Tuesday, October 30, 2012


So I just wanted to let you all know that I am getting a puppy!! She comes home tomorrow. She is a maltese yorkie mix. We are not sure what we will name her. Any thoughts?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Quinoa Tabouli

I am often asked about how to use Quinoa. I like to prepare it with dried fruits and nuts, with roasted vegetables and especially in salads like this tabouli. Quinoa is a great source of complete protein and is gluten-free, cholesterol-free and low in fat. It is also a great source of iron, calcium, and magnesium among other things. It is a super food for vegetarians and omnivores! It is a seed, not a grain, and only has about 220 calories per whole cup!

Okay, here is a refreshing and potentially simple salad. I know some want fewer items to add and this salad is great with a lemon and olive oil dressing and just some parsley, tomato, cucumber! Quinoa does not have a lot of flavor on its own but it great when flavorful ingredients like these are added.
I also have a list of optional ingredients you can add. I like to use a few of these optional items but it is your choice! I love adding onion, mint, green onions and garlic. I have tried all of the optional ingredients and I prefer to use at least a few of them!

Here I used Tri colored Quinoa on a lettuce leaf

I hope you will consider trying this simple salad, it is really good!  I did not get any comments on my tabouli salad here but there are rave reviews when I serve it!

Quinoa Tabouli

   Recipe By Denise Birdsall
    Prep time: about an hour

1 cup quinoa ( Use tri colored, white or any kind you prefer)

2 cups water 


¼- 1/3 cup  Fresh Lemon Juice ( About 2 small lemons worth)

 1/3-  1/2  cup  Olive Oil (use quality one with a nice flavor!)

Salt to taste, tiny pinch of sugar if desired


 2/3-3/4   Cup  Chopped Parsley, curly or flat*

2-3 Plum Tomatoes, Chopped

1 -2 Cucumber, Peeled, Seeded And Diced**

 Optional add-ins --  

2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

1/3-½  cup Red Onion, minced

1-2   Cloves  Garlic, pressed  

  1 tsp  Lemon Pepper

½ tsp Garlic powder

½  tsp  Greek seasoning ( Mint etc)

2TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint, -- Or 2 tsp  Dried mint

              1/3-½  cup  Sliced Green Onions

            1/3 cup bell pepper, minced

            ¼ cup cilantro, chopped


Start by rinsing quinoa. I buy pre rinsed but still make sure to rinse well to remove the bitter residue that is a naturally occurring pest and mildew deterrent.
 I use the finest mesh sieve and place it in a bowl to soak and rinse. Some quinoa may fall through, but the bowl will catch it. Rinse several times and then you are ready to cook.
Next it is time to cook the quinoa. Here are three ways you can cook quinoa for any recipe.
Method 1- My favorite is to use a rice cooker and cook as you would rice. The rice cooker works wonderfully with little effort or guessing when it is done, making nice fluffy “grains.”
Method 2-Another way is to cook it according to package instructions in a good sized pot with a tight lid. I bring salted water to a boil, stir in quinoa, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Some varieties may take up to 20 minutes.  This is my second choice for how to cook it.
May I share one more way to cook quinoa? I saw this on a Rachel Ray cooking show years ago but I am not sure which one. It takes a bit more work but comes out as nice as it does in the rice cooker and is my preferred method without rice cooker.
Method 3- Rinse quinoa  in a fine-mesh sieve then pour it into a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook until almost tender, about 12 minutes; drain in the sieve. In the same pot, bring enough water to reach about 2 inch to a simmer over medium heat. Set the sieve with quinoa in the pot. Cover with a kitchen towel, then the lid, and steam until tender, about 10 minutes.

Whatever method you use: DO NOT OVERCOOK Quinoa! Check it just before it is supposed to be done and only use the amount of water specified. If there is any water left after quinoa is cooked, try draining it with a sieve. You want it dry and fluffy for this recipe.
Mix fresh (NOT bottled) lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and add cooked quinoa.  Let it sit for 20 minutes and then fluff and add everything else. Blend well and adjust seasonings as desired. Let stand, covered, for about 15 minutes.
*While I usually prefer flat leaf or Italian parsley, for Quinoa Tabouli,  I like to use the curly variety, because it adds a nice texture with the quinoa. Use fresh, crunchy parsley, as it is a star of this recipe.
** To seed cucumbers, cut into quarters lengthwise and then slice off the seed sections…very easy!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall in the Rockies

Town and Travels
A trip to see Fall Colors and Elk
I know this is a cooking blog but I just wanted to share some photos here. :-) 
Every year, around the end of November, we make a short trek up into the mountains by our house. We live at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and about an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park. I think Fall is my favorite time of year to go visit. The weather is cool but the views are fantastic. The colors, while not as varied and dramatic as some  places, are still pretty. But it is the elk that sets RMNP apart. In the fall, the elk begin to gather. Strong bull elk are able to build large harems but keeping them requires work and at sun down, they can be heard gathering their herd together by bugling- a weird, haunting call that is hard to describe. They sometimes must fight with other males trying to steal their harem, Anyway, here are some photos I took last Sunday afternoon, when we took a quick drive up the hill. Some are in Rocky mountain National park and others are in the town of Estes nearby. Let me know if you have any trouble viewing these. And Happy Fall everyone!

The weather was in the 80's when we started up but at the top, we got snow!

This guy surprised us, we did not know he was around. I was safely hiding behind a tree and used a zoom lens. Elk can be dnagerous this time of year!



All photos property of Denise Birdsall and may not be used without permission. Thank you!
All rights reserved 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pumpkin Gingerbread

 This bread smells like the best of fall- spicy, rich pumpkin with ginger and molasses undertones…yum!

I want to get this recipe up in prime time for pumpkin season. Some lovely ladies asked me in the grocery store the other day  which pumpkin I like to use for pumpkin bread. Honestly, it depends on what I have on hand. Of course, I love to keep winter squash and pumpkins on hand for all kinds of recipes as well as pureed squash in the freezer just waiting to be used. I have also often made this pumpkin bread using canned pumpkin puree, which is works great here for ease and convenience. It is not quite as flavorful but there is a lot of other things here to bring flavor so I think canned is fine if you don't have time, inclination or fresh pumpkins :-).

If you want to use a fresh roasted pumpkin, here are a few words on choosing the right pumpkin or squash to cook. First, use small sugar pumpkins but not the big jack-o- lantern style pumpkins you would buy for carving. Why? Well, they are bred to be great for carving but they are stringy, watery, not as tasty and have less meat than pumpkin varieties intended for cooking. This is true for pies, breads or other dishes. But you can use many things other than traditional little orange sugar pumpkins. Winter squash can be combined with pumpkin or other squash for a wonderful mix for whatever the recipe calls for.  I like to combine the sweet intense flavor of buttercup or butternut squash with the fluffier texture of the kabocha squash. Sugar pumpkins go well with any of those. I don’t use acorn squash or delicata in breads, they are too juicy and have a more delicate flavor. Try to keep some squash puree in your freezer or some canned pumpkin in the pantry so you are ready to make this spicy pumpkin bread.

By the way, you can certainly make this as muffins or even mini-muffins. It is a dense, moist bread with lots of flavor. I like it more as a dessert or in the afternoon with tea. The gingerbread like flavor really makes this one a treat. If you are not a big fan of ginger, leave out the candied ginger. I also add dates to this bread to increase moisture and sweetness, but they are also optional.

This recipe is one I came up with years ago for the county fair. The judges liked it :-)  I hope you do, too!
Pumpkin Gingerbread

3 1/2 Cups  Flour *
1/2 - ¾ cup White Sugar
 1 ½ cups Brown Sugar
2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ginger
1 -2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (blend of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, etc.)
 1 ½   tsp.  Salt

4 eggs -- Beaten
2/3 Cup Oil
2/3 Cup Molasses ( if you prefer ,skip molasses- increase sugar by ½ cup)
1/2 Cup Applesauce
1/3  Cup  Water
2-2 ½ Cups Pumpkin, Canned or  fresh, roasted, peeled and pureed**

1/3-1/2 cup dates, chopped, optional

¼ -1/3 Cup Crystallized Ginger – minced very Fine, Opt.

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
*If preferred, substitute 2 ½ c.white flour + 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, soda, salt and spices. Mix in sugars.

In medium bowl, mix wet ingredients- eggs, oil, molasses, applesauce, water and pumpkin.
Stir into dry ingredients.  Add chopped dates and crystallized ginger, if desired. Spoon batter into 3 greased  8x4 loaf pans ( or 2 larger pans and 1 mini-loaf if needed). Bake 1 hour ( check at 50 minutes)  or until toothpick comes out clean.
 You may also make pumpkin muffins and bake them for about 18-20 minutes.
 Serve warm or room temperature. For a sweet treat, add a dollop of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon sugar.  Wrap left overs in air tight container, but only once they are completely cool.  May be frozen.

Makes 3 Loaves.

 *You may make fresh pumpkin or squash puree by cutting the pumpkin in half and scooping out seeds. Place, cut side down in large baking dish with ½ cup or so of water. Bake for about 45-60 minutes ( check after 40m) until very soft. Let it cool and scoop out meat and place about half, in food processor, puree until smooth. You may use sugar pumpkins, buttercup, butternut, kabocha squash or a combination of a couple such as I used here- sugar pumpkin and kabocha.




Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apple Butter in a Crockpot

I have two apple trees in my back yard. The apples did not ripen well in years past and so they were left for the deer, squirrels and various animals and insects. But this year, I finally noticed they were ripening and could be harvested. By the time I got to them, there was only about one giant bag of good apples but I brought them in and decided I should make apple butter.
Apple butter is a delicious kind of apple jam, which is made  basically by making chunky apple sauce then adding a bit of sugar and spice  and cooking it a good long time over low heat until it caramelizes. When it is done, it looks a lot like caramel sauce- a nice golden, glossy concoction that is just heavenly.

I have made it before, in a crockpot. Since I could throw everything in and let it cook for hours, this seemed a good choice for my apple butter endeavor.I did not weigh or actually measure out the apples. It is kind of a guess so use your own judgment in adding sugar and spice, but do add some. I also recommend adding the vinegar or lemon.

 I am so glad I rescued that bag of apples. The apple butter was a tremendous success! I let my mom taste it by giving her a spoon to scoop the remnant out of the crockpot. She loves sweets, especially things that have little nutritious value like donuts. But as she scraped out every last bit of the apple butter, exclaiming how good it was, I said, “Well, I think you like apple butter even better than donuts!” She replied, “Donuts? What’s a donut?” I will be making another batch of apple butter soon.

Apple Butter in a Crockpot

About 8 cups of apples, cored and mostly peeled*
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1 cup apple juice or cider (or water or skip this, not everyone adds liquid)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (May substitute 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice)

1 ½ cups brown sugar, more or less if desired
1 tsp. cinnamon
½- 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, optional (may substitute other spice)
¼ tsp. nutmeg, optional

Put apples in the crockpot along with cinnamon stick, cloves, juice or water and cider vinegar. Cook on high for about 2 hours then turn to low and cook for 8 hours or so until apples are very soft. Mash apples up a bit with spoon or masher.

Add 1 to 1 ½ cup sugar and other spice and taste a bit to see if you need more sugar or spice. Leave the crockpot on low for another 5-8 hours until apples are completely softened, and a nice caramel color is achieved. If the apple butter is very liquidy, leave the lid off and the crockpot on high for an hour or so. Or you could simmer on stove in another pan. Basically, the apple butter is done cooking when a ribbon drizzled over the surface keeps it shape.

Once it is all consistently thickened, you may let it cool a bit then blend with a hand-held Immersion blender or puree in batches in a regular blender. Or you could mash it with a masher or spoon. I like to pour the cooled apple butter into clean mason jars or plastic containers. If you are not going to consume it within a week, it may be frozen or you can give some away :-)
Serve on biscuits, rolls, baguettes, or other bread or cakes. Stir into cake batter, ice cream or  pumpkin pie filling.  Add it to oatmeal or plain yogurt. Use it as a glaze for meats. Spread it on a ham, turkey, cream cheese or peanut butter sandwich. Or just eat it with a spoon J

*You can leave the peel and core and remove later after first cooking. If you have a food mill, you could grind everything up later, too. I like the ease of peeling first but I know the flavor may be more intense with the peel intact.


I love fall but I know it means I am soon going to be missing fresh garden produce and farmer's market veggies. Still, it is part of living seasonally.  A good way to bid farewell for now to vine ripened tomatoes and cucumbers and abundant fresh herbs is to make one of my favorite salads—Tabouli, or perhaps you spell it Tabouleh.  However it is spelled, it is a celebration of good things like parsley, tomato, cucumber, onion, with the accompaniment satisfying, chewy bulgur.  Bulgur is whole wheat that is cracked and parboiled to make it more tender and easy to cook.  I know many of you are gluten sensitive so you would not want the cracked wheat but quinoa makes an excellent substitute.
 I am not claiming this recipe to be authentic. I am not as concerned with authenticity as I am with flavor.  But this recipe is very versatile- feel free change it up to suit your taste!

I used yellow tomatoes so the color here is muted.
Tabouli (Tabouleh)

 1  heaping cup  Bulgur, cracked wheat*
  1   cup very warm water
   2-3 TBSP     Fresh Lemon Juice
  1  Tbsp  Balsamic Vinegar
     1/3   cup Olive Oil
1     tsp. Lemon Pepper, Optional
Sprinkle of salt to taste
½ tsp  Greek seasoning (optional)


    2/3 -3/4    cup  Chopped Parsley. Flat leaf, Italian is really best
     1/4 cup Chopped Fresh Mint, -- Or 1  Tbsp  Dried, optional
     1/4  cup Chopped Cilantro, Optiona
     1/3  cup  Sliced Green Onions

  2-3   Plum Tomatoes, Chopped
1-2     Cloves  Garlic, pressed, optional
1 large Cucumber, Peeled, Seeded and Diced( use more if you like)
1/2 cup Red Onion, minced

Rinse and drain bulgur and soak in a bowl of very warm water for 20-40 minutes, until it is tender enough while still chewy. Drain well, using a sieve if necessary.
Mix lemon, vinegar, olive oil and seasonings together in a large bowl and add bulgur. Let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Fluff and add herbs. Mix well then add vegetables. Blend well and adjust seasonings as desired. Let stand covered for about 20 minutes.
Refrigerate any left overs.
Note:  If fresh mint is not available, I have substituted 1 cup of very strong mint tea for the water used to soak bulgar. It adds a nice minty undertone.
Serving Size  6-8     Preparation Time About   1  1/2 hours
*Need a gluten free Tabouli? No problem,  just substitute quinoa. Rinse quinoa well and cook according to package instructions. I have cooked it in a rice cooker on white rice setting with great results.