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Archive for March, 2010

Or so I tell myself on a rather consistent basis. Let’s be honest, almost every weekend I have has some sort of plan to it. It’s not because I don’t enjoy relaxing or because I’m some sort of crazy workaholic, though Shannon might argue with both of those statements. I find that it’s mostly because of the following:

  • I live near my family again after being on the road from 2004 – 2007. They like me a little bit. What can I say?
  • I’ve been integrated into Shannon’s family, and they have A LOT of people and A LOT of birthdays, celebrations, gatherings. We haven’t seen them since February. This is odd.
  • During the week, it’s not uncommon for me to leave the house at 7:30am and return at 8pm. I work a long day, and I then go to the gym. While the latter is definitely all about me, it also leaves less time to do house-related things such as the dishes. Thank goodness my better half doesn’t mind having dish pan hands. What a guy!
  • I like to see my friends. I just happen to like to see them a lot, and I don’t like to miss anything. Thus, I have a hard time saying I can’t be somewhere if I can manage to squeeze it in.

In reality, the biggest part of my busy weekend schedule is that I like to be busy. I like to move. I like to work. I like to feel accomplished at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I sure do like watching a good movie or a marathon of Forensic Files. It’s just that after a while, my booty goes numb and I feel like a vegetable, and I just can’t have that for too long.

So, this three-day weekend is not so unlike so many other weekends in my arsenal. Being a holiday weekend, it’s got even more jam-packed into it. On Friday, though, I have high hopes of a) going for a nice, long run in the park to savor the last sunny day before the storms roll in for the weekend, b) mow the lawn, c) turn the earth in my flower beds, and d) plant some things.

The last one is a bit vague, I know. I’m working on what I’m going to plant. Part of me is gearing up for some flowers. Part of me is dying to put some veggies in. Part of me just wants to get my hands dirty. I’ll take pictures as I’m sure it’ll be enlightening.

I’m also going to make these adorable little cupcakes to take with us to our respective family gatherings. How cute, right? Bakerella is a wonder. I love her blog, and I think you should, too.

After that, Saturday and Sunday are a cake walk. No big deal. All we’ll be doing is soaking up time with our families, dying Easter eggs, and enjoying large amounts of food that we had no hand in preparing. Excellent.

For now, I’ll leave you with this, a promise. A promise that tomorrow night I am cooking something worthy of a recipe run down. Last night, I just didn’t have the energy to pick up the camera, and tonight is just tacos. Plain, boring tacos. If I get crazy and whip up something nutty, you’ll be the first to know. As always.

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Almost Holy Guacamole

My rule of thumb with avocados is simple. If you find avocados as beautiful and perfectly ripe as this at your local farmer’s market at the low, low price of 3 $2.50, you buy them.

You buy them without a second thought. When you get home, you slice open the soft (but not too soft) fruits and turn them into guacamole immediately. End of story.  Do not pass up a good avocado. You will regret it for the rest of your life. I would also say “do not pass up a good guacamole,” but you’re never going to again. You won’t ever pass it up again because you’re going to start making your own guacamole after reading this post, and your guacamole will always be the good kind. I promise.

Almost Holy Guacamole
Serves 8 
Points 3

3 ripe avocados
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
2 medium jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic minced
Cilantro to taste
1 tsp kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 medium lime

Halve the avocados being careful to work the knife around the pit. Scoop out pit and discard. Using knife, score one half of the avocado horizontally and vertically without cutting through the skin. Scoop diced avocado from skin into medium bowl. Repeat with remaining halves.

Once you have removed all of the avocado from the skin, using the back of a spoon or fork, mash the avocado until creamy but still retaining some chunks. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.

Slice the jalapeno in half. Using gloves or Ziploc bags on your hands, remove the seeds. You’ll want to make sure your skin is protected from the seeds as they retain all of the jalapeno’s heat. If you want to kick up the heat, leave a few of the seeds behind.

Add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno and the amount of cilantro that you prefer. Stir to combine.

Squeeze lime over bowl making sure to use all juice in the half. Stir the mixture. Using a tortilla chip, taste the guacamole. You’ll want to have the extra salt on the chip to determine if the salt content in the guac is adequate. You may add additional  kosher salt, but don’t go crazy. You want balance, not saltiness.

The great thing about guacamole is that you can use it on just about anything. With the weather around these parts looking so lovely in the next few days, I’m feeling like grilling. You know what that means? Spicy guacamole burgers. Oh yeah.

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Mushrooms. Peas. Cheese. Three foods I pretty much adore.

This risotto has all the earthy flavor of mushrooms combined with the crisp flavor of peas and tang of cream cheese. As if those flavors weren’t enough, I am absolutely in love with the way the fresh parsley compliments the warmth of this dish. It definitely gave the creaminess of the risotto a pleasant green pop and taste. Is green a taste? Probably not, but I feel like you can almost taste green here.

I added a little extra cheesy goodness by sprinkling about 1 teaspoon of shredded Italian-blend cheese on top right before eating. It’s not at all necessary, but I liked it. Then again, we’ve already established that I really like cheese.

Creamy Mushroom & Pea Risotto
Serves 6 – 12
Points 5 (1 cup serving), 2 (1/2 cup serving)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release moisture, about 5 minutes. Add white wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the arborio rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until translucent. Add 1/2 cup  of broth and bay leaves. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time, allowing liquid to absorb completely before adding the next 1/2 cup.

Remove bay leaves. Add cream cheese and stir until completely incorporated. Fold in peas and cook until hot about 1 minute. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon risotto into bowls and top with sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Serving sizes can vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. As a side dish accompanying chicken, you can easily get away with 1/2 cup servings. Since we were having the risotto as the main dish for lunch, I heaped up 1 cup servings which was quite filling. I may have given Shannon 1 1/2 cups. Don’t tell anyone.

Now grab your fork and dig in! I did.

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It wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully appreciated Sweet Potato Casserole. It took me a long time to come to terms with the tastiness that is the sweet potato, mostly because the slightly sweet flavor never really jived with me as potato-like when I was a kid. Now, though, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving to roll around so I can try some of my mom’s casserole. I considered her recipe the inspiration for this slightly sweet, spice-filled bread that incorporates all my favorite things about the Thanksgiving classic.

The best part is you can go simple or you can go a little fancier depending on your mood of the moment. Toast it up and spread it with a little butter, or drizzle it with warm cinnamon cream sauce. Either way, it’s delicious. I’m partial to the cream sauce . It just gives it such a yummy dessert quality that I can’t resist.

Sweet Potato “Casserole” Bread with Cinnamon Cream Sauce

For the bread:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cup sweet potato puree
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the cinnamon cream sauce:
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup fat-free evaporated milk

To make sweet potato puree, rinse a large sweet potato thoroughly under warm water. Puncture 10 – 12 times with a fork on all sides of the potato. Microwave for 8 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool. Scoop meat out of the skin.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Sift together the flour, kosher salt, sugar and baking soda.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the sweet potato, oil, eggs, 1/4 cup water, vanilla and spices. Combine with the dry ingredients, but do not mix together too thoroughly. Add the marshmallows and nuts and stir gently to incorporate.

Pour into a well-greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50 – 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

While the bread is cooling, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and cinnamon in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for approximately 4 minutes. Allow the sugar mixture to cool for 10 minutes. After the sauce has cooled, stir in the evaporated milk.

Serve cinnamon cream warm over slices of sweet potato bread.

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What do you do when you and your significant other are on opposite work schedules passing each other for approximately 30 minutes each day? You bake.

You bake a giant, buttery chocolate chip cookie. You bake said cookie in your heart-shaped cookie pan. You leave said heart-shaped, giant cookie on the counter for your significant other to find.

And you enjoy the site of a half-eaten, heart-shaped, giant cookie the next morning.

It’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Trust me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you haven’t tried Alton Brown’s Chewy recipe, you’re really missing out. It’s delicious. Of course, I need to send a huge thanks (again) to Joy the Baker for sharing it in the first place. I never knew chocolate chip cookies like this could exist. Oh, happiness.

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I’m going to start this post by reminding you that not everything you or I will create in the kitchen will turn out just as expected. With that being said, I am still willing to share these cookie bars with you because I know what I would do differently, and I’m going to encourage you to do the “right” thing and experiment on your own until you get your own brand of perfection. My brand is on its way.

White Chocolate Cherry Bars
Cookie dough recipe adapted from The Tasty Kitchen’s nhsweetcherry
Serves 24
Points 4 per cookie bar

1 cup soft margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoons Baking Powder
¼ teaspoons Salt
2 ½ cups flour (give or take a bit)
1 cup white chocolate morsels
1 small jar maraschino cherries, drained, patted dry and roughly chopped

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Cream together the butter and the brown sugar to make what I am convinced is the best tasting sugary, fattening flavor paste in the world.

Blend in the vanilla extract, baking powder and salt. Then add enough flour to make a stiff dough.

Press into a well-greased 9×13 pan and sprinkle with chopped cherries.

Bake for 15  minutes. Sprinkle white chocolate chips across the top of the cookie and cherry bar that has formed. Bake an additional 5 – 10 minutes.

Here is what I did wrong the first time I made these cookie bars:

1. I added coconut to the cookie batter. Why? I don’t know. I have a recently developed obsession with coconut, and, for some reason, I thought it sounded like a good combo – cherries, white chocolate, coconut. Not such a brilliant idea. The coconut flakes made the cookie bar waaaaay too crumbly and the flavor didn’t come through. I scrapped it. So should you.

2. I incorporated the cherries with the cookie dough. While it gave the bars a fun pink color, it also made the dough a bit too moist and crumbly. Combine this fatal mistake with the coconut and it was almost a disaster. By putting the cherries on top, you’re creating another flavor layer that’s separate but harmonious (you like how fancy that sounds?) with the cookie. It’s just a better idea. You’ll find this correction in the recipe above.

3. I added the white chocolate chips at the beginning of the baking time. No good. White chocolate chips start to turn brown when they bake on top of a cookie. By the end, I had dirty-looking chips on top. Not exactly fit for sharing. I’ve corrected this mistake above by cutting the baking time for the chips in half. Good idea.

Even though the first try didn’t appear as pretty as I’d like, they were super tasty. I think there was a definite “nom nom” noise as they were eaten. You’ll like them, I promise. Give this recipe a whirl. See how it turns out for you. Don’t like it? Play with it and create your very own version. If you come up with something magical, let me know. I’ll try your recipe, too!

And I promise I won’t be offended.

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As you get older, you start to realize that sometimes the best present you can give someone is something you’ve made. In a lot of ways, it’s like reverting to elementary school, but instead of gifting your mother with a hand-colored macaroni necklace or a marigold you planted yourself, you can make more substantial gifts.

Take for instance the fact that a big chunk of my girlfriends are turning 30 this year, as am I. Presents in the traditional sense – clothes, jewelry, DVDs – are more the exception than the rule. In the last few years, we’ve moved from gift giving to time giving. You spend your time with me on my birthday, and I consider myself a lucky gal. Of course, 30 is something to be celebrated. Right? Right.

Personally, I’ve felt the need to come up with a gift for the folks who have already gone the way of their third decade on this planet. I have also felt it important that it be something I’ve made. I want to put a little heart and a little love into their gift. Sure, I want to finish it off with some sort of sassy card, but the gift needs to be top to bottom them and top to bottom me. A little amalgamation of two friends. If you know anything about me and my escapades in the kitchen as of late, you know what I’m getting at.

Cupcakes.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, seriously? And my response is seriously. Be it right or wrong, it feels as if it’s the thing for me to do. So I’m doing it.

My dear, dear friend Jessica turned 30 this month. Yes, her name is Jessica. Yes, that is how we met. It’s a somewhat long story involving a merry-go-round, a girl named LeAnna, and one fateful recess almost 24 years ago. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that thanks to LeAnna and her big mouth, I met Jessica. Jessica who has not only been a fixture in my life through all the awkwardness of puberty and high school dating and post-college successess and failures, but who also began referring to her 30th Birthday as “The Dirty 30.”

You know what that meant, right? I had to make “Dirty 30” cupcakes. Had to. No choice. It was mandatory.

So I did.

Yes, it’s a take on the old “dirt and worms” dessert, but aren’t they just too cute? I was pretty excited about the 30s as well. Making them out of candy melt turned into quite the art project, but after a little bit of time to practice, I managed to make them passable if not perfect. Perfect may have to wait for something that’s not themed around dirt. However, it was the perfect occasion to debut the “A Little Something Sweet” labels.

Ta dah!

I was quite proud. As you can tell from the fact that I took a picture of a label. What can I say? It’s the little things that bring me happiness in life.

Amanda is up next in the Tour de Birthdays. I already have an idea worked up for what she’ll be receiving. Cupcakes? Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t divulge here as she reads this little blog of cooking love. Just know, Manda Pie, that I have something up my sleeve.

Are you ready? I am.

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