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Preview: more bread and cheese, please!

more bread and cheese, please!

because life's too short to not cook (and eat!) good food.

Updated: 2018-03-05T12:39:22.410-05:00


Christmas Party Dessert: Cake Balls


I do not often attempt complicated baked goods. Cooking, yes, but baking? I still to drop cookies, bars, and cupcakes. But I like to try things now and then that take a little more time and effort. These cake balls were totally worth it.Let's not talk about the fact that I made my little sister do all the dipping because I was getting frustrating with the consistency of the chocolate coating (Ryan: "maybe it's because she has this thing called patience?") or that these were originally going to be cake POPS but I couldn't get the sticks to stay in without getting them all messy.A messy process it is, but these are so. good. Fun and festive looking; rich without being toothache-inducing sweet; nice texture contrast between the creamy filling and the crisp coating. I would definitely go through the trouble again.You can of course make this easier on yourself and use your favorite boxed cake mix and container of frosting. If you do, just skip to the assembly steps. But this cake recipe may be the best I've ever used.White Cake(makes 1 9 x 13 cake, slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour)2 3/4 c all-purpose white flour1 1/2  c sugar1 tblspn baking powder1 tsp salt1.5 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (important!)2 egg whites + 2 whole eggs (also at room temperature)3/4 c full- low-fat vanilla yogurt (no fat-free, please!)1/2 c milk2 tsp vanilla extract1. Blend all dry ingredients using a mixer on low (I just used my hand mixer with no problems; I do not find the need to give over precious kitchen space to a KitchenAid behometh for my occasional baking needs).2. Add the butter and mix (I went back and forth between low and medium speeds) until the mixture is crumbly and/or a little pasty.3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing to blend after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.4. Add yogurt, milk, and vanilla and beat (I switched between medium and high) for 3-5 min, until batter is fluffy, scraping down sides as needed.5. Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 until toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean, 35-40 min.6. Let cool before using for cake balls.Cream Cheese Frosting(makes ~2 c)1 pkg cream cheese (I used the 1/3-less-fat version)1/2 stick unsalted butter at room temperature4 c powdered sugar1 tsp vanilla1. Cream together wet ingredients on medium/high until well blended.2. Add powdered sugar in batches, beating on medium/low until blended each time.3. Set aside until using for cake balls.Cake Ball Assembly(makes ~4 dozen)prepared cakeprepared frosting32 oz of melting chocolate discs in colors of choice (find them by the cake-decorating/candy-making supplies in craft stores like Michael's)sprinkles1. Once cake is cooled, break it into chunks in a large mixing bowl.2. Add frosting, and thoroughly combine - using your hands is your best best. Set in fridge to chill for at least an hour.3. Remove cake mix from fridge, and roll into ~1.5 inch diameter balls. Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment or wax paper or silpat mats, and back into the fridge they go until you are ready for them to be dipped.4. Melt the chocolate over low heat using the double-boiler method (I used a metal mixing bowl over a small pot filled with water), stirring often (or microwave according to package directions). Either way, only melt a small amount (I did 1/4 at a time, which was one bag of melts) at a time so it doesn't harden back up before you use it.5. Remove balls from fridge. Using two forks, carefully drop balls one at a time into chocolate, rolling to cover, then lift out with the forks, letting excess drain off. Place back on lined baking sheets.6. Every few balls, don't forget to stop to add sprinkles before the chocolate hardens.7. Store at room temperature if they'll be eaten in the next day or two; I put mine back in the fridge until the morning of the party.[...]

Peppermint Crunch Popcorn


For the last holiday treat for last weekend's party, I wanted to do a dessert that was a little different - more of a sweet, munchy snack than a true baked good. I saw these on Pinterest (where else?) and knew I'd found my recipe.

It is basically like peppermint bark tossed with popcorn, and reminds me a little of a holiday version of the Boy Scouts' amped up caramel corn I get talked into buying many years.

I had to make it with green and red candy canes - THREE different stores were out of the regular ones, which I think would have been a little prettier, but eh, tastes the same, right? This makes a ton - it filled the 5 qt dish I had it in - and we had lots leftover that I ended up sending to work with Ryan. A half batch would be more than enough, even for a bigger group, so I've reflected that here.
Peppermint Crunch Popcorn
(makes 8-10 c; via Plain Chicken)

~1/4 c popcorn kernels, or 1 bag unsalted, unbuttered microwave popcorn
6 candy canes
8 oz white chocolate melts or almond bark
1/4-1/2 tsp peppermint extract

1. Pop your corn. Meanwhile, place unwrapped candy canes in a large ziploc and smash with a meat mallet, hammer, cast iron skillet, any sort of heavy object with a handle until you've got mostly small pieces and some powder.

2. Pour popcorn into a very large bowl, and pour candy canes over the top.

3. Melt chocolate in the microwave (following package instructions), or in a double boiler over medium-low heat (I use a metal mixing bowl over a small pot filled with water). Stir in peppermint extract.

4. While chocolate is melting place a few large sheets of wax paper on your counter. Add chocolate to popcorn, and mix well to coat the popcorn with the chocolate and distribute the crushed candy canes.

5. Spread along wax paper and let dry. Once hardened, break into pieces and package/serve as desired.

6th Annual Christmas Party Recap


We had our big Christmas bash this weekend, and it was another fun night. Although we usually alternate between a pajama theme and ugly sweater, we decided to go with a cocktail party this year. I miss getting dressed up for Ryan's work party every year, and it turned out, so did a few others.Not everyone dressed up, which I am really OK with (don't like to make people do something they have no desire to, although I do request they bring canned goods to donate if they don't abide by the theme), but we had plenty of cocktail dresses on girls and some sweater vests and a few bowties on the guys. My friends are so pretty. And funny. And have adorable babies.Between the Christmas decorations, twinkly lights, candles, a roaring fire, and Pandora swingin' Christmas in the background, it was a cozy, classy affair. ;)We decided to class up the drinks, too. More friends are getting more into craft/microbrews now, which is awesome because it means I don't have to suffer through light beers as often. Instead of a keg, we spent a few weeks "taste testing" (oh, the sacrifices we make to to ensure great parties, hahaha) a bunch of winter seasonals we found at Anderson's and Whole Foods and filled a giant tub with a selection of the Christmas ales/winter warmers, with a stack of our Ale Fest 3 oz tasting glasses alongside so everyone could try as many as they wanted without getting blitzed (these are 6-8.5% alcohol) if that wasn't in their plans for the evening.Here's the ones we really enjoyed and included (along with a couple winners others contributed):Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of ChristmasColumbus Brewing Company Winter WarmerBreckenridge Christmas AleAnchor Steam Christmas AleAbita Christmas AleFour in Hand Winter BrewNorth Peak Blitzen Festivus AleGoose Island Mild Winter AleAnderson Valley Winter Solstice We went through ~2.5 cases worth of the beers, plus 1.5 cases of Yuengling. I also made a champagne punch (recipe below, by request!) and the usual peppermint-schnapps spiked hot chocolate.Appetizers included goat cheese with raspberry jalapeno jam and crackers, a cheesy crockpot dip with fritos, and deviled eggs. The heartier dishes (I always like to include a few light snacky things and then a  few more filling dishes to help absorb the alcohol, and to help the food serve as dinner for those that don't eat beforehand) included spanish tapas skewers, an orzo salad (recipe to come), and mini sandwiches with a delicious sauce (recipe to come once I make them again and remember to take a picture this time!).And for the holiday treats, my little sister requested the Reese's cup cookies again (she helps me do all the baking each year, then I send her home with a container full), plus we winged our way through some cake balls (recipe/process to come later this week) and I made way too much peppermint popcorn (recipe also to come this week).We're finding that the new house has a really good layout for parties - we put the drinks in the dining room (which remember is actually the intended formal living room space), dessert in the "reading room" (aka the actual dining room), and food in the kitchen. This, plus the fire and comfy seating being in the living room, meant the 35+ guests spread out through the entire first floor for less crowded-ness and better socializing.Thanks to everyone who came - we had a blast, as evidenced by the last guests heading out after 3 am. Overall, another great party, and we're already scheming what we'll host next.Champagne Punch(20-24 servings)3 bottles of dry sparkling wine (nothing expensive!)1 fifth of vodka1 qt (4 cups) of 100% juice blend of your choice (I used a cran-pom-cherry blend)1 lemon, 1 orange1/2 bag cranberries1. Thinly slice your lemon and orange, and freeze them on wax paper on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Freeze your cranberries as well.2. Make sure all the drink components are chilled.3. Place cranberries and citrus slices in punch bowl (these both add a little flavor as they thaw AND serve as pretty, nondiluting ice cub[...]

Putting a New Gift to Use: Indian Lamb + Spinach


Last weekend we headed to Chicagoland for Christmas #1. There was a Portillo's trip (I neeeeeeed my Italian beef fix when I'm back!), plenty o' basketball watching, and toasts with moonshine, jello shots, and homemade Irish cream liquor, all of which I stupidly partook in while getting over a cold. (I is smart, I tell ya!) And before it starts sounding too out-of-character redneck up in here, I'll point out that we had our usual wine and a few seasonal microbrews as well - our "pinky drinks", as my brother calls them.In between all that, we made time to open gifts. My mom gave me a dutch oven (a pretty dark red Lodge version), something I've been wanting for a couple years so I could properly do braises in a thick, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-sealing lid instead of layering on foil. I wanted to put it to use right away, and lamb randomly sounded good. Plus Indian flavors. I figured spinach would be a good complement, and created this, along with a little consultation with Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking cookbook, which gave me the idea to add the yogurt for a little creaminess.It was just what I was in the mood for - hearty comfort food with falling-apart tender meat, big flavors, and just enough spiciness to warm my belly and clear up the last lingering congestion from that cold.The only problem? I'd tentatively planned on us going out for Indian the next night to use a Groupon. We decided to hold off on that after eating the leftovers for lunch earlier in the day, and headed our for a bit nicer of a date night instead. I was already in one of my new dresses and my favorite boots, all set for a fancier outing - I love when that happens! :) We headed to the backroom at Rivage Atlantique for mini lobster rolls, Cuban sliders, and duck poppers (plus a really blah plate of mini chicken tacos), followed by amazing cocktails at the Worthington Inn bar. Mine was made with Watershed gin, ginger liqueur, and lemon; Ryan's was a manhattan-eque drink with bitters and vermouth, but OYO honey vanilla vodka instead of whiskey. I promptly declared it "tasted like Christmas", with its warm, smooth, spicy-bitter flavor.I think we need to start investing in more cocktail makings for at-home versions.Indian Lamb + Spinach(serves 6)~2 lbs of cubed lamb (I asked the butcher counter to debone and chop part of a bone-in leg)1 lb bag of frozen spinach1 large onion, diced4 cloves garlic, minced2 in. piece of ginger, minced~1 tsp salt~1 tsp each cardamom, coriander, and cumin seeds (or ground cumin)~1/4 tsp cayenne pepper1-2 tsp garam masala~1/4-1/3 c plain Greek yogurtjuice of 1 lemon1. In the bottom of a large, heavy pot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in batches. Set aside.2. Add a couple more tablespoons of oil, reduce heat to medium, and saute onion, garlic, and ginger, until onion is translucent, about 5 min. Stir in spices.3. Add meat back to pot, stir to combine with onion/spice mixture, and stir in yogurt. Reduce heat to low or medium low and cook, covered, for about 1.5 hours. You want to mixture to be at a low simmer, not boiling, so adjust heat as necessary. I also added a little water occasionally if it looked too dry (maybe 1 c total?)4. When meat is very tender, it's done. Squeeze in the lemon juice, adjust any seasonings to taste (e.g., more salt if its needs a general little boost, more cayenne for extra heat, more garam masala for that "warm" Indian flavor). Serve with flat bread, naan, or rice (we also had peas in a spicy tomato sauce on the side).[...]

Holiday Pick-Me-Up: Peppermint Mocha


I sat down after dinner last night to start a new book, the first in the Divergent series. It's about a dystopian future where people are divided into groups based on a specific trait, with a strong teenage heroine and a brewing rebellion against the leadership. Sound like any other books you've heard of? It is the same genre and similar premise as The Hunger Games, which I loooooved, so I've been on the waiting list at the library for this one. It's not quite as complex, but a very entertaining read nonetheless, and I can't wait for the second to come out in the spring.So entertaining, the next thing I knew Ryan was sending me a text good night from upstairs (side note, WHY did he do that? Has he really gotten too lazy to come downstairs to say good night? hahaha!). It was 11:40. My bedtime is 10-10:30. It was quite the condundrum - I was right at the climax of the book, with just a few chapters left, but I was already going to be so.tired. this morning. So like a good kid, I set it aside and headed up to bed. When, oh when, am I going to learn I can not go right to sleep after reading a nerve-wracking book? I was up tossing and turning with visions of bloodshed and bravery running through my head.Needless to say, I was sleeeeeepy this morning. I turned to this little winter time treat, which got me through the work day. That, and finishing the book during my lunch break. You can adjust the amounts of each ingredient to more your taste - more milk if you like it creamy or weaker, more coffee if you need the boost, additional peppermint or cocoa if you want an extra flavorful drink.Peppermint Mocha(makes 1)1 shot of espresso, 2 oz of moka espresso, or 1/2 c strongly brewed coffee3/4 c milk of choice1 tsp cocoa powder (or hot chocolate mix, which will be sweeter; Iused vanilla soy milk so didn't need any more sugar)3 in. piece of candy cane1. While coffee is brewing, bring milk, candy cane, and cocoa to a simmer in a small pan, stirring to dissolve the chocolate and to let the peppermint flavor steep into the milk. (You can also use amicrowave, starting with about 20 s, stirring to dissolve powder, and then continue cooking another 5-10 s at a time until desired temp is reached, probably another 15-30 s.)2. Remove any remaining bit of the candy cane. Pour coffee in mug, then stir in milk mixture.3. Enjoy in front of the Christmas tree![...]

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas ...


In case you didn’t see it on Facebook or Twitter, I guest posted on my friend Megan’s blog last week, about our holiday traditions. I totally dropped the ball on mentioning it here because I was having A Week. You know the kind. The one where you have a meh Monday and an absolutely terribly Tuesday – feeling exhausted, making multiple stupid mistakes at work, having a blow out with your significant other over something entirely insignificant. When I realized it was Tuesday and not Thursday, and thus not actually almost the weekend, I started crying. Hello, melodrama!The rest of the week was somewhat better, but I cooked all repeats or non-bloggable things, which also explains the no usual post Thursday. Anyhow, go check out the post at Prep in the Midwest if you haven’t yet, and then come back here. Where we’ll talk about much cheerier things – like decorating for Christmas!I’m big on decorating for the seasons, and especially for Christmas. We always get our tree up the week after Thanksgiving and leave it up ‘til after New Year’s Day. I was excited to have new spaces to decorate this year – like a yard and a mantel! I wanted to share some pictures with everyone.Tree. I’d like to eventually get something taller and possibly a little slimmer, but for now, our old guy works just fine. The tree is filled with our favorite ornaments; the only thing different this year is we used gold ribbon instead of the gold-and-red pointsettia print we’ve used in the past. With the rusty orange walls, I tried to keep the color scheme to greens, golds, and natural browns instead of red.Mantel. I bought a 25 ft cedar and boxwood garland and coordinating wreath from a local landscaping shop, and part of it got draped over the fireplace (random combination of twine, packing tape, and strategically placed Command strips hold it up). The wall looked too bare with just the wreath, so I wrapped burlap leftover from our wedding over the art that usually hangs over the mantel. I finished it up with birch candles (also leftover from the wedding) and a vase filled with gold ornaments and pine cones to continue the nature theme.Kitchen. Sadly, we decided not to hang the stockings over the fireplace. They would be way too low to make having a fire convenient or safe, and Ryan is stoked to have raging fires going for our annual party and Christmas Eve. So I hung them w/ Command strips in the empty breakfast nook, along with more of the garland.Dining Room. Since I kept the red out of the family room, I used a lot of reds and crisp whites elsewhere in the house. The dining table (which this week we moved to what should be the formal living  room so we can get the long farmhouse table I want and them the smaller dining room will be a reading room/my office) holds vases with an assortment of ornaments, peppermint candies, and a peppermint candle.Outside. Ryan and I vehemently disagree on white vs colored lights for Christmas. Since I’ve always won out with the white lights inside, Ryan gets colored outside (it’s all about compromise, people!). We’ve decided to slowly build up a stash of LED lights each year (those things are expensive, yo!). This year, we bought two obnoxiously flashing/color-changing shapes and a few strands for around the door.Don’t worry, I also got my classy greenery on for daytime viewing. Fake pine swags (half off at Hobby Lobby) and gold ribbons adorn the lights, there are a couple of 4 ft entryway trees, and the door holds the berry and branch wreath I’ve had for several years.So that’s the bulk of our decorating this year. Are you a big decorator for Christmas? Or are you anti-making a big deal out of the holidays (which I totally get, it takes a lot of time/effort/money)? And the all-important question, colored or white?[...]

Holiday Shopping and Lemon-Butter Tofu


This might be a new record. I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday, on December 5. Cuh-raaaaazzzy. It helps that I’m doing Christmas with part of the family this weekend so didn’t have a choice in getting things done early.Not that I mind shopping. I am mostly an online gift shopper. I don’t like mall traffic (who does?) or big box store holiday crowds (even more than most; I have a thing about standing amidst mass groups of people - it makes me anxious), and it’s much more convenient to just browse the Web, saving time by making a few clicks during a “quick break” at work.But this year, there were a few things that I could easily pick up while at a store for other reasons. Another gift was going to take too long to ship, and a couple others had ridiculously high shipping costs (we’re talking the same price as the gift itself). So I ventured out a few times, hoping the never-ending rain would mean fewer crowds (I wish!).Aaaand it always leads to me finding awesome deals on things for myself. Sunday, I couldn’t pass up a Gap 50% off sweaters sale. Yesterday, I stumbled upon an extra-percentage-off clearance at Macy’s and scored three super cute dresses worth $212 for a total of $52.I also managed to get the not-too-expensive punch bowl I was on the lookout for (for a party drink!), originally $60, for a whopping $8 thanks to the sale price, a further markdown due to the store only having the display left and part of the glasses being missing, and a $10 off coupon.Getting a good bargain is like its own special kind of high, isn’t it? Apparently I cannot pass one up, which is why I should limit myself to online shopping for Christmas.Then I came home and made this new spin on tofu. We usually stick to spicy Asian-style recipes, but I decided to mix it up. I wanted something meatless after a weekend where we grilled steak one night and snacked on mini versions of a burger, fried chicken sandwich, meatball sandwich, and gyro at Little Palace (holy yum! Best drunkish food ever?) after Shadowbox’s Holiday Hoopla show Friday.Side bar for a mini review: new space is great, food and drink are a thousand times better (aka actually edible, a few microbrew options, and local liquor), and this was by far the funniest of the four or so shows we’ve seen there. Drunk Santa, Lady Gaga in a Lady Gaga-worthy getup, and a holiday-ified medley of their hits by NKOTB that had every woman my age dying of laughter. Highly recommend!Back to the food – so I wanted something meatless, but also something sort of comfort food-y since it was once again cold and rainy alldaylong. I went with a somewhat healthier adaptation of the lemon-butter sauce we used to eat with chicken and pasta, and you can certainly go that route if you are wary of tofu. Although I preferred soaking up the sauce with crusty bread instead of pasta.Tofu with Lemon-Butter Sauce and Capers(serves 3-4)1 pack of extra firm tofu2 tblspns butterJuice of 1 lemon~½ c half and half (or cream or milk (the less fat, the less creamy your sauce will be))~3 tblspns capersParsley (for garnish, optional)Salt + pepper + garlic powderOlive oil[...]

Turkey Remix: Smoky Potato Hash


Did you all have a fabulous turkey day/weekend? I hosted for the first time ever, and meant to at least take pictures to write about our menu. But I was a bad little food blogger and just wanted to relax with my family after cooking.Even so, it was a good time. Any day that starts with homemade cinnamon rolls and mini quiches (so the picky eaters could choose their own toppings without preventing the rest of us from piling on the fillings) and ends with both a firepit AND breaking in the fireplace accompanied by the last of the pumpkin beer and first of the Christmas beer can’t be anything less than stellar.Even if there was a minor garbage-disposal-related plumbing accident that involved green bean ends and potato peels exploding out of a pipe and all over the undersink cabinet.After sending off my mom, we headed to Chicago to spend the rest of the weekend with my dad for another full TG meal. We ate the leftovers in sandwiches the next day, and more leftovers were sent home with us that served as lunch yesterday. I was juuuuusssttt about turkey/green bean casserole/mashed potatoes/stuffing’d out, but oh wait! We had leftovers of our own turkey to finish up too.I needed to mix it up, stat. I also have a ton of potatoes, because after buying them for the big meal, my mom discovered she'd bought a bag and already had an extra bag that would go bad soon so she wanted to bring those to use up. I was going to make turkey-filled latke type potato cakes. Then I remembered I broke my food processor when making the cranberry sauce last week (side note – anyone know if I can just get a replacement lid for a food processor? The little latch that has to be locked into the main part in order for it to turn on snapped off) and not wanting to hand-grate a crap ton of potatoes, switched it to a smoky hash instead.Cubed potatoes, onions, garlic, tons of smoked paprika, and shreds of turkey, all topped with an over easy egg and served alongside something green to start compensating for the previous 4 days. Fairly simple, yet a different flavor profile and presentation than yet another turkey + sides plate or sandwich.Smoky Turkey Hash(serves 4)4 medium baking potatoes, diced1 medium onion, diced4 cloves garlic, diced1.5 tblspns butter1.5 tblspns olive oil2-3 c shredded turkey1 tblspn smoked paprikaSalt + pepper to taste1. Heat your olive oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet. Add onions, garlic, potatoes, and smoked paprika.2. Let sit for several minutes (~4) before stirring/flipping so that potatoes start to brown. After giving everything a good stir/flip, let it sit for several minutes again. 3. Once things are somewhat brown all over, reduce the heat to medium-low and let cook until potatoes are cooking through, another 15 min or so. 4. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Serve topped with an egg cooked to your liking if desired.[...]

So-Good-You-Won't-Know-It's-Light Cookie Dough Dip


In my food philosophy, replacing real sugar and fat with fake substitutes is not acceptable. I do not like the taste or how my body reacts to them, or how little they satisfy whatever craving I have. I abide by the just-eat-less-of-the-real-thing mantra. However, I'm not above altering recipes to include a little whole wheat flour or less sugar or butter sometimes. But this recipe is a whole different ball game - it completely gets rid of the flour, butter, and eggs, drastically reduces sugar, and - GASP - is based on chickpeas.Yeah, you read that right. I basically made a dessert hummus. I pinned this on Pinterest a while ago and was equal parts intrigued and skeptical. I mean, edible dough! No worries about salmonella (not that I let that sh*t stop me - you know I'm sneaking spoonfuls of dough or batter the entire time I bake cookies/brownies/cakes), fewer risks of tummy aches from OD'ing on sugar and that hypoglycemic-hating devil, white flour.But, also, sweet hummus? Can that really taste good? You bet it can. If I'm being nitpicky, the texture is obviously a bit different from traditional dough, and I might leave out the oats next time, as I can still taste the gritty little raw bits, and my food processor is on its last leg and has a hard time making things super creamy. So you might have better luck getting your dough smoother. But it's thick and sweet, vanilla-y, with lots of chocolate chips, and is excellent with graham crackers as dippers.Side note: I bought Teddy Grahams thinking they'd be good, but were they really this small when we were kids? It's hard to dip them without getting dough all over your fingers. Which is fine when you are in your own home and can lick away, but probably not so preferable in public. If I had time to run the store that sells actual graham dipping sticks, those would be perfect.Let's do some fuzzy, loose-y goose-y math for comparison. The Toll House recipe, per cookie made from a "rounded tablespoon"', is 110 calories, 7 g of fat, 10 g of sugar, and 2 g of protein (who the heck makes their cookies only 1 tablespoon, anyways?). This version, according to Spark recipes, works out to about 58 calories, 2.5 g of fat, 6 g of sugar, and 1 g of protein per tablespoon. So you can eat twice as much. ;) And you could definitely cut back on the chocolate chips to make this healthier.For something quite a bit healthier (and safer!) than the "real stuff", it is surprisingly, amazingly delicious. I hope the girls at the 2nd annual get-tipsy-on-amanda's-pomtinis night enjoy it tonight!Cookie Dough Dip(makes ~2 c; via Chocolate Covered Katie)~1.5 c chickpeas (I had some leftover cooked-from-dried, but 1 can, drained, is good)~1/3 c brown sugar1/4 tsp salt1/8 tsp baking soda2 tblspns oats2 tsp vanilla1/4 c soy milk (or milk of your choice)1.5 tblspns nut butter (pb will give it a little pb cookie taste; I used cashew butter since we had it on hand)1.5 tblspns canola oil~3/4 c semisweet chocolate chipsgraham crackers of some sort for dipping1. Put everything except the chocolate chips in a food processor and blend, blend,  blend until you have a mostly smooth puree.2. Mix in chocolate chips. Chill until time to serve.[...]

Cooking for New Parents: Broccoli-Basil Mac + Cheese


Two of my pregnant friends' babies decided they wanted to share a birthday, and sent their mothers into early (but full-term!) labor last Tuesday, which also happens to be a third friend's birthday.Yay, newborns to snuggle and give off sweet baby smell and fawn over and make my ovaries feel like exploding, until those babies start crying or need a diaper changed and I can hand them right back to mama and daddy.Can you tell I am so not ready for a baby? My biological clock must think so (aching ovaries and such), but my head knows otherwise. I'll just stick to stealing other people's babies for a while, thanks.To help the new parents out, I did what I do best - feed people! I think about when I've had a rough few days' sleep and how the last thing I want to do is cook up a well-rounded meal, and that's not including being stressed out about keeping another human being alive. But new moms also want to start getting back into shape, so night after night of pizza delivery isn't the best option, either.When I'm planning out what dishes to make, I take the following into consideration:1) Something easy to reheat, preferably easily freezeable and a one-dish meal2) Something that walks the line between the comfort food we turn to when stressed and exhausted and the healthy dinners we know we should be eating to make us feel our best.A lot of times, that means a lightened-up and altered-to-include-veggies version of a classic dish. I have several go-to recipes, including a few variations on lasagna. This time around, I made another go-to meal to take to others: a giant batch of enchilada sauce to make a pan of chicken enchiladas for each family and one for ourselves.One of the dads doesn't like vegetables, so their second meal will be a stir-fry with the veggies separated from the meat for customizability (is that even a word?), and the other family got half the batch of this twist on mac + cheese from 101 Cookbooks (we ate the other half, obvs).I was intrigued by the idea of broccoli "crumbs" as part of the topping, and it didn't disappoint. It's definitely not your classic super creamy, cheesy mac, so don't make this thinking that's what you'll get. But the textures and flavor combos are great all the same.Broccoli-Basil Mac + Cheese(serves 8, slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks)8 oz pasta (preferably whole wheat, I used shells but any goodsauce-holding shape will work)olive oil2 slices wheat bread, either somewhat stale or dried slightly in the oven1 bunch of basil, leaves removed from stems1 crown of broccoli, chopped into smallish pieces1/2 pint of grape tomatoes (preferably orange or yellow)1/4 c sour cream~10 oz white cheddar, freshly shredded~10 oz gruyere cheese, freshly shredded1. Cook your pasta in salted boiling water for a couple minutes less than the package directions indicate. Reserve ~1 c of the starchy cooking water.2. Meanwhile toss your bread, half the basil, and the broccoli in a food processor with a glug of olive oil. Process until you get a slightly wet mix with very small chunks of everything. Set aside.3. Rinse out food processor, and toss in tomatoes and remaining basil. Pulse a few times just to break into somewhat smaller pieces.4. Add tomato mixture, cheeses, sour cream, and pasta to a large mixing bowl (or right to the pasta cooking pot). Stir well to combine and get pasta melting. Add in reserved pasta cooking water a little at a time and stir to get a slightly creamy consistency. (It's OK if it's a little watery; the pasta will soak up the excess liquid during baking.)5. Spread into a casserole dish or 9 x 13 pan. Top with broccoli mixture, and bake uncovered at 400 for[...]

Pumpkinmania #12: Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream


What, did you think pumpkinmania was done for the year just because it's past Halloween? Of course not. There'll probably be another one for Thanksgiving, too, before I give it up 'til next fall.I once again had the end of a can of puree languishing in the fridge, along with a half-gallon of Snowville half-and-half that was missing only a half cup. (Sidenote: I would love it if Snowville offered smaller sizes. I can very rarely get through a half-gallon of any dairy before it goes bad. Well, except maybe if it was a half-gallon's worth of cheese. That I probably wouldn't have a problem with.)So on an unusually warm November day (let's not think about the fact that it was perfect tornado weather), I broke out the ice cream maker for the first time in probably a year.I started with the Cuisinart basic vanilla recipe as a base, since we've had good luck with it before. But I halved it, used all half-and-half rather than part milk and part cream, subbed in some brown sugar, lessened the liquid to make up for the pumpkin, and dumped in some spices. So I guess it's not really the same recipe at all anymore. Hah.I really love cinnamon, so the flavor is quite strong here - cut the amount in half if you'd like. I also decided to stir in some crumbled graham crackers near the end, kind of like pie crust, to give it the "pie" part of pumpkin pie. Feel free to leave it out, or to add a little vanilla, which I was out of.Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream(makes ~3 cups)2 c half-and-half1/2 c packed brown sugar1/2 c granulated sugar1 c pumpkin puree1 tblspn ground cinnamon1/8 tsp nutmeg3 sheets of graham crackers, crumbled (optional)1. Whisk together half-and-half and sugars until sugar is dissolved; follow by whisking in pumpkin and spices until well-combined.2. Pour into ice cream maker and churn as directed (it takes 20-25 min in mine).3. If desired, stir in crumbled graham once ice cream is churned.4. Transfer to a 3-4 c container with lid and freeze at least 2 h to firm up before devouring, unless you prefer your ice cream soft-serve style. You'll probably want to let it sit on the counter for 10 min before scooping, too.[...]

Traveling via My Mouth: Lyonnaise Vinegar Chicken


I have a major case of wanderlust.I love to travel. LOVE. Ryan knows that in order for me to be happy, we have to find time and budget money to go on several trips each year, even of the mini weekend getaway variety. This year, we did a repeat trip to Memphis, a quick visit to a friend in NC, and went camping outside Traverse City, MI, but had to skip our usual anniversary outing for several reasons. And unfortunately, we haven't been able to do a bigger trip since our honeymoon (maybe some anniversary I'll finish posting about that trip!). Yes, it's been 2 years since I've been on a plane.A trip to Germany is in the works for next fall, but the October issue of Food & Wine made me want to go to France likerightnowimmediately. I've been to Paris, but have always wanted to explore other parts of France, and the stories and recipes made me super excited for Lyon and southern France. So I started a Google Doc called France.What, you don't keep detailed lists of places to stay, food to eat, things to see and do, and miscellaneous tips for hypothetical future trips? If I read about somewhere delicious or fun or interesting in a blog or magazine or hear a good rec from a friend's trip, I make a note of it. That way, if I ever DO make it to whatever place, I already have a head start for a quality trip, and the planning is easier (yep, that Germany trip is probably two-thirds planned almost a year out).Or maybe it just makes my stuck-in-Ohio (errr, or Indiana and Illinois, where I'm often traveling to see family, friends, or football) self a little less stir-crazy, and dampens down the wanderlust.For a few days, anyway.In the meantime, I guess I'll have to settle for tasty dishes inspired by overseas classics. We already tried and loved the ham and white bean stew from the magazine, and this Lyonnaise-style vinegar chicken and herb rice was another hit. Tangy and only a little rich, the herbs brighten the dish up and the rice soaked up the extra sauce. We further lightened things up with a lemon-herb dressing tossed with bitter arugula on the side.We aren't big meat eaters, so one thigh was enough for each of us - feel free to use more chicken, as the original called for an entire chicken for 4 people. I also made a few subsitutions based on what we had on hand, but will include both options below. Also, imagine this as a crispy-skinned roasted thigh, not the braised-looking, soaked-up-the-sauce leftovers in the picture. ;) Seeing as how it is dark by the time I start making dinner now, there's much better natural light during lunch the next day.Vinegar Chicken + Herbed Rice(serves 4; adapted from Oct 2011 Food & Wine)Locally sourced ingredients in this meal: Specked Hen Farm chicken thighs, Snowville Creamery half-and-half, HW Organic onion, Cottage Garden parsley, Dangling Carrot Farm arugula4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (~1.5 lbs; or as much as 1 4 lb chicken, cut up)4-8 cloves garlic, unpeeled~1 c leftover red wine or red wine vinegar~1/4-1/2 c half-and-half (or 1/4 c creme fraiche)1 c white rice (I used basmati)2 tblspn butter, divided1/2 medium onion, diced1 clove garlic, minced1/4-1/2 c chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, tarragon, and green onion)olive oil, salt, pepper1. In an ovenproof skillet (I used cast iron), heat ~ 2 tblspns olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salt + pepper on chicken, and place into pan skin side down and sear until brown, ~5 min. Turn over, add unpeeled garlic, and place in an oven preheated to 450.2. After 8 min, add wine/wine vinegar to pan and continue to roast another 15 min, spooning vinegar over chicken a couple times.3. Meanwhile, start your rice by melting 1 tblspn of butter[...]

The Grill's Last Hurrah?: Sausage + Grape Pizza


During the tailgate last weekend, we had what I said was the best sausage I've tasted on a pizza in Columbus (Adriatico's). I'm from Chicagoland, we take our sausage (real, spicy, well-seasoned sausage) seriously. And then we started talking about a pizza we used to get at Tutto Vino, the wine bar up the street from our condo. It is a sausage and grape pizza, and the owner recommended it the first time we saw it on the menu. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a good flavor pairing. The grapes almost roast during cooking, turning their sweetness more mellow, and serve as a good complementary flavor to the spices in the sausage.I neeeeeded more sausage pizza ASAP.I picked the most promising sounding day, weatherwise, for the week, and planned to get in one last grilled pizza session before the weather turns cold. It's yet to be determined if we'll be those crazies grilling in the Ohio winter, but it is always nice to spend time in our backyard, one of the main selling points on this house for us.Here's a few photos I snapped of the leaves in our yard (and some we just view in the neighbors' yards from ours) when the sun finally broke through after days of dark, dreary, rain.Those were last week, before the second mass exodus of leaves from branch to ground. This is more what it looks like now, taken when I noticed a foggy mist in the yard Tuesday morning.I am so sad to lose the pretty, park-like feel we love, but I can't wait to see the trees all covered in snow. (Err, I mean, I am excited to see it covered in snow at some point. I would like for that to not happen for another month yet. You hear me, mother nature?). I hear we get deer and other woodland creatures running through in winter.And we get more natural light in the house, which ya can't complain about.Get out there and try grilling your pizza before it's too late, or at least give the sausage + grape combo a try in your oven.Sausage and Grape Pizza(makes 2 smallish, thin crust pizzas; serves 4; inspired by Tutto Vino)Locally sourced ingredients in this meal: Speckled Hen Farm spicy italian chicken sausage, Ohio Farm Direct cheese, HW Organics onion 1 batch of your favorite pizza dough (we use this one, upping the salt a bit)8-10 oz of your favorite spicy sausage (pork, chicken, or turkey)1-2 c red grapes, halved lengthwise1/2 white onion, thinly sliced~8 oz cheese, freshly shredded (we used half mozz, half gouda this time)chopped parsley for garnish (optional)olive oil, salt1. Make your dough using your fave recipe, or use a store-bought ball.2. When your dough is close to ready or ready, preheat oven with pizza stone to 475, or heat a charcoal grill as hot as possible (we got to 450-475ish this time), moving the coals to the outside to give more of an indirect heat. You'll want to add a pizza stone on top of the grate once the grill is heated, and let that warm up for a few minutes.3. In the meantime, crumble sausage and cook over medium heat until cooked through.4. Once your dough has risen, split it into two balls and press/roll each out into thin rounds.Brush each with a light coating of olive oil.5. Top each with 1/2 the cheese, 1/2 the sausage, 1/2 the grapes, and 1/2 the onion. Sprinkle with a little salt.6. Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden, about 10 min. Scatter on parsley and serve. [...]

Pumpkinmania #11: A Halloween Treat


Did everyone have a lovely Halloweekend and Halloween? We were actually in town for the first of a two-weekend stretch (I know! Shocking!), so had a perfect balance of partying with friends and major productivity.After a three-hour manhunt all over town for the remainder of our Halloween costumes (seriously, I checked TWELVE stores before finding a white apron. Actually, 11, but that one was toddler-sized.), we headed out for a dinner party to see a visiting friend who moved away a couple years ago. It'd been forever since I'd seen that whole group of friends, and it was nice to have everyone in one place for a few hours.Saturday followed with the last outdoor market of the year, costume-finishing and pumpkin-bread-making while watching football, then a costumed visit to an OSU tailgate, followed by a Halloween party full of jello shots, beer pong, and an awesome made-up game of pool where sinking the eight ball early or scratching actually earned you points.We got tons of compliments on our insurance-duo costume at the tailgate and bar, and thought we'd done such a good job on being creative ... until we walked into the party and there was ANOTHER Flo + Mayhem. Bummer! I still loved our idea, though.Sunday flew by in a flurry of kitchen painting (me) and yard work (Ryan). (That was the productive part of the weekend.)I was super excited for our first Halloween with actual trick or treaters Monday. We set up on our patio next to our decor (notice we never even got around to carving our pumpkins - I'll be more on top of it next year. Some of our neighbors are out of control, even turning their yards into haunted houses). We at least turned on Pandora's spooky symphonies for atmosphere.We ended up with probably 60-70 kids throughout the night, but still managed to have leftover candy, because Ryan insisted on the 230 piece bag. He's all about go big or go home. My favorite costumes were a probably 10 year old girl who, when I asked her if she was a combo witch-monkey, exclaimed "FINALLY, somebody gets it! Thank you!" You go on with your quirky, creative self. I hope that doesn't get stripped away when she gets to junior high and just wants to fit in. Then the 18ish month old of our neighbors' friends stopped by in traditional golf gear. We're talking argyle sweater, knee-length pants, tasseled shoes, and a pom-pom-topped hat. And he has bright red hair. I about died from cuteness. And then it got cold and dark and people stopped coming by so I went inside and had a delicious slice of this pumpkin bread for dessert after a dinner of bacon-pumpkin cream sauce pasta (no picture taken, so that'll have to wait for next year!).I made a healthy pumpkin muffin previously, but these were lighter and fluffier and a bit sweeter, and that was 3 years ago, so I wanted to post an updated recipe. It can make 2 loaves or 4 dozen minis, but I decided to go half minis w/1 c of chocolate chips added in to take to Saturday's party, and 1 plain loaf for home snacking.Pumpkin Bread(makes 2 loaves, 4 dozen minis, or 1 loave and 2 dozen minis; adapted from Good Housekeeping)2 c packed dark brown sugar3 eggs2.5 c plain pumpkin puree1/2 c oil1 tblspn vanilla extract2 c all-purpose flour1.5 c whole-wheat flour1 tblspn baking powder1 tsp baking soda1 tblspn cinnamon1 tsp nutmeg1 tsp crystallized ginger, crushed1 tsp salt1-2 c chocolate chips (optional)1. Whisk together brown sugar and eggs; add pumpkin, oil, and vanilla and stir to combine.2. Add in dry ingredients and stir just until combined (some lumps are OK, but you don't want loose flour).3. Stir in chocolate if using for all of batter (since I used it [...]

Lazy, Smoky Ham + Bean Soup


This week feels like one that requires laziness, and we're doing a pretty good job of it. We had plans to carve pumpkins Sunday, then Monday, then Tuesday, but every night decided lounging on the couch sounded like a better idea. Well, except for Tuesday, when a veiny piece of cabbage snuck through the disposal and clogged the undersink pipes. That night, I learned how to do some plumbing. :)Last night, we had great intentions of finally using a soon-to-expire Groupon for a movie theater, and got as far as half-priced greasy appetizers and a beer at a bar on the way before deciding to ... you guessed it, come home and lounge on the couch. At least I haven't been phoning it in on my workouts.And maybe we'll get to those pumpkins tonight.This stew, while it takes a while to cook, is what I consider a lazy meal, too. You chop up a bunch of stuff, throw it all in a pot, check on it every now and then, and put the finishing touches on right before eating. I cooked this throughout the day while working from home, but it would be a good {lazy} weekend afternoon meal, or for a night you can get right home after work to start it (make sure you soak the beans that morning!).I don' t know why I don't think to use smoked ham hocks or shanks more often in soups and stews. It adds this awesome layer of rich, smoky flavor that brings what would be a boring beans-and-veggies-in-broth soup to a whole different level. Use whichever you can find - they are similar cuts, but in my experience the shank gives you more meat. So if you locate hocks, you'll want a larger total weight, probably 2-3 hocks instead of just 1 shank, and either way, look for ones that look "meaty" versus mostly bone.Garbure (White Bean, Ham, and Vegetable Stew)(serves 6; slightly adapted from Jacques Pepin via Food & Wine)Locally sourced ingredients in this meal: Northridge Organics sweet potato; Zemnicki Greenhouse + Farm carrot, celery, cabbage, and leeks; Oakleaf Farm (I think) red potatoes1 c dried navy or cannellini beans~1.5 lbs smoked pork shank or 2.5-3 lbs hock~1/3-1/2 large head of cabbage, thinly sliced and chopped roughly into ~2 in. long pieces1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise and sliced1 stalk celery, halfed lengthwise and sliced1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, halfed lengthwise and sliced1 medium sweet potato, diced1 medium  or 3 baby red potatoes, dicedsalt + pepperciabatta bread6 oz gruyere1. Pour beans into a large pot, cover with water, and soak for at least 2 hours (you can start this before work in the morning and leave all day if needed).2. Drain water, add ham shank, cover with ~8 c of fresh water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 h.3. Chop all your veggies and add to pot, along with about 1 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper; cook another hour. Add more water if needed at this point.4. Remove shank and let soup continue simmering while you let the shank cool enough to handle (probably 20-30 min). Remove the meat from the bone and cut into small, bite size pieces/shreds.5. Add meat back to soup, and season to taste with salt + pepper. Soup can be cooled and then refrigerated at this point for a few days if needed; reheat with a little water to thin back out.6. To serve, preheat the broiler. Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls, top with 2-3 thin slices of the bread and ~1 oz of the cheese, either shredded, chopped, or thinly sliced. Stick under the broiler for ~2 min, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately. [...]

A New {For-Now} Look


First, a little sidenote. I'm sure you noticed the new look of the site. It's an interim solution - I've been wanting to redesign the ol' blog for a while, but the major overhaul I want to do involves changing to Wordpress. I have a {private} version of the blog there, and have played around with it, but every template I like requires me resizing every f'ing picture already published. It makes me frustrated and then I give up. I keep waiting for more time and patience to spend on it, and/or money and a good recommendation to pay someone else to do it. In the mean time, you get this good-enough Blogger dynamics template, where you can change it up to different views. I still don't like the Blogger commenting interface, don't like that you can't always get to the labels/categories in this version, and generally want to do a little more customization, but like I said, that'll have to wait. For that magical time in the future when I have more of that thing called free time.The second part of this is that I finally bought my own url. OK, maybe I did that 6 months ago and was waiting to make the bigger switch to actually use it, but I'm tired of waaaaiiiittting. You can get to the blog now at - no more blogspot in there!Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.I have been pretty disappointed in some of my magazines lately, or at least the recipes from them. I think I've decided to let my Cooking Light subscription expire after the 5 years or so that I've had it. For the last couple of years, it seems like so many of the recipes are obvious "duh" combinations or just too basic to be something I need a recipe for. I'm sure part of it is me being a far more experienced cook than I was back then, but I also think CL has changed it's focus/goals/audience since then as well to those looking strictly for quick and easy meals. If it weren't for the Mark Bittman column, I don't know that I'd ever make anything from it anymore.And this Bittman recipe was a winner. It was originally a sweet-potatoes-only side dish, but I thought it would make a good sauce for a main vegetarian dish. The flavor combination is bold and different, with some spicy, sweet, and tart tastes, which means Ryan was It's not too pretty to look at, but it's tasty.If you are anti-tofu, this would be good with chicken breast or pork tenderloin as well.Sweet + Spicy Tofu, Eggplant, + Sweet Potato Toss(serves 4; inspired by Cooking Light)Locally sourced ingredients in this meal: Eggplant from Wishwell Farms, sweet potato from Northridge Organics, honey from Honeyrun Farm, smoked chipotle from ?? at the Clintonville market1 c uncooked brown rice1 package extra firm tofu2 medium or 1 large sweet potato2 medium or 1 large eggplant1 c frozen cranberries1/2 c water1 tblspn honey1 chipotle pepper from a can of chioptles in adobo sauce  (I subbed a local fresh-smoked chipotle)1-2 tbslpns of adobo sauce from the can (use less if you aren't a huge spicy-heat fan)olive oil, salt, peppergreen onion and cilantro, for garnish1. Start cooking the rice (2 c water to 1 c rice; cover, bring to a boil, then turn off heat/or reduce heat to very low and let sit without removing lid for 35-45 min) and preheat oven to 400.2. Drain tofu, and cut into bite-size pieces. Also chop veggies into bite-size pieces.3. Place tofu and veggies on lightly oiled baking sheets, mist or brush with olive oil, and toss with a little salt and pepper. Stick in oven for 30-40 min, turning over halfway through.4. When veggies/tofu/rice are almost done, start [...]

Single Girl Living (and Cooking)


I don't mind when Ryan goes away for a day. It's kind of a mini break for some good ol' "me time", and I use it as an excuse to be lazy and pick up Chipotle or Jimmy John's. And watch cheesy movies.When it's two or three days, being home alone is still a novel concept, and I eat things like eggs + toast, cereal, or a random veggie + pasta toss for dinner. And lay around all night reading magazines.But when he leaves for longer periods of time, I decide I have to pull on my big girl panties and cook real meals and be a productive human being. This week, I made a random tofu/wheat berries/spinach/goat cheese casserole and BBQ chicken flatbreads - cook once, eat 3-4 times. And continued with the house project-ing (I even taught myself to use the electric drill without destroying anything!).Thankfully, the 7-10 day trips haven't happened in probably almost 2 years before this one. But the rarity almost makes it harder to handle. After day 3, I am so. over. it. and want him to come home. Immediately. Even if I'm the one who's away, it's always day 3 when I really start to miss him. Always.And we're on day 7. Ugh.Not to mention it's been cold and gray and rainy and bleeeeccchhhh here. I needed some old-fashioned comfort food. And for me, nothing says comfort like tuna noodles. It is something my mom made all the time growing up, and I still like it.Two problems, though: Ryan haaaaates tuna and can't even handle the smell, and I try to stay far away from the overly processed, not-real-food cream-of-whatever soups these days.  This business trip took care of the first problem, and a little Googling for a from-scratch version took care of the rest.I'll be the first too admit this doesn't taste quite like the version of my childhood - not nearly enough sodium, for starters, and you can't quite replicate the texture of those canned soups. ;) But I enjoyed it and it satisfied my childhood food cravings.Tuna Noodle Casserole(serves 4; adapted from Eating Well)8 oz egg noodles, preferably whole wheat1 tblspn butter1 tblspn olive oil1/2 large onion, diced4-6 oz mushrooms, sliced3 cloves garlic, minced3 tblspns flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)2 c milk (I used 2%)1 tblspn lemon juice (optional)1 or 2 cans of tuna1.5 c frozen peas1/2 c grated parmesan, dividedsalt, pepper, and Italian or other seasoning blendbread crumbsgreen onions, thinly sliced1. Boil water for pasta and cook according to package directions.2. In a large, deep skillet or a dutch oven, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms until onions are translucent and mushrooms are soft and golden brown. Add a little salt and pepper.3. Stir flour into onion mixture. Add about 1/2 c milk and stir to help combine with flour, then add remaining milk, stirring to combine, and add in lemon juice, 1/4 c of the parmesan, and a little more salt and pepper. Let simmer for 5-10 min to thicken.4. When sauce has thickened and noodles are ready, add noodles, tuna, and peas to pot with sauce. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you're using.5. Top with a few handfuls of breadcrumbs and the remaining parmesan. Stick several inches under a broiler until topping is golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Top with green onions and serve.[...]

Pumpkinmania #10: Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes


I can't remember the last time I ate pancakes. I am way more of a savory breakfast person, and if we are occasionally in the mood for something sweet on a Sunday morning, Ryan likes breaking out the waffle maker.But guess what? He's not here right now. I dropped him at the airport Friday for a week-long business trip (boo. hiss. whine.). It's been forever since he had to go away for this long, especially over a weekend. I made the best of it, and had a super productive yet relaxing weekend. I caught up on sleep, got in a couple "bonus" workouts, drank just a little (speaking of which, I had a cheek-flame-inducing strong cocktail and a porkily delicious sandwich and great sweet potato fries at Milestone 229 - definitely worth a return visit!), watched stupid girly and teen flicks. But I also painted walls, hung pictures, finished patching the kitchen, and a myriad of other little projects. I was a house-project superstar.So anyways, back to the pancakes. I reaaalllly needed to use up the last of a big can of pumpkin that I've been working through over the last, oohhhh 3 weeks or so, and thought, why not pumpkin-flavored. Because I ever need an excuse to pumpkin-ize something this time of year.I found what I was looking for with Pinch My Salt's whole-wheat version: full of whole-grain goodness, which I think gives a good nutty flavor to these 'cakes, and not too sweet - I like to let the syrup take care of that.She used part whole wheat and part cake flour; I used whole wheat and wheat pastry flour because I had it on hand. Feel free to use whole wheat with some all-purpose flour, or even go all AP if you aren't a big whole-grain person. These are a little denser than your typical light-n-fluffy buttermilk style pancakes, but I like 'em that way.Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes(makes 6 small pancakes, serves 2; adapted slightly from Pinch My Salt)1/2 c vanilla soy milk (or regular milk + 1/2 tsp vanilla)1/2 c pumpkin puree1 egg1 tblspn oil1 tbslpn brown sugar (preferably dark)1/2 c whole wheat flour1/4 c wheat pastry flour, cake flour, or all-purpose flour1 tsp cinnamon1/2 tsp crystallized or ground gingerpinch of ground nutmegpinch of ground clove (optional)1. Mix together the first five ingredients, milk through sugar, until well-combined.2. Add in remaining [dry] ingredients, and mix just enough to combine. Some lumps are OK, you don't want to overmix. Add a little more milk if needed to thin out batter.3. Heat a large skillet or a griddle to medium and grease well with butter or oil. Pour about 1/2 the batter in three separate pancake "blobs" (you can use a big spoon or ladle, I just used the wooden mixing spoon to help as I poured straight from the bowl). Flip when little bubbles appear on top, in a couple minutes, and finish cooking through. Repeat with remaining batter.4. Top with your favorite toppings. I went with a little [real] butter, real Ohio maple syrup, blueberries, and almonds.[...]

Local Love: Watershed Distillery


Last fall, Ryan and I got word of two distilleries opening ... in Columbus! Although we're more microbrew and wine drinkers, we do enjoy the occasional cocktail, and I of course am obsessed with all things local. So we bought vodka from both Middle West Spirits and Watershed for a little holiday tasting of the first batch of both. Since then, we've pretty much always had a bottle of Watershed vodka on hand.Needless to say, we were excited to see a Groupon for a tour and a super soft, vintage-y t-shirt (side note #1: I am super on-board with companies having these higher-quality, better-fitting t's that I will actually wear out of the house as opposed to huge, regular t-shirts I'll only wear to sleep in.). We had a pretty big group for the small space, but it worked out fine.We started out hearing how the owners Greg (pictured) and Mark got the company off the ground, and had a little lesson in gin recipes. We had to smell each spice and guess what it was - I actually got a few, including allspice and juniper berries. Although it was the citrus peels pictured above that stumped me.Then, we switched spots with the other half of our tour group to play hammerschlagen, a drinking game that Greg played when he lived in (I think) Switzerland. You'll have to go on the tour to hear his backstory, but let's say Ryan thinks it's the best thing ever (he won, obviously), and I think it would be stupidly dangerous to let increasingly drunk people wield a hammer (am cautious old woman. and came in next-to-last).Next it was onto the tour of the quite small setup. This is basically all of it. Greg shared the distilling process, which made me feel like I was back in o-chem lab. We learned about the mash and fermenting, different temperatures used to get different proofs and different levels of remnant flavors, which parts of the runoff are used, what they do to turn the distillate (below, smelling the strong 150-190 proof intermediate) into the finished product, and more.Like funny stories of mishaps and mistakes that they've encountered along the way as they've taught themselves how to do this. Recently, a whiskey barrel (yep, they're making whiskey, to be released in 2013) didn't cure all the way (it is soaked in water to expand the wood and essentially seal the barrel so no liquid can seep through) and has been slowly drip, drip, dripping. It did mean we got to take a good whiff of the oak-aging liquor, though.We finished up with the bottling, labeling, and distribution process, and learned more interesting details of the government's requirements and controls, and what Greg and co. are doing to try to make it easier for distillers to prosper in Ohio.Ohio's inane liquor laws mean distilleries can't have public tastings, or charge for them; instead, distillers are required to register "private tastings" with the state a week ahead of time (side note #2: we've been watching Ken Burns's Prohibition, and I've been intrigued by the various roles people in Ohio played on both sides of the fight). So, with the tour "officially" over, those who wanted to (i.e., everyone) stuck around to sample the vodka and gin in their straight (and warm!) states. I can not hang like that anymore, so I only made it through a few tiny sips of each.The gin is very smooth and clean instead of too medicinal like I usually find gins. We aren't the only ones who like it - Watershed sells about the same amount of vodka as gin (they were both on batch 17 when were were they a couple weeks ago), even though the market for vodka is 6-7 times larger. We'll be buying a bottle soon - [...]

Baba what?


As promised, here is the recipe for the baba ghanoush from last week's Mediterranean feast. It is, as I mentioned, the most acceptable preparation of eggplant in Ryan's opinion. I'm not sure why he can't get behind eggplant; I think it might not have enough flavor for his liking.Grilling it and throwing on lots of spices is acceptable, as is breaded and smothered in tomato sauce and cheese, but he'll just barely tolerate it roasted or baked, because, well, he eats whatever I serve him for dinner. But puree it, add some lemon juice, and spread it on pita and I guess it's a whole different idea.Although he did request I make it "tangier" next time.That boy. Subtlety is lost on him.Baba Ghanoush(serves 6)locally sourced ingredients in this recipe: eggplants from Wishwell Farms2 medium eggplants2-4 cloves garlic, smashed and skin removed1/4 c tahini1 tsp salt1 tblspn olive oiljuice of 1 lemonhandful of parsley (optional)1. Poke several holes in the eggplants with a fork, and then roast them over open flame or under broiler, a couple min per side (this is optional, but gives a little smoky flavor).2. Bake for 25ish min at 400 deg until eggplants are cooked through and soft.3. Puree in food processor with remaining ingredients.4. Taste and adjust seasonings.5. Refrigerate until ready to serve w/ warm pita.[...]

Anniversary Celebrating and Dolmades


I was planning on another tailgate recap post after our stellar, 8 hour tailgate involving flip cup, beer pong, and tacos last Saturday, but the game was so disheartening I just wanted to forget about it and move on (seriously, Ryan and I decided to drive home instead of paying money for a hotel because we were so irritated and not wanting to spend any more money relating to the game). We got home at 5 am. And then slept most of the day. So that's why the no posting on Tuesday.That, and because we took Monday and Tuesday off for a little anniversary staycation. Monday involved a pumpkin patch outing in the afternoon, followed by an epic night of eating and drinking. We made our first visit to DeepWood for cocktails and appetizers. For such a nice place, the happy hour menu is awesomely priced (and the place was still empty minus one table when we left at 7). We had $4 cocktails (mine involving sparkling rose, lime, and lavender syrup; his with bourbon, brown sugar syrup, and mint) along with a duck sausage corn dog and marrow-soaked toast with blue cheese, both for super reasonable prices.Then it was on to dinner. I'd forgotten G. Michael's has a $30 prix fixe special on Mondays. You know I love a good deal, so even though I definitely was not hungry enough for a three-course dinner, it just made more sense than ordering an entree off the regular menu. We shared a spicy white-chocolate pumpkin bisque and mussels, then had seared mahi w/ crab salad and roasted brussels and butternut (for me; Ryan had a strip steak). Aaaand we finished up with creme brulee and pumpkin cake with cinnamon ice cream and candied pecans (gee, which one do you think was mine?). Don't forget the bottle of wine, plus a bottle of sparkling when we returned home.I'm surprised I didn't feel awful upon waking Tuesday. We mostly had a chill day. We'd planned on lunch at Skillet and then heading to the Hocking Hills for hiking. But even though the Web site said they were open Tuesday, Skillet was most definitely closed. I was seriously craving it, but we had a tasty lunch at The Old Mohawk instead. After hearing an overturned semi had 33 and 270 shutdown, we decided to stay in town and catch a movie instead (Contagion ... it was OK. The molecular biologist in me was not satisfied with the half-assed explanation for how the virus came to be). I was pretty bummed not to get down to the Hocking Hills (we were married down there, after all!), but it wasn't worth all the sitting in traffic.Soooo anyways, we wanted a light meal that night. I made a salad full of the very last tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers from our garden, tossed with feta, olives, olive oil, and lemon. We had warm pitas with baba ganoush (in Ryan's opinion, the most acceptable way to eat eggplant; recipe to come soon), and I tried my hand at these stuffed grape leaves. Dolmades are one of my favorite things to get from Greek restaurants, and I'd always wondered how difficult they'd be to make at home. I kept it pretty basic, although you see them with meat, nuts, raisins, and more. They were a bit monotonous to fill and roll, and it takes a while to cook when using brown rice, but these were a definite keeper. They'd be great party food too, since they are even better after sitting overnight and can be served at room temperature.Stuffed Grape Leaves(makes ~36)1 jar grape leaves1 medium onion, diced~3/4 c brown ricejuice of 1 lemon3/4 c parsley, chopped3/4 c dill, chopped1/4 c mint, choppedsaltolive oil1. Saute your onion in a bi[...]

Butternut Squash + Lentil Chili


It has been cooler, grey, and rainy around here lately, which means it's soup and stew season (mark another checkpoint in the fall "win" column!). I remembered seeing this veggie + lentil chili over at Daily Garnish recently, and knew I wanted to recreate it with what I had on hand. Emily used sweet potatoes, but I liked this with the butternut squash, which I think holds it shape a little better when cooked; use whichever you have on hand. I didn't have jalapenos, so threw in some cayenne pepper. I also had the last stragglers from our tomato plants to use, but a can of diced tomatoes would would work just as well now that tomato season is over.The seasoning is warm and bold, just the way we like it - I actually didn't have to add more than called for in the original, which is unusual for me. For a meatless chili, this is very filling. I usually eat every three hours or so, but a late night that had me up more than four hours after a bowl with a side of cornbread sent me to bed still not quite hungry again.I think we'll be making this one again - it's a great cozy-night comfort food that's healthy instead of making me want to fall asleep.Butternut Squash + Lentil Chili(serves 4-6; slightly adapted from Daily Garnish)1 medium onion, diced2 cloves garlic, minced1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced1 medium-large butternut squash, cut into ~1/2 in. cubes (~4 c worth)6 medium tomatoes, or 1 ~15 oz can of diced tomatoes1 c green or brown lentils4 c water2 tblspns chili powder1 tblspn smoked paprika1 tblspn cinnamon1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)bay leafsaltsour cream (optional)green onions for garnish (optional)1. If using fresh tomatoes, you'll want to blanch them to remove the skins. Do this by boiling a pot of water, sticking the tomatoes in, and watching for when the skins start to split. This should take 2-3 min. Move the tomatoes to a bowl of ice water, and once they are cool enough to handle, you should be able to pull the skins right off. I leave them whole to cook down with their juice in the pot (chopping ahead of time will lose a bunch of liquid to the cutting board).2. To cut your squash, cut the "bowl" part off from the rest. Stand the top part up and then carefully trim the tough skin off with a sharp knife. Cut into 1/2 in. thick discs, then stack a few discs and cut 1/2 in. wide sticks. Finish by cutting crosswise to turn your sticks into 1/2 in. cubes. (I had more than enough squash as this point, so I set aside the seed-filled bottom portion for another use.)3. Saute your onion and garlic over medium heat in a larger pot until onion is translucent, 3-5 min. Add carrots, squash, and tomatoes, and saute for a few more minutes. I then threw the lid on to help the squash cook through, for about 10 min. (If using fresh tomatoes, you'll want to break them up using a large spoon (wooden or plastic serving work well.)4. Add the lentils, water, bay leaf, and spices (use less cayenne or omit if you aren't a hot spice fan). Cover, bring to a boil, and lower heat to let simmer until lentils are cooked through, about 45 min.5. Season to taste with salt, remove the bay leaf, and serve. We garnished with Greek yogurt (sour cream substitute) and green onions, and gobbled up some cornbread (with honey, always) on the side.[...]

Dairy-Free Spinach + Artichoke Dip


Yes, that does say I made a dip with no dairy. No cheese, no sour cream, no cream cheese. Not even mayo (which, I know, isn't actually dairy, but it falls in that fatty, creamy deliciousness camp). What's more, this dip has a big hit of protein and is bursting with vegetables. Sounds awful, right? But, dare I say it, I've instead made a tasty, party-worthy dip that is also .... super healthy?!?After making the tofu-as-ricotta-replacement lasagna filling I did a couple weeks ago, I got the idea to turn it into a spinach + artichoke dip. I tested it out when a couple girlfriends came over for wine and catching up (we were supposed to be chilling on the patio enjoying our awesome backyard, but the neverending rain and cold lately ruined those plans for us). It took a little amped up seasoning to get it from pasta filling to tortilla chip topping, but I loved it. Loooooved it. Seriously, if you have any interest in trying out tofu but are scuurrrred of the texture, taste, or how to prepare it, try this out.This makes a huge batch, so plan on it for a big party, or eat it as an afternoon snack throughout the week. Or you can turn the leftovers into pasta sauce, like we did.Super Healthy Spinach + Artichoke Dip(makes ~4 c)1 package frozen spinach, thawed1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed1 package firm tofu, drained but not pressed1 tblspn olive oil3-4 cloves garlic, minced2 tblspns nutritional yeast (optional, but gives a cheesier taste to the dish)juice of 1-1.5 lemonssalt to tasteyour choice of salt-free seasoning blend or Italian seasoning (optional, I used Penzey's mural of flavor)1. Mix tofu, oil, garlic, and nutritional yeast in a food processor until smooth. Add spinach and artichokes and continue to process until thoroughly combined and spinach and artichokes are in much smaller pieces.2. Stir in lemon (start with juice from 1), salt (start w/ 1 tsp), and any other seasonings (start w/ 1 tsp). Taste and adjust to your liking.3. Either heat in a small-medium sized crockpot, or in an ovensafe dish at 350 until hot, about 30 min. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or baguette slices of your choice.[...]

Pumpkinmania #9: Ricotta-Pumpkin Ravioli


It is no secret that I luuuurrrrrve pumpkin. Every year, I try to find a few new dishes - both sweet and savory - to make with it. Last week, I opened up one of the cans leftover from last year's stash to start stirring a big spoonful into my morning oats, which means there was a lot of orangey goodness leftover that I needed to think about using up.An article in the most recent Edible Columbus made the what-to-make decision for me. It was for homemade ravioli with assorted fillings, but I [obviously] went the pumpkin route, and made the whole ordeal less time consuming by using wonton wrappers instead of homemade pasta.Pumpkin puree isn't great on it's own, so I went with a 50/50 mix with ricotta. (I know, I just mentioned eating more protein and less cheese. But, I ate a few of these with turkey Tuscan sausage on the side rather than piling up our whole plates with cheesy pasta. Baby steps, right?) (P.S. That's a small plate in the pictures.) I've seen recipes with lemon zest, garlic, even an egg, but I wanted to keep it simple, with a little salt, nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne to round the flavor out.The sauce was simple too - browned butter and sage seem to be a classic sauce for cheese-filled ravioli. Browned butter just means you melt the butter, then let it continue simmering until it starts turning a golden brown color; it gives a deeper flavor, but you can stick with a little plain ol' melted butter too. Either way, a little goes a long way, so use it more as a butter drizzle than a full-blown sauce. The best part is the crunchy little bits of sage, anyway.This may be a fairly simple meal to prepare, but by now means is it a quick one-dish prep. Between the ravioli, the sauce, the sausage, and the sauteed greens, I used four pans, two cutting boards, a mixing bowl, condiment bowl, two knives, tongs, a skimmer, and several spoons.Make sure you have a dining companion to push dish duty on.Pumpkin-Ricotta Ravioli(serves 4)3/4 c ricotta3/4 c pumpkin~1/2 tsp salt (to taste)pinch nutmegpinch cayenne32 wonton wrappers (cut into circles if you want to be fancy)3 tblspn butter2 cloves garlic, minced~2 tblspn chopped fresh sage1. Mix the ricotta, pumpkin, salt, nutmeg, and cayenne until thoroughly combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.2. Lay out a row of wonton wrappers, and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each. (Keep a damp paper towel over the remaing wontons.) 3. Keep a small container of water nearby; dip your finger and use it to wet the edges of the wonton wrappers. Place another wrapper on top, and press the edges together, making sure to wipe away any excess filling and fully seal the edges. Set aside and repeat until you have 16 filled ravioli.4. Meanwhile boil water, and when ready, cook ravioli in batches of 4 or so. They are done when they float to the top, which should take no more than 2-3 minutes.5. While your ravioli is cooking, melt butter over medium-low heat in a small sauce pan. Add the garlic and sage, and continue cooking (butter will get foamy, but that's OK) until the butter is a golden color.6. Drizzle a little sauce over each plate of 4 ravioli, and serve![...]

Tailgate Time! Preppy Southern Style


My favorite time of year - football season! Especially now that it is awesome weather out. The first home game two weeks ago, it was 500 degrees and 1000 percent humidity, which was super not pleasant; this week is was chilly and overcast in the morning and not-overly-warm, sunny, and breezy by kickoff - perfect!Our team may not be very good, but that just means the tailgates have to be all the more fun. If you know our crew, you know we are serious about our tailgates, with the full TV/satellite setup, multiple parking spaces, and themes for the food each week. For a not-important game (one that ended up being a much-needed blowout for our Boilermakers, 59-0), one of the guys suggested we do a Southern theme a la LSU's The Grove, complete with preppy cocktail-party wear and southern food.It. was. so. much. fun. The girls wore dresses and boots in black and gold along with bunches of pearls, and the boys broke out seersucker pants, khaki blazers, and black-and-gold-striped ties and polos. I think it will be an annual event.We may have outdone ourselves this time, especially for being one of our smaller turnouts. For food, we had:Pulled BBQ pork and chickenMac & cheeseApple-and-craisin-studded cole slawPimento Cheese Dip (ultimate Southern cocktail staple comes courtesy of our Southern-transplant tailgate member Megan; the link goes to the recipe on her blog)Bacon-jalapeno-chicken bites (recipe below)Bourbon peaches (which were ah-mazing - not too sweet or too alcohol-bite-y)Drinks included a mimosa bar, crown + gingers, and Abita beers from Louisiana.Activities included a bocce-ball like game called Murbles.Next up: a rare night game against Notre Dame, for which we will likely be pushing 50 people at our tailgate.   Prepare for the epic-ness.Bacon-Chicken-Jalapeno Bites(makes 24-30; idea from Salad in a Jar via Pinterest)Locally sourced ingredients in this dish: Oink Moo Cluck chicken and bacon, Blue Jacket Dairy silver lake chevre, Wenger Farms jalapenos1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast12-15 slices of bacon4 oz chevre goat cheese2 jalapenostoothpicks1. Cut the chicken into thin slices, about 1/4 in. thick. Cut your bacon into 2 or 3 pieces per slice (I had some pieces that were long and thin, which I cut into 3 sections, and some that were short and fat, which I cut into 2; you want the bacon to be a little bit longer than the chicken pieces). Thinly slice the jalapenos2. Layout a piece of bacon, top with a piece of chicken. On one end, place a pinch of goat cheese, topped with a slice of jalapeno.3. Carefully roll up bite, and use a toothpick to secure the pieces together. Place on a cookie sheet (I added a silpat mat to mine to prevent sticking; you may want to consider parchment paper, although the bacon grease should work as a non-stick coating as well).4. Bake at 400 deg for about 15 min, until the bacon is brown and crispy and the chicken is cooked through.Note: These were best straight out of the oven; however, the crockpot worked well to reheat them for the tailgate. The bacon was not as crispy for the first couple hours it was being reheated, but did get brown and crispy again a few hours into the day. You can also prep these ahead of time and grill instead.[...]