Chocolate Strawberry Yogurt Muffins

This whole giving-up-sweets-for-lent thing is not working so well for me this year.

Complications arose when Valentine’s Day decided to occur immediately after Ash Wednesday.  My sacrificial hopes were thrown to the wind when I came home from mass to find my sweet husband bent over a pot of melted chocolate making me chocolate covered strawberries.   I couldn’t let him down, and I had to eat the leftovers the next 3 days because he made them “just for me”

This weekend, I’m in Florida with my mom to celebrate my grandmother’s 83rd birthday.   About a minute into our car ride from the airport, my mom asked me to make a chocolate birthday cake.  I mean, I can’t make my grandma a birthday cake and then not eat any of it with her, right?

It’s a hard life I live.

In between the chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate birthday cake, I made these muffins.  

Muffins would normally go in the breakfast category, as opposed to the dessert category, wouldn’t you say? 

You could argue that these muffins have chocolate in the mix, which classifies them as dessert.  I would counter that they are relatively low in sugar and have very little fat.  And they have strawberries. Totally breakfast. 

(By the way, if you’re bypassing the whole breakfast/dessert debate and just want some chocolate in your muffin, add ¼ cup of chocolate chips. You won’t regret it.)

Chocolate Strawberry Yogurt Muffins

1 cup flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup plain, vanilla or strawberry greek yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons applesauce
½ cup diced strawberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray muffin pan with non-stick spray or put in muffin liners. (makes 14-16 muffins)

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Then whisk in sugar.

In a separate small bowl, mix eggs, yogurt, vanilla, oil and applesauce. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in strawberries.

Pour batter into muffin pan and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

As I said, these muffins are not overly sweet. If you’d like yours sweeter, increase the sugar to 1 cup.  Or, do as Adam and I did--zap them in the microwave for 20 seconds and eat them with a slather of brummel & brown and a drizzle of honey. So dang good.

 Also, if you use muffin liners, and, like me, have little self-control around baked goods, be warned that the muffins stick to the liners when they’re hot out of the oven. Wait about an hour and they should come out just fine.
Muffins were adapted from this recipe.


Moroccan Chickpea Stew

Since the title of this blog is “Stew or a Story,” I knew I eventually needed to whip up a stew recipe, and seeing as stew-eating weather may be on its way out soon, now seems to be the ideal time.

I’m also obsessed with butternut squash and am intent on cooking and eating it as much as possible before it goes out of season.

Enter this stew: Moroccan chickpea.

I usually decide to make a certain recipe after a moment of inspiration. I read a recipe in a magazine or on a food blog. I browse through a cookbook or a co-worker mentions something she cooked last week.

This past week I had the idea of making a stew, but I hadn’t started looking for recipes.

Then, Thursday morning, totally out of the blue, an idea popped into my head: Moroccan Chickpea Stew. I hadn’t seen the recipe anywhere. I’d never eaten anything like it before.  I wasn’t even sure it was a real dish. 

A quick google search confirmed that it was, in fact, a thing. I found a couple different promising recipes here, here, and here, and took bits and pieces from each one to meet my vision: flavorful, veggie-loaded, and crock-pot accessible.

Though I’ve never cooked Moroccan food before, I have eaten it a couple times. It’s usually made in a tagine, a dome shaped ceramic dish that bakes for hours and allows all the steam and liquids released during cooking to drip back down into the food.  When I think of Moroccan food, I think of a big pot of flavorful hearty stew, served family style, with people reaching across the table to grab a spoonful or swipe a piece of bread through the mixture. This is my kind of thing.

Unfortunately, I do not own a tagine, but I do own the next best thing. A crock-pot.

I love my crock-pot. I feel a little embarrassed admitting that, because I know they are not exactly bastions of gourmet cooking.  However, they make food that is delicious and easy, and sometimes on a busy week night, they make a homemade dinner possible.

My crock-pot did not fail me with this stew. Long and slow cooking is the key to this recipe. The medley of spices and flavors is unique but not overpowering, and eating a bowl of it fills you with comfort and warmth. 

Adam is away for the weekend, so I've been home alone. Yesterday it was snowing/hailing/raining on and off all day, so this stew was the perfect thing to cuddle up with on the couch.

Today I went to a yoga class, and half-way through the instructor played the audio for this story about the love of an older couple. I bawled my eyes out. Luckily, it was a hot yoga class, so I was already drenched in sweat and I don't think anyone noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks.

When looking for the link to share with you guys, I heard the video again, and again, I cried.  I'm crying a little bit thinking about it right now. Friends, watch the video, maybe make this stew, and tell someone you love what they mean to you.

Moroccan Chickpea Stew (In the Crock-Pot)

2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup diced carrots
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
½  tsp ground cinnamon
¼  tsp crushed red pepper (use more here if you like things spicy, or even substitute with cayenne)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
¼  tsp tumeric
½  tsp coriander
½ tsp curry powder
1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes
3 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper

Optional--Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until the onions begin to turn translucent and carrots are slightly softened and browning. Add in garlic cook 1 minute more. If you want to skip this step, just throw everything in the crockpot. Precooking the onions will just draw out a little more of their flavor!

Add vegetable mixture into the crock-pot, along with the butternut squash, spices, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetable broth, sugar, salt and pepper.

Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-7 hours.

Before serving, remove 2 cups of chickpea mixture and mash with fork or potato masher. Return to pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This would be delicious served over rice or couscous, or, as I ate it, with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.  Also, this recipe makes a LOT. (for not a lot of money!) I will probably end up freezing some of it to enjoy later.

*On a side note, I know this is a long list of spices. If you don’t have them all and don’t want to buy them, I would say the essential ones are the cinnamon, cumin, and curry.

Black Rice with Butternut Squash, Kale & Bacon

I need to learn to let go.

Sunday afternoons can be a bit of drain around here.  I’m usually anxious about a busy week ahead at school and all the grading and planning I’ve procrastinated on all weekend.   Of course there’s also the piles of clothes that need to be washed/dried/folded/ironed, a sink full of dishes that need to be washed, a dishwasher full of clean dishes that need to be unloaded, and any other assortment of personal items (bills, emails, doctor’s appointments, etc) that need to be attended to.

I normally alternate between two courses of action here:

1.)  Go into super-productive mode and work through everything on my list.
2.)  Go into paralyzed mode and sit stressing over everything I have to do.

Today I did neither.  I was on the verge of #2 when Adam asked me if I wanted to go for a drive.  I said yes.

Thinking that we would never get out of the car, I wore my red Toms with a big hole in the toe, black stretchy pants, an old fleece that doesn’t zip up, and zero make-up.

We drove to the airport overlook and watched planes take off and land. Well, Adam did. I watched the 85-year old man in the pick up truck who listened to his CV radio while looking through his binoculars at each plane.  And the 8 year-old boy who put his arm around his 2 year-old sister. And the balding 40-year old man who took photos of each plane while sitting on a bench next to his wife.  

No agendas, no plan, just plane watching and people watching.

Then we drove to a big park neither of us had ever been to before.  We walked through some trees and around a lake and over a bridge. I tried to take a picture of Adam by the lake under the big bright sun, but he was squinting. And frowning. And instead of stressing about all the things to do today and tomorrow and next week, and the uncertainty that is ahead, I just let go.  I said a prayer of thanks for this beautiful life I have been given and the person I get to spend it with.

This was just a moment of course.  We disagreed about whether to keep walking or go back.  On the drive home he was stressed about the thought of moving, and I had a headache from looking at my phone in the car.  Life is not perfect.  That laundry will not get done in time for tomorrow, and the dishes will sit there another day or two, but I don’t care.   It was the best afternoon I’ve had in a long time.

Now I have to tell you about this rice, because it is amazing.  It’s choc full of nutrients from the kale and butternut squash, as well as the black rice, which is rich in antioxidants.  The inspiration for the butternut squash/kale/bacon/Gruyere combination came from a pasta recipe on the wonderful Eats Well With Others blog.  I have since found proof that others are convinced of the power duo between this sweet winter squash and hearty dark green, with recipes such as butternut squash and kale quesadillasbutternut squash and kale quinoa, or even simple butternut squash and kale salad.

Anyway, I loved the original recipe when I made it, but I was curious about what the other possibilities with the power duo might be. Joanne, who is a healthy vegetarian, made her sauce with greek yogurt and vegetable broth and used tempeh bacon.  I used real bacon and doubled the amount in the original recipe because, well, if Adam had one refrain in his experience with eating my meals it would be, "More bacon!"

In place of her sauce, I made I made a Gruyere béchamel sauce. If you have never made béchamel sauce, you are missing out.   It’s a creamy sauce without cream.  The essential proportion is 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 cup liquid. (I use broth or milk, depending on the recipe)  You melt the butter and then add the flour, stirring until a yellow bubbling paste forms. Then, stirring constantly, you add the milk in small batches.  Then you add the cheese and things get really serious.

My last change was to use black rice instead of pasta.  This was my first time eating black rice, and I was delightfully surprised with the results. It’s a little softer and chewier than regular brown rice, almost more like a risotto in texture. The extra nutrients are an added bonus. Oh, and it turns purple when it cooks. How many purple foods have you eaten recently?

The final result is one of my favorite dishes to date.  The rice is rich and creamy, punctuated by sweet bites of butternut squash, savory bacon, and, just to make things interesting, the crinkled texture of the kale.

It’s filling and comforting and definitely still good for you. My best friend Steph was here to visit this weekend, and she ate some as a snack yesterday afternoon and then again this morning for breakfast. I can’t stop eating it, as evidenced by the fact that I keep snagging spoonfuls from the fridge when Adam’s not looking.

My lackluster photography skills and the un-photogenic nature of this dish do not a great combination make, but I PROMISE you will not regret making this recipe.

Black Rice With Butternut Squash, Kale & Bacon

1 cup black rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
salt & pepper
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 ¾ cup skim milk
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
4 pieces cooked, crumbled bacon

Preheat oven to 425.

 Bring 2 cups chicken broth and black rice to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 35 minutes.

 Toss butternut squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to toss pieces over. Roast for an additional 10 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan on medium high heat. Add onion and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently until onion is golden.

Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir until yellow bubbling paste forms.

6Add about a fourth of the milk, stirring continually until the sauce thickens.  Continue adding small amounts of milk and stirring until you have a creamy sauce. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Add cheese, stirring until melted, then add kale and cook for 2 minutes until kale has slightly reduced in size. 

Add crumbled bacon, rice, and squash. Stir until all ingredients are heated through.

      Although I am in love with this dish, I will admit it is pretty time consuming, mostly because of all the prep work for the vegetables. To make this an easy week night dinner, roast the squash and chop the onion and kale the day before.


Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms & Onions

So I stumbled across this essay via this blog earlier in the week, and I've been thinking about it ever since.  Joy and pleasure have always seemed to me distinct yet interrelated, though I find myself drawn to Smith’s description of joy as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.”  Unbridled joy is a vulnerable experience.  It is free from structure or expectation or pretense, and I think in that lies the terror.  

My most recent experience with joy was the night before my wedding. I had spent an entire day with my closest friends, had dinner with all of my family, and said goodnight to the man I was going to commit my life to the next day.  As I sat in the car on the drive back to the hotel, I could not stop the tears from streaming down my face. “It’s just too much,” I kept saying, “Everything is wonderful, but it’s just too much.”

Pleasure, on the other hand, is comparatively simple.  One of the most accessible pleasures for most of us I think, is preparing and eating a meal. I’ve heard friends of mine say things like “I’d cook more if I had someone to cook for,” but I must disagree. While I always enjoy preparing a meal for friends or family, I find exquisite pleasure in the act of cooking for myself. I can make exactly what I desire at the moment, and eat it whenever and wherever I like.  I guess it’s a small way of telling myself that I’m worth it. I’m worth a homemade meal, and friends, you are too.

Most often for me, this meal is some kind of pasta with vegetables sprinkled with lots of cheese, which is essentially what this dish is.  It’s the kind of thing I’ve been assembling for years without a recipe, and I never wrote the ingredients down until asked to by a friend.

There’s no butter or cream in this pasta, but the sauce is lovingly thickened by the additions of wine and starchy pasta water.  Fresh cherry tomatoes would be wonderful here if they were in season, but I find that the can of diced tomatoes works fine too.  The key for my personal preference is to cook the onions until they are caramelized and sweet and the mushrooms until they are small and browned and have lost all semblance of their former rubbery mushroomness, but the choice (and pleasure) is all yours.

On a side note, last week I mentioned the word pleasure to my students, (as in the word amateur means a person who plays a sport for pleasure, not for money) and afterwards I was the brunt of many snickers and inappropriate comments.

Someone please save me from all the thirteen year old boys in my life.

Yes, that's me in the spoon with the camera, looking rough in my t-shirt.  Still working on this photography thing, obviously. I'm still an amateur. :)

Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms & Onions


½ cup white wine (you could also substitute with an additional ½ cup reserved pasta water)
1 can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic
1 package button mushrooms, finely sliced
5 ounces (or a little over ½ bag) fresh spinach
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup grated parmesean cheese plus ¼ cup shredded
2 cups pasta of choice, (I used whole wheat rotini) with 1/4 cup reserved pasta water


1.) Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta and heat olive oil in a large skillet

2.) Add diced onions to skillet and cook for 5-7 minutes or until onion is starting to become translucent. Add in the sliced mushrooms and minced garlic and cook another 5-7 minutes until mushrooms are soft and onions are fully translucent.

3.) While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and set the timer for 7-9 minutes. Drain pasta when it is al dente, reserving ¼ cup liquid. Al dente pasta is a key for this recipe, as the pasta absorbs more flavor from the sauce if it finishes its cooking with the other ingredients.  (See advice here)

4.) When the mushrooms and onions have reached your desired texture, turn the heat to medium high and add the wine.  In cooking terms, you are deglazing the pan, which means that the wine picks up any delicious bits of olive oil or onion that have stuck to the pan.

5.) Cook for 2 minutes, or until half the wine has evaporated, then add the can of tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes. 

6.) Add in the  ¼  cup reserved pasta liquid and ¼ cup grated parmesean cheese and cook until slightly reduced.

7.) Add pasta and cook 1-2 minutes. Toss in spinach and sprinkle everything generously with shredded parmesean cheese. Serve yourself a generous portion in a large bowl with a large spoon.  Enjoy.

“[Joy] doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?”--Zadie Smith