1.31.2013

Studio 5 Chicken Pesto Sandwich Segment

 
Can I just say how amazing Studio 5 is? They're show is wonderful, their content is always applicable, and the hosts are adorable. Let me let you in a little secret (not the most surprising secret, either) - everyone at the studio is absolutely polite and genuinely kind to me off-camera as well. Brooke complimented my sandwich, and Darren showed me how he managed to look a little taller (I was wearing heels, and he has special shoes). They're super-classy, and I love, love, LOVE being on the show. 
 Today I was asked to make my take on Cafe Zupas Chicken Pesto Sandwich/Panini. It's is my most favorite sandwich at Zupas, and I was thrilled to be preparing my version on TV - so much fun! Huge thanks again, Studio 5, for having me on the show today.
 
For the Chicken Pesto Panini/Sandwich Recipe, click here.

For the video of my cooking segment today, click here.

1.29.2013

Egg and Avocado Breakfast Pita Pizza

The Princess Bride was an excellent distraction at the gym from my aching legs, and slower pace than the girl next to me. She stepped on the treadmill beside mine, and started the thing at full-blast up to 7:45-minute mile pace. I've never had coffee before, but I can only imagine she didn't miss hers that morning.   

It was another crazy Monday, and once again, I successfully neglected starting my laundry until the afternoon. I loathe laundry day (mostly the going up and down the steep staircase several times to change loads), but I love the "recharge" feeling of having fresh clean clothes hanging in my closet (especially at the beginning of the week). Mondays are kind of beautiful that way - I have a chance to start over, reset my batteries, rework my plans, revamp my priorities, revisit my goals, reassess the way I treat others, make a change, and have a better week than the last.

What did you do with your Monday? 


I made my first sunny-side up egg :)

I usually stay as far away from runny eggs as possible (they make me a bit squeamish), but with this particular recipe, the creamy and almost custard-like taste of the egg hit the spot. It melted in with the heavenly spiced avocado mixture, and soaked into the toasted pita bread. I thought this recipe was going to be kind of light, but it filled me up before I even finished the plate! So this little breakfast pizza could go for maybe 2 servings, but I'll keep it as 1 on the recipe below.

The beauty of this dish is that you can adjust the seasonings to your preference. The avocado is your blank canvas - add in whatever you like spice-wise, and enjoy what you've created. I love to go a little heavier on the chili powder and cumin these days, so that's the route I took. Next time I make this, I'm definitely going to add some bacon or pancetta crumble (must be my husband's voice inside my head).

On a side note: I thought it was hilarious how the original recipe for this dish called for "one organic egg." Well, we're fresh out of ORGANIC ones at our house, so I guess we can't make this recipe. Heaven forbid I use a normal egg. Sheesh. Why not just list "1 egg" at let the chef decide?

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Egg and Avocado Breakfast Pita Pizza 
makes one serving

Ingredients:
1 greek pocketless pita (can be white or wheat)
1-2 ripe avocados
1 egg
1 T fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
chili powder to taste
smoked paprika to taste
ground cumin to taste
about 1 t EVOO
Parmesan for sprinkling

Directions:
1. Preheat broiler. Broil pita until crispy on top. Remove from oven, and place on a plate. 
2. Mash avocados together, add lemon juice (if you're only making this with one avocado, use much less lemon juice), all seasonings, and small drizzle of olive oil. Spread over warm pita bread. 
3. In a small pan, cook your egg sunny-side up (to your preference). Carefully place egg on prepared avocado-pita bread. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Recipe source: fabfitfun.com


1.28.2013

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Butterscotch Mousse Frosting and Chocolate Sprinkles

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Last Sunday we had my little brother and his adorable wife over for some dessert. Seeing them reminds me of when Ryan and I were pushing through our undergraduate degrees together. It was such a busy time, but such a fun time for us. I thought we'd be in college forever, but looking back, those 4 years blew by so quickly! It's kind of the same deal with Law School - I thought it would never end, and here we are at Ryan's final semester only 3 years later. I can't wait for the next phase to begin, but I'm reminding myself to slow down, savor the journey, and soak up every moment left in our "student mode" phase of life.

Little cakes are kind of adorable, and a bit easier to doll-up than a full-sized one. This one, however, was a bit more work than anticipated. But after taking a single bite of the end result, it was all worth it. The chocolate cake was spiced by a bit of cinnamon, each layer was slathered with creamy whipped mousse, enveloped in smooth butterscotch frosting, and crusted in a layer of sweet chocolate sprinkles. It was certainly a mouthful, but each texture played a beautiful part in the overall experience. Yes, this cake was an experience.

The chocolate mousse was easy enough, but I had a bit of trouble with the butterscotch mousse. It was prepared the same exact way, but for some reason, it curdled. Both times. I ran out of butterscotch chips, and wasn't about to head to the store on a Sunday to buy replacement ingredients. And I know very well that after mousse has curdled, you can't uncurdle it. But why let it go to waste, eh? I added some powdered sugar, and slowly brought it back to life. It made a delicious frosting, and I kind of preferred it that way. 
Chocolate Mousse Cake with Butterscotch Mousse Frosting and Chocolate Sprinkles
makes a 6-layer 8" small cake - about 8 rich servings

Ingredients:

Cake:
3/4 C + 1 t all-purpose flour
1/3 C + 1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/3 C unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 C sour cream

Chocolate Mousse:
1 1/2 C whipping cream
8oz bittersweet chocolate - finely chopped, about 3/4 C

Butterscotch Mousse/Frosting:
1 1/2 C whipping cream
8oz butterscotch chips
*powdered sugar if mousse doesn't turn out 

Method:
To make cake: 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 small cake rounds (6-8'') pans or small springform pans. Mix 1 t each flour and cocoa powder, dust pans and set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high for 30 seconds. Then add your sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth, then bean in sour cream and flour mixture. Pour batter in pans (working in batches if needed), spread evenly.
4. Bake 22-25 minutes (depending on how small your pans are) until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool pans on wire rack, and remove from pans to cool on rack. Use serrated knife or cake slicer to cut cakes in 3 layers (be careful, and very patient).

To make chocolate mousse:
1. Place cream and chocolate in saucepan. Sir over low heat until mixture is smooth and fully blended. Transfer mixture to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of mixture. Refrigerate chocolate mousse for at least 30 minutes.
2. Remove from the fridge and transfer to a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on low, gradually increasing the speed every minute. Beat until light and fluffy - DO NOT OVER BEAT - or your mixture will appear curdles and will suck.  

To make butterscotch mousse/frosting:
1. Place cream and butterscotch chips in sauce pan. Stir over low heat until mixture is smooth and fully blended. Transfer mixture to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of mixture. Refrigerate butterscotch mousse for at least 30 minutes.
2. Remove from the fridge and transfer to a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beating on low, gradually increase the speed every minute. Beat until light and fluffy - DO NOT OVER BEAT - or you will end up with curdled mousse like I did.
*3. If mousse doesn't curdle - congratulations. You win. Stop here.
*4. If mousse does curdle - welcome to the club. Add in powdered sugar and make it a frosting.
 
To assemble cake:
1. First spread down a small layer of butterscotch on plate/platter. Lay down first layer and spread with a layer of chocolate mousse (and alternating with butterscotch (if it's in the mousse form, if not, only use chocolate mouse as filling). Repeat with remaining 5 layers. Cover entire cake with butterscotch mousse/frosting. Coat sides with chocolate sprinkles.

Recipe source: baker's royale via bhg

1.25.2013

Zuppa Toscana

Drooling my face off over this one.

Whenever I go to Olive Garden, I always happily devour a bowl of this soup. 

Every. Single. Time. 

There's plenty of other wonderful things on the menu I could order, and each more delicious than the last. But I always come back to a delicious serving of Zuppa Toscana. It's annoying, really. How can such a simple little soup have so much power over me? It has me so perfectly wrapped around each savory spoonful - so much, in fact, that I have to make the dang soup at home between Olive Garden visits (which are far between, unless we have a gift card). Obsessed much?

This recipe tastes 100% like I walked into the restaurant and left with a bowl full. The creamy smokey taste of the initial spoonful, then the spicy aftertaste from the sausage and red pepper flakes only make you wish you had a bigger spoon for the next helping. Plus, there's greens! You get your serving of kale - check that one right off your veggie list today. I also found these beautiful baguettes of ciabatta bread at the supermarket to serve along with it.

It was heaven.

I really have nothing else to say - the soup has and always will speak for itself. If you've ever had a bowl of it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 
Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana
makes about 6 servings

Ingredients:
5-7 slices of bacon
1/2 lb hot Italian Sausage
5 medium russet potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
2 C kale, chopped
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 qt water
2 cans chicken broth
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
2 t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper 
grated Parmesan for sprinkling 

Method:
1. On a greased cookie sheet, lay bacon flat and bake for about 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Flipping with a fork halfway between. Drain bacon, and crumble. 
2. In a pan over medium high heat, cook sausage until it's heated thoroughly, and there's no pink. Drain very well on a paper towel (or else you'll have grease floating in your soup.) Set aside. 
3. In your soup pot over medium heat, cook the potatoes, onion, garlic, chicken broth, and water until potatoes are cooked through. 
4. Throw in cooked sausage, half the bacon, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes. 
5. Add in kale and cream. Let soup heat through and serve with the other half of the bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan. 

Recipe source: Mom on Timeout, who was inspired by Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana recipe

1.24.2013

My Favorite Post-Run Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie

Within the first 45 minutes after my morning run, I have a ranging hunger enough to take out half the refrigerator. Not always do I have time to sit down for some oatmeal, make some eggs, or even pour your typical bowl of cereal. The Manchild is usually redecorating our carpet with his breakfast, Ryan is suiting up for work/getting ready to head to class, there's a pile of dishes in the sink from the previous evening's dinner, and I feel like there's almost no time to sneak in anything for breakfast.

However, I know well enough that after a long (even short) run, it would be a serious mistake to not drink plenty of water or even neglect eating altogether - even if your time to prepare it is pretty slim. It's a bad, bad, bad idea.

The way I see it, I put my body through a workout, and it deserves some lovin'. This shake is by far my favorite one to throw together in a flash. All you do is throw all the components in a blender (mine looks like we found it in the gutter somewhere), pour the smoothie into a glass, and BOOM, you can chase the toddler, do the dishes, and get through your morning - all while sipping on your beautiful breakfast smoothie. Not to mention replenishing your electrolytes, getting in some serious potassium and protein and calcium, and building energy and muscle. It has few, fresh, and simple ingredients, and each plays a beautiful part in the overall creamy dreamy flavor. This smoothie is also very filling - not leaving you with the itch for lunch not only an hour or two after breakfast. I've tried adding in berries/spinach, but let me tell you folks - leave this dang recipe alone. Save your berries/greens for a different morning's smoothie. I promise this one is 100% perfect as is. Plus, peanut butter + spinach? Yikes. However, I could see tossing a handful of old fashioned oatmeal oats in this smoothie's future. Just maybe.

I knew I'd immediately love the peanut butter/banana combo - heck, I usually slather peanut butter right on the banana and eat it! But the real treat here for me was the peanut butter/chocolate milk mix (or protein powder) together. At first I was a little skeptical about throwing in a tablespoon of chocolate milk mix (even if it was sugarfree). But Ryan reminded me that during his years running, and especially throughout his undergrad on the university's cross country/track teams, that they drank chocolate milk like fiends. So if you were wondering about the chocolate add-in, there you go. I guarantee I'll never run 90+ miles a week like they were, but I still can happily justify a little sneak of chocolate in my smoothie. If it still makes you crazy, then opt for the protein powder. I won't tell.

 
My Favorite Post-Run Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie
makes about 2 tall glasses of smoothie

Ingredients:
1 banana, peeled
1/4 C all natural creamy peanut butter
2 C skim milk (or you could use almond milk)
1 T protein powder or sugar-free chocolate milk powder
5 ice cubes

Method:
1. Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until uniform throughout.


baking with blondie original

1.22.2013

Southwestern Chopped Chicken Salad

My poor man. He claims he's okay with the salads I've been making lately, but I know deep down inside he's screaming for a big, juicy, steak. Luckily, he's a really good sport. I'm trying to be more creative with the veggie intake, and sometimes there's nothing like a classic salad loaded with them. Especially with the southwestern flavors at the forefront.

When I saw this beautiful salad on Pinterest, I thought it looked so fresh and colorful. I made it during the daytime for the photo, then we had it later for dinner. I think it tasted even better after chilling! And the green peppers had a chance to almost marinade with the romaine into a really awesome flavor. What? Romaine, you ask? Yes, there's a bed of romaine hidden under the top layer. 

I promise.
Funny story about the "dressing", though. A while ago, I wanted to serve up a few parfaits for Ryan and I on a date/family night. I must have spaced it when I was in the dairy section, because I ended up buying plain yogurt. It tasted horrible, and I wasn't smart enough to spruce it up with some sweetening agents (honey, sugar, nectar, whatever). I felt so lame, and told myself this was a mistake that probably only happens once, right?

Nope. 

After mixing the dressing together for this recipe, and spreading it over a few romaine leaves for tasting, I loved it at first. It delightfully tasted just like the sour cream mixture you would use in traditional 7-layer dip (almost like a sour cream-type deal), then...

...the aftertaste was sweet. VERY sweet.

I'm pretty sure I used normal mayo, and my taco seasoning blend was from scratch, so I knew I hadn't botched it there. I then saw the empty Greek Yogurt cup with the words French Vanilla so tauntingly written on the side.

Yep. I had just used French Vanilla Greek yogurt in my Southwestern salad dressing. I accidentally bought the wrong dang flavor of yogurt. AGAIN. Madness, I tell you. Luckily, I hadn't mixed it in the entire batch before realizing my grave error. Ryan still ate the dressing with the salad. Weirdo.

It's not my fault, right? The yogurt section should be it's own supermarket in itself! There are too many choices/flavors/sizes/styles! How can I possibly make sense of it all?

Then again, I'm pretty sure I learned how to read a very long time ago.

Next time, yogurt section. Next time...
Southwestern Chopped Chicken Salad
Makes about 4 whole meal servings, 8 side salad servings

Ingredients:

Salad:
2 cups shredded chicken*
1/2 green bell pepper
1 can black beans
1 can sweet yellow corn, drained
2 plum tomatoes, diced
4 green onions, sliced
1 head romaine lettuce, cleaned and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 C cilantro, chopped
2 ripe avocados, diced
tortilla chips (I listed this because the original recipe did, and I wished we had some on hand to toss on the salad!)

Dressing:
1/2 C mayo
2/3 C plain Greek yogurt
1 T taco seasoning (you can use packaged, or combine your own taco seasoning ingredients)
2 T lemon or lime juice

Method: 
1. Prepare all ingredients. In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients for salad. Toss together with tongs or large spoons. 
2. Top with dressing -or- serve salads with dressing on the side (to add as much or little as wanted).

recipe adapted from: greens and chocolate who was inspired by Lauren's Latest. 

*This is how I prepared my chicken: I rubbed 1 raw chicken breast with cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Then I placed it in a glass bread baking dish coated in EVOO, covered in foil. Baked for 45 minutes at 375. Fell apart when I shredded it with a fork :) 

1.21.2013

Parmesan Gnocchi with Spinach and Sausage

The sub-zero temperatures outside have crossed any border of sanity I can possibly think of. I've lived in Utah my entire life, and can't remember it ever being this cold for so long. Nonetheless, this blondie's still strappin' on the Sacony's, tank and shorts and making the run to the car in the morning to pray to the indoor treadmill gods.

Today we're hunkering down, making some of my favorite soup, and attacking the usual Monday-morning laundry loads. Ryan, surprise surprise, isn't taking advantage of the holiday to take a break from his studies (and after receiving his grades from last semester on Friday, it proved to be 100% worth it). So it feels just like a regular Monday around here - even if my face is pressed up against the heat vent each cycle. 

Onto the food:

The spinach in my household is being used before the bag goes bad... a sentence I thought I'd never use.

Whenever we bought spinach before this new year, I'd use a couple cups of it for dinner one night for a specific recipe, then wastefully ignore the rest of the bag until it smelled... well... nasty. Now since I've set a few new goals for my family this year, the bag of spinach had been divided into a couple meals throughout the week (usually used as one main dish ingredient, and the other as a salad), and the rest has been portioned out into small baggies to freeze for morning post-run smoothies. This dish was a great way to use spinach! Ryan and I were so distracted from the soft gnocchi and spicy sausage, that we completely forgot we were eating a beautiful portion of greens along the way. Also, if you take a look over the ingredients, you may notice there is a TON of Parmesan. Use the full amount - the salty (and almost nut flavor, to me) ties this dish together completely. Without it, the flavors were still good, but were pretty independent. I also didn't let the spinach wilt all the way during the cooking process - I wanted to keep the slight crispiness of the leaf intact. 

Parmesan Gnocchi with Spinach and Sausage 
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
9 oz gnocchi
1 T EVOO
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb Italian sausage (hot)
2 cloves garlic
5 oz baby spinach
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
3/4 C grated parmesan (3oz), plus more for serving

Method:
1. Cook the gnocchi according to directions on the package - remember to not bring gnocchi to a full rolling boil, keep it at a heavy simmer, and salt the water to add flavor. Drain, reserve 1/4 C cooking liquid.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened. Add sausage and garlic. Cook until browned, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Add spinach, salt, pepper, and cook, tossing frequently, until spinach begins to wilt. Add gnocchi, the reserved cooking liquid, and Parmesan. Toss and divide into individual bowls. Sprinkle with more parmesan. Salt and pepper as desired.

Recipe source: Real Simple

1.17.2013

Flourless Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was highly skeptical. How the heck can you make cookies without flour, people? This was too much crazy-face for one boring Tuesday afternoon.

I was craving cookies, and my cupboards had a complete lack of flour, so any hope of baking was futile. I casually browsed my Facebook feed during the Manchild's afteroon nap, and lovely Miss Jessica over at My Baking Addiction had just posted a picture/recipe. My mouth was stuck wide open. I couldn't take my eyes off the word "flourless" and it's devilishly delightful grin. It was sign, I tell you.

Rarely do I have all the ingredients for a recipe to make it when I see it, but with an ingredient list like hers, and my severe craving for cookies, I honestly walked my laptop to the kitchen and started baking. With only a small amount of dough barely making it to the oven (dough addict), I waited in anticipation while the glorious smell of chocolate and peanut butter filled my home. They were amazing, and had just the right amount of everything in each bite. I think the next time I make these, I want to roll them in sugar before pressing them with a fork on the cookie pan. Then again, that would mean more sugar. Then again, they're cookies for crying out loud.

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Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen small cookies

Ingredients:
1 C creamy peanut butter
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 egg
5 T mini chocolate chips

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, combine peanut butter, brown and white sugars, baking soda, salt, and egg. Throw in chocolate chips.
3. Roll dough into 1 inch balls, place on a cookie sheet, and lightly press tops with a fork.
4. Bake about 10 minutes or until cookies begin to turn golden brown. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a couple minutes, and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store cookies in an airtight container, if you haven't eaten them all already.
5. Repeat tomorrow. 

Recipe Source: A Kitchen Addiction, inspired by Martha Stewart

1.16.2013

Bucatini with Turkey Kielbasa and Yellow Squash

Oh, how I love my bucatini.

It's never at my local supermarket, so I usually have to drive to another place or two to find it. But it's always worth the extra trip. There's just something so deliciously fun about eating thicker noodles, and wondering how in the world they were able to make that signature hole down the middle of each and every one.

What I loved most about this recipe was the absolute simplicity. You make the pasta, cook up some kielbasa, chop and cook up some beautiful vegetables, add some seasonings and cheese, and you're done.

Just like that.

This dish was light and fresh. It had just the right amount of veggies, meat, and grains without a thick sauce to overwhelm the plate. The original recipe called for turkey sausage, but they were fresh out of it on my grocery run. So I settled for one of my husband's favorites: kielbasa. It's like a giant sausage that you can easily slice up and cook in a EVOO-drizzled pan. Ryan loves the smoky taste, but I think he's mostly fond of yelling "kielbasa!!" when he sees it. Also, instead of using both zucchini and squash, I figured the squash was the lesser of the two evils in the blondie household (according to the men, that is). I love mixing the two, but figured the Manchild would be more likely to eat something that wasn't green. I cheated and switched one of the olive oil amounts to butter. Worth it. While I was tasting the vegetable mixture while it was cooking, I thought it needed way more salt, but didn't want to overdo it. Thankfully, the salty parmesan addition at the end tied everything together.

You may have noticed, the sun beat me to the finish, and I had to take the photo with artificial light (a HUGE no-no in my book). So that's why the photo looks like death. Lesson learned, once again.

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Bucatini with Turkey Kielbasa and Yellow Squash

Ingredients:
12 oz bucatini pasta
1 T EVOO
1 T butter (or you can use EVOO)
1 lb turkey kielbasa or Italian-style turkey sausage links
3 small summer squash or zucchini
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 C grated parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 C fresh oregano or parsley

Method:
1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water' drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and cook, flipping when bottoms are slightly browned, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.
3. Reduce heat under pan to medium, and add butter to melt. Add the squash, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until veggies are tender and golden. Turn head down to medium low if pan begins to darken.
4. Toss the pasta with the vegetable mix, fresh herbs, and kielbasa. Mix in 1/4 cup reserved cooking water (add more if desired) and add 1/2 cup of parmesan. Serve with additional parmesan.

Recipe source: Real Simple

1.14.2013

A Lovely Cake for a Little Miss

This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of making a dear friend's daughter's first birthday cake. Her little one seriously has the biggest eyes you've ever seen on such a little girl - accompanied by a teeny tiny mouth that is almost always at a pucker. It's downright adorable. 

When she had so willingly babysat the Manchild when I was recording a couple segments with some local tv stations, I was more than happy (and eager!) to make her dear little one's birthday cake. When I dropped off the cake, you should have seen the amazing decorations and beautiful food she had ready for the party. It was a French Cafe theme, and so perfect for such a little sweet girl. I thought the cake was perfectly feminine, and with just the right amount of daintiness. The Eiffel Tower is actually a souvenir from Paris when the little one's Mom visited France a while ago.

The cake was two-layers, with the top layer being slightly smaller than the bottom. To me, the cake was basically a lovechild between my Cherry Almond Vanilla Cupcakes and the frosting technique I used with my Almond Infused Cream Cheese Frosting. I added a light layer of sliced maraschino cherries inside each cake layer, and loved using the little frosting pearls to complete the petal frosting theme with a flower on top.

1.10.2013

Spinach & Arugula Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Plenty of us have made new-years resolutions in regards to food: Eat less of it. Eat healthier portions of it. Eat less meat. Eat less fat. Eat less sugar. Eat more green. Eat more of the good stuff. Eat less of the bad stuff. Eat it, period. 

In our house, the only goal I've made with respect to food is with my snacking habits. When I eat meals throughout the day, and try my best to feed healthy meals to my family, I feel like I make good choices (well, as much as I can with a husband for a definite thirst for butter and comfort food).

When I snack, I bomb. Hard core.

I head straight for the chocolate. The cookie. The bowl of sugary cereal. The candy. The cake. The cupcake. The dessert in it's many beautiful forms. Thank heavens for exercise, but MAN, sugar and I can hit the town together.

I know it's horrible, but I love it. And I will never give up my beloved sugar. But I can reduce the amount of it I choose to have each day.

So what I've done since day 1 this year, is have a bowl of healthy snack servings for our family available to us (neatly in little pre-measured serving snack baggies), in place of the ridiculous bowl of sweets. I've filled my fridge with more green things to snack on (recently discovered the beauty of sugar-snap peas), low-fat cheese sticks, nuts (what we can afford, anyways. nuts are dang expensive), and plenty of fresh fruit. We have become obsessed with these little fruit sqeezes. The sugary treats are less available to me, and have been replaced with healthier options. This doesn't mean I've eliminated them altogether (we still love drinking hot chocolate sometimes while watching our nightly Monk episode), but what I've done is turned the dial down on the sugar. Now when I'm hungry between meals, I can reach for a better choice of snack. I'm not perfect, but have certainly held down the fort for a few days.

I will still continue to make desserts, and try new dessert recipes for the blog. But will probably be better at giving more of them away (keeping plenty for Ryan, of course. He could always stand to gain a few pounds) instead of attacking them with a fork between meals. Neighbors, consider yourselves hired to take them off my hands more often.

This salad took a little bribing for Ryan. A salad alone cannot fed his manly appetite, so I threw on some panko baked chicken to top it off. He was sold. Instantly, he loved the salad (minus the mushrooms). I think it more had to do with the fact that there was a pile of bacon involved. It was amazing, and very easy to toss together.

This salad can be switched up like crazy. Instead of sticking to mainly spinach, we used both baby spinach and arugula. Arugula, to me, adds such an interesting flavor to things (almost buttery).  I also added slices of fresh tomato and a bit of shredded Parmesan. You can omit ingredients, or add in new ones to fit your family's tastes. But I beg of you, don't miss out on this vinaigrette. It seeps perfectly into the hard boiled egg, and adds an amazing smoky favor to the leaves, as well as the raw mushrooms. Each texture plays such a wonderful part in this salad, and we were thankfully surprised at how filling it was. And the smell of bacon was pleasantly intoxicating, as usual.

-------
Spinach & Arugula Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:
8 oz baby spinach/arugula salad mix
4 large white mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/4 of small red onion, very thinly sliced
3 large hard boiled eggs, chilled and thinly sliced
6 pieces of bacon
1 roma tomato, thinly sliced
2 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t honey
1/4 t sugar (optional)
1/2 t Dijon mustard
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sprinkle of Parmesan 

Method:
1. Place salad leaves mixture in a wide salad serving bowl. Scatter with mushrooms, red onion, tomato, and hard boiled eggs.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay bacon flat on a non-stick cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until bacon is nice and crispy. Remove bacon from pan and place on a plate covered in a paper towel, save about 2 Tablespoons of the drippings.
3. Run bacon through a mini food processor until they become tiny little bacon bits. Sprinkle on salad.  
4. In a small saucepan, heat bacon drippings, red wine vinegar, honey, sugar, and Dijon over medium heat, whisking constantly. Pour over entire salad and season with salt and pepper.
5. Toss gently and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve with vinaigrette warm.

Recipe adapted from: smittenkitchen.com

1.08.2013

Beefy Macaroni and Cheese

I know, more man food. But whenever we have all-fruit + spinach smoothies for breakfast, and a couple new salad recipes planned for the week for dinner, I have to bribe Ryan to be okay with it. Dishes like this seal the deal in our house.

At first when I saw this recipe, I thought it would be some kind of nasty Hamburger Helper relative. And that made me very, very nervous. That stuff is kind of gross (to us), and I still have nightmares thinking about it. I promise I'm not a box-meal snob. On a day impossible to throw anything together for dinner, we sometimes sneak in Mac & Cheese or a Homestyle Bake, and I'm okay with that. But we stay far, far away from the white glove smiling on the box.

I was happily proven wrong. This dish isn't related to that nasty box of filth by any means. It's a decadently creamy bed of beautifully cheesy shell noodles, with a hidden layer of beef with just the right amount of spice. From the first bite Ryan loved it. We shared half of it for lunch, and the other half for dinner. I love lazy days. We didn't have anything planned on Saturday. We stayed in, away from the once-again-negative temperatures, and cozied on up with the Manchild. The only time we left the house was for Ryan to go to a meeting, and me to get my run in on the treadmill down the street. We stayed in our comfy clothes, drank hot chocolate, watched a couple basketball games, and played with the Manchild. 

It was a much-needed day of relaxation before the big plunge:

Ryan's VERY last semester of law school started Monday. 

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Beefy Macaroni and Cheese
Makes about 4 servings 

Ingredients:
kosher salt
8 oz medium pasta shells
3 T unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 T tomato paste
1 T chili powder
8 oz ground beef
2 T all-purpose flour
1 C low-fat milk (1%) - I used skim, worked fine
2 1/2 C shredded Mexican cheese blend (8 oz)
2 T panko breadcrumbs
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Method:
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato paste and chili powder and stir until brick red, about 2 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until browned, 4 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread mixture in a 3-quart baking dish. Preheat the broiler.
4. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the milk and reserved cooking water, bring to a simmer and cook, whisking, until thick, 2 minutes.
5. Add 2 cups cheese, the cooked pasta, and 3/4 teaspoon salt and stir until the cheese melts. Spread over the beef mixture.
 6. Mix the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and panko. Sprinkle over the pasta mixture and broil until golden. Top with scallions. 

Recipe Source: Food Network Magazine

1.07.2013

Whole-Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones

The negative temperatures here in the morning (and afternoon, and early evening) is becoming the new norm. I don't remember it ever being this freezing in the valley - and we've lived here for quite a while. The sun can be pretty deceiving, too. It looks like a beautiful day outside, then the minute you set foot out that front door, your nostrils freeze shut.

Thankfully, my husband gifted me a way to run inside through these frigid months (last year I ran outside the entire season, but never did it get this cold.) So instead of busting out the running tights and freezing my teeth out every morning, I get to run inside in a tank and shorts. The only cold I feel is the distance from my front door to the car, and my car to the front door. I miss running outside, and think treadmills are boring, but I think I'd rather run in temperatures above the zero line. Sanity is important this time of year.

When I come home from running, I love to make all-fruit smoothies (I don't always have the time, but I love it when I do). This week we have fresh slices of banana, and frozen peaches, blueberries, and raspberries to work with. So when I saw this scone recipe needed raspberries, there's no way I was going to spend $4 a pouch on fresh raspberries. I just thawed out a cup of those delicious berries from my frozen stash, and called it good. It worked out just lovely, I must say.

These scones were freakishly simple to make. I'm not hard core enough to knead the dough by hand, so I let my stand mixer fitted + dough hook do most of the work. The dough came out beautifully, and the raspberries gave it such a wonderful marbled swirl. These scones bake right up in the oven, so there's no soak-and-fry-em-up-in-oil ritual required.

Also, this was my second attempt at using whole wheat flour. It's still not my favorite, but I still find myself (yet again) wanting to try recipes with it listed in the ingredients. I think the next time I make these scones I'll use all white flour. If you like whole wheat, keep the full amount. For me, it was certainly worth a try using the wheat - and a lot healthier, from what I understand. Using ricotta in scones is genius - and has opened up a few more possibilities. I also immediately fell in love with how hearty these were, yet still having that decadent fluffiness. Every so often, you'd bite into a juicy piece of raspberry. This countered the not-too-sweet flavor of the scone. I think these would go well with a drizzle of honey or a slab of melted butter down the center. Maybe this could serve well as a breakfast treat with a side of seasoned egg whites. Good, good stuff.

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Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones

Ingredients:
1 C whole wheat flour 
1 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 C sugar
1/2 t table salt
6 T cold unsalted butter
1 C fresh raspberries (frozen raspberries work fine)
3/4 C whole milk ricotta
1/3 C heavy cream

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray or use parchment paper. 
2. In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt together with paddle attachment on a stand mixer.
3. Blend on low until mixture resembles coarse meal. Roughly chop the raspberries on a cutting board and stir them into the butter-flour mixture.
4. Switch attachment to dough hook. Add ricotta and heavy cream into mixer bowl. Raspberries will smear - but no worries. 
5. Transfer dough to a well-floured counter. Flour the top of the dough and pat it into a 7-inch square about 1 inch tall. With a large knife, divide the dough into 9 even squares. 
6. Transfer dough with a spatula to prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until ightly golden at the edges. Cool in pan for a bit, then transfer to cooling rack. 

Makes 9 scones.  

1.04.2013

Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes

If you husband is like mine, he will probably follow you around the house calling you ''goddess divine'' after you feed this dish to him.

Okay, maybe not goddess divine, but he will most certainly find some special way to say "thank-you." Men like this kind of food. They adore this kind of food. Meat and Potatoes, for Ryan, is practically all there is. If I ever want to make him extra happy, and fix something a little extra special, this dish is a guaranteed win.

It's straight from a fabulous blogger's book: the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. My brother's family, the Washintonites, sent it to me for my birthday last month. I fell in love at first sight - probably because I've always loved Deb, and her fabulous recipes. The book version was dinner and dessert page by page. Literally.

I grew up hating meatloaf. I thought it was some giant messed up gathering of nastyness in a pan. Boy, was I wrong. And if I could go back and slick up my plate every time my dear Mother served it to the family, I think I'd lick the plate clean. Meatloaf is delicious. This recipe is no exception.

The bed of browned butter mashed potatoes was probably our favorite batch of mashed potatoes we'd had in a while. (besides the Parmesan Smashed Red Potatoes, those were equally as delicious). I chose to leave the skins on the yellow potatoes. Laziness? No way. It's delicious. Also, the tomato glaze was tangy, thick, and decadent on those gorgeous little meatloaves. Here's a little secret: the meatloaves have some veggies hidden in them. It added such a wonderful hint of sweetness along with the savory. We honestly can't wait to make this again. The leftovers were fought over.

Don't try to make this recipe without a food processor. You will hate me.

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Tomato-Glazed Meatloves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
 
Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves:

Ingredients:

Glaze:
4 t vegetable oil
1/4 C tomato paste
2 T cider vinegar
2 t honey
2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 t table salt

Meatballs:
2 slices white sandwich bread
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium stalk celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
EVOO, for cooking
1 t table salt, plus more for veggies
freshly ground pepper
2 lbs ground beef
1 T tomato paste
1 t smoked paprika
1 t Dijon mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 C milk
1/4 C finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs

Method:
1. Prepare Glaze: Combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan, and simmer, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Set aside.
2. Make Meatloaves: Preheat oven to 350 degres.
3. Tear the bread into chunks and then blend it in a food processor into breadcrumbs. Place breadcrumbs into a large bowl. Add garlic, onion, celery, and carrot to the food processor,a nd pulse until they are finely chopped.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, coat the bottom with olive oil, and heat the oil for a minute. Add the finely chopped veggies. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes.  
5. Add the vegetables to the large bowl with breadcrumbs. Then add remaining ingredients. Stir the ingredients together with a fork. With wet hands (yes, hands. don't wuss out on me now), form the mixture into twelve 3-inch meatballs. Each will weight about 4 ounces (and will probably be larger than expected.)
6. Bake meatloves: Space them so they are not touching in a greased baking dish. Drizzle or brush each meatball with a teaspoon or so of the tomato glaze you made earlier, and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes (mine took 35 minutes). Use a freaking meat thermometer here, people. Should register at about 160-165.
7. Serve with additional glaze on a bed of brown butter mashed potatoes.

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Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes:

Ingredients:
2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
8 T unsalted butter, melted and browned (see how to brown butter here)
1 C buttermilk
1-2 t table salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method:
1. Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and once it's boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes - the potatoes are ready when a paring knife or fork can be inserted into the center with little resistance. Drain potatoes.
2. Put potatoes into a stand mixer bowl with fitted paddle attachment. Do not over mix, or they will become gummy. Add brown butter, buttermilk, salt and black pepper. Mix on low until you reach your desired mashed potato texture. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

recipes inspired from ''the Smitten Kitchen cookbook" - pg 187-188. 
makes about 9 large meatball/meatloves and enough mashed potatoes for about 6 people.

1.02.2013

Southwestern Chicken and Corn Chowder

Okay, I admit it.

I'm kind of obsessive compulsive about clutter, and the removal of it immediately. Thankfully, this fascination with the removal-of-things-I-don't-need-in-my-home flares up when a new season starts. In our case this week, it was the beginning of, well, the new year.

I think it mostly has to do with my fear of having to go through everything when we eventually move to a new place. I don't want to transfer clutter from one location to the next. So, every so often I go through almost every nook-and-cranny in the house, and see what we haven't used/haven't worn in the past few years. Then, I take it either to the DI, pawn it off at Platos Closet, or torch the sucker. Only jesting about that last part; my pyro tendencies wouldn't be able to handle all the excitement.

Like I've said before, de-cluttering is the best kind of therapy for me. My house isn't always perfect, but my family can probably tell by my mood alone if I've felt the need to clean something, and haven't yet.

Still wondering how I'm going to transition this into food?

Well, I like to think I'm really good at making sure the nether-regions of the house are cleaned a couple times a year (under the couch, entertainment center, under the bed, etc). However, I will almost never look under the fridge or under the oven until the official ''cleaning day" before we move. I'm afraid for my life, people, for what we may find.

Oh look, now we're in the kitchen. Let's talk about this soup, shall we?

Made this soup on Sunday. I think this soup recipe was downright delicious, but needed a little love getting there. I am completely in love with creamed corn in soups, but seeing 'frozen corn' in the ingredients left me a little puzzled - I dumped in two cans without batting an eye. Throwing them in with some zesty southwestern flavors doesn't hurt either (I added some cajun seasonings - oh heaven have mercy). Also, originally this soup didn't have any beans. I threw them right in without hesitation, and went with a lovely poblano instead of a jalapeno. This soup also doesn't require adding any cream/half-and-half/butter, etc. The creamed corn takes care of it.

I have a confession: I've learned the beauty of baking bacon. I was totally the president of hating-on-the-bacon-bakers club. But I've repented, and found how easy it is to throw in a few strips at 400 degrees for a few minutes instead of babysitting each piece along the way. I can pop the pan in the oven, and prepare the other ingredients at the same time. The bacon comes out evenly cooked, and the perfect texture. When I make soup, I hate adding in the bacon early. I know it helps the bacon flavor seep into the other ingredients, but at the price of having to eat floppy chewy bacon. I put it in cripsy, and it comes out sloppy.

Gross. and lame.

I like my bacon the same way I like my marshmallows - almost burnt to a crisp. So sprinkling the bacon at the end, and only at the end, is a must for me. 

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Southwestern Chicken and Corn Chowder

Ingredients:
1 T EVOO
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 poblano pepper, seeds, membrane, and end removed, chopped
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cubed
6 pieces bacon, cooked to a crisp and crumbled
2 C milk
2 T flour
2 15oz cans creamed corn
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 t dried thyme
1 t cajun seasoning - add more to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1.  Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. Heat over medium.
2. Add onion, carrots, celery, poblano, and garlic. Cover pot with lid and cook for about 5 minutes.
3. Add raw chicken to vegetables. Add enough water to slightly cover all ingredients. Cover pot with lid and cook for about 20 minutes until chicken is done.
4. Add cans of creamed corn, and black beans.
5. Combine milk and flour in a measuring cup, stir well. Pour into chowder.
6. Add thyme and cajun seasoning. Salt and pepper like crazy.
7. Sprinkle soup with bacon, cover soup with lid, and simmer about 20 minutes.

recipe inspired by: addapinch.com
makes about 8 servings