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Seven-Layer Strawberry Salad with Homemade Poppy Seed Dressing ♥

Today's party salad: A spring riff on the traditional Seven-Layer Salad, layers of strawberries, mangoes, kiwi and avocado plus the traditional romaine and red onion. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real".
Everybody loves the Classic Seven Layer Salad, you know, that messy concoction of lettuce, bacon, cheese, bacon, tomato and hard-cooked egg. Wait, is that seven layers? Ooops, add green peas, too.

This is a summer and fruity version of that salad, substituting colorful layers of fresh fruit: strawberries, kiwis and mango plus avocado and toasted walnuts. Seven-Layer Strawberry Salad: the name alone makes me want to mix up another beautiful bowlful!

It was the crowd favorite at a party last week and would make a great contribution to the next potluck or dinner gathering.

Savory Muffins with Sweet Potato & Feta ♥

Today's "baking with vegetables" inspiration: A muffin, a real muffin, and decidedly savory, there's not a speck of sugar, even the spices are just salt and pepper, you know, savory. The best? The muffins are studded with tiny cubes of roasted sweet potato and creamy feta. For Weight Watchers, just 3 points (Old Points) or 4 points (PointsPlus)!
What in the world has happened to muffins? Is it just me or have they taken a turn to the too-too sweet and the too-too cake-like?

And okay, so cupcakes are supposed to be airy and cakey and sweet. But there are two-million-bazillion cupcake recipes, each one competing on the Cute Quotient. (I kid you not. Have you seen the baking blogs lately? Talk about CuteCupcakeOverload.) Cupcakes have their place.

But on the other end, the muffin end, how many muffin recipes are of the savory sort? Once upon a time, I did one of those get-to-know-you corporate team-building exercises. One query after another, virtually all the parti…

Thai-Style Celery & Peanut Butter ♥
(Celery with Peanut Butter for Grown-ups)

Today's quick vegetable snack idea: Celery stuffed with peanut butter with an Asian spin reminiscent of satay. Low carb. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real".
During my kid years, "fancy" food caught my attention. Think oddball stuff like half a banana upright inside a ring of pineapple (was a maraschino cherry on top? probably) and something called "ants on a log" – celery filled with peanut butter, raisins lined up all in a row on top. Fancy, eh? Let's bet: a "creative cooking for kids" book was involved.

Stirring together this kicky Thai-Style Peanut Butter, I couldn't get those "ants on a log" off the picnic tablecloth in my mind. It's still peanut butter, just amped up with the heat of chile and the brightness of lively citrus, but a step or two or a mile beyond the familiar favorite.

Could it win over people who are only so-so about peanut butter? (Who are there people and how can we be related or even friends?) Ne…

Pioneer Woman's Green Bean Casserole ♥

Today's new holiday recipe, another green bean casserole, this one from Pioneer Woman. It's made without mushrooms but almost makes up for that with crispy bacon (or ham) and a cheesy sauce.
Who knew?! Green bean casserole is holiday food. In fact, green bean casserole is favorite holiday food. Thanksgiving is the obvious occasion. But Christmas? Easter? 4th of July? and even Labor Day? Yes those too.

This is Pioneer Woman's holiday-worthy homemade green bean casserole recipe. It's made from scratch without canned mushroom soup, in fact, it's made without mushrooms. So if someone in the family hates mushrooms, this is your recipe.

Oh yeah and did I mention her casserole calls for bacon? Yeah, bacon. (Note to Vegetarians.) And cheese too. The sauce is cheesy, PW's recipe has a "mac 'n' cheese meets the green bean casserole" vibe happening. In fact, I kept wondering how this would taste with broccoli. Yeah. Broccoli. Wouldn't that be grea…

Seductive Kale Salad ♥

Today's healthy vegetable recipe: I've fallen for the slow seduction of quick-cooked kale. Low carb. Weight Watchers zero points. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real".
Is kale the boy-next-door who just might become the love of your life, if you only paid attention? Like that boy, kale is always there, steady and patient. Like most greens, it's especially obvious during the late months of winter, during the weeks and even months when we so long for fresh foods, straight from the earth. But thanks to the miracle of global food distribution, kale is available and inexpensive year-round. (Miracle? Yes, really. Just think what we'd be eating, week in, week out, without it.)

But kale is also the one who gets invited to the party at the very last minute. It's often an after-thought, just something to throw into a soup or a stew at the end of cooking for texture and color contrast, rarely raised onto a deserved pedestal of adoration.

Well, lemme tell you. Kale ha…

Crustless Quiche with Roasted Peppers ♥

Today's vegetarian quiche recipe: A crustless quiche, makes up in minutes. It has a "secret" ingredient, whipped cottage cheese which adds body and protein. Low carb. Moist and cheesy but Weight Watchers? Just 3 points!
My best Christmas present to myself? Food magazine subscriptions, three to be exact, re-subscriptions in fact. Bon Appetit. Cook's Illustrated. But the surprise favorite is Vegetarian Times, which I subscribed to many years ago when I wasn't eating meat (Note to Vegetarians).

But back then, Vegetarian Times was a little dusty and hippy-dippy for my taste. My memory is that the recipes required too-regular trips to a low-turnover natural food store; were too laden with fat and especially cheese; and just didn't appeal to my just-emerging affinity to fresh, seasonal food.

In 2012? Without question, I love Vegetarian Times. Love it. Real food. Easy ingredients. Nutrition info, people! Mostly main dishes, just a few sweets. Lots of vegetables. L…

Beer-Soaked Crispy Baked Fries ♥

For crispy baked French 'fries', here's a quick trick, soak the fries in beer first!
Crispy fries are the holy grail of potatoes – steamy hot and golden brown, crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. Starting on Day 325 in 2006 (don't bother, but there you go), I've tried a half dozen recipes, all disappointing. And when you limit your carbs, on those rare occasions when you choose to eat potatoes, they'd darn-better be worth eating!

The recipe was inspired by St. Louis' "Beer Guy" aka Evan Benn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The headline read, "Beer-soaked 'fries' are baked to crispy perfection". This sounded ever-so-promising!