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Banana Cream Coconut Almond Tart


Author: Cassie Stevens

Pastry cream

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large egg, lightly beaten

1 1/3 cup milk

2 TBSP Cornstarch

2 tsp Vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk with half of the sugar. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring. Remove from the heat. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs with the cornstarch and the remaining sugar and vanilla until smooth. Gradually whisk in half of the hot milk. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream is thickened, 3 minutes; scrape into a stainless steel bowl. Cover with cling wrap. Set the bowl in the refrigerator until the pastry cream has cooled completely.


Tart Shell

2 cups flour

1 stick butter COLD and cut into cubes

pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 TBSP white vinegar

Enough Ice cold water to bring to a crumbly texture

Mix all but water in food processor, and slowly add water until it reaches the right crumbly texture. Wrap in cling wrap and place in the refrigerator for up to and hour to firm up. Take out flour the surface of your counter and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Line tart pan or pie pan if you have no tart pan. Freeze for about 15 minutes then line with foil and put in pie weights or dried beans inside the pan then place in a preheated oven at 350 F until slightly browned (approx. 30 minutes). Your oven my vary in cook times and temperatures. let cool


Spread the pastry cream in the shell in an even layer. Arrange the Banana slices in circles, top with sweetened flaked coconut and sliced almonds. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, until coconut and almonds and browned. Let cool slightly. Unmold the tart, cut into wedges and serve warm  with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream or serve at room temperature 


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Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas

My four year old started preschool last year and we all loved it so much we decided she’d go again this year. They go twice a week for a few hours. She’s thriving there. She loves her teachers and her friends. The best part, according to her, is when she gets to be in charge of bringing the snacks. They rotate through all the kids so that everyone gets a chance. My little monkey’s day falls on the Wednesday before Halloween. This month they are also doing colors, one for each day of the week, and of course, this week was orange! In my effort to provide healthy snacks whenever possible, I decided we’d make quesadilla jack-o-lanterns! Orange cheese, carrot sticks, and orange juice should give the kids plenty of orange to think about as they nourish their little bodies. Lemme walk you through how to make these cuties.

Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas
~Cut pumpkin shapes out of flour tortillas.~

Hang on to the scrap pieces. You can lightly spray them with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake at 400 degrees F for 5-7 minutes, watching closely. Remove them if they start to burn. Then you have another snack for the next day! Dip them in this yummy hummus for a nutritious treat.

Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas
~Cut out pumpkin faces. Monkey helped me by telling me what to carve.~
Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas
~Add cheese and microwave for 30 seconds or…~
Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas
~Toast until the cheese is melted. Let them sit until cooled.~
Snacktime! Halloween Quesadillas
~We added crunchy carrots to each bag. Orange you glad?~

Happy Halloween everyone! And happy snacking!


Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower

Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Dill… you either love it or you hate it. I used to hate it. So I resolved to try some new dishes and use this interesting little herb. After all, I did plant some in my garden this year.  When the delicate little sprouts started popping through the ground, I wondered what I would do with them. Here’s my first recipe using my fresh dill. Now that I’ve made this, I know it will feature a lot in my dishes. Dill is yummy!

Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

I sprayed heavy duty tin foil with olive oil in my Misto, laid down some beautiful Mahi Mahi – any fish would do – that I bought at Sam’s Club (I so wish we had a Costco!), and then brainstormed.

Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Here’s what I added to the fish:

  • Lemon juice and soy sauce (around the bottom and sides – this takes away a bit of the fishy taste in frozen fish.)
  • Mayonnaise (spread on top of the fish)
  • Dill – one good handful (sprinkled on top)
  • 2 medium zucchini

Then, I pulled the sides up and folded it into a packet, sealing everything inside. Make sure you seal it well so that the steam can’t escape. If not, you will be just baking, not steaming. This keeps in a lot of the moisture. Pop it in the oven on 400 degrees F. I did mine along with this delicious roasted  balsamic cauliflower. But put it in at the end; the fish only takes 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness. Mine was a pretty thick piece, and took about 20 minutes.

Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Here’s how I made the cauliflower:

  • Cut/tear cauliflower into bite-size pieces.
  • Toss in a little EVOO.
  • Lay out on a cookie sheet, lined with parchment. (Easy clean up!)
  • Sprinkle with herbs of choice (I use rosemary) and very lightly salt. I use Celtic Sea Salt for flavoring, and table salt for baking – don’t forget, we still need some iodine in our diets; sea salts are iodine-free.
  • Sprinkle with a little balsamic vinegar.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes, turning once or twice.

Dilly Mahi Mahi, Zucchini, and Roasted Balsamic Cauliflower :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

TaDaaa! You have a heart-healthy, deliciously moist, and flaky fish dish that your whole family will love. My 4- and 1-year-old loved it and chowed down.



Oatmeal Cranberry Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

cookies2Author: Cassie Stevens

Oh wow! What a mouthful! I know it’s a lot for one cookie, but these power packed energy boosting cookies will win you over when you hear what goes into them and just how good they are for you!  These little cookies go great with coffee in the morning for a quick breakfast, or just an anytime snack with milk.

cookiesCranberries, Coconut, Honey, Oatmeal, and Chocolate chips.  All super foods for energy and health (in a cookie), with no added sugars. My one year old loves them. I think she really likes the chocolate chunks in them more than anything, but they are a big hit with my family. So, lets take a minute to review how healthy these great ingredients can be for you health and happiness.

Oatmeal can lower blood cholesterol, because of its soluble fiber content.  An oatmeal bath, made by adding a cup of finely ground oatmeal to one’s bathwater, is also commonly used to ease the discomfort associated with such things as chickenpox, poison ivy, eczema, sunburn and dry skin.

Cranberries are a source of polyphenol antioxidants, phytochemicals that are for benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system, and as anti-cancer agents.  There are benefits from cranberry consumption against bacterial infections in the urinary system.


Coconut peel may contain novel anticancer compounds.  Inside a coconut is a cavity filled with coconut water, which is sterile until opened. It mixes easily with blood, and was used during World War II in emergency transfusions.  Also, young coconut juice has estrogen-like characteristics. There are countless other healing properties and wonderful uses from coconuts.

Honey has been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application.  Honey has also been used for centuries as a treatment for sore throats and coughs.

cookies4Chocolate can help reduce the risk of certain cardiovascular problems and also reduce blood pressure in adults.  Chocolate boosts cognitive abilities.  Cocoa or dark chocolate positively affects the circulatory system.

Now, with all that said here is the recipe.

4 cups Oats

1 1/2 cups flour

3 eggs

1/4 cup cream or whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chunks

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 tsp salt

1/2  cup butter

1/2 cup honey

First mix all your dry ingredients then in a separate bowl mix all your wet ingredients then mix the two together. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Drop cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet pan 1 tablespoon at a time. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Sort of Authentic Mont-Asian Ramen Bowl

Sort of Authentic Mont-Asian Ramen Bowl :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

In another post I told ya’ll about our ties and love for the Japanese culture and the awesome Japanese flavors that we’ve come to crave. Every time I make a dish like this, I am transported back to the little ramen shops in the alleys of Hokkaido.  I can close my eyes and see the windows of plastic food that they use as a menu. I can almost feel the brush of the noren, the decorative curtains, that hang atop every entry to a ramen shop. Japan smells like this dinner. 

The noodles are not authentic, obviously. The ramen in Japanese restaurants is WAY superior to the disks of processed ramen noodles we have here. My term for this type of fusion food is Mont-Asian, because I am in Montana. But it works.

This recipe was thrown together on the fly, as I went.  When I started cooking the napa cabbage I didn’t know it would take an Asian turn. I like cooking like that. It’s like painting. Sometimes you start a painting not knowing how it’s going to look when it’s done. These are often the most rewarding experiences for me because I think the process is more enjoyable, sometimes, than the final product.

That’s not true for this umami-infused, slurp-worthy bowl of memories. The result is even better than I’d hoped. This could easily be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the beef broth and not using the ramen flavor packs at all.

Be aware that I use low-sodium ingredients whenever I can. This dish would be incredibly high in sodium if I didn’t. I only used one ramen flavor pack, and tried to cut the sodium in my other ingredients, but it is still very high. We should always do everything we can to decrease our sodium intake. High sodium diets are strongly associated with  cardiovascular (heart) disease. So make this a sometimes meal and always watch your sodium intake. If you are already eating a low-sodium diet, just don’t use the ramen flavor pack and the sodium is cut to 514mg per serving.

Sort of Authentic Mont-Asian Ramen Bowl :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals
Mont-Asian Ramen Bowl


Ramen noodles (Beef flavor) 2Pks (1 Pk flavor)
Napa cabbage 1 Head
Oil (coconut) 1 Tblsp
Beef broth 1 Cup
Soy sauce (Shoyu, low-sodium) 2 Tblsp
Ginger (fresh) 1 Tblsp
Broccoli, or cauliflower, steamed 1 Head
Nori sheets 2 Sheets
Avocado 1
Lemon juice Splash
Sesame oil Few drops


Begin to cook the cabbage first because it will take the longest. Wash, then cut the cabbage into bite-sized pieces. Melt oil in a large pan. Add soy sauce, beef broth, ginger, and the cabbage and cook on medium/low heat, covered, until the cabbage has cooked down by about half and tastes “done”. Steam the broccoli or cauliflower until it is the desired softness. Cook the ramen noodles according to the package directions, but only use one flavor pack (or none). Meanwhile, cut up the avocado and dress it with a splash of lemon juice (squeeze half a lemon) and a few drops of sesame oil, you don’t need much! Once everything is cooked, assemble the ingredients in a deep bowl. Ladle some liquid from cooking the noodles and some of the beef broth liquid from cooking the cabbage over everything. Spoon the avocado “salad” over the top. Then use kitchen shears to cut smaller pieces of the seaweed nori sheets over the top as a garnish. Enjoy!

Servings: 4

Nutrition Info: Calories: 341, Fat: 18g, Sat. Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 1mg, Sodium: 939mg, Carbohydrate: 41g, Fiber: 9g, Protein: 10g

My Sunday Dinner

Author: Veronica Hilliard

If you’ve never oven roasted a vegetable, you’re missing the sweet, caramelizing, roasty-toasty goodness that graces my table on a near-daily basis. Roasting highlights the natural flavors of veggies so well. Some of my favorite veggies to roast are asparagus, broccoli, kale, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, any type of squash, beets, onions and peppers, brussels sprouts, and of course… cauliflower.

My Sunday Dinner :: Roasted Cauliflower ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Roasting veggies is just about the easiest of all kitchen preparations. All you need is a vegetable you already love, or even one you sort of tolerate. Add a little salt, some oil, and any number of added flavors (if you wish) and you have something really special to put on your table.

My husband spent a two-year mission in Northern Japan and then he took me there on our honeymoon so Asian flavors are usually our choice. But be playful with it and I’m sure you’ll always be impressed with what you end up with.

Roasted Cauliflower with Asian Flair


1 Head cauliflower

2 Tblsp soy sauce

1 tsp ground ginger

A few drops of sesame oil

Drizzle olive oil

Pull cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. In a bowl, toss to coat with the other ingredients. Place on preheated baking sheet in 350 degree F oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your caramelization preferences, turning once or twice.


My Sunday Dinner :: Steamed Artichoke  ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

I’m always surprised when I talk to people who don’t know what to do with an artichoke. When I was a kid my mom would make artichokes like this for a special treat. Artichokes taste like home to me. They bring memories of sitting around the table for hours sharing space and life over food – something my family is very fond of.

So here is how I make steamed artichokes.

My Sunday Dinner :: Steamed Artichoke  ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Cut off the bottom and shave off the tough leaves and the outer, more fibrous layer of the stem. Then cut it in half lengthwise.

My Sunday Dinner :: Steamed Artichoke  ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Artichokes are just really big, edible thistles. When you cut it open, you can see a glimpse of it’s cousin. The hairy, innermost part, the “choke,” is inedible. I used to remove it with a spoon. You can do this but I found that I removed the soft purple leaves as well and that’s good food wasted! So I just cook it as-is and remove the thistle-y  fibers when I get to them as I eat. Some people also cut off the tips of the leaves because sometimes they can have a really poky spine or thorn at the tip. Mine wasn’t so bad so I skipped this step. But I have seen some gnarly artichokes that would leave you feeling like you just fought a velociraptor (or a toddler with un-cut fingernails!) Keep it in mind and make your choice wisely. Some people also cook them whole. But I think they cook a bit faster when cut in half and then they’re the perfect size to share (if you can handle sharing).

My Sunday Dinner :: Steamed Artichoke  ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Steam in whatever set-up you have for steaming. Mine is a pot with a steamer basket and a lid. Boil these for about 25 – 45 minutes. They are ready to eat when one of the outermost leaves pulls off easily and tastes done; tender, but not so soft it’s mushy.

To eat, just remove one leaf at a time. Scrape each leaf along your bottom teeth to remove the soft flesh on the inside curve of the leaf. You can dip them in all sorts of stuff, from garlic butter to aioli, but I like mine plain… sometimes with a sprinkle of sea salt.

My Sunday Dinner  ~ Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

This is what we had for dinner tonight. My heart on a plate!

Counterclockwise: Delicious, steamed artichoke; sweet and savory roasted, Asian-style cauliflower; beautiful, nutty, black forbidden rice; and teriyaki-flavored pheasant and grouse breast that my husband shot last year here in Montana.

My Mont-Asian meal was a real hit here with all my peeps. What did you have for dinner?