Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not So Halloween Anymore

So, funny story. You know when you have a plan for the day, or what you want to do with the rest of your evening, and get all ready to make such plans happen, and then Life says "actually, I have a different idea" and throws a wrench in your proverbial gears. Which means the post that I was going to publish (included below for your entertainment, as I did really wish you all a Happy Halloween) didn't actually come to fruition. So instead, I'll share with you my very favorite fall breakfast as of late, and say better luck next time.

Whole wheat bagel smeared with cream cheese and homemade pear butter
And here are my Halloween wishes for all of you, belated as they are:
I hope this post finds you all home from trick-and-treating, sprawled out on the floor eating Halloween candy, and already planning your costume for next year. Shocker, this year I was a chef, and answered the door for the trick-or-treaters in my chef coat and pants (which was mostly because I got home twenty minutes after trick-or-treating started in my neighborhood and had no time to change.) A few kids even commented on what I was, so I'll say that I had a successful first Halloween, though admittedly the cold rainy weather kept many ghost, ghouls and goblins from knocking on my door. I am hoping for the hurricanes to abate this time next year.

I chose to personally celebrate my Halloween with a warm, gooey pumpkin cinnamon roll and cup of coffee. You certainly have to try this recipe - I got it from, which, if you don't already know, if basically too good to be true. Each day you get a new picture of something that is almost too delectable to look at, almost, and includes a recipe. I purchased the cookbook when it was first published, which has now found a home on my coffee table as a most wonderfully inspiring conversation piece. It is surprising to be how many people, how claim they cannot cook their way out of a paper bag, pick up this book, or any cookbook that I have undoubtedly lying around at all times, and get excited about what is featured on the page. How many of you fall into that category?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Butter Makes Everything Better

I feel slightly sheepish about posting after having had my epic meltdown earlier this week. I'm compelled to note that nothing catastrophic happened to me, so my breakdown was nothing more than me cracking a bit under pressure - shameful I know. But I fully believe that a little crack up is ok every once in a while. Otherwise I will bottle all that up and it will most definitely make me grumpy. Or force me to eat more chocolate. 

Once Monday was over, however, the week improved significantly, literally overnight. I was doing a lot of really new, fun things at work, aced my Cost Control exam, was able to spend all day today baking and cooking for my clients, and am even planning a trip to visit my sister this weekend. Great right? So aside from the rough start to the week, it's going swimmingly. I hope yours is just as successful.

Which actually leads me to a very legitimate question: what do you do when you are at your breaking point? Everyone has one, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. As for me, I usually cry a lot and there is a nap involved. What do you do when life seems to be a little too much for you to handle?

This question led me to an interesting exploration on stress and different coping mechanisms that are best for certain personalities. I, being the Type A Personality kind of person, am able to cope best with a mile long to-do list by prioritizing and making plans on how to get these absolutely necessary items done in the time allotted. More ecsentric, artsy types, however, would deal with stress more effectively if they changed up their routine, by possibly moving to a different location in order to focus better on the task at hand, or changing the medium they are working in in order to refocus their efforts. Being the huge adorkable nerd that I am, found this all fascinating.**

And in all of this I learned that one of the uniquely "me" ways I deal with stress is to cook. Just get in the kitchen, where I am comfortable, outcomes are predictable, and products are edible, and just forget about what's bothering me for a few moments. I used this coping mechanism a lot in college, which is why a lot of my quick breads, muffins, marinades, and jams were made between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This little rendezvous to my culinary sanctuary gave me just enough time to refocus, take a breather, and come back refreshed... and usually with a tasty snack in my hand.

Mommaw was so proud when I showed her this picture - I remembered those canning lessons she gave me!

That being said, I follow many of the same habits today and last night, at, you guessed it, 10:30 at night, I was making pear butter. I was gifted a whole box of heirloom pears from my Grandma Banks as a house warming present, and had been snacking on them pretty religiously with no visible indication of having put a dent into the box. So what's the best way to use up excess produce? Can it! As pear butter in this instance. Warm and comforting, a breeze to put together, and it made my whole house smell like autumn.

Here my pear butter canning set-up: sterilized jars, primed and ready for piping hot pear butter.

Pear Butter

20 small-medium pears
1 cup brown sugar (or to taste, depending on how sweet you would like your butter to be)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg

Par down the pears by coring and peeling, if desired (I didn't bother.) Process your pears in batches in the food processor to make tiny bits of pear, bordering on the consistency of pearsauce (like applesauce, only with pears.) Transfer your pearsauce to your slow cooker; still in the seasonings. Taste (this is an important step!) Your pearsauce should taste slightly under seasoned, and that's ok, because as your pear butter cooks it is going to intensify in flavor and sweetness. And remember, you can always adjust the seasonings later. Cook on low, covered, overnight, or at least 12 hours. Remove the lid and cook on high for an additional 2 hours, or until the liquid was evaporated and the pear butter is at the desired spreadable consistency.

If you are planning on canning your pear butter, make sure you sterilize your jars and lid components in boiling water, and then fill them while the jars are still warm. Wipe the rims and seal tightly, leaving them sitting on the counter until they "pop," which means they are sealed.

My perfectly canned pear butter, ready to be given as gifts that keep on giving. See that bigger one on the right? Yeah, that one's mine.

** Want to read more? Here are the articles I dove into:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not Keeping my Cool

I had a little bit of a breakdown yesterday. Rather, a meltdown. My mom and Mommaw can both attest to this, poor sweet women caught in the crossfire of my exhaustion, stress, perfectionism, massive headache, and type A personality, all colliding to make one (excuse my French) hell of a tough day.

Chocolate wouldn't help. Soft jammies and a hot shower wouldn't help. A walk outside wouldn't help. Exercise wouldn't help. The desperate nature of my meltdown was achy, making me seem from the outside like a temperamental three year old, but on the inside feel like a steam kettle coming to a rapid boil and will not be ceased, regardless of being removed from the flame. I felt like I was walking though a haze, with nothing in focus, everything off in the distance and aggravatingly unattainable, and even the simplest of tasks were monumental and impossible, exhausting and disheartening me. And it wasn't event 10am yet.

So what did I finally end up doing to make it all stop? To bring some peace to my overloaded, under nourished, and maxed out mind? I prayed. Through tears, clenched fists, and a frog in my throat, I prayed. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed for a clean slate, to start all over with my sin washed away and forgiven, and for help to forgive myself for such misdeeds. I prayed for peace, to sleep soundly, deeply, and awake restful, refreshed, and calm. And I prayed to be led home, into the arms of God, for Him to watch over me, to be with me, to hold my hand and carry me. And then I went to bed and slept with abandon. I didn't set an alarm. I didn't worry about my laundry or groceries or homework. I simply said, "no more." And it was grey outside.

When I woke up, it was the most brilliant sunshiny day all week. I felt better, calmer, more rested, more put together. Was I still tired? Sure. But my heart didn't ache anymore. And my soul didn't feel like it was being torn in too many directions. And I could muster a smile without feeling like a hypocrite. So improvement to say the least. After a hard cider and a couple pieces of pizza, I went back to bed.

And today has been better and better. I was reminded yesterday that I am not walking alone, that I don't ever have to walk alone. The sun was out, I aced my Cost Control exam, finally got around to grocery shopping after work, and had dinner with my parents. Nothing to write home about, but still, there was a spring in my step today that was most certainly not there yesterday. 

I know this entry has been a bit melancholy and whiny, but I think it's important for people to know you loose your cool sometimes. No one is perfect after all, and by sharing the fact that I am light years away from perfection, I think it reminds me of the fact as well. But I was reminded of something. I am not alone. And when it comes right down to it, I would rather have a hell of a bad day than to go one more minute trying to walk alone.

I hope this serves as a reminder to you all, that being a Christian doesn't mean our path will be easy, it just means that we won't have to face it alone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Making my House a Home

This past weekend I hosted my very party in my very own home. I wanted to invite all of you, but alas, my little home would not fit all of you. So instead, I'm inviting you to my cyber house warming party. Welcome, come on in, grab yourself a plate and something festive to drink, and make yourself at home.

Orange and Cinnamon Scented Apple Cider with (optional) Spiced Rum... I personally love this option.

Thyme Infused Iced Tea

Seared Sirloin Buttermilk Biscuits with Merlot Onions and Blue Cheese Aoili
Also pictured on the cake stand: Miniature Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Wine Soaked Fruit Chutney, served with Garlic Crostini,  Brie, and Gouda

Of course, besides the food, you have come to check out the place. And we certainly made it look festive.You know how great Mommaw is at flower arranging right? Of course I had to get her to participate in the party preparations! Fresh flowers always seem to make an occasion special, regardless of what it is. Look at the gorgeous arrangements!

A very fall mantel, completely created by my Mommaw.

My living room, which has turned into my favorite room in the house.

Welcome to my home!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Solved

I know a few of you have been guessing as to what I have up my sleeve this week. If you still want to fathom a guess before reading further, check out last week's entry and see if you can put your finger on just what I have been up to. 

Drum roll please... I made real Pumpkin Pie from real pie pumpkins!

Here is a little unknown fact to most American consumers who prepare "pumpkin pie" for their families every fall. That innocent looking can of 100% pureed pumpkin you pick up at the grocery store isn't pumpkin at all, it's actually Hubbard Squash. I know, call the authorities, we have been deceived! Why would manufacturers ever try to pull the wool over the eyes of the American consumer?! (*snickers*) Because this innocent switch helps to pad their pocketbooks. Hubbard squash has more flesh and less seeds and pulp than pumpkins, but has a similar taste profile, so with a little refinement these companies can product more cans of pumpkin puree without much fuss. Now, that begs the question, is this really a reason to boycott canned impostor "pumpkin" pies forever? I think not, especially since pumpkin pie in any form is still my favorite pie ever. I just choose to look the other way while cutting myself a slice and rejoice in the fact instead that it is fall and I can settle in with my delicacy and a cup of tea.

So this past week, I set out to make a real, honest to goodness pumpkin pie. I found the process labor intensive but incredibly rewarding, and completely worth it. There is something deeply satisfying, as least for me, in making something COMPLETELY from scratch - from the ground up if you will. And as an added bonus, I roasted the seeds and have been snacking on them ever since, in addition to adding them to my oatmeal, topping my morning yogurt, and mixing into a recent muffin mix.

Organic pie pumpkins from Jungle Jim's
I made a homemade pecan crust, with plenty of salt to contrast the sublte sweetness in the pie custard. Speaking of which, the authentic pumpkin puree is much more savory, almost nutty in flavor when compared to its canned counterpart and, not wanting to lose that uniqueness, I kept the filling simple, unadulterated, true to its origins. I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out, and I will be making another one today actually.

 I meant to take a picture of the pie right after I took it out of the oven, before I stuck a fork in it, but alas, I have no self control. But how could I resist? Topped with a maple whipped cream, I was in fall heaven.
Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Graham Cracker crust and Maple Whipped Cream
I hope this blog has inspired you to at least consider picking up a pie pumpkin and going all homemade with your fall pie... or at least appreciate the adorable little pie pumpkins a little more.

Pumpkin Pie
* I made this custard filling by sight and taste, and thus didn't measure anything exactly. I recommend you do the same, as every pie pumpkin will be a little different.

1 1/2 cup real pumpkin puree (flesh from two small pie pumpkins)
1/2 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
splash milk or cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger (optional)
3 tablespoons flour
Puree pumpkin in a food process so it is incredibly smooth and silky. Transfer to the bowl of your mixer and add the sugar, milk, and eggs. Mix on medium speed until incorporated, whipping in a little air to lighten the custard. Add the seasonings; mix. Add the flour one tablespoon at a time, just looking for the custard to come together and slightly thicken. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter, melted
2 tsp kosher salt
Mix the nuts, crumbs, and salt with the melted butter and press into an ungreased pie pan. Par bake this crust at 350 degrees until slightly set up, about 25 minutes. Pour in your custard filling and bake an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until custard is set. Allow to cool (if you can wait that long) and top with whipped cream or chutney.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Teaser....

I am making something oh so scrumptious... bet you can't guess what it is.
1. I had to go buy some specialty ingredients today.
2. This is one of my favorite treats of all time.
3. I have actually blogged about this food before.
4. It could certainly be considered a labor of love (emphasis on labor.)
5. This labor is TOTALLY worth is, as the resulting delicatessen is swoon worthy.

Can you guess? Can you, can you?! Be on the lookout tomorrow to get the full scoop... oh rather, slice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Welcome to Fall

I am feeling especially wonderful about the change of seasons. Blame it on all the changes that have taken place in my life as of late, but I am loving this fall thus far! Gone are the days of dreading the start of the cold weather and getting back into a routine.

What else am I loving about the returning of fall? Excellent question! 
1. It is now socially acceptable to flavor everything with pumpkin, like I do the rest of the year.
2. I can layer! My favorite piece of clothing is the cardigan (more evidence to prove that I am really a grandma at heart) and I have an extensive collection.
3. I can open up the windows at night and snuggle under the covers.
4. Quick bread is now my breakfast of choice, accompanied by a cup of tea and eaten on the porch (when I have time.)
5. Orchards will be in full bloom and brimming with fresh crispy apples.
6. I can throw fall themed house warming parties, like the one I have planned for next weekend!
7. The holiday season is right around the corner, which I am also incredibly excited for this year.

I could go on and on, but the overarching idea is that I am loving fall this year. What better way to celebrate the coming of fall but with a feast to celebrate?!

Here is what was on the menu:

Roasted Beet and Granny Apple Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

Italian Pot Roast served over Creamy Parmesan Polenta

And for dessert, Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Buttermilk Sauce

Sound scrumptious right?! Oh, trust me. It was. I am so completely thrilled to have leftovers in my refrigerator right now for later on this week... or later on tonight. The beets on the salad was my absolute favorite element of the meal though. Admittedly, this was the first time I had ever worked with beets personally, but I found some really gorgeous ones at the grocery this week and I couldn't resist. A low and slow roast in the oven with a sprinkling of salt and olive oil and I was in beet heaven.

Roasted Beet and Granny Smith Apple Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

assorted salad greens (spinach, frisse, ridiccio, rocket, etc.)
sliced Granny Smith apples
diced roasted beets (recipe to follow)
toasted chopped pecans
crumbled feta cheese
maple balsamic vinaigrette (recipe to follow)
salt and pepper

Dress you salad greens as desired, and season with salt and pepper to taste (yes, this is how you do it.) Arrange the rest of the ingredients on top of your greens and toss lightly.

Roasted Beets

2-4 beets, of assorted colors and varieties
olive oil

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Wash beets and then pat dry with a paper towel. make a pocket for the beets with aluminum foil, leaving a window in the top to season. Pour enough oil into the pocket to come up the side of the beets one third of the way. Sprinkle generously with salt. Close the foil pocket to fully encompass the beets and roast until tender, about one hour, depending on how large your beets are. Remove beets and allow to cool to room temperature. Peel and reserve the roasting oil.

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

oil from roasting the beets (about 3/4 of a cup)
maple balsamic vinegar*
salt and pepper

Whisk vinegar into the oil to create a temporary emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and dress greens immediately.
* feel free to substitute maple syrup and balsamic vinegar for the maple flavored balsamic vinegar. Just warm the syrup in the microwave first, to help the emulsion process.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My First Sunday Supper Party

It's official - I have hosted my first dinner party!

I'm not sure I can really call it a dinner party, as it was just my parents and I, but there was dinner. And laughing. And fun. So what the hey.

Yesterday marked the two week anniversary of me being in my new home, and home it is certainly becoming. I know I have been gone from the interwebs for quite some time now, but I really did start all over this past month. I have a new home, a new hometown, a new job, and have started new classes at a new college. I even cut all my hair off not to long ago too, so a new hair style to boot! (Check out this blog if you missed all my updates.) I seems like the only thing that hasn't changed is my love of all things food - cooking it, eating it, reading about it, shopping for it, and planning for it.

Speaking of reading, I have read a lot about gnocchi recently. Talk about a hot topic food right now. This can probably be explained by the movement to return to the basic, classic comfort foods in times of change and the unknown. Regardless of the reason, I decided to give it a whirl (and the fact that I went all helter skelter on a five pound bag of potatoes whilst practicing my knife cuts and I needed a way to use them all up may have had something to do with it as well.)

Battonet cuts: 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch x 2 inches, exactly

So I dutifully mashed, mixed, and measured as prayed that my gnocchi would at least resemble their pillowy, soft, luscious cousins being produced by little Italian grandmothers everywhere. No manner of praying seemed to help me out though, as I watched in vain as my first, farce batch of gnocchi broke up in their boiling cooking cauldron. I mixed some more, measured some more, boiled some more, and finally, after attempted number three and being threatened with the frightening sight of an almost-empty flour canister, made something that at least could be traced back to the gnocchi family tree and ended up tasting quite yummy after being sauteed with shallot, garlic, parsley, and chive.

Chicken parmesan, with homemade gnocchi and tomato sauce

All of this happened while my wonderfully understanding and gracious parents... party guests... put together my new espresso finished bar, which is adorable and now houses all of my stem and bar wear. Fabulous!

All I can say is it turned out to be a lovely evening and I can't wait to do it again. (And thank goodness my mom had the foresight to bring everything else for dinner - she knows me too well.)

A pear, apple, and cranbery crisp with vanilla bean ice cream - hello fall!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tasty Travelling

I have great news! There has been a ton of cooking as of recent, as I have officially taken on my first client as an (unofficial) personal chef and I could not be more pleased!

However, as I am still a student and working thirty hours a week, plus still becoming accustomed to being a new home owner, I have not had the foresight to take pictures of what I have been making. I know right? Perfect opportunities and no sense whatsoever to photograph any of it.  Not that I am making excuses, I am simply not help-able sometimes. This is one of those times. Fear not, I have a sticky note on my fridge right now to remind me to record my escapades in the kitchen this weekend.

I do, however, have pictures of my family's recent trip to Michigan to share with you all. So vacation vicariously to the northern trip of the mitten state and tune later on this weekend for a much more detailed synopsis of my escapades in my new (!) kitchen.

Here we go. Grab the keys. Buckle in. Head north.

We went to Michigan the week before my mom's birthday, and on our way back home we stopped at a fruit stand on the road side and picked up these Michigan cherries.

When we arrived home, I made her this birthday dessert!
Michigan cherry compote over vanilla  bean frozen yogurt, topped with toasted almonds, and garnished with crisp pastry.

Also on our way home, we stopped by the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit - which was absolutely amazingly fascinating. I think my dad loved it most of all of us though, being the gear head that he is.

A modern day slow plow on the front of a cargo train. Notice the plow's size in comparison to my six foot dad standing next to it... utterly amazing!
 We had the opportunity to find out what find of car we would be based on our personalities. I, according to this very scientific index, would be a 1956 Ford Thunderbird Convertible. I'll take on in blue please!

I don't know if any of you watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network with Guy Fierie, but my family and I love it, so we took in one of Guy's finds while in Michigan called the Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen. It was absolutely fabulous, and only two people manned the completely visible kitchen for what looked like 100 seats, so I was dully impressed and gitty. Check out their webpage for their menu:!/main

Dad got their sausage sampler (which I, of course, tried all three) with a warm potato salad. They make all their own sausages and thus this is what they are known for, so when you go, check out this plate.

Shelby, being the smart culinarian that she is, order a special, which was nothing more than a cracker crust pizza topped with mashed potatoes, bacon bits, cheese, and ranch dressing. Does Shelby know how to order or what?

 Charlevoix was one of the quaint yet incredibly charming lake towns we visited while up north. Known as one of the premiere yachting and sailing locations on this part of the globe, it was so neat to walk up and down the piers, talking to the boaters and gazing at their rigging and such. I, of course, acted like I knew exactly what I was doing and appreciated the what seemed like very hard work from afar with mixed consideration and appreciation.

We saw this food truck while in Charlevois, which was unfortunately closed when we came through, but I couldn't by-pass this sign without a picture.

I also had to snag a picture of this poster - all of the native flavors of Michigan. Cool, eh?

Even the rest stops in Michigan are beautiful! Seriously, I have never seen a prettier state.

Lastly, you will never guess what I got to cross off my bucket list while on this trip. Learn how to milk a cow? Nope. Keep a garden? Nope. Master driving a stick shift? Hardly. Nope, we all went ziplining! How freaking cool is that?! It was mom's idea, and this is something I have always wanted to do, so off we went to fly through the trees in the picturesque Michigan ski resort forests. Not only were the view spectacular, but the experience was something I have never felt before and will definitely be doing this again.

Afterwards, I treated myself to some victory food, as my first bucket list item had been checked off. Maybe next I will concentrate on paining a room in my house blue, or perhaps take guitar lessons. I shall keep you posted. 

Seared ahi tuna, seaweed salad, and umami dipping sauce with classic wasabi and pickled ginger accompaniments.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

We have passed the 100 posts mark!

I hate to keep dropping in so unexpectedly, just to scribble out a quick post and then dash off again, but I have exciting news! I just realized, after logging onto Blogger to write to you all, that we have passed the 100 posts mark! How exciting!? Thank you so much to all of you out there who are stick with me through this very transitional period.

I have officially started culinary school, meaning that my life has officially been taken over by onions, portioning, and French cooking terms and techniques. Yeah! Next week is egg cookery, and once we starting doing some REALLY fun things, I will take pictures and post them straight away. Pinky promise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Haven't Forgotten About You!!

I am honestly scared to look up the date of my last post... it has been that long ago. I am so ashamed. But so much has been going on that there has not been time for cooking! (Ok, that's not entirely true. There have been a lot of midnight cereal dinners, and 6am microwave oatmeal happening as of late, but that is hardly blog worthy. And trust me, I am no better at taking pictures at those times than I am when I am fully awake.)

A long LONG story short, I have successfully:

  • moved back to my hometown of Cincinnati from my college town of Lexington
  • gotten a new job at not one but two catering companies here in Cincy
  • bought, cleaned, furnished, and updated my very first home (!!!! I move in Sunday!!!)
  • seen my sister off to her first year of college - I have only somewhat come to terms with this 
  • registered for my first semester of culinary classes
  • attended the necessary orientations and uniform fittings (I get my chef coats on Monday!)
  • taken over a nanny position for a family up the street 
  • went on a one week family vacation with the family before everyone went off for another busy year
And those are just the highlights. There has been a lot of painting, cutting grass, shopping for rugs, curtains, and kitchen appliances, and some precious hours spend soaking up some sun by the pool. It has been a busy month, but what a transition year for my family! Shelby is off to college for what promises to be eight (!?) years of study, I am starting culinary school, mom and dad just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and are empty nesters.... who blinked and let up grow up so quick?!

As soon as I get moved in and established again, I will be able to start cooking some interesting things and posting on a (somewhat) regular schedule.

Thanks for hanging in there folks!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Green Bean Summertime Memories

To me, Farmers' Markets are just about the best thing since sliced bread (and I can slice my own bread, so maybe they are a little better than sliced bread.) The freshest of ingredients, picked just this morning, the fact that going to one just screams summertime, and actually makes you WANT to eat healthy, instead of feeling obligated to do so, and the flood of inspiration that comes every time I even get near one.

This is what came of my most recent Farmers' Market visit, and it just so happens to be one of my favorite meals of all time.

Stewed potatoes, green beans, and ham - just thinking about this meals brings back memories.
 I was, and still am, one of those strange kids who actually liked it when their grandma enlisted them to help pick and string green beans for dinner. Some of my fondest memories are of Mommaw and I, out in her front yard with big bowls in our laps and lemonade at our elbows, watching the river flow by as we threw green bean strings in the grass. Not a care in the world, just watching the time pass by.

The whole ensemble, just begging to be enjoyed on the porch with some iced tea.
 Boppaw always loved this meal too, since whenever we made it, we always had extra cornbread left over, which means that he would get a midnight snack of cornbread and milk. Yep, just crumble the cornbread in the bottom of a bowl (or in my case, warm it a little in the largest mug you have) and pour over some milk. The best part is the bottom, when the cornbread has turned to mush... a little unknown comfort food at it's finest. He and I would know just when to meet at the kitchen island to make ourselves a bowl.

No summertime meal is complete without some vine ripened tomatoes and cucumbers. Add a chunk of whole wheat cornbread and I'm in heaven.
 Here's hoping you too are making wonderful summertime memories.

Stewed Potatoes and Green Beans

1 LB fresh green beans, strung and snapped
1 LB red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 LB country or pit ham, cut into bite size pieces (you can also use a ham hock here)
water to cover

Place all your ingredients in a large pot and cover with water. Leave on low and cook all day long. One hour before you want to eat, put your cornbread in the oven and season your stewed veggies with salt and pepper, as needed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We Tried to do Thai

Let's start with what we actually ate for dinner this week. Check out this incredibly beautiful plate of noms:

Spicy peanut Thai noodles, with traditional Thai  garnish

Now that we have all admired the actual dinner, let's discuss the fiasco we had to go through in order to put this on the plate. My original plan for quite different. Taking my inspiration from the local farmers' markets, I found some absolutely beautiful Swiss Chard last week. Not having worked with it before, but immediately being inspired to do a Thai flavored spring roll, I bought a half pound and gleefully returned home. I would pair these with some soba noodles tossed simply in sesame oil and sesame seeds, so the true highlight of the dish were the spring rolls and the spicy peanut dipping sauce I would pair them with. So far, so good right?

Spring rolls, all sprung up and ready to serve the next day.

Here is where I think I went wrong - I made these spring rolls the day before I planned on eating them. By blanching the Swiss chard leaves (in order to make them pliable enough to roll up, and to take away some of their innate bitterness) I am afraid they sat overnight and developed a most unpleasant slimy texture, which is most definitely not good eats. But they were encompassing such beautiful ingredients inside, what was I to do... plus I wanted to use my dynamite spicy peanut sauce.

Spring rolls, before being all sprung together.

And then, genius struck. Why not reconfigure the whole dish? Toss the noodles (whole wheat thin spaghetti because my grocery was out of soba noodles) in the spicy peanut sauce, and then top the noddles with the insides of the spring roll, completely discarding the Swiss chard all together. I was displeased with having to waste the Swiss chard, but at least the rest of the meal was salvaged. As Peter has often said, the best meals are those which are conceptualized on the fly, as this one was.

Our new and improved noodle toppings.

The lesson here? So what is things don't go according to plan? Everything will turn out in the end (and may be even more delicious than first anticipated.)

Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
4 TB fresh lime juice
3 TB light sodium soy sauce
3 TB honey or brown sugar
2 TB orange juice (or enough to thin)

Mix everything together with a little elbow grease; this mixture can be quite thick, so thin with orange juice until it is pliable and smooth. 

**Remember that this sauce can be used as a dipping sauce (as I had originally planned) or tossed with noodles, to be served either hot or cold. If this is case, the sauce can be a bit thicker as the heat of the noodles after they are cooked will naturally thin the sauce down for you.

** Spring Roll/Thai Noodle toppings:
julienne carrot
julienne red bell pepper
julienne mango
green onion
poached chicken
sesame seeds
chopped peanuts

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cake for Breakfast!

I am sure you all begged your parents to let you have junk food for breakfast at least a few times in your childhood (and maybe you still fight with yourself every once in a while... go ahead and pour some Lucky Charms, I won't tell.) I was never a huge fan of sugary cereals and the like, but I love anything that combines sugar and carbs, like pancakes, bagels, or in this case, coffee cake! Along with some Greek yogurt, what a great way to start a lazy Sunday.

Hazelnut Coffee Cake

dry ingredients:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (bonus points if it is freshly grated yourself!)

wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup fat-free milk

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

4 handfuls chopped and toasted hazelnuts

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, grease and 9x9 baking dish, and your pretty much should know the drill after this. Toss around the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together, then fold into the dry ingredients. Set this aside to mix the two sugar and cinnamon together in yet another bowl (I said it was simple, not without dishes - this is what dishwashers were invented for!) Pour half the batter into the baking dish, top with half the topping and two handfuls of hazelnuts (or more if your are a nut for nuts, like me!) Repeat this layering process one more time. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Enjoy with coffee! (I like mine black, or on the rare occasion, with a slash of skim milk.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Ying and Yang Kind of Morning

You know those mornings when you can't decide what you want to have for breakfast, but skipping breakfast is never an option? Yeah, me too.

So why not have a little bit of everything?

I knew I needed some protein because I have a long, hot day of work ahead of me, so some fiesta scrambled eggs were in order...

But, but, but...I really wanted to have some of the blueberry preserves that I made a few days ago. Not having any bread on hand, I went with the next best thing - cornbread! Sweet and spicy, not a bad combination. 

Top it all off with a peach fresh from the farmers' market, and I am good for great day at work!

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to be a Baker in 2 Easy Steps!

Long time, no blog y'all! I wanted to share with you my latest adventures attempting to really make bread for myself on a regular basis. I know, crazy escapade to take on, but it summertime, and what is summertime for if not to try things you never thought you would do. Isn't that why we all attempt to sleep outside in a tent at least once in these hot months, even though we know that we are going to wake up sore and cold?

I won this amazing cookbook from TasteSpotting, a blog that I religiously follow that have beautiful noms and great suggestions for other blogs you might like to boot. (Check it out if you haven't already clicked!) They have give away's every now and then and I always enter, not necessarily expecting to win, but just to play the game. But lo' and behold, I won! "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day" is now mine and I have been devouring it ever since (pun intended.)

What a great addition to my ever growing cookbook collection!
I highly recommend this book if you are even remotely interested in baking your own fluffy, fresh, and healthy bread! The authors, a baker and a doctor, teamed up to come up with methods and recipes to make scrumptious bread without breaking the bank and without draining you energy. With a little planning, you can have bread baking in the oven while you shower and get ready in the morning (as I am now.)

Place holder of champions!
I chose to start simple and easy, mixing up a batch of the 100% Whole Wheat Bread. Now, I have done quick breads all my life, and I can somehow manage to make a decent dinner roll or cinnamon roll for the occasional Thanksgiving or brunch, but I really am not that talented of a baker. I find that I am way too impatient for all that rising and waiting, simply because there is no action! I have a few recipes which I have perfected, such as my Whole Wheat Pizza dough recipe that I grill outside, or the banana bread recipe I have imprinted on my brain from constant use, but yeast and I are still getting to know each other. I have a feeling that this book will help us get though the awkward introductions. 

This is basically just a mix and dump kind of recipe. Mix your wet and your dry (this book has some great tips and fascinating insight on the true life of yeast, liquid, and dry ingredients) and let raise.

Here is my dough right before it went into the oven!
 In the end, I was left with a not-too-terrible loaf of whole wheat pecan honey loaf, which was delicious when slathered with my homemade Strawberry Jam. I have been anxiously awaiting another day when I can again dive into this book and pick something else out that I want to try.

So here are my two steps to becoming an expert baker:
1. Buy an awesome book to help you out! (such as this one)
2. Be patient. (and be willing to start over...)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Graduation Celebration

Just a short post for today - I am already gearing up for what promises to be a busy but really fun weekend.

I wanted to post this picture simply because it contains beautiful food. I didn't make it, didn't have the brilliant idea behind it, or really even thought I was going to order it while I was reading Brio's menu. But after it arrived in front of me, I quickly became "that person who takes pictures of her food in a restaurant" and thanked my lucky stars I changed my mind at the last minute. This is way better than salad.

Behold: a Tuscan chicken, avocado, and feta open faced omelet, topped with crispy lavoush and served with a fresh fruit salad. 

What a wonderful way to celebrate Shelby's graduation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grilling, Picnics, and Bubble Tea

I hope this blog post finds you all enjoying your summertime to the fullest: the weather has gotten decidedly warmer around here which makes staying inside virtually impossible; farmers' markets beckon to me from every street corner; swimming pools and sprinklers become necessities and sun kissed tans are quickly building to darkened tan lines. Oh how I love summertime. 

I've also been enjoying the many pleasures of alfresco dining with my man. We are quickly become grill masters and have used his barbecue to cook the majority of our meals as of late. This was actually one of the first meals we made together.

Spicy grilled chicken, spring greens salad, par-boiled and grilled potatoes, and an orange salad.

A little red wine never hurt anyone either...
 There has also been a ton of picnicking too, a traditional summertime staple. Here are some pictures from our very first picnic together. We ended up staying at the park until way after the sun went down, just talking and snacking.

Macadamia crusted tapalia, veggie basil brown rice salad, lots of sliced watermelon, homemade pecan honey bread, and chocolate dipped strawberries. A picnic fit for sharing!
 And we have been blessed enough to have shared many many breakfasts together as well. He is in the process of perfecting my soft boiled eggs, something which I had never tried to master before meeting him. This is just one way in which we spend our mornings together.

 And last but certainly not least, I have now officially tried Bubble Tea! For those of you out there who have no idea what I am talking about, let me break it down for you, because it is an experience everyone has to have at least once. Picture a smoothie, in whatever flavor floats your boat, that has been blended with green tea and a little protein powder. So far, pretty awesome sounding right? But it gets better! They then add boba to the bottom of your glass. What is boba? Little spheres of heaven that burst in your mouth and provide an incredibly sensational and yet almost unrepeatable sensory overload! Really, they are like nothing else I've experienced, especially in a drink. Some people don't enjoy this overall sensory overload, but I quite enjoyed it. The protein powder kept me full and focused (I sound like a Shredded Wheat commercial, but when the shoe fits...) and the flavor combination was refreshing and ultimately a treat. I shall be visiting that place again real soon. 

I highly recommend a mango Bubble Tea when you go... which should be now... go get your keys... or better yet walk to the nearest Bubble Tea shop and enjoy the summertime weather!
I'll end all this with a recipe that I am sure Peter, my boyfriend, would be ecstatic if I shared with you all. It has been his favorite thing we have made together so far (and trust me, we have dabbled in a lot of noms.)

Spicy Orange Salad

2 oranges, peeled and sliced whichever way you choose
1 TB freshly minced parsley, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp salt

Place oranges in a bowl (the easiest way to peel an orange for a salad like this is just to cut of the rind with a sharp knife.) Sprinkle on the remaining ingredients, adjust the seasoning for your taste, toss with your fingers, and serve.