Archive for February, 2010

Garden Planning

March 21st is the “First Day of Spring,” and while I am wondering if it will actually be the first day of Spring, I am hopeful. For someone who enjoys colder weather, who has always counted winter as one of her favorite seasons, I’m kind of done with Old Man Winter. It may have been the two weeks of solid temperatures in the teens or the ever-present threat of snow without really seeing much that finally did me in, but it’s over. The love affair (for this year) has concluded, and I am ready for the first fresh days of Spring to arrive.

Of course, when I think about Spring, I think about planting. Sometime in my early to mid-20s, I caught the gardening bug from my mother. I’m not sure when it first bit, or when I first cared, but I am now a bona fide garden junkie. I like flowers and vegetables equally, though I’ve done much more flower gardening in the last few years due to necessity.

Before I moved into the new rental, I was living in a rental that had out-of-control flower beds with some girlfriends. I say this with no bit of exaggeration. They were out of control. While my landlord was a nice enough woman, neither she nor her husband really grasped the art of gardening, and the front beds at the house were a tremendous mess of all different varieties of flowers planted too close to one another and choking one another out.

Think of it as the floral version of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Even after all of the weeding and pruning and fussing that I did each spring/summer, another plant would inevitably poke its head through the soil and start attacking and destroying its neighbor. It was exhausting. My vegetable dreams were dashed in a pathetic attempt to tame the flowers, and I have longed to have a yard that’s fuss free for a while now.

Enter the new house. Sparsely planted with annuals, I have a bare canvas on which to begin my efforts this spring. Granted, the yard is fairly tiny. I have to admit to myself that I’m probably going to need to reel in my grand vision if I really want to have anything grow successfully. With that being said, though, I have high hopes that I’ll at least be able to get in the staples that I’ve been dreaming of planting.


If I’ve failed to communicate how deep my love is for tomatoes, it’s only because I haven’t written enough. I adore tomatoes. It’s primarily because they’re so versatile. From marinara sauces to pico de gallo to (my new favorite) tomato preserves, the uses are almost endless. During the summer, I’m a huge aficionado of the tomato topped with “salad.” As in, I love a fresh tomato, sliced “bloomin’ onion-style” into segments, and dolloped with tuna or chicken salad. I also dig on slices of chilled tomato sprinkled with kosher salt and black pepper. And does anything beat a caprese salad? I think not.


I have not failed to mention how much I love spicy. The jalapeno is the ultimate in spicy but not unbearable. I’ve tried my hand at Habaneroes, and outside of the realm of a good habanero-pear jelly, I’m just not a fan. So while I might toy with the idea of other hot peppers in my garden this summer, I am definitely jonesing for some jalapenos. Fresh pico and guacamole, you shall be the staples of my summer barbecues.


Say what you will about the ugliness of the beet, but I think most people miss the point. Beets aren’t supposed to pretty, they’re supposed to be tasty. While some people would disagree that beets are even in the same vicinity of tasty, I find them to be quite delicious. On a salad, nothing beats a good beet. Plus, I can appreciate a beet’s honesty. A beet isn’t going to pretend to be something that it’s not. It’s going to put it out there in big bold letters – I TASTE LIKE EARTH – and so it does. Personally, I have to respect a veggie that knows its roots (bad pun, I know) and isn’t ashamed of them. Go beets!

 Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are what I think of when I think of summer. Vibrant in color, varying in sweetness, they are the crisp focal point of a summer’s worth of gardening labor loved. Grill them, saute them, or slice them and serve them with ranch dip. A bell pepper is going to be the stalwart companion to many of your favorite recipes, and they are oh-so-good roasted. Having a gas stove has never been more of a joy than it is when you discover your ability to roast a sweet red bell pepper.

Of course, I’m also toying with a number of other potential plants. Tonight I’ll be cooking up my first bunch of kale and, depending on the outcome, I may take it on as another possible garden resident. I’m also researching peas and beans and squash, all of which I think would make for a lovely, colorful backyard display. Okra has also wiggled its way into the mix, mostly because I’m absolutely in love with fried okra and because okra makes a kickin’ pickle. I’ll stay away from the stewed version, which I think looks a lot like snot, but I’m a-okay with the other faces of okra. Since picking/canning is on my list of things to learn how to do, okra may not be a bad place to rest my good intentions.

I’ll once again remind myself that I have to come to terms with the size of my backyard. Constant reminding may actually lead to comprehension at some point. As I’m reminding myself of this, though, I’m going to point you in the direction of some really helpful gardening reads. PW rocked a redux of her raised flower/vegetable bed tutorial in mid-February, and I think you should take a look. If you’re living in Missouri, like me, then you may also find the MU Extension’s “Vegetable Planting Calendar” helpful. I know I did.

I have a lot to do in the next few weeks if I’m going to be ready to roll for the early planting season that begins in mid-March. I also have a lot of building work to squeeze out of Shannon. Luck is going to need to be on my side. Luck and a giant stack of fresh-baked peanut butter cookie bribes.


Read Full Post »

I try not to get too misty when contemplating the things I wish I had in my possession. I find it incredibly important to be thankful for the wonderful pieces I already have in my arsenal and the wonderful people who have gifted me with said pieces of kitchen glory. My mom, for one, who spent Christmas day staring intently at me and waiting for the “ooh” moment when I opened my gorgeous “starter” stand mixer and my new, heavy-duty food processor. Or Shannon who gifted me with knives on the day of love, and subsequently almost removed his fingertip on Tuesday evening while attempting to chop lettuce with my 7″ Santoku knife. These are the folks that have helped create the treasure trove of culinary joy that I surround myself with every day. Why be sad I’m missing something?

It’s a rhetorical question of course. I’m sad I’m missing something because somewhere, deep down, I believe I truly need something more. Isn’t it human nature to want? Don’t we all have a tiny, or perhaps huge, wish list buried somewhere inside us? I think we do. No matter how far down it’s hidden, somewhere you want something. Even if it is just a really good, warm piece of apple pie.

The bigger, more answerable question, is what am I missing?

I am missing the following:
     – a nice pair of tongs
     – better lighting in my kitchen
     – a really decent camera

The tongs issue is simple enough to solve since they are both readily accessible and affordable. I can take care of that issue this weekend if I should so choose.

Better lighting has been on the home to-do list since we moved into the rental in October. Let me remind you, and all those that you love and cherish, that there is absolutely nothing flattering about florescent lighting. Nothing. Especially not in a room in which you are supposed to be eating. You want warmth; you want pretty. You do not want harsh and unyielding, both of which florescent lighting proves to be. We have a little money with which to solve said problem. We just need to get through the lean times of slow construction work in order to feel comfortable spending any amount of the little money on lighting.

A really decent camera may be a long time coming. I have friends that have beauties I wish I could steal, or at least borrow. I haven’t the gumption to ask, though. If my kitchen is my baby, their cameras are theirs. You just can’t borrow someone’s baby. At least not without it being slightly awkward when you give it back. So I want for this more than I want for anything else at the moment. The missing that I know is the furthest from being sated.

How typical of me.

Read Full Post »

PB&J Epic Fail Muffins

The joy in cooking is in the experimentation.

Sometimes everything turns out just as you’d like it to. Cupcakes are the perfect shade of golden brown. Frosting sits just right. Mushrooms sautéed in white wine are perfectly firm yet soft. Your pasta turns out al dente without any effort.The moments when all is right and good in your kitchen provide you the opportunity to puff out your chest and celebrate with a hearty toot of your own horn.

Other times, you fail. Or, as in tonight’s experiment with Bisquick, you epically fail. Witness the epic and the fail.

This is not what I had in mind when I set out to create a quick and easy Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffin. Sure there is peanut butter (not enough to come through the Bisquick’s battery flavor) and there is jelly (running away from the center of the muffin as fast as can be), but there is not a PB&J Muffin worth sharing right there. They taste pretty darned good (Shannon says I’m not allowed to post this unless I mention that they taste great and that I am awesome), but they aren’t what I wanted.
In the cook’s notebook, it’s a failure, but so what.
I only expended about 30 minutes of my time, and Shannon has some snacks to take with him to work in his lunchbox. Sometime this weekend, probably Sunday evening, I’ll make another batch using more milk (to thin out the batter a wee bit more) and a different layering technique. We’ll see how it turns out – for good or for bad. 

The bottom line is that I’m not afraid to try something new, and I’m not afraid to fail in the kitchen. Anyone who is any good at anything started out with a few misses. Those of us that are continual learners know that we’ll continue to make mistakes all through life. At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the tries. And what a glorious try this happened to be.

Read Full Post »

My quest to create a no chocolate peanut butter cup has not been in vain. Nor has it been exceptionally hard to do. I’m sure plenty of people have done it before, loads of times perhaps. Even Hershey upped the ante and made a white chocolate peanut butter cup. The critical words in that statement being “white chocolate.” Still has cocoa. Still has caffeine. Still is bad for me.

All I’m saying is that it gives me a certain sense of accomplishment to know that I can make my own peanut butter cups that are just as yummy as the ones I’d buy in the store. Actually, they might be a bit better simply because I control the flow of candy coating and the amount of peanut butter stashed inside. Who wouldn’t want to be in control of the peanut butter?

Unchocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Serves 12
Points: 3 per peanut butter cup

12 paper candy cups
8 oz vanilla candy melt
2 tbsp reduced fat Jiff peanut butter

Place candy cups in mini-muffin tin.

Warm 2 oz of the vanilla candy melt in a quart size Ziploc bag in the microwave on half power (defrost) in 30 second intervals until smooth.

Snip the corner off the ziplock and drizzle candy melt into the bottom of the candy cups. Tap the muffin tin to spread the candy melt evenly. You’ll only need a small layer on the bottom, so be careful not to overfill the candy cups.

Let the first layer of candy melt set until hardened, approximately 3 minutes. You can cut the time in half by placing the cups in the refrigerator to set.

Place 1/2 tsp of peanut butter in the center of each candy cup on top of the first layer of candy melt. Once you’ve placed peanut butter in each candy cup, begin melting the remaining 6 oz of candy melt in a separate Ziploc bag using the same method as before. Once melted, drizzle candy melt over the top and around the sides of the peanut butter. Tap the muffin tin to spread out the candy melt and create an even, smooth top.

Allow the peanut butter cups to set for approximately five minutes. This allows the candy melt on top of the peanut butter to set properly and provides time for the bottom and top layers to adhere to one another. Once again, you can put the cups in the refrigerator to harden quicker, but make sure not to skimp on the set time too much. You don’t want you candy to fall apart the moment you unwrap it.

Now unwrap one of your unchocolate peanut butter cups and enjoy the yumminess. Be prepared to share one unless you want to hear a grown man whine. I learned this the hard way.

Read Full Post »

I always like it when I stumble upon some unexpected loot whether it be in the grocery store, a cake supply shop, or, as the case was this weekend, in a little flea market-style shop on the river road. Loot is loot, and tasty loot is even better.

Shannon and I decided to head over to Alton/Grafton, Illinois today. The weather was warmer than usual, the sun was poking its face through the clouds, and the threat of colder, wetter weather was just around the corner. Suffering from severe cases of cabin fever after so many weeks of dreary, cold weather, an excuse to get out of the house and explore the world at large was just what the doctor ordered. The doctor being me in this case. I needed out of the house in a bad way, and a drive seemed like just the thing to cure the antsy attitude that’s been brewing in me over the last few weeks.

A road trip is a road trip is a road trip. So snacks are always in order. You do not set out about the world without a bit of food to sustain you. Our forefathers knew this when they set out across the Oregon Trail, and I adhere to the same principles of preparedness that they did as a tribute to their… Oh, who am I kidding? I just wanted an excuse to buy some Planters “Wicked Hot” Chipotle Peanuts. Well worth the $1.99, too. After the initial shock of hotness, the chipotle flavor really came through. Bravo, Planters, bravo.

I also wanted an excuse to buy Munchos. The. Best. Chips. Ever.

Our trek across the Missouri/Illinois border was made a wee bit more difficult by MoDot deciding to shut down I-70 all weekend, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. Oh no! We were going to make a day of it, dammit.

And so we did.

I was happy to discover that Alton has both a tea room and a dessert cafe on the main strip. I was not happy to discover that they both close rather early. We made a concerted effort to be back to Alton before they closed shop for the day, but we failed miserably. I wasn’t too upset, though. In between spying these little nooks of potential yumminess and getting back to them, I was able to drive the river road, see a Bald Eagle perched in a tree, and find this gem of a truck in Elsah, IL.

At first you might say, “Oh, it’s painted a little funny.” But then you’re going to stop and really look hard at this picture. You’re going to furrow your brow and squint. You’re going to think, “No, it can’t be…” And then you’re going to realize that, oh yes, this truck is covered in action figures.

Take a closer look. Go on. It’s okay.

Hello, Jabba. It’s so nice to see you today. And you’re hanging out with Captain Hook again. How predictable.

This truck made it all okay that we didn’t make it back in time for homemade desserts. Well, this truck and Shannon’s promise that he’d take me back for a dessert-only meal one day in the very near future. It didn’t hurt that we stumbled upon this adorable corner of the world either.

Sutton’s Place is a flea market meets garage sale meets consignment shop. It’s dusty and cramped and full of treasures. Coffee percolators, casseroles, blue glass water bottles, and any number of old cookbooks and nick knacks. It was a thrift seeker’s heaven made all the better by this wall of fantastic right by the front door.

Look at it. Jellies and preserves and jams and pickled just about everything. The loot of the day ended up being a jar of Tomato Preserves, a jar of Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, and a jar of Hot Brussels Sprouts.

This kind of find makes my face light up. It makes me smile. It makes me take cheesy pictures like this.

I am holding (tightly) the “Hot Brussels Sprouts.” Spicy, pickled brussels. Oh my. I cannot wait to try it all. Loot is one thing. Tasty loot is in a class all its own. First thing tomorrow morning, bagels and cream cheese with Tomato Preserves. Road trip success? I definitely think so.

Sunday morning update: Tomato Preserves have managed to wiggle their way into both Shannon and my heart with only one tasting. On a bagel with cream cheese the tanginess of the tomato comes through the sweetness of the preserves nicely. It’s a wonderful, rich flavor that you wouldn’t necessarily expect out of a tomato, let alone tomato preserves. It’s delicious, though, and not only worth a try but worth a passionate embrace if you can manage it. Try it. Soon.

Read Full Post »

Updated Weekend Challenge

In order to maintain my own sanity and attempt to control any possible attacks on my waistline, I am not going to attempt the full PB Cup Cake this weekend. Instead, I am going to limit myself to attempting non-chocolate peanut butter cups. If the cups come out right, the cake is on the agenda in the near future. Maybe in a week or so since next weekend I’m serving as co-caterer for my friend’s 30th Birthday Party. And working all day on Sunday.

I am still making the cheesecake, though. What does that say about me? I have no idea. I do know that it’s not nearly as bad as attempting to make a cake that is 12 points per slice before the candy garnish goes on the outside.

Good golly.

Read Full Post »

Weekend Challenge

I realize that I am very fortunate to have the job that I have. I have great co-workers, a supportive boss, a fun office environment, and ample time off available to me throughout the year. As such, I am taking a personal day tomorrow not for any particular reason other than I’d like a three-day weekend, and I have some things to do around the house.

I told myself as part of this three-day weekend that I would take a bit of time off from the baking that has ruled my life for the last few weeks. It’s not that I don’t like baking or that I want to pull myself away from my goal of opening the Etsy store mid-March. I just think it would be a good idea to take a step back and enjoy just relaxing sans flour and sugar and dirty dishes. You know, rule from my roost on the couch this weekend.

Alas, I don’t think that’s to be.

First of all, I have been craving cheesecake. I know, I know. I said I was craving french toast, too. And I am. I just also happen to be craving cheesecake. I’ll blame it on being hormonal or something. Regardless, I am making a cheesecake on Saturday night. A honey-almond cheesecake, I’ll have you know. A honey-almond cheesecake that is Weight Watchers friendly. I know – awesome. It’ll be a nice complement to the (grilled, extra lean) burgers and (baked) french fries we’re having for dinner that night.

Yes, I’ve already planned the meals for the weekend. Go figure, right?

Secondly, I promised Conner that we’d make Scottie cookies this weekend. Initially, I was thinking we’d make sugar cookies with Scotties on them. I could use frosting and a homemade stencil. Then I got to thinking about it, and I’m going in a different direction. We’re going to make a Scottie cookie by shaping dough into a Scottish Terrier through hard work and determination. What kind of dough? I’m not sure yet. I have some oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter dough in the freezer. I could also make a dog cookie that only Conner could eat. It would be a good idea to keep the humans out of it. We have enough sweets to snack on. If it turns out, I’ll let you take a look at it. If not, we’ll pretend I never said anything about it, all right?

And finally, I feel a challenge coming on. It’s the challenge that I reference in the title of this post. No, it’s not about a challenge for me to sit still for one whole weekend. It’s a challenge to me as a baker. As a connoisseur of sweets. As a woman who cannot have chocolate!

If you’ve spent any time over at Bakerella, and I do hope you have, then you’ve stumbled across this post. It makes your tongue tingle and your stomach rumble. It looks good, right? Don’t I know it. I am practically dying to try it. The hitch? It’s chocolate through and through, and we all know about my chocolate allergy. I want it, but I can’t have it. Or, I should say, I shouldn’t have it. I could have it and suffer the consequences. I prefer not to, though.

So the challenge? To de-chocolate the peanut butter cup cake. I think I can do this.

I’m working on my own chocolate-free pb cup recipe, and I’m tinkering with Bakerella’s fantasy cake to make it feasible as a non-chocolate dream come true. I might go the cupcake route just to save my sanity, but the cake looks so much prettier in some ways. We’ll see what I come up with. We’ll also see if Shannon is okay with me spending a few extra dollars on pb cup fixin’s.

While you’re enjoying your Saturday, think of me. I may well be buried up to my eyeballs in mis-made pb cups and flour. But that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »