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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Pecan Crumb Topping

Three overripe bananas are staring at me from across the kitchen.  Eventually they will go in the garbage and I just can't have that.  Yet I'm not the biggest fan of banana flavored anything...there needs to be something else going!  And a....crumb topping!!  Are you as excited as I am?!?  Good.  Now these muffins came out perfectly amazing.   Perfect for a quick breakfast.  If you want to be able to eat one in the car, I'd omit the crumb topping though.  Otherwise, a could foresee a very good morning becoming a not so good morning pretty quickly.  My husband would wince with every falling crumb.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Pecan Crumb Topping
makes 12 muffins

For the muffins:
3/4 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 overripe bananas
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
5 Tbsp butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips of your choice (I use 60% dark)

For the crumb topping:
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another bowl, mash the bananas.  Then beat in the egg, vanilla, sugar, milk, and butter until thoroughly combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and combine until just moistened.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Fill your muffin tins with paper liners and divide the batter evenly amongst them.  In a small bowl, make the crumb topping by combining the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter until crumbly.  Then add in the pecans and mix together.  Sprinkle these evenly over the batter.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until a toothpick cleanly comes out of their center.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

This is the best recipe ever.  I have been waiting very patiently to share this with you favorite recipe to date.  This dish reminds me of my Bubby's chicken fricassee - but with dumplings.  She made a dumpling with gravy recipe too, but it is nothing like this.  Her dumplings were very flat and dense.  These are round, light, and fluffy.  This is the most comforting meal possible for a human being to prepare.  It's so warm and filling.  It's perfect for a cold, snowy night in front of the fireplace.  I've eaten it on a night just like this and it was pure perfection.  I've also eaten it at the table on a sunny day and that absolutely does not change the deliciousness of this meal.  So if you like comfort food, then definitely try this as soon as possible.  It's best during the cold weather months for sure.

Chicken and Dumplings
adapted so very slightly from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6 to 8

The Stew
5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
salt and ground black pepper to season the chicken
4 tsp vegetable or olive oil
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1-inch half moons, rinsed well
1 large onion, minced
6 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry or cooking sherry
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen green peas (I use a little bit less)

The Dumplings
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter

1. For the stew: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Pour off the chicken fat and reserve. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining chicken. Pour off any chicken fat.

2. Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken, with any accumulated juices, into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 1 hour.

3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones, then return it to the stew.

4. For the dumplings: Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl on high until just warm (do not over-heat), about 1 minute. Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.

5. Return the stew to a simmer and stir in the peas. Following the steps below, drop golf-ball-sized dumplings over the top of the stew, about 1/4 inch apart (you should have about 18 dumplings). Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, about 18 minutes. Serve.

To make the dumplings: Gather a golf-ball-sized portion of the dumpling batter onto a soup spoon, then push the dumpling onto the stew using a second spoon.  Cover the stew with the dumplings, leaving about 1/4 inch between each. When fully cooked, the dumplings will have doubled in size.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


So I discovered what an alfajor was on a field trip to East Boston one day.  Does it shock you to hear that I signed up for a three day class on the food cultures of Boston?  Obviously not.  What did this entail, did you ask?  It was three days spent travelling through East Boston, Chinatown, and the North End talking about food, looking at food, buying food, and of course, eating food.  Best. Class. Ever.  So it was on our first day traipsing around East Boston that I ate food that was the most foreign to me.  We stopped in almost every little store, bakery, and restaurant to sample as much as possible.  East Boston has a huge Latin American culture, and we ate everything from empenadas to arepas to my new favorite cookie...the alfajor.  This amazing little cookie is made up of two shortbread wafers sandwiching a dollop of dulce de leche and then dusted with powdered sugar (if it's done up in the Peruvian style...apparently it is rolled in coconut in Argentina.)  This is quite possibly the most delicious cookie I've ever had.  I couldn't wait to go home and look up recipes for them.  Which I did...and they have made it into this year's Christmas baskets (because I really love them so very much.)

I followed the recipe exactly, but the only thing that I would change is that I would roll the dough out a little thinner...I thought that the wafers were a little too thick.  Other than that, I would change nothing.  I'd actually even make lindsor cookies with this recipe, swapping the dulce de leche for raspberry jam.  It would be perfect.  Also, don't worry about boiling the can of condensed went smoothly.  There were no explosions (I made sure to keep the cans covered in water the entire time.)  So enjoy the recipe and have a happy holiday with friends and family!

from A Cozy Kitchen
makes 25 mini-cookies

1 can sweetened condensed milk (label removed)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract done
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (for garnish)

In a large pot, fill with water to cover the can of sweetened condensed milk. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, making sure to add more water as necessary in order to keep the cans covered in water.  Remove the can of dulce de leche from the water and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350˙F. In a medium bowl combine flour and salt. In a stand-up mixer cream together butter, sugar and vanilla extract for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. As mixer is going, add in flour mixture and mix until combined. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

On a heavily floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. (The original recipe said 1/2-inch, but I do think that was a little too thick.)  The dough will be a little sticky so be sure to flour your roller, too. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter (or bigger if you'd like, but that will result in less cookies), cut out shortbread cookies and place on baking sheet. Poke a series of three holes, using a fork, in the center of each cookie. (I forgot to do this for my first few batches and it didn't make any difference.)  Transfer cookies to oven and bake for 10-12 minutes (mine needed 12), or until edges are slightly golden brown. Let cool on wire rack. To assemble the sandwiches, open the can of dulce de leche. Lay half of the shortbread cookies bottom-side up. I used a cake piper (but you can just spread it with a knife) to put about 1 teaspoon of the dulce de leche on half of the cookies.  Top with the other half and lightly press down until you’ve gone through all the cookies. Dust with powdered sugar.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chocolate Drizzled Pecan Florentines

I read this recipe for pecan florentines with egg nog frosting on Smitten Kitchen the other day and I just had to try it out.  'Tis the season, afterall.  I give gifts of these sweet and salty nuts (also a recipe from Smitten Kitchen) every year along with some other dessert - brownie, cookie, truffle - it varies every year.  I've already decided to try my hand at alfajores this year, but it's always an option to give more than one type of cookie - and why not when they have egg nog frosting?!  So I got all the ingredients together and tried it out.  The florentines were delicious and I would definitely use this recipe again, but I'm open to trying out a different recipe next time...I've already found a few others to try that have very different ingredient ratios from this particular recipe, so I'm curious to see what making certain changes would do to the texture.  Also, my pre-baked dough looked very different from the pictures on the Smitten Kitchen web site.  Mine looked much greasier.  My finished florentines looked different as well.  They definitely spread out more than hers as they cooked.  I'm not positive why this happened, but it could be that I decreased the sugar as she suggested.

Unfortunately, I was not a big fan of the egg nog frosting,  I wanted so much to like it, and I really did try, but I just didn't like it one bit.  For one thing, it was overly sweet - and that's an understatement.  The florentines are sweet enough, so it was truly overwhelming.  I also didn't like the texture of the was so stiff that it was close to being gritty.  When I tried to spread it on a florentine with a knife, the florentine would break.  When I attempted to use an icing piper, the piper couldn't even push the frosting out.  You'd think I created egg nog colored, edible (barely) cement.  At least it smelled really good.  I might want to try it again, but with half the sugar.  That change could fix both of these problems.

So the frosting may not have been a success, but I decided to try to salvage my efforts for the day by drizzling chocolate onto the florentines.  Totally brilliant.  The chocolate actually made the florentines even better.  So, all in all, this story had a happy ending.

Chocolate Drizzled Pecan Florentines

6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold is fine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup, honey, or golden syrup (I used honey)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup 60% dark chocolate chips

Add the flour, pecans, cinnamon, and salt to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse for about 60 seconds until the pecans are finely ground.  Pour this nut mixture into a bowl.  Place the butter, sugar, cream, and honey into a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Boil the mixture for one full minute and then remove from the heat and add the vanilla.  Pour this caramel mixture over the nut mixture and combine.  Set aside for at least 30 minutes to cool.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place teaspoon size balls of the mixture about 3 inches apart.  Bake for 7 to 9 minutes (mine took about 7-1/2.  I found that the back rows were cooking faster than the front rows, so for one batch, I tried to cook them for 8 minutes making sure to rotate the pan halfway through and the cookies burnt to a crisp.)  Remove from the often when a pale golden color and let sit for 5 minutes to cool before removing them to some paper towels so any excess butter can be absorbed.  They will come out of the oven very soft.  They will crisp up as the cool.  Wipe any leftover butter from the parchment paper with a paper towel before placing another batch on it to bake.  Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on 30 second intervals, stirring between, until the chocolate is just melted.  Dip a spoon into the chocolate, and while holding a florentine over the bowl, drizzle chocolate onto the florentine.  Place the finished cookie on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper.  Repeat with the remaining cookies.  Allow the chocolate to cool before enjoying with a hot cup of tea.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef

I love throwing some delicious ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning and letting it do all the hard work for me.  Today was definitely that kind of day.  I had holiday shopping to do and have you seen what the line at Kohl's looks like the week before Christmas???  I ended up abandoning my items because the line was ungodly (ironically.)  So upon returning to my house after a whole lot of shopping and nothing to show for it, I felt extremely unproductive...until I smelled my dinner.  At least that was a success today.

I found the following recipe for brisket, but Jim understandably didn't want me spending thirty dollars on a piece of meat...and chuck roast it is.  Brisket could not possibly have tasted better than this did, so frugality wins again.  The recipe also included cooking the beef with all the spices, but I forgot to throw them in the slow cooker.  (Did I mention I was simultaneously making pancakes for breakfast?  Proof positive...Multitasking doesn't work.)  It totally worked without it though, and I just added the spices to the sauce after the meat was done cooking.  Also, the original recipe included a good amount of cumin.  I have fallen out of love with cumin.  It happened recently.  I'm not sure exactly when, but I don't even like the smell of it anymore.  So I omitted it completely from the dish.  No cumin and all, this was a delicious way to cook beef in the slow cooker and extremely versatile.  You could shred the meat and put it over some rice or use it for tacos/enchiladas/quesadillas, or even make some barbecue beef sandwiches.  I plan on doing all of the above over the course of the next three or four days.  

Slow Cooker Southwestern Shredded Beef
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 3-lb chuck roast, visible fat removed
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups water
1 14-1/2 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat just until it begins to smoke.  Season the chuck roast liberally with salt and pepper.  Then sear both sides in the hot pan for a total of 10 minutes.  Transfer the meat to the slow cooker.  Add the onions and garlic to the pan and saute for a minute.  Then add the vinegar (don't inhale the steam), scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until the liquid is gone.  Stir in the water and add this mixture over the beef in the slow cooker.  Then add the tomatoes, crushing each through your fingers, the remaining juices, the chipotle peppers, bay leaves, and molasses.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  When the meat is just about done, add the remaining spices to a small saucepan on very low heat.  When the meat is done cooking, take the meat out of the slow cooker, set aside and cover to keep warm.  Strain the remaining liquid into a fat separator.  Let sit for five minutes and then pour off any excess fat.  (Mine had barely any fat whatsoever, but I'm sure every piece of meat - especially if you use a different cut - will differ.) Pour the remaining liquid into the sauce pan while whisking into the spices.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced.  Spoon this sauce over the beef on top of some rice or for sandwiches or tacos.  These quick and easy pickled onions and jalapenos go perfectly with this dish.  

The before picture...


Monday, December 16, 2013

Pickled Red Onions and Jalapeños

These are quick, easy, and delicious.  They go amazingly with any tacos, nachos, and burgers.  They are especially good all by themselves straight out of the jar.  They're so worth the minimal amount of effort that I will never buy pickled jalapeños from the can ever again.  Enough said.

Quick Pickled Red Onions and Jalapeños

1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, sliced

In a small bowl, combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, and whisk until the sugar and salt is dissolved.  Place onions and jalapeños in a jar and cover with the liquid.  Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and the refrigerate for up to two weeks.  Need more liquid to cover your onions and peppers, just make some more and add it to the jar.

Hyper Smash

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Egg and Potato Breakfast Scramble

My husband is shoveling out my truck because, although a snow storm was hitting during the night, I forgot to not park it in the street before we called it a day.  So while he burns three thousand calories outside so that I have a car for work tomorrow, I am inside making him breakfast.  One of his quirks is that he absolutely cannot eat eggs without potatoes.  So I finally found an extremely easy recipe for two that cooks up pretty damn perfectly.  I am sure you could play around with it and add whatever type of herbs you might like - fresh or dry, throw in any type of onion (I used shallots one day when I didn't have scallions on hand and it was equally delicious), use a different cheese, add peppers (I will absolutely do that in the future one day), or crumble in some bacon (yes please!)  But what I've done here is the most straightforward, the least time consuming, works really well, and is completely satisfying for a quick and easy breakfast that tastes like you worked long and hard.

Breakfast and Potato Scramble
adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate

2 red potatoes (about 8 ounces), diced small
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 scallions, sliced thin
1/4 tsp dried dill
4 eggs, beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup shredded cheese of choice (I used reduced fat cheddar)

In a bowl, combine the potatoes and oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour them into a nonstick or cast iron skillet and add the water.  Turn the heat to medium-high, cover, and bring to a boil.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the water has evaporated.  Uncover and loosen the potatoes from the bottom of the pan.  Continue to cook for about 5 more minutes until lightly browned, tossing occasionally.  Add in the dill and scallion.  Cook for another minute or so.  Test your potatoes with a fork to make sure they're cooked.  You can continue to let them brown if they need an extra minute or two.  When they are cooked through, add in the eggs, stirring until the eggs are set.  Then stir the cheese into the mixture.  Serve immediately.

Hyper Smash

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Toasted Mushroom Pasta

This is one of the first recipes I ever found and tried out from the blogosphere.  It's a good thing that I started with this recipe because it is a winner, and if I had started with something that was gross (and there are plenty of loser recipes out there,) then I may have never continued to search and cook like I do...I may have never even started my own food blog!  So thank you, toasted mushroom pasta...for being absolutely delicious and for proving to me why parsley is actually worth buying.  (In most recipes, I can easily forget about it if I don't have any on hand and don't feel like running to the store.  In this recipe, however, it is necessary.  It makes the dish.  So don't leave it out, and enjoy the amazing smell.)  For some reason, Gimme Some Oven, the blog where I found this recipe, no longer has this recipe.  I have no idea why not, but it's a damn good thing I discovered it (and wrote it down) before it was gone.  You're welcome :)

Toasted Mushroom Pasta
slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. fresh mushrooms (approx 2 cups), cleaned and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 oz macaroni, or other pasta
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup freshly grated romano cheese
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
pepper to taste

Heat a large heavy skillet over very high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan. Saute the mushrooms until browned, but not cooked all the way through, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the parsley, garlic, oregano and cook for another minute or so. Pour in the wine and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and remaining sauce to a bowl, and set aside.

In another large skillet or saucepan, add the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil and the butter. Add the macaroni and stir it constantly until it is a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to watch carefully, as the pasta can go from toasted to burnt very quickly!!

Once toasted, pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the pasta is al dente, or almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the mushroom mixture and cream and cook for a few more minutes to let everything come together in a beautiful creamy, but not claggy sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the romano and pepper. Taste for seasoning, add salt if needed, but the romano is usually just salty enough. Sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley, and more romano if you’d like before serving.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Chocolate Pecan Tart

So...after my muffin recipe success, I'm feeling about 55% confident and 45% terrified to try doing something totally off recipe again.  Yet, despite my fears and insecurities, I'm being ridiculously brazen about my new-found semi-confidence by trying to make a tart sans recipe.  Making a tart means I cannot sample it first to see how it went...and since this will be for my Aunt Ginny's Thanksgiving dinner...many will suffer if it should not turn out well.  But I went for it anyway, people, and it came out awe...wait for it...some.  It was an extremely nerve racking 45 minutes, waiting and watching, praying the filling wouldn't continue to rise right over the crust and overflow.  So although I feel like a little extra feeling might have been nice, I fear that any more would have ended up all over my oven anyway.  So I decidedly wouldn't change a single thing.  I would make this next year, exactly as I did today.  It was gobbled up by everyone (I'm standing by that unintentional pun, dorky or not.)

This dessert was inspired by the following things:
1) The Danish Pastry House in Somerville, MA - We don't live down the street from here anymore, but when we did, they made the best pecan pie I'd ever taste...and it had chocolate in it!  No pecan pie I've ever taste since has been able to live up to it.
2) My tart pans:  I love these things.  My ma-in-law got them for me last Christmas and I don't use them nearly enough.  They really are the best.  It's so much easier to make a tart look pretty than to make a pie look pretty.  The tart pan does all the work for you.  A pie plate is not much of a helper in that respect.
3) My new favorite pie crust:  I love this recipe and I wanted to see if I could adapt it to a sweet tart...mission accomplished.

So if you like chocolate and pecans and buttery, flaky pie crust, then I think you would enjoy this recipe.  I think it's got the perfect level of sweetness.  I hope you'll agree.

Side note: My blog has become a terrific way for me to keep track of my own recipes.  It's become something of an electronic catalog for myself - and also an on-line menu for my husband. (Could he be any more spoiled???)

Chocolate Pecan Tart

1 par-baked 9-inch tart crust (I used this recipe but replaced 1 Tbsp of the flour with 1 Tbsp of finely ground pecans and 1 Tbsp of sugar instead of just the 1/4 tsp usually used.)
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup 60% dark chocolate chips
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp bourbon
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the pecans and chocolate chips over the tart crust.  (Feel free to make it look pretty...I just scattered everything.)  Combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth and pour over the nuts and chocolate.  Shake the pan so the liquid spreads out evenly.  Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the middle of the filling is set.  Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Garlic Shrimp Bake

I'm going to start off a bit negative...I hate taking pictures of my food in the winter.  I lose the light way before dinner is finished cooking and I just can't seem to get the hang of using the flash to get the job done.  So unfortunately, I tend to blog way less in the winter months.  However, this is one of my top five weeknight recipes.  It's quick and easy and so delicious that I need to stop myself from licking the dish as I clean up.  I tend to make it in the winter because it requires the oven.  (Once summer hits I switch to my stove top shrimp tacos.)  This dish is so good that every time I make it, I ask myself why I don't make it every week.  The answer is only because I like to cook so many different things and try out so many different recipes.  So I just had to take pictures and share this recipe as much as I don't feel compelled to go through the process when it's such a struggle to get a good picture.  I did the best I could.  As the shrimp bake, I cook a quick side of string beans or broccoli and some rice.  Tada!

Garlic Shrimp Bake
slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven
serves 2-4 (if you can hold yourself back from eating half the dish)

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp white wine
salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 tsp grated romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Meanwhile, combine the shrimp, garlic, wine, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and pour into a baking dish.  In another bowl, combine the butter, panko, parsley, and cheese.  Top the shrimp evenly with this mixture.  Bake in the oven for 16-18 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through - pink and opaque.  Serve immediately with some veggies and enjoy.  (I told you this was the easiest recipe!)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Double Chocolate Strawberry Muffins

Last weekend, I ran out of white sugar and substituted some brown sugar into my spelt muffins...BAD idea.  It turned what was a moist and tasty muffin into a chewy and dry waste of time.  Boo.  So surprisingly, I still felt the desire to experiment this weekend with what I had on hand...and created my very first original muffin recipe!  I've always been scared to experiment with baking, but I figured that if I used a lot of chocolate, then it would be forgiving.  So who knows if this was a fluke, but at least I wasn't throwing anything in the garbage, and I would absolutely make them again.  Unfortunately, Adrienne, the three year old pain in the bum who the muffins were intended to please, is only eating the tops off of them - the top part has less strawberries in it.  Three year olds are so picky!  She loves strawberries and chocolate, but once you put them together, she won't eat it.  So it looks like she's not having chocolate muffins for breakfast this week.  At least that means more for me and Jim.  That's one thing I miss about pre-motherhood life...I usually can't eat anything delicious without Adrienne taking it from me.  It's a rare occasion to eat in peace, or even to just get to finish what I'm eating.  If I'm being honest though...Adrienne must get it from Jim.  Ever since I started dating the man, he's been stealing food from my plate.  Meh.  Good thing those two are so damn cute.

Double Choclate Strawberry Muffins
makes 12

3/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's dark)
1/2 cup sugar (I've started using raw sugar)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup chopped strawberries
2/3 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another large bowl, combine the eggs vanilla, oil, and milk and add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Mix in the chocolate chips and strawberries.  Distribute evenly into lined muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes.  You'll want a glass of milk or cup of coffee with this deliciousness.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Minestrone Soup

I am not the biggest fan of minestrone soup, but I try to make a pot of soup on Sundays to have for lunch throughout the week and I like to switch it up.  I found this particular recipe from Giada that actually sounded delicious, and so, despite my aversion to minestrone soup, I went for it and I'm very glad I did.  It appealed to me because of the swiss chard, the rosemary, and the neat little idea of blending some of the beans with some of the broth first so as to thicken it up a little...genius.  It's really, really good.  I can't wait to eat it all week.  I opted to make it vegetarian by omitting the pancetta at the beginning (although I'm sure that would have made it even more delicious, so go for it if you'd like...a little bacon never hurt anyone.)  I also didn't have a parmesan rind, so I just sprinkled in some parmesan instead.  I once made a soup with a parmesan rind and I couldn't taste the addition at all.  Adding some of the actual cheese works better (in my opinion) to making it more flavorful.  So next time you're in the mood for minestrone soup, skip going to Olive Garden and make this at home - it's soooooo much better.

Minestrone Soup
slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Swiss chard, stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 russet potato, peeled, cubed
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the swiss chard and potato; saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and rosemary sprig. Simmer until the chard is wilted, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and parmesan cheese to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the whole beans and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard rosemary sprig (if you can find it!)

Serve with warm crusty bread and an extra sprinkle of cheese.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I've been wanting to make these for awhile.  My favorite pumpkin incorporating baked good has always been a very soft chocolate chip pumpkin cookie.  So when I saw the recipe for this, I immediately thought they would be similar and wanted to try it out as soon as possible.  It didn't hurt that this recipe was called "skinny."  It only has 2 Tbsp of coconut oil and 3/4 of a cup of raw sugar.  Also it is almost 50% whole wheat flour.  I do not have pumpkin pie spice in the house, so I made some from this recipe.  They did come out delicious, but at first, I was knocked over by the strength of the cloves and allspice - they are some powerful spices.  I am not a huge fan of those to begin with and chose a pumpkin pie spice recipe that had the smallest ratio of these spices to the other ingredients, but I still may tone them down the next time I make this.  Regardless, you can use whatever blend of pumpkin pie spice you have or experiment in making your own.  Despite the strong flavor of these muffins, a three year old and a four year old loved them.  So fear not and enjoy these little guys.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
from Skinnytaste
made 36 mini muffins

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup raw sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tbsp virgin coconut oil (or canola oil)
2 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and salt with a wire whisk. Set aside.  In a large bowl mix pumpkin puree, oil, egg whites and vanilla.  Beat at medium speed until thick. Scrape down sides of the bowl.  Add flour mixture to the wet mixture, then blend at low speed until combined; do not over mix. Fold in chocolate chips.  Put a tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup and bake on the center rack for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let them cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dill Potato Soup

If you don't like dill, then read no further.  But if you love dill like I do, then make this soup now.  It is a perfect vehicle for subtly and lovely dill flavor.  And it has the creamy texture of a delicious baked potato soup without all the fat.  All it needs is a little bit of olive oil and flour to make it thicken up.  So yesterday, an amazingly generous and thoughtful colleague of mine brought me in a bag of garden veggies.  There was broccoli, beets, arugula, and, you guessed it...dill!  So I obviously have very big plans for everything.  As I'm sure you will see as the week progresses.  But I decided to kick off this "inspired by a bag of mixed garden fresh veggies" week, by making a potato soup like my Bubby used to make - which means a potato soup with dill.  I was just throwing it together, so I hope I can recreate this soup exactly as it happened to turn out - because upon tasting it, I was transported back to my loving Bubby's kitchen.  It was wonderful.  She would have been very, very proud of my work.  It must be in the genes.

Dill Potato Soup
makes 4 servings

1 medium carrot, diced small
1 medium celery stalk, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp olive oil + more for sauteing the veggies
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 bunch of dill
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic and cook stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent.  Then add the potatoes.  Stir for about 20 seconds and add the chicken broth.  Bring the soup up to a boil.  Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the tablespoon of olive oil with the flour.  Add some of the hot chicken broth from your pot and whisk until you form a paste.  continue to add more broth gradually while whisking to thoroughly combine.  After you have added about a cup of the broth, return this thickening mixture to the pot of soup.  Incorporate the mixture well.  Add the dill to the pot, either tied in a cheesecloth or with kitchen twine.  You can reserve a tablespoon of finely chopped dill to add at the end if you'd like.  You will remove the bunch when the soup is done cooking, after it's finished infusing all of it's dilly goodness into the soup.  Once the soup has come to a boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer for another 20 minutes.  Remove the bunch of dill, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately (although not so immediately that you burn your tongue like I did.)


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes with Roasted Cinnamon Apples

I wish I was one of those people who looked forward to eating salad for lunch or oatmeal for breakfast - but I'm just not.  I would take a sandwich or a pizza over a salad any day.  I really need to force myself to make healthier choices most of the time.  Unless the salad has fried goat cheese nuggets all over it, then I'm most likely not going to jump at the salad.  I feel the same way about breakfast.  I am always inclined to have bacon and eggs over fruit and oatmeal.  I just can't help myself and occasionally that's okay.  Not all the time though.  So maybe if I turn oatmeal into pancakes...and then top it with roasted cinnamon apples...yes...oh yes indeed.  I was very nervous about how this was going to go.  Especially once I began to put the batter into the pan.  The batter was very loose, but it ended up coming together and the result was a delicious pancake that tasted like a warm bowl of oatmeal.  The addition of the apples made for an absolutely amazing combination.  It rendered maple syrup completely unnecessary, although just the littlest bit added another layer of flavor that made it even better - but it certainly did not need any.  I wanted more.  I wasn't sure how it would go down, but now I wish I had doubled the recipe.  Definitely next time...

Sadly due to the rainy whether today, I was unable to take a nice picture with great ease, so you missed out on all the beautiful prep shots that could have been.  At least I got the finished product.

Oatmeal Pancakes
from Cooking Light
made about 8 pancakes

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk (I used whole milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
roasted apples (recipe below) for topping

In a bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients. In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients with a spatula until just combined.  On a griddle over medium heat, pour 2 Tbsp of batter for each pancake.  Flip when the tops are covered in small bubbles and cook on the other side for a minute or two until golden brown.

Roasted Cinnamon Apples
adapted slightly from Joy the Baker
(After you finish topping your pancakes, you will most likely have leftovers for your ice cream later in the day...unless you double the pancake recipe)

4 Fuji or Gala apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
1 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cornstarch
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place your apple slices on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt, and mix together with your fingers.  Then scatter the cubes of butter on top.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are at your desired doneness.  Serve atop your pancakes or a bowl of ice cream.  These can be stored in the fridge for three days and you can warm them over low heat on the stove top.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Quick and Easy Shrimp Pasta Bowl

It's fun to throw a variety of simple ingredients together and end up with a delicious meal.  This one will make your house smell amazing too.  If you do the 20 minutes (if that) of prep work on the weekend like I did, then it literally takes only 20 minutes to get it on the table on a weeknight.  These meals always last us for two nights and then I get the rest for lunch at work on the third day.  It doesn't get any more perfect.  Also, Adrienne LOVES shrimp.  It's normal for her to ignore the veggies, but she even ignores the pasta.  I need to cut her off so there will be some for us.

Not only is this an easy meal to prepare, but it's also a good vehicle to use up any ingredients you have on hand.  I make some form of this type of pasta dish every other week because it is so easy and versatile.  Broccoli and tomatoes can easily be swapped out for asparagus, spinach, sundried tomatoes, peas...You name it, and I'm sure it will incorporate as well as what I've done here.  This is a great way to use up things in your fridge before they spoil.  You could even swap out leftover rotisserie chicken for the shrimp!  Use what ya got!

Quick and Easy Shrimp Pasta Bowl

6 garlic cloves, miced
1 shallot, minced
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 box of your favorite pasta
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup romano cheese (optional)

Pour the chicken broth in a large pot.  When it comes to a boil, throw in your pasta and cook according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Place your tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, and pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until beginning to blister.  While the tomatoes are roasting, place the broccoli in a microwave safe bowl with 2 tablespoons of water.  Cover tightly and microwave for 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of your florets and how firm you like your broccoli.)  When it's done, remove the cover right away so it doesn't keep steaming and get too soft.  Heat olive oil over a large saute pan or wok. (I just got a new ceramic wok for my birthday and i love it!  It requires barely any oil.  I only need to use some for flavor.)  Sautee the shallots and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent.  Then add the shrimp to the pan.  Cook until just pink and cooked through.  Then add your broccoli, tomatoes, and about a 1/2 cup of the chicken broth.  Cook until all the flavors incorporate.  When the pasta is ready, drain off some of the excess broth, leaving some in the pot.  Add all the other ingredients to the pasta and mix it all together along with the cheese if you are using.  Try not to eat it all in one night!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Coconut Oil Popcorn

So...I've been a bad food blogger lately.  I've just been so busy busy busy.  Adrienne has turned three and stopped napping.  This pretty much means I don't have the two hours in the afternoon that I used to use to prepare delicious handysnacks and homemades.  Although I'm sad I haven't done as much experimenting as usual and have been relying on good old standbys instead, I am also very happy I have gotten to spend so much wonderful time with my wonderful daughter.  So I bring you something I haven't put on the blog yet - something quite possibly everyone will love, and is most definitely healthy and easy.

This is actually the easiest snack you will ever make.  It literally took 3 minutes, 2 ingredients (+ optional seasonings), and 0 prep.  It also uses super healthy coconut oil.  Some amazing benefits of virgin coconut oil that I've read about - it lowers bad cholesterol, raises good cholesterol, increases your body's efficiency at burning fat and fighting off infection and viruses, decreases abdominal fat and can even help thyroid function. Although I would also say that too much of it could be a bad thing.

You can make this with any oil, but try this for all the added health benefits and the extra bit of flavor boost - it has just the subtlest hint of coconut.  You could add additional seasonings (which I highly recommend) to give it additional flavor, but it tastes good plain too.  You can forget about butter on your popcorn.  You won't miss it in the least.

Coconut Oil Popcorn

2 Tbsp coconut oil
6 Tbsp popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp sea salt (optional) or more to taste
1/8 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)

Put the coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Once it is melted, put a couple of kernels in and cover.  Once you hear a kernel pop, uncover and add the remaining kernels.  Cover immediately and cook for 1 minute, shaking the pot the entire time.  (Turn up the heat if necessary to get the kernels popping.)  Then remove from the heat and leave covered to be sure the popcorn is done popping.  Uncover, sprinkle with any seasonings you want to use and stir.  Pour into a nice big bowl and enjoy!