Friday, May 31, 2013

Strawberry-Lemonade Icebox Cake

Layered icebox cake dessert
I'm surprised I like the idea of icebox cakes, it's cookies layered with pudding/whipped topping that you pull together ahead of time and let it sit overnight to allow the liquid parts to soften the cookies.  Usually I think pudding is gross and soggy cookies don't sound like my idea of a good time, but I really like this dish. 

One reason I like this dish is because I like things you can make ahead of time since it gives you time to focus on other things. And this dish you HAVE to make ahead of time, it needs time to work it's magic.

Plus the icebox cake concept can be used as a base for a lot of different flavor variations. When you think about it, this is pretty much just the Midwestern version of Italian tiramisu.

Inspiration


Cooking Light Chocolate-Eclair Icebox Dessert

I've made the chocolate version of this recipe but this time I used the recipe as a guide for making a totally different flavor.  I based it on the box of instant pudding I had at home, which was lemon.  I went with a strawberry-lemonade concept since I had a few fresh strawberries left.

I modified the recipe to make a half-size batch since we didn't need a full 9x13 pan of dessert for our family of three.  An 8x8 pan is approximately half the size of a 9x13 pan, but I experimented and found that my 9x7 pan was a better fit for the graham crackers.  I prefer more "cake" layers than pudding, so I always add an extra layer of graham crackers.

Ingredients

  • 12-14 sheets (about 1/2 of a 14-ounce box) honey graham crackers
  • 1.5 cups almond milk 
  • 1 (3.4-ounce) package lemon instant pudding mix
  • 3 ounces fat-free cream cheese (I used three wedges of Laughing Cow strawberries & cream spread)
  • 1/2 (8-ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • handful of strawberries, cut into flat slices

Directions

Put a layer of graham crackers down in a 9x7 pan. 
first layer of graham crackers
In a large bowl pour the almond milk and sprinkle the instant pudding mix on top.  Mix it with your blender.  When that is combined, add the cream cheese and blend until smooth. Mine never really got completely smooth, but no big deal.
Some ingredients of the pudding layer


Mixing up the pudding layer
Gently incorporate the whipped topping into the pudding mixture.  Spread 1/4 of the mixture on the graham cracker base you already laid down in your pan. 

Pudding mixture on the grahams

Add more graham crackers on top and add more pudding mixture. 
Add more grahams
Add another layer of graham crackers and layer your strawberries on top. 
Add a layer of sliced strawberries
Add pudding mixture and cover with grahams.  Keep going with another layer of grahams and another layer of pudding mixture.  End with pudding on the top for however many layers you want. 
More pudding mixture

Verdict 

I liked the flavor combo of strawberries and lemon but felt the strawberries were a little out of place since they were too firm in the middle of this super-soft dessert.  But I also don't like nuts in my brownies since it's a different texture, so this was probably the wrong choice for my preferences.  In the future I would not use whole fruit but whiz it up into the pudding layer. 

The taste was really good.  The cream cheese never got smoothly incorporated, but that's fine since it was sweetened and wasn't huge chunks.  I personally don't think you need the cream cheese, maybe next time I'll go without.    

Other flavor variations I'd like to make in the future:
  • Strawberry shortcake - Strawberries, graham crackers, and vanilla pudding.  or cheesecake pudding for a strawberry cheesecake.
  • Chocolate-banana - banana slices, graham crackers, and chocolate pudding.  could also add some regular or powdered peanut butter
  • Mocha -  chocolate cookies, and chocolate pudding with decaf coffee crystals
  • Oreo - Oreo cookies, chocolate pudding or Oreo pudding since they make that, but it might be hard to find.
  • S'mores - add marshmallow fluff to the pudding mix, grahams, chocolate pudding.  some chocolate sauce or shaved chocolate would be welcome here.
  • Chocolate-covered strawberries  - strawberries, chocolate pudding 
  • Peaches & cream - peaches, vanilla pudding with peach schnapps

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making My Own Vanilla Extract

Only ingredients
I decided to finally make my own vanilla extract the other day since it was on my list of food goals for 2013.  It's kind of an involved process, takes a while to fully develop, so I smartly started it now, rather than when my bottle of vanilla runs out.  I don't have much left, so hurry up and become vanilla extract!

I bought the vanilla beans from Arizona Vanilla Company based on a recommendation from my sister-in-law.  Thanks, Theresa!

Inspiration 

Akshayapaatram Home-Made Extracts

I increased the vanilla beans from 3 to 6 because the original recipe used 3/4 cup vodka and I was using a 375 ml bottle (1 1/2 cups), plus I wanted it to be stronger since I always use twice the regular amount of regular vanilla since I like a lot of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 375 ml vodka - I opted for Svedka, I think it's a good brand
  • 6 vanilla beans

Directions

Slice the vanilla beans lengthwise and put them in the vodka.  I'm glad I only went with 6 beans, there was no more room in the bottle, the vodka would have come over the top.
Sliced vanilla beans.

Shake the bottle every day for a week.  

Immediately after putting the beans in.

Morning of the fourth day.  Already looks good!
It should be strong enough to use in two weeks, but I'm going to let it marinate for as long as possible for maximum flavor. I have six more vanilla beans so I can add more beans as I use it up and add more vodka to replenish it. 

Wanna Chat?

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"BLT" Pesto Pasta

BLT pesto pasta - I add sliced raw mushrooms
to my bowl because I'm kind of addicted to them right now.
I love basil pesto, it's so easy to make and flexible  enough to customize based on what you've got in the house.  Like my recipe doesn't use pine nuts because I don't buy them (they're too expensive!), instead I use chopped almonds from the bulk bin.  I buy about a cup's worth and keep them in the bag in a Tupperware container in the freezer. I also add spinach if I've got it to stretch it out to make more pasta and add some nutrition, the basil is a strong enough flavor to carry it through the whole dish. 

Another beautiful quality about pesto is that it freezes well. Some recipes mention leaving the Parmesan cheese out if you're going to freeze it and then add it when you defrost it, but I think it turns out fine to make the full recipe and put any extra in an ice cube tray and freeze it.  For me, I find two ice cubes is enough for a 1-person serving on 2 ounces of pasta. I'll pull out a couple cubes and have pesto pasta for lunch when the feeling strikes me.

The only disappointing thing is that basil wasn't available at my local grocery store until recently so I was only able to buy it at the farmers' market during the summer.  But then the other day while I was shopping I saw that they started offering packets of organic basil next to the tomatoes. Yay!  I immediately started planning my next pesto meal.

One caveat: I don't know how you make pesto without an immersion blender, that's the only way I've ever made it.  Does it work in a regular blender if you're working with such a small batch? 


Inspiration

This is my own regular recipe for pesto, all I did was add some bacon.  It's not really "BLT" since there's no lettuce and no mayo and no bread, but I think the spinach stands in for the lettuce well enough and the pasta counts as bread. 

If you want to make this gluten-free, be sure to put it on a gluten-free pasta.

To make it vegetarian, you can sub out the bacon for any bacon-flavored vegetarian product such as Bac-O's or veggie bacon strips.

Ingredients

4-5 servings depending on how hungry you are
  • 6 oz. pasta - I used elbow mac
  • 3/4 oz basil (this is the size container they've got at the store, I would say it's a small handful?)
  • 2 small handfuls spinach
  • 2 handfuls chopped almonds
  • 1.5 T olive oil
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked then finely chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
  • tomatoes - I used 5 cherry tomatoes for my bowl

Directions 


Boiling the pasta and blanching the basil and spinach
Start your pasta water in a covered pot over high heat.  When it comes to a boil add the pasta and give it a stir right away so it doesn't stick.  Then put your basil leaves and spinach in a small mesh strainer and dip it into the boiling pasta water.  Supposedly this prevents the pesto from oxidizing later, it probably also makes it easier to pulverize.  I also like that it flavors the pasta water with basil.
Adding almonds

Then dump the blanched basil and spinach into a container that works with your immersion blender.  Our immersion blender comes with a blending cup, but I don't know if it's heat-proof so I use my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup.  Add the almonds, olive oil, salt and parmesan and blend until smooth.

Whiz it up
You can also make this into creamy pesto sauce by adding some sort of cheese -- cottage cheese, little wedges of Laughing Cow, etc. 

Smooth finished product.
When your pasta is done, you can either let each person put their own pesto and bacon chunks on or mix it into the entire batch.

Add the tomatoes and a sprinkle of Parmesan on top if you like.  I used a little less pasta in my bowl and add some chopped raw mushrooms.  

Verdict


Bacon makes everything better!

Husband Jeff and Sonny D don't eat tomatoes, so I only added them to my own bowl rather than the whole batch.  This is already really close to the way I make pesto for myself, I add tomatoes to my bowl because it's so perfect with pesto and sometimes I'll add mushrooms if I've got them.  Adding bacon adds that little extra sumthin' that makes it special.

Husband Jeff likes pesto occasionally, and this was the first batch of the summer, so he was pretty receptive.  He even commented that the pesto itself was really good, and of course adding bacon made it even better.  

Aside from avocados, pesto is the only green food Sunny D will eat, and he loves it. I felt only slightly bad for hiding spinach in this, but you really can't tell it's there. 

Wanna Chat?

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of May 27

Monday is a holiday so we've got a short work week. I like that!
  •  Monday - grillout with Husband Jeff's best friend's family
  • Tuesday - my parents are coming over and so I need to run the menu past them first, but I'm thinking sweet potato tots, two-timin' pasta (marinara and alfredo sauce mixed), turkey meatballs, a vegetable, and grapes
  • Wednesday - our exercise class is over, so we might convince my in-laws to watch Sonny D like usual and Husband Jeff and I go out for dinner by ourselves.
  • Thursday - We've got a parent-teacher conference at Sonny D's daycare and he has a haircut afterwards, so I was thinking french toast cooked up in the waffle iron, scrambled eggs, and grapes
  • Friday - polenta pizza rounds and a veggie
  • Saturday - Korean-flavored tempeh (fermented soybean cake) with rice stir fry
  • Sunday - no idea what to do, so we'll go with my standard soup and sandwiches. 

Wanna Chat?

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's Inside My May Goodies Box?

Here are the food products I received in my Goodies Co box for May, starting clockwise in the back row.
  • Zico coconut water. I've tried coconut water before and I don't like it so I don't know what I'm going to do with this big container.  I'd like to use it in a recipe that makes good use of it's delicate coconut flavor.  I looked around online and my best bets are using it for smoothies or as the liquid for making angel food cake. 
  • Dorval sour straws candy. We ripped into these right away, they were great!  They weren't tooth-achingly like most candy.  I attribute it to them being from Europe, in my opinion, Europeans really know how to make candy.
  • Wholly Guacamole chip-clip and coupon for free package of guacamole.  A chip-clip is always good, we use these often at our house. 
  • 2 mini California Olive Ranch olive oil packets.  Not sure what I'm going to do with these since it's such a small amount, hopefully the opportunity will present itself.  Maybe camping?
  • Kathie's Kitchen Super Seedz pumpkin seeds with sea salt. I love pumpkin seeds!  Buying pumpkins at Halloween is awesome mainly because I love the seeds, carving them is totally secondary. I prefer them in the shell because I eat the whole thing, but these will be good too.
  • Beanitos snack-size bag of chipotle BBQ chips.  We've tried the plain version of Beanitos and they weren't impressive, maybe a flavored version is better. 
  • Bronco Bob's roasted mango chipotle sauce.  I would be clueless on how to use this, luckily the package says to pour it on top of cream cheese and serve with crackers. Sounds like a great idea! I'll use this
  • Numi Moroccan organic mint tea and a coupon.  Yay, I'm glad to get more herbal tea!  Love it. 

Wanna Chat?

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Brownie Mix Cookies

Chewy cookies with the standard crinkly brownie top
I love brownies made from a box mix.  If there was one food I could eat as much as I wanted and the calories didn't count, I would want box brownies.  So, with that love of brownies going on, I typically ensure I've got a box of brownie mix in the cupboard at all times since you never know when you'll need to bring a treat for work or a dish to pass for a potluck.  Well, those sort of things never spring up on me since I plan ahead... so I guess I'm admitting sometimes I just want to make myself a pan of brownies. 

But I decided to change it up a bit and see what else you can make with a box of brownie mix, so here's a recipe that uses the mix to make cookies. 

Inspiration

Six Sisters' Stuff Double Chocolate Brownie Mix Cookies

I originally started with a different recipe but the mixture was so dry I couldn't stir it, possibly because we were using different size boxes of brownie mix.  I referenced this recipe and I ended up the adding 2 tablespoons of water they called for, and it worked perfectly. 

Ingredients 

makes approximately 45 cookies using a medium cookie scoop
  • 1 box brownie mix - I used the Betty Crocker dark chocolate fudge brownie mix, 13x9 size (19.9 oz)
  • 2T water
  • 1/4 c oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c chips - I used white chocolate chips since I had the remnants of a bag in my baking container in the pantry, but you could add regular chocolate chips, mint chips, caramel chips, nuts, etc.  
Add a little water and now things look right.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using a medium cookie scoop, place plops of batter (yes, plops is an official baking term) pretty far apart on the lined cookie sheet because the batter spreads quite a bit. 
a plop of batter.
Bake about 8-9 minutes.  I found that the original 10 minutes was a little too long, I wanted to ensure the cookies weren't hard as rocks, so I took them out at 9 minutes.
Cooling cookies
Let them rest on the pan for about 3 minutes because otherwise they're really delicate.  Then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Verdict

Chewy brownie edges -- as a cookie. 

This is the perfect cookie if you like the chewy brownie edges.   I'm more of a middle-of-the-pan gal who prefers her brownies all soft, so these aren't my favorite cookie.  Nothing wrong with them at all, I just want a different texture. 

Sonny D liked the one we shared after they came out of the oven, but he didn't get any more since I took the rest to work to treat my coworkers. 

Wanna Chat?

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Making Berries Last Longer: or Vinegar is your Friend

strawberries taking a swim in a vinegar solution
Do you ever buy berries at the market and feel like they turned all moldy and gross in less than a day?  I hate it when that happens!  I figured I'd look on the internet for some help on making my berries last longer.  It turns out a vinegar wash is in order.  I typically use a vinegar spray to clean my produce, so this made sense to me.  

My resource was the Food Lush website that told me to use vinegar.  The ratio is 10:1, water to vinegar.  I measured out vinegar and water in a cake holder and gently swished the berries around.  And they lasted a long time, I don't remember when I bought them, but I know they lasted more than a couple days. 

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Little Bit of Sweet: Carrot Cake Cookies

Finished cookies
I thought that oatmeal raisin cookies sounded good, but a carrot cake cookie won the coin toss because I had a can of carrots in the pantry that I figured I should use.  

 

Inspiration

Oh She Glows Itty Bitty Carrot Cake Cookies

I don't like coconut a whole lot so I replaced it with an equal amount of oats.  I also don't have maple syrup so I replaced it with an equal amount of brown sugar.  I skipped the nuts because I typically don't like nuts in my cookies, and coconut oil.

I figured this would probably need an egg to help hold it together (my typical thought for a cookie recipe without eggs) so I added an egg.


Carrots and plumped up raisins.

Ingredients

makes about 22 smaller cookies
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I’m sure other flours would work!)
  • 1/2 cup regular oats
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup canned carrots, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup raisins, covered in water and cooked in the microwave for 1.5 min. 
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

mashed carrots, raisins, and egg

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

mixed dough
Mix together the dry ingredients in a small bowl (flour through salt).  In a large bowl mix together the wet ingredients (carrots through vanilla).  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix to combine. 

Using a medium cookie scoop, drop them onto the parchment paper and flatten a little since they won't spread out on their own.  Bake for 12 minutes, and then move them to a rack to cool. 


waiting to go into the oven

Verdict

Not much carrot flavor, not really much of a cookie.

These were only ok.   When they first came out of the oven they seemed too gingery, but that went away after a day.  They didn't have much carrot flavor at all, but I attribute that to the canned carrots.  I used the rest of the carrots in my oatmeal for the next two breakfasts and there was barely any flavor at all.

But Sonny D and I ate all of these cookies.  I'm glad it made a small batch though so we didn't have so many to eat.  But at least I felt good about him eating them since they're so healthy.  Probably actually too healthy.  Husband Jeff tried one, but didn't eat any more because he said there was too much ginger.  Yeah, too much ginger and not enough sugar! 

I don't know if I would make these again, I think I would prefer a non-oat version made with freshly grated carrot, no raisins, and cream cheese frosting.  

Wanna Chat?

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Throwing Things Together: Lentil Salad

Finished salad

Inspiration

raisins, lentils, goat cheese, and sunflower seeds.
I saw the pre-cooked lentils at Trader Joe's and figured I could use them for something.  I thought about putting them on salad greens, but you needed to use them up pretty quickly and I didn't know how much of them we would want to eat on salads before we got sick of them that way.  So I needed a new idea.  I thought for a bit but couldn't really come up with any recipes that enticed me, so I made up my own.  I didn't have any plan, just improvised as I went along.

Ingredients

  • 17 oz cooked lentils (how convenient, the size of the package from Trader Joe's!)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • salt & pepper
  • 7 oz petitle diced tomatoes
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • about 2 ounces goat cheese (I used Rosebud from Dreamfarm in Cross Plains, WI)
  • 1/2 T oil (I used pumpkin seed but I suggest you use olive oil)

pumpkin seed oil, olive oil, parsley, (ignore the curry),
diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, black pepper

Directions

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Make sure you add the oil last since that will coat the ingredients and prevent anything else from getting absorbed. 

Verdict

It felt so Euro!

Husband Jeff and I liked this enough to eat it pretty quickly over only a couple days.  The goat cheese was a great choice, a good funky tang.  But I wish I had used a different vinegar, balsamic is really overpowering and it totally dominated over the mild flavor of the lentils.  I would probably also leave out the sunflower seeds since they felt like uncooked lentils when you chewed, too crunchy.  So it could be even simpler.  And I was unsure about the tomatoes, but next time I could use the whole can. 

I would also like to try a curry version.  When I was putting this together I pulled out all the ingredients that interested me and then I had to decide what flavor I wanted.  Maybe a curry vinaigrette?  Some greens would be nice too.

Wanna Chat?

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Taste of Home: Korean Beef

I needed a dinner recipe to take advantage of the pre-cooked ground beef I had in the freezer and this one fit the bill.  I figured Sonny D would probably like it for three reasons -- it's Korean, it's meat, and it's served with rice.    I liked the recipe since it didn't call for anything weird, we had everything at home already. 

Ground beef with rice.
Lemme just tell ya that I love having pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer.  It seems like pre-cooking your ground beef wouldn't save much time, but it totally does.  I pull it out the night before to let it defrost in the refrigerator and by the next day's dinner time it's pretty much fully defrosted and we're ready to roll.  It's easy to turn into taco meat, add BBQ sauce for loose meat sandwiches, or even a quick Asian-inspired dish like Inside Out Egg Roll Stir Fry.   
The star of the show, pre-cooked ground beef

Inspiration

Lizzy writes: Korean beef

The original poster likes her dish rather sweet, but we don't, so I reduced the brown sugar from 1/4 cup down to 2 tablespoons.  Otherwise the rest of the ingredients are exactly the same.  I wasn't clear if she meant "sprinkle it on your pizza" crushed red pepper or the Korean version called gochujaru.  I have the Korean version, so I went with that.  Gochujaru isn't spicy, so I knew I could use the full amount.

You could make a vegetarian version using textured vegetable protein or tempeh. 

Ingredients

The main ingredients
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (mine was pre-cooked but feel free to cook it from raw)
  • 2 T brown sugar 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced from a tube
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers (gochujaru)
  • freshly ground black pepper pepper
  • 2-3 cups brown rice, cooked (I made mine in the rice cooker at lunch and let it sit all afternoon on the 'keep warm' function)
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced
Looks like plain ground beef, but there's lots of flavor in there!

Directions

Once your meat is browned (or defrosted), add the rest of the ingredients except the green onions.  Let it cook to fully warm up and thicken up a bit.  Serve over rice and top with green onions.


Verdict

Simple ingredients but so tasty!

I loved how quick this was to pull together.  Plus it was so flavorful!  Husband Jeff and I agreed that the flavoring/sauce would also work really well with veggies and crumbled tempeh (fermented soybeans, like a variation of tofu but looks more like ground beef).  Husband Jeff also said that it would make for some rockin' Asian tacos.   Sonny D was way more interested in rice but he did have some and seemed to like it.  Some days with a toddler you just can't tell what's going on.   



Wanna Chat?

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of May 20

  • Monday - I'm going to try the adventure of making spring rolls.  They're similar to egg rolls but it's salad ingredients rolled up in a slightly-clear rice paper wrapper and not deep fried.  I've had them at restaurants, so I figured I would try making a shrimp-and-tofu version at home. Aside from the shrimp and tofu, I'm going to use cucumber, carrot shreds, salad greens, avocado, and green onion. I'll serve it with a cooked veggie on the side and rice.  For dessert we'll have more of the strawberry-lemonade icebox cake I made the other day (recipe coming).
  • Tuesday - Dad's Choice because I'm going out for a moms' night out event at Ha Long Bay, a delicious Thai, Laotian, and Vietnamese restaurant.  
  • Wednesday - Husband Jeff and I have exercise class together (last one of the semester), so the usual small meal of a sandwich or random leftovers. 
  • Thursday - Oven-baked pancakes, Greek yogurt souffles, fruit, and breakfast sausages.  The pancakes aren't like your standard round ones, they're baked in the oven in a casserole dish and you cut it into squares to serve it.  I found the recipe on Pinterest and found several bloggers who made it and liked it and it seems like a neat recipe, so I figured why not try it out?  I mentioned it to a friend and she thought it would be good for brunch, so if this goes well, I might try it out on friends as well. 
  • Friday - We're starting off the holiday weekend by meeting up with friends and tailgating for the Milwaukee Brewers game.  I have no idea what the plan is, but Husband Jeff told me I can't go overboard with food planning like I usually do.  Typically I stress over the details and pack a million things.  Maybe we'll take only a package of hot dogs and a bag of buns!  (But hopefully someone is bringing a grill!)
  • Saturday - We have friends that do a burger challenge every Memorial weekend, it's a contest where entrants make burgers and vie for the best burger.  We might actually go this time!  If we don't completely stuff ourselves at the event, I'll try making polenta pizza rounds (pizza toppings on a slice of polenta) with a veggie.
  • Sunday - after all the food we're going to have this week, I figured we'd go light for dinner and have a can of soup with turkey meatballs on the side or sandwiches.
  • Monday - We have friends back in town visiting from Seattle and we were invited to their family cookout.  We were asked to bring a dish to pass and I think I'm going to go for the lemon-basil chickpea salad I've made a few times.  It's easy to prep ahead of time and a light side to go with grilled foods. 

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Season Your Pasta Water

Herbs and spices coloring the
water and making it taste good.
The next time you make pasta for a dish, try seasoning your pasta water. Celebrity Chef Rachel Ray says this is the only chance you get to really infuse your pasta with flavor and I agree.  Typically pasta is really boring on its own, so it's nice to give it a little boost even when you're going to cover it in sauce.

I think it's a good way to enhance your foods.  I've added herbs and spices, but most commonly I'll add a dash of cayenne pepper to the water to enhance the pasta with a little zip but without making the dish super spicy.

I also used this concept when making rice, quinoa, or couscous.  I use flavors that either complement the rest of the meal or flavors that are already in another dish to help tie everything together.  Typically this means I use chicken stock as the liquid, but also throwing in a touch of anything else that seems good.

Wanna Chat?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Favorite Equipment: I Love my Immersion Blender

Not my model, but similar. Courtesy of Braun.com
One of my favorite kitchen tools is immersion blender, sometimes also called a hand blender. We have a standard blender somewhere, but we rarely use it since this can do pretty much everything a regular blender can, plus it's not as big and clunky. 

I have an older model Braun Multiquick 3 that they don't make anymore. It has three removable heads/functions - a blender attachment, a chopper cup attachment, and a whisk attachment.

The blender is the piece I use the most, you can use it to make pesto, smoothies, whiz up soups, etc. I would say that I use it most to blend hot soups while they're still on the stove in the pot.  When I make creamy tomato-basil soup, I stick it right in the pot and blend it up, with only the blender stick to clean.  If you did that in a standard blender, you would need to clean the blender up, plus when you blend hot food in a blender, you can only do a small amount at a time and vent the lid to make sure the food doesn't come popping out. 

The whisk is nice for whipping cream or mixing up a cream cheese frosting.  It's not as strong as a standard mixer, but for small amounts it's perfect. 

The chopper cup is nice for things where you only want to chop things like nuts or mix up ingredients for a salad dressing. I use this least, mainly because I buy most things pre-chopped, but I have used it as a mini food processor to mince things like veggies and ginger. 

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Morning Joe in a Bowl

Inspiration

I think I saw the concept for coffee oatmeal on a blog somewhere, but this isn't copied from a recipe so I had to make it up.  I usually make my oats the night before or in a big batch for the week. By making the oats ahead of time and allowing them to sit overnight, you end up with a bigger bowl of oatmeal than you would if you made it that minute.  It's the same concept as the growing bowl of oatmeal, adding more water than called for and giving it more time to "cook".

My breakfast ended up being mocha oats since I added cocoa. I was afraid the coffee flavor would be too flat so I added the cocoa powder in the morning, but it's actually best to add it the night before so it has time to fully hydrate.  
Dry ingredients

Since I make my oatmeal ahead of time and I like it really thick, the amount of water I used is different than what you might like.  If you're making your oats to eat right now or can't wait until later, you'll probably want to reduce the water to 1/2 cup or so, depending on the texture you prefer your oatmeal to be.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1 T chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon instant decaf coffee 
  • 3/4 cup water (or replace instant coffee and water with 3/4 cup brewed coffee)
  • 1.5 teaspoons cocoa powder

Instructions

Mix all of the ingredients and heat for 1 minute in the microwave.  Stir, and heat for one more minute.  Let sit overnight in the microwave.  By microwaving, you're starting the cooking process, which allows the oats to soak up more water.  I've tried it where I heat it for only one minute the night before, and the oats didn't soak up much water at all.
After going for a spin in the microwave two times. 
In the morning, stir it and heat it for 1 minute, stir, and cook for 1 more minute.

I top my oatmeal with a "milk float" of 1T non-dairy creamer and 2 T almond milk. 

This is how it looks in the morning after the water is absorbed.

Verdict

Deep, dark flavor to start your morning.

I'm not sure why I waited so long to try this, but I thought this was awesome. Oats work really well with coffee.  The coffee flavor was perfect, not too strong or too weak.

According to The Flavor Bible, coffee goes well with banana too, so I'm going to have to try that sometime.

Since I typically make a large batch of oats at once and divide it into containers to eat for the week, I'll have to see how it is if I mix the instant crystals into the oatmeal in the morning.  But this is definitely on my list of go-to flavors for oatmeal.

I talked Husband Jeff into trying a bite and he didn't care for it.  He said, "We have different ideas of what tastes good." 

Wanna Chat?

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of May 13

Here we are again, another week gone by. It feels like we're sprinting to summer. This weekend was cold in Wisconsin -- 41 degrees for a high on Saturday, 61 degrees for a high today, but by Tuesday we're supposed to be at 81. 

I took advantage of the colder weather this weekend and cranked up the oven to make some more roasted veggies.  I was lamenting the fact that I won't be able to make roasted veggies once the weather turns out, but I realized I've now got a Pampered Chef grillpan I got over the winter that I can use.  It might take multiple batches since it's smaller than my huge roasting pan, but some real grill taste will be nice.

Here's the meal plan for the week.  For the Korean dish on Tuesday and the taco salads on Thursday I'm relying on the pre-cooked ground beef I prepped on my last big grocery shopping trip.  I love being able to pull those out and make a meal quickly.  Not that browning ground beef takes a long time, but sometimes it's nice to take care of it when you do have the time and ensure your weeknight dinners are quicker. 

  • Monday - jalapeƱo chicken sausages, roasted veggies with cilantro-jalapeno hummus, and gnocchi alla sorrentina.  The sausages, hummus, gnocchi are from Trader Joe's, I love that place!
  • Tuesday - Korean ground beef dish with rice and whatever random veggies I pull out of the freezer.
  • Wednesday - a small sandwich and fruit (or sometimes leftovers) before exercise class
  • Thursday - taco salads plus probably a can of Mexi-corn or something.
  • Friday - Sonny D will have something quick and easy like pancakes and eggs because I'm going out for a birthday dinner with friends. 
  • Saturday - Mojito salmon (another Trader Joe's favorite) plus whatever I can find that sounds good.
  • Sunday - two-timin' pasta (alfredo plus red sauce) with garlic bread and maybe frozen turkey meatballs.  I might actually make the two-timin' pasta this time, this is at least the second time it's been on the menu but I haven't actually made it yet.

Wanna Chat?

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Springy Lemon Pasta

Here's the finished dish.

 Inspiration

My inspiration for this dish was the lemon slowly wilting away in my hanging produce basket.  That one lemon wasn't enough lemon flavor for my taste, so I added some bottled lemon juice.  I like my lemon dishes to be really strong on the lemon flavor, so you might want to only add one additional tablespoon of bottled lemon juice.  Definitely taste it as you go.

If you want to make this dairy-free, swap out the butter with your favorite oil.  You might also be able to use a non-wheat flour to make the roux gluten-free, but I haven't tried that.  Cornstarch or arrowroot are traditional thickeners you might try.

Ingredients 

Makes 4 servings
Starting off a roux
  • 6 ounces pasta
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch dried parsley (optional)
  • 1.5 cups (almond) milk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2T bottled lemon juice
  • Couple handfuls of peas (frozen)
  • handful of chopped/ripped spinach
  • 4 slices of bacon, minced
  • Salt and pepper
 

Instructions

Start your pasta in a large pot of boiling water.

In a large, deep skillet or saucepan, melt the butter and flour together over medium heat and stir it around and let it cook for a bit to get rid of the rawness of the flour. This is the start of a roux. 

Adding almond milk to the roux
Add the garlic and let it cook for 1 minute, then stir in the milk and ensure it gets evenly incorporated.
Zest your lemon directly over the pan so you get all of it in the dish and add the juice as well.  Let it cook for a bit to thicken up.  Stir in the peas and the spinach and let things warm back up and wilt down.

When your pasta is done, add that and the bacon and stir it all together.  Add salt & pepper to taste. I used a pretty heavy amount of pepper to ensure the dish wasn't just lemon tasting.

Verdict

Lemony-sharp and springy. 

Added lemon juice to the roux
With the creamy citrus and the green peas, this was a wonderfully springy dish to throw together.  Husband Jeff and I loved it, we both like really lemony dishes.  He wanted more protein with our meal (I served it with salads) and was disappointed that the rest of the bacon wasn't going into the dish.

I would make it again, maybe next time with some diced ham.  Could also add some steamed asparagus.  Another variation would be with salmon or shrimp, which could also include the bacon.  
 
This dish would have been pretty quick to pull together but I had to defrost and oven-fry my bacon first. But now I've got the rest of the pound of pre-cooked bacon in my freezer, ready to go into pretty much anything.

You could also add some freshly grated parmesan to the roux when you add the lemon juice for a lemon-alfredo sauce. 

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cooking Light Cravebox #2

What you see in this picture is what came in my second Cravebox.  Cravebox is a food subscription with a theme.  Supposedly the ones I signed up for are curated by Cooking Light magazine. 

  • Two jars of spices, one is Ras al Hanout (a Morrocan spice blend) and the other is a Southwest seasoning blend.  I've already got several jars of Southwest style seasoning blends, so I added this one to the stack.  The Ras al Hanout is one that I've never used before, and I don't think I've ever even found a recipe that I was dying to make and needed this.  Maybe I'll use it as a spice rub for some grilled chicken this summer.
  • Popchips salsa tortilla chips, these were good, really tasted like tortilla chips.
  • Pure Via Stevia, will give this away at work because I don't use artificial sweeteners.
  • Equal low-calories sweetener, gave this away at work.
  • Stash herbal tea assortment, this is a good assortment and some great flavors.
  • Fig Newtons fruit bars, these are essentially cookies.  I think Sonny D tried one and liked it. 
  • ZONEPerfect nutrition bars in chocolate peanut butter, these are essentially a meal replacement bar.  Sonny D didn't like the one he tried, but I thought it was pretty good.  

Cravebox #2

Verdict

Not too bad overall.

I'm disappointed this came with two artificial sweeteners, but I know a lot of people are ok with them, so I understand.  The spices and the tea were great to see though, those are two things I can really use.  I love that the box of teas is all herbal, that's the only type I drink. 

I'm glad I tried Cravebox and I'm glad I was able to find something from a company I appreciate (Cooking Light) but I won't buy any more boxes.  I've gotten two boxes and they've both had artificial sweeteners.  I wrote to Cravebox and Cooking Light to express my dismay about it.  Cravebox responded nicely and gave me a $5 credit, but Cooking Light never responded. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) gmail.com. It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

German Spaetzle

Spaetzle batter
The first time I remember having spaetzle (little German noodles)  was a year ago for Mother's Day brunch and I thought it was great.  Granted, it was probably drenched in butter, which makes all things delicious.

I'm not sure what revived my interest in spaetzle, but something sure did.  I found myself digging around on the internet to find a recipe I felt I could trust.  I went with the Smitten Kitchen recipe because Deb provides a weight measurement for the flour since I like to use a scale.  I don't trust my accuracy with flour in a measuring cup nor do I trust recipes to be using the same method I use to get the flour in the cup... scoop and sweep?  or dip dip dip?  I'd rather avoid all that uncertainty and pull out my food scale instead.

Inspiration

Smitten Kitchen spaetzle
Spaetzle boiling away

I made a half batch because I thought the original 7 eggs seemed like a lot to waste if this didn't turn out.

I saw that other sources mentioned nutmeg and herbs, so I added

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 T (30 ml) milk
  • touch of nutmeg
  • some dried parsley
Buttered spaetzle

Instructions

Prep a large pot of salted water to boil. 

Mix the ingredients together.

When the water is boiling, scoop a bit of the batter into the colander and press it through the holes with a rubber spatula into the lightly boiling water below.  They should float almost immediately, which indicates they're done.  I was a little paranoid so I let them cook for a little longer.  I ended up scooping them out with a slotted spoon, that worked better than the spaghetti grabber or my smallest mesh strainer. 

It took 3-4 batches to work through all the batter and it was helpful to have Husband Jeff there to help scoop the batter into the colander for each round.     

I served the noodles with only a little butter on the noodles, but a lot of people pan fry them.  I would love to try that sometime.

Verdict

Authentic spaetzle is quick and easy! 

These were really good but quite salty.  It ended up that when I salted the water I should have used a lighter hand, because the spaetzle soaked up a ton of salt. It was particularly noticeable with the leftovers, Husband Jeff declared them too salty to eat, but I picked at them and ate more. 

My favorite pieces were the ones that were bigger and thicker, they were chewier and more enjoyable to eat.  So if I want to make these again, I'll think about how to make them as large as I can.

Sonny D didn't eat them at all, but I bet if he realized they were noodles he would try them.  Noodles are always a favorite.  

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) gmail.com. It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My First Goodies Box

Goodies Co box for March
Back in March I posted about signing up for the Goodies Co subscription box and I finally got my first box.  Goodies Co is a subscription healthy food box run by Walmart, each box costs $7.

This first box contained
  • Frontier almond blueberry lemon bites
  • Zone Perfect peanut butter chocolate bar
  • Angie's sweet & salty popcorn
  • Green Giant multigrain sweet potato chips
  • Truebar fruit and nut bar
  • Celsius energy drink
  • $50 wine gift card from NakedWines.com

I had only heard of the popcorn, the Zone bar (got two in another subscription food box), and the sweet potato chips (other bloggers are getting them in the mail), otherwise everything else was new to me. 

Taste Test

For a snack one day I tried the Frontier bites and the sweet & salty popcorn.

The Frontier bites were small squares that looked like a granola bar. I liked the lemony essence, glad it wasn't weak like some lemon flavored items.  I also appreciated that the first and second ingredients are almonds and sunflower seeds, not sugar.  

The sweet and salty popcorn was nice, I'm cool with kettle corn.  I liked the cane juice sweetener they used, it had nice sweetness than you might expect.  But it was a tiny little package, like you'd feel ripped off if you packed this in your lunch with your sandwich and a piece of fruit because there was barely anything in it.

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) gmail.com. It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of May 6

I can't believe we're already into May!  The last time I felt like I was paying attention, things were cold and I was wearing gloves on my way to work in the mornings, and now things are nice and warm!  Here in Wisconsin it felt like we missed out on spring, but jumping straight to the warm weather is perfectly fine with me.

  • Monday - Even after a weekend of going out for several meals, we're going out to Brickhouse BBQ tonight because I've got a Groupon deal that expires on Friday.
  • Tuesday -Quick breakfast meal of eggs, sausage, and toast because I want to try to make it to a drop-in Zumba class.
  • Wednesday - sandwich and piece of fruit because Husband Jeff and I have exercise class.
  • Thursday - Lemon cream pasta made with peas and bacon with some sort of veggie and salads
  • Friday - Shrimp lo mein and salads
  • Saturday - Meatball pizza pitas and salads
  • Sunday- Mother's Day dinner with both sets of parents at Sardine.

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) gmail.com. It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cauliflower-Green Bean Tofu Curry

Almond pieces toasting up in a dry pan.
I needed a recipe to use up the head of cauliflower I had impulsively bought at the grocery store.  I posed several cauliflower dish options to Husband Jeff and he picked this curry recipe.

Inspiration

Laaloosh Cauliflower and Cashew Curry

I also had some green beans I bought without having a recipe in mind.  They were on sale and I figured that since we eat green beans that I'd figure out something to do with them. Into the curry they go!

I also made substitutions based on what we had in the house.  I used almonds instead of cashews, regular peanut butter instead of reduced-fat (and used less of it), and a sprinkle of lemon juice from a bottle instead of lime juice.

Ingredients
An army of cauliflower florets.

  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 3/4 pound green beans,  snapped
  • 1 15oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 tbsp sriracha hot chili sauce
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 T tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Some key players

Instructions


Toast the almond pieces over medium-high heat in a deep pot until they lightly brown.  I used a tall skillet but maybe next time will go even taller with a stockpot since the long green beans like to flip all over.  I had several traitorous beans "abandon ship" that had to be pulled back in to teach the others a lesson.

Green beans, cauliflower, coconut milk, and spices
Add the cauliflower, green beans, coconut milk, curry powder, sriracha, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to medium and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.  I put a lid on while it cooked to ensure the vegetables softened and the sauce didn't evaporate away.

While the curry was cooking, I dry-fried tofu to add to the dish at the end for some protein. 

When the vegetables are to your liking, add the peanut butter and lemon juice and cook a few more minutes until the sauce warms back up.

At this point I added the tofu and stirred everything around to get it coated with sauce.

I served this on top of brown jasmine rice with bacon ranch slaw on the side.

Halfway cooked.

Verdict

Slightly spicy, rich and creamy curry.

Added tofu at the end.
I thought this curry recipe was simpler to make than the one I normally use.   Not that the other one is really complicated, but this was more of a dump-and-stir recipe without a lot of chopping or prep.  If I had a bag of frozen cauliflower and frozen green beans, it would have been even quicker. 

I loved how the coconut milk thickened down to a really luscious, thick creamy sauce. The peanut butter seemed like a strange ingredient, I always think of that as an ingredient for Asian dishes but rarely do I use it for other cultures.  It probably contributed to the thick richness of the sauce. 

Husband Jeff seemed to like it a little more than my regular curry recipe, so this one will probably be my new go-to curry recipe.  Sonny D dug right in when I placed his bowl in front of him, but I don't think he was expecting it to be spicy (wasn't too spicy for him though) so he didn't eat any more of it.  I dumped everything out of his bowl and started over with plain rice and added soy sauce.  He liked that much better and ate three bowls of rice. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) gmail.com. It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!