cherries
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
Toss all veggies together in a large bowl.  Drizzle some dressing (about a cup) over and toss to coat.  Chill for at least an hour before serving.
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Breakfast Tacos

We love breakfast over here.  I usually make pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings for the family and I don't eat them myself because of obvious calories in/calories out purposes.  Sometimes I  make something like this recipe that isn't necessarily low-cal, but seems like a better/healthier option for me than pancakes covered in butter and syrup.  This was a "throw it all together" morning and it worked great.  Everyone liked this.  Rob prefers flour tortillas so he made himself a giant taco in a burrito tortilla...I stuck to the corn and I really liked it! (Note--excuse the weird picture, we had gotten a new camera and had it on the wrong setting.)
Breakfast Tacos
1 tsp. oil
3 Tb. bell pepper, minced (any color would be great)
3 Tb. onion, minced (any color)
1/3 c. cooked potatoes, chopped (leftover oven fries or baked potatoes, or hash browns)
8 eggs, cracked and beaten
1/4 c. milk
salt, pepper and granulated garlic for seasoning
corn or flour tortillas, chopped tomatoes, chopped cilantro, chopped avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, hot sauce or taco sauce
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute peppers and onions for a minute or two, until soft.  Stir in potatoes and mix together.  Add the milk to the beaten eggs and pour egg mixture over the veggies.  Cook on medium-low, seasoning well with salt, pepper and granulated garlic, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.  Serve on warm tortillas and top with cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado and your favorite sauce.  Enjoy!
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Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Bacon

Please don't decide not to make this just because it has pumpkin in it. It kind of weirded me out too, but I had all the ingredients and it's "light" so I gave it a whirl. 

We really liked it and my kids downed this.  I think it would be great vegetarian if that floats your boat, although the bacon is awesome in this.  It's a very fall-ish meal which is super fun for us when it's still over 100 degrees in September!

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Bacon
recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum

13.25 oz box whole grain or wheat shells
3-4 strips bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 tb. brown sugar
1 c. pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
3 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, room temp
5 oz can evaporated milk
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. sea salt
lots of fresh black pepper
minced chives

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan and pour off most of the grease.  Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, sprinkling the brown sugar on after the onions are soft and translucent.  Continue cooking the onions 20-30 minutes over low heat until soft and caramelized. At the very end stir in the garlic and let it cook a minute. In the meantime start a pot of water to boil.  Once the onions are done, boil the pasta.  Drain well and use the same warm pot to heat the pumpkin, cream cheese and evaporated milk over medium-low heat until the cream cheese is melted.  Stir in pasta, bacon, and onion mixture.  Add salt & pepper.  Sprinkle with chives to serve.

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