Search My Blog!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Savory Corn and Pepper Bites

I don't know when the trend began. But I can no longer eat pasta or soup or a salad without having a nice giant slice of bread next to me. I think this began when Ron and I started dating. We often ate pasta at his parents' house and there was always a basket of bread on the table. Oddly enough, I didn't start eating all of these "carbs" until the whole low-carb / no-carb diets became trendy. Perhaps it was my way of saying 'screw you' to all of the carb-naysayers out there, but I was indulging in the bread basket. And I still do!
With pasta, it's always some kind of cheese bread or garlic bread. With soup, it's always some kind of herb bread. With chili, it's always cornbread. The last time we had chili, I was looking for a different type of corn bread and landed upon a corn muffin recipe published in my Dorie Greenspan cookbook. They were supposed to be muffins, but I decided to change them to bites when I realized that I did not want to use the last of my liners. The bites have a little bit of a kick to them, but I definitely could have used more! I might have to add more jalepeno next time or maybe mix in some sharp cheddar cheese to change it up. But whatever I do, they will definitely be served with chili again.
Savory Corn and Pepper Bites
from Dorie Greenspan: Baking from My Home to Yours
Yield: 12 bites (of muffins)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal (stone ground is best)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 small jalepeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  If making muffins, like 12 muffin cups with liners.  Alternatively, line a baking sheet with parchment paper if making bites.
  2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder, chili powder, baking soda, and black pepper; set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, lightly whisk egg yolk, buttermilk, and butter until blended.
  4. Pour liquid into the dry ingredients (mixture will be thick).
  5. Fold in corn kernels, minced and diced peppers, and cilantro.  
  6. Divide batter evenly (in muffin tins or as bites) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until tops are brown.  
  7. Cool on a rack before serving.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hoisin Glazed Salmon

I often blog about my love for salmon. It is my go to meal when I am on the brink of starving and need something fast before I turn to handfuls of cereal! Salmon is such a versatile fish. It's own mild flavors tend to blend really well with sweet flavors. I had two jars of hoisin and was looking to use some, so I searched for a recipe that would add that asian flavor that I was craving.
This hoisin glazed salmon was very, very good. The preparation was simple. The meal was done in about 15 minutes. What more can you ask of a quick weeknight meal? I really enjoyed the flavors from this glaze, but I did decide that I needed something else. So, I cut some orange segments to pair with and added some sesame seeds. What a very healthy and quick dish! Serve the salmon with a hearty grain and some fresh vegetables for a complete and nutritious meal.
Hoisin Glazed Salmon
from the Meal Planner
Yield: 4 servings
  • 1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 4 salmon steaks (about 8-10 ounces and one inch thick) or 4 salmon fillets (totaling 1 lb)
  • coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the broiler.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, hoisin sauce and honey to make the glaze.
  3. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Place the salmon on a rimmed baking sheet and brush both sides generously with the glaze.
  4. Broil the salmon about 4 inches from the heat source. If cooking salmon steaks, baste once and cook until opaque in the center, 10-13 minutes. If using salmon fillets, cook only about 6-7 minutes until opaque in the center.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

I absolutely love stumbling upon yummy dessert recipes that you can mix up in a matter of minutes. I actually mixed these up immediately after seeing them because I had all of the ingredients on hand. These peanut butter pretzel truffles are so delicious and ridiculously easy to make. Chocolate + peanut butter + pretzels = a fantastic combination! Enjoy. :)
Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
from How Sweet it Is, originally from Eating Well
Yield: about 20 truffles
Active Time: about 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped salted pretzels
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, melted
  1. Combine peanut butter and pretzels in a small bowl. Chill in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.
  2. Shape the peanut butter mixture into about 20 balls (about 1 tsp each). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until very firm, about 1 hour.
  3. Roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate.
  4. Place balls in refrigerator until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Asian Chicken Burgers

Not too long ago, I hosted an "ethnic" week in our house. I cooked up some indian food. I made some thai food. I made some mexican food. It was quite fun and a nice adjustment to the normal weekly meals. For the most part, my ethnic week stuck with traditional meals. But my asian night went outside the box. I had spotted these chicken burgers in an issue of Food Network magazine and was excited to try them. I have had good experiences making chicken burgers in the past.
This recipe did not disappoint. They were very good, incredibly flavorful, unique and interesting. It was very easy to mix up. I highly recommend using the hoisin sauce because the burgers seem to be missing without them. As a side, I mixed up an "asian inspired brown rice" dish, that apparently took over my whole plate. It's not normally something you would eat with a burger, but it somehow worked... at least for this night. Try this tasty dish out next time you want something different.
Asian Chicken Burgers
from Food Network magazine
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 small red onion, halved
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp grated peeled ginger
  • 4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tsp hot Asian chili sauce, such as sambal oelek
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 4 whole-wheat sesame hamburger buns
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mist a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Grate the carrot and 1/2 onion into a large bowl. Add the chicken, panko, 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce, ginger, 3 tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp sambal oelek and mix until combined. Shape the chicken mixture into 4 patties and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, thinly slice the remaining 1/2 onion. Toss with the mushrooms, sesame oil, lime juice and the remaining 1 tsp soy sauce in a bowl. Mix the remaining 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce and 2 tsp sambal oelek with 1 Tbsp water in another bowl.
  4. Warm the hamburger buns in the oven. Serve the burgers on the buns with a drizzle of the hoisin-sambal sauce and some of the mushroom mixture.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Buttermilk Blueberry Walnut Bread

My good friend, Colette, told me today that she really enjoys reading my blog. Thank you, Cole! I love that you enjoy reading my postings here on Pb and Graham! Honestly, when I started this thing, my only goal was to learn how to cook. Eventually, I felt that it was time to announce my URL because I was no longer ashamed of the crap I had been eating! It's fun to post about the food I eat (though, sometimes I will admit that I get a little annoyed about the 5-20 minutes I spend trying to get a decent picture when Ron is sitting there finished with his meal). And it's even more exciting to hear that people try and enjoy the recipes that I post. I hope that the food makes up for the incessant ramblings that occur and the occasional lackluster commentary. I enjoy finding new recipes and I enjoy sharing the good ones with my family and friends!
So in light of the smile that Colette's comment planted on my face, I've decided to post about this bright, light, and hearty bread. Yes, another delicious bread recipe. I know I just posted one, but this one is actually slightly healthy! A few posts back, I mentioned that I could not find the recipe for a quick bread that I had recently made. But, YAY! I found it. I searched for this recipe after developing a craving for blueberry muffins one day and hoping to use up some leftover buttermilk. It was sooo good. It was delicious plain, or toasted, or with a spread of butter, or some jam, or with a smeared banana. It also freezes beautifully and smelled amazing while it was baking. It easily fulfilled my craving for blueberry muffins and I highly suggest checking it out the next time you want a delicious breakfast bread.
Blueberry Buttermilk Walnut Bread
adapted from Buns in my Oven
Yield: 1 loaf
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2/3 - 1 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add brown sugar, breaking up any clumps. Mix in buttermilk, applesauce, and eggs until combined.
  3. Slowly add in AP flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt until just combined and mixed thoroughly.
  4. Gently fold in blueberries and walnuts.
  5. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Double Chocolate Bread with Peanut Butter Frosting

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday. And to celebrate, I obviously needed to bake up something that I normally would not bake on a random "I want dessert" type of day. So, I turned to my fabulous new cookbook, Baked Explorations, of New York Baked fame, to help.
I absolutely love reading cookbooks. I love reading the side stories that the writer is telling. I love reading the list of ingredients. I love reading about how to prepare the food. Of the 200+ pages in the book, I think I am interested in making all but one of the recipes, and this is mainly because I had to draw the line somewhere. But I kept returning to one recipe in the "breakfast" category: the Double Chocolate Loaf with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Spread. I love chocolate. And I love peanut butter. And I love quick breads. So, I knew this was the one.

Woah. This bread was delicious. Though, arguably, I do not think that I would really call it a bread that I would want to eat for breakfast. The ingredient list is beautiful for a dessert, but I can't really say the same for breakfast! I've made chocolate bread before, but never with this much chocolate. But I'm not going to lie - I really didn't mind all of the added chocolate. Truthfully, I probably spent about $20 just on the chocolate alone. (When I go big, I go BIG!) I've been advocating for good quality chocolate ever since I made the NY Times cookies. Sorry Hershey's. You simply can't cut it in some of these recipes. Try this bread/cake for your next special occasion. It is absolutely worth it!
*The bread freezes beautifully. I actually cut our loaf in half so we wouldn't eat it in one sitting! I'm waiting for the right time to defrost the other half. After writing this post, it might be today.
Double Chocolate Bread with Peanut Butter Frosting
from Baked Explorations
Yield: 1 loaf
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (like Valrhona), sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
Cream Cheese Spread
  • 5 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. Bread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan, dust it with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
  2. Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Press out any lumps with the back of a large spoon. Add the cocoa, flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until blended, then add the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla; whisk until combined.
  4. Turn the mixture to low and slowly stream the wet ingredients into the dry ones, mixing just until combined. Stir in the dark chocolate chunks by hand.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
  6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Spread: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated. (If you are not using the spread immediately, place it in a ramekin, tightly cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.)
  8. Serve the loaf plain or toasted, topped with peanut butter spread. The loaf will keep, in an airtight contained or wrapped tightly, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
*Freezing bread is incredibly easy: let the loaf cool entirely to room temperature and just wrap tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of aluminum foil. You can freeze bread for up to two months. Bring the loaves back to room temperature by way of your fridge for 8 hours, then let sit at room temperature for 4 hours before unwrapping the loaf.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pioneer Woman's Chicken and Dumplings

On my way home from school this morning, I took the normal route. I got on the highway, then exited to finish the remainder of the drive on the city streets. I turned on my street and noticed the most exciting thing: the road is almost back to its normal size! This means that cars can pass one another and we can see the curb! I was squealing with delight in the car because sheesh! It has been a long, long winter. This morning, a local meteorologist stated that the Twin Cities have been with 1"+ of snow for 126 days straight. The record, 136 inches, was set back in 1950 or something. And we've also started seeing grass! Albeit muddy, brown grass covered in 3"+ of muddy water, but it's GRASS! Amazing. So given the fact that spring is arriving, I need to quickly publish some of these delicious winter meals that we have been eating.
I finally tried to make the Pioneer Woman's chicken and dumplings. I had been looking for something different to do with chicken and I had never made dumplings before. This recipe was awesome! I loved watching the dumplings cook. There was some type of debate on the Pioneer Woman's site about whether this was a true chicken and dumplings dish.  But Whatever. I wouldn't know the difference and the meal was delicious! I did switch up the chicken prep (my usual boil and shred method) but I'm listing the recipe as is because I'm certain it's equally delicious. I highly suggest checking out Ree's site - and her photos - because they are amazing.
Chicken and Dumplings
from Pioneer Woman
Yield: 8 servings
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cups AP Flour
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cups finely diced carrots
  • 1/2 cups finely diced celery
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 2 Tbsp freshly minced parsley (optional)
  • salt as needed
  1. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then dredge both sides in flour.
  2. Melt butter in a pot over medium-high heat. In two batches, brown chicken on both sides and remove to a clean plate.
  3. In the same pot, add diced onion, carrots, and celery. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir in ground thyme and turmeric, then pour in chicken broth and apple cider. Stir to combine, then add browned chicken. Cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While chicken is simmering, make the dough for the dumplings; sift together all dry ingredients, then add half-and-half, stirring gently to combine. Set aside.
  5. Remove chicken from pot and set aside on a plate. Use two forks to remove chicken from the bone. Shred, then add chicken to the pot. Pour heavy cream into the pot and stir to combine.
  6. Drop tablespoons of dumpling dough into the simmering pot. Add minced parsley if using. Cover pot halfway and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Check seasonings; add salt if needed. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

There are literally thousands of ways to prepare chicken for dinner, but I always end up turning to my good ol' standby baked chicken parmigiana recipe. Thankfully, this spiced chipotle honey chicken recipe caught my eye and we were able to mix up our chicken rut. The flavors were incredible in this dish. I loved the spicy tang from the chipotle chiles. I loved the sweetness of the honey. And I loved the creaminess of the sweet potatoes. This was a wonderful healthy meal that will definitely become a new ol' standby.
Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 6 servings
  • 4 sweet potatoes (10 ounces each), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp honey, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbsp of olive oil, chipotles, garlic, honey, vinegar, salt, cumin, and cinnamon to make a paste.  Set aside.
  4. Mix the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil with 2 tsp of the paste and toss with the sweet potatoes.
  5. Scatter the potatoes on the bottom of a roasting pan; bake 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, rub the chicken breasts with the remaining paste that was set aside earlier.
  7. Stir the potatoes and carefully place the chicken on top of the sweet potatoes, and continue to roast until the chicken is just cooked through (registers 165 on an instant read thermometer), about 15-20 minutes longer.
  8. Divide the potatoes and chicken evenly among serving plates and drizzle with remaining honey. Garnish with cilantro and serve with whatever vegetable you wish. Enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Moroccean-Style Chickpeas and Couscous

I remember the first time I heard of couscous. It was several months before Ron and I moved to Minnesota. We were still stuck in our chain-restaurant phase and dinner at TGIFriday's was a date. My boss at the time, a lovely Professor in Anthropology and respected Dean, had suggested that we try this cute little cafe in Bloomfield. So, Ron and I went. It was completely different from any place we had ever been before. It was quaint, a tiny little cafe, and had a definite "hippie" vibe. Most of the food was vegetarian or vegan (you can imagine the look on Ron's face) but we were open to change (at least I was). When the waitress came to take our order, she asked what side we wanted. Ron inquired about the sides and she answered. They consisted of fresh fruit, mixed greens, or a couscous salad. "Goo goo?" Ron responded. "What is goo goo?" The waitress kindly smiled and replied, "couscous?  It's a type of grain. After she left, we both started laughing. "Goo goo? Where have you taken me?" I can't recall the side that Ron ended up getting but little did Ron know then that I would be taking us to random little restaurants and cafe's similar to that one from that day forward. Chain restaurants became a thing of the past and vegetarian influenced meals and fresh ingredients began to dominate our kitchen. And "goo goo" would become a staple in our house.

I love using couscous and I make it several times I week. I absolutely love its earthy, nutty texture and the nutritional value to boot. It is so versatile. You can mix it with anything and basically come out with something delicious! I must admit that I often turn to the "western supermarket version" (aka quick cooking) couscous, but I have enjoyed the "real deal" in the past (YUM!!). Here is a delicious recipe for moroccan-style chickpeas for a Meatless Monday meal.
Moroccan-Style Chickpeas with Couscous
from Delicious Living
Yield: 6 servings
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger, or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 3 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 3 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juices
  • 1 tsp chili paste
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat couscous
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, optional
  1. Place a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp oil; once hot, add onion and next 6 ingredients (through cayenne). Saute 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions soften. If spices stick to pan, deglaze with a little water. Add celery and cauliflower; cook 3 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add chickpeas and stir. Add tomatoes, chili paste, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes. Stir in parsley during last minute of cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare couscous. Bring 2 cups water to a bowl. Stir in couscous, 1 Tbsp oil, and 1/4 tsp salt. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. Stir in raisins.
  3. Remove chickpea mixture from heat and stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over couscous with a dollop of yogurt.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Black Bean and Corn Soup

I've been slacking with the blog posting, again. But I have not been slacking with schoolwork so this is why my blog has so little postings as of late. I have some delicious recipes to share this coming week so check back!
We have certainly had our fair share of soups this winter. Cold weather, clouds and gloom just scream soup. So you can imagine that my to-be-posted recipes are jammed full of recent soup dinners. They are delicious, filing, healthy, quick and easy! So naturally there are two on the menu this week. This recipe was very good and incredibly quick to make! It was in one of the Cooking Light dinners for under 20 minutes section and I knew it was destiny when I found all of the ingredients in the house. Its received 5/5 "Outstanding" stars in reviews so that says something too! It has great flavor and easily provides a hearty meal when paired with some bread or a salad.
Black Bean and Corn Soup
from Cooking Light
Yield:  4 servings
  • cooking spray
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans organic black beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
  • 1 1/2 cups fat free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 Tbsp chile paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 3/8 tsp salt
  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray and add corn to pan; saute for 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  2. Combine 2 cans of beans and broth in a blender; process until smooth.  Add bean mixture, remaining can of beans, tomatoes, chile paste, and salt to corn, stirring to combine; bring to a boil.
  3. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Yay, Mardi Gras! Also known in English as Happy Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras, a holiday celebrated in New Orleans, and around the country. I've never been to any Mardi Gras festivities in Louisiana (never been to LA for that matter). Ron has been to Mardi Gras. He went as a young college guy. He went with 20+ lacrosse players. I saw one picture. I never looked, asked, or talked about it again.
Mardi Gras occurs every year on the day before Ash Wednesday. People continue to party and throw down until Lent begins at the stroke of midnight. The "fat" part comes in because people tend to eat fattier foods before the ritual fasting that comes with Lent. I don't completely understand the concept. To me, it's kind of like shoving a bunch of cake in your mouth before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, but whatever. I like holidays so I'll celebrate Mardi Gras too! I was torn with what to make for Mardi Gras this year. Initially, I had planned on baking a King Cake, but saw this recipe posted and felt it appropriate to try and make some actual food with the time that I had. This recipe makes an absolute ton of food. The recipe yields 6-8 servings, but I swear my portions must be small because we had a lot more than 6-8 servings! The recipe came from the January 2010 Cook's Illustrated. Like everything I see, I have been wanting to make it ever since I saw it. It is an interesting take on a red beans and rice recipe. Having never been to New Orleans, unfortunately I have no comparison. But, this was a lovely little taste of the Big Easy at home. Serve it up with some cornbread and enjoy!
Cajun Red Beans and Rice
from Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 2010, found on Pink Parsley
Yield: 6-8
  • 1 pound small red beans, rinsed and picked over* (see Instruction #1)
  • salt
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped fine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1/2-1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (1-2 ribs)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ground black pepper
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 cups water
  • 8-10 ounces andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1-2 tsp red wine vinegar, plus more for seasoning
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
  • hot sauce, for serving
  • Cooked white rice, for individual servings
  1. Dissolve 3 Tbsp of salt in 4 quarts of cold water in a large pot. For Overnight Brine: Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. For Quick-Soak: Bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat, cover, and stand for 1 hour.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans.
  3. In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook until browned and almost fully rendered, 5-8 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery; cook, stirring frequently until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, paprika, cayenne pepper, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.
  4. Stir in beans, broth, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat but just enough to still maintain a vigorous simmer. Stirring occasionally, cook 45-60 minutes, or until the beans are soft and the liquid has begun to thicken.
  5. Stir in the sausage and 2 tsp of the red wine vinegar. Cook until the liquid is thick and the beans are fully tender and creamy, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar. Serve over rice, sprinkled with scallions and hot sauce.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Caramel Macchiato Thumbprint Cookies

It's always hard to get back into the swing of things after a break. This past week was our spring break and classes resume today. I am currently looking at my list of things to-do in the next seven weeks and I cannot say that I am particularly thrilled. Normally I get excited at the prospect of tackling my upcoming assignments, but this list seems somewhat daunting. Go-go Gadget Time Management skills!
Perhaps I am cranky because Ron and I had a rude awakening early this morning. At 5:00 a.m., I heard a noise on the shelf above our bed. I assumed it was Salem who finally conquered the task of jumping onto the shelf. But then I heard a gentle flapping and Salem flew to the opposite side of the room. BUT, Salem is a cat. And although it was super early, I know that cat's don't have wings. Praying it was a dream, I turned on the light next to the bed. Sure enough, there was a bat frantically flying around our bedroom. And Salem, such a little over-achiever, was sprinting back and forth across the room trying to get it. Naturally, I remained calm under the circumstances.

"AGHHHHHHHHH, RONNNN!!!!  GET UPPP!!! GETTTTTT UPPPPP!!!!!!"  Ron, who is always a wonder of words first thing upon awakening, shouted something incomprehensible. Then we ducked under the covers while the bat landed on the window opposite of our bed and discussed what we should do. It's rare that I actually pull the "you are a man and this is a man job" card, but today was one of those days. I grabbed Salem, who was doing everything in her power to help get the bat, and took off into a closed location. Ron screamed. The bat squealed. Ron plowed down the stairs and out the front door. And the bat was released to fly away in the dark sky (and likely back to our home to save its family). Later on he started talking about radioactive powers and Batman. Um, ok. Keep your superhero dreams out of my living quarters.

It certainly started the week off with a bang. Because I have been somewhat down in the dumps, I decided that I needed to post a fun, yummy recipe on here. I had intended to post this delicious blueberry buttermilk bread that I made a few weeks ago, yet discovered that I have misplaced the recipe. Go figure, speaking from the person who created this blog to save and track recipes. So, here is a recipe for some amazingly delicious cookies that I made a few weeks ago. Ron loves anything coffee flavored. He had been out of town and I wanted to surprise him with a fun dessert. These fit the bill. The recipe uses a packaged mix, but I ended up being OK with it because I'm not 100% sold on my recipe converting skills just yet. Plus, upon tasting one of the cookies, I had no qualms about their method of preparation. I did use the advice of one commenter and used a packet of Starbucks Via in lieu of the instant coffee granules. I also melted some cappuccino chips with the chocolate to make the drizzle, but the chocolate chips alone would taste just fine. I would advise to go easy on the caramel unless you want to overpower the coffee flavor. Overall, they were amazing. They truly tasted like a caramel macchiato in a cookie form.

Caramel Macchiato Thumbprints
Betty Crocker
Yield: about 3 dozen cookies
  • 1 packet Starbucks VIA instant coffee packet, or 2 tsp instant espresso coffee powder or granules
  • 1 Tbsp hot water
  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 18 caramels (from 14-oz bag), unwrapped
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp shortening
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. In a large bowl, dissolve coffee as directed by package (or in hot water if using granules). Stir in cooke mix, flour, butter, vanilla and egg until very soft dough forms.
  3. Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Using thumb, make indentation in center of each cookie.
  4. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.
  5. In small microwavable bowl, microwave caramels and milk uncovered on High 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring once, until caramels are melted. Spoon 1/2 tsp caramel into indentation in each cookie. Cool 15 minutes.
  6. In another small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and shortening uncovered on High 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds or until chips can be stirred smooth. Drizzle chocolate over cookies. Let stand about 30 minutes or until chocolate has set.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Madison "Woo"

This obviously isn't a food post. But I felt it necessary to take some time aside to talk about my family dog, Madison. Madison passed away early yesterday morning. She would have been 15 years old this coming Tuesday.
Tammy, Madison's predecessor of 16 1/2 years, was in my life from the day that I was born. I recall not really knowing what to do when I learned that Tammy passed away. I was 14. I had come home from swim practice and my parents sat me down at the kitchen table. I didn't react at first... I didn't really know how. I was young, and it was my first experience with death. But, I felt empty, for a long time. Tammy was a second mother to me as I grew up and she was gone. I missed having her around and I begged my parents for another dog. In April, several months after Tammy's passing, my mom and I drove to a farm and found Madison. There were so many puppies. One kept biting at my hand. I said, "No, no bite." The puppy chomped her jaws three times, like she understood what I had said and like it was necessary for her to prove that she could do whatever she wanted.  Naturally, we left with that chomping puppy that night. She had character. I loved her from the minute I saw her and she chomped her teeth.  (For the record: Madison never bite anyone, she just chomped her teeth.)
For the entire time that Madison left her pawprints on this world, she lived up to the fact that she was born in a barn. The dog was insane! But, in a good way. She was full of personality. We used to joke that she had some chemical running through her brain. She'd get this crazed look in her eye and just start sprinting around the house. When she was a puppy, she would pounce on me and steal my hair scrunchies. She chewed through my parents' kitchen. One year, she ate an entire set of bubble lights for Christmas. She also indulged in my dad's chew tobacco from time to time (thank goodness, he quit). She loved going for rides. She would bark her head off when she was about to go for a walk, or a ride, or anytime for that matter. We couldn't mention the word "walk" around her. We couldn't even start to spell the word "walk" because she learned what "W-A" resulted in. She would go insane when the snow fell. She loved taking snowbaths. She played catch with snowballs. She would chase squirrels around the backyard. She loved giving high fives.

Madison would be in the front window every single time I arrived, or anyone arrived, at the house. You could always see her bushy tail and her cute little eyes peering out the window when you pulled in the driveway. And, she would stand there and say goodbye as you pulled out of the driveway. Sometimes, I would sit in the driveway and honk if she wasn't at the window just so I could wave goodbye. It became a tradition... a few times I would return home after being on the road for a few minutes because I realized I hadn't waved goodbye! Slight OCD, but necessary so I could see her bubbly little face before I went along my way.
Maddy was the most lovable dog. Thanks to general teenage drama, I often had many nights where I came home upset. She was there for me, always. It didn't matter where I was in the house. As soon as I started crying, she would appear out of nowhere. She would approach me cautiously... wondering if I was ok, and then lay her head on my lap, look up at me with her puppy dog eyes, and lay her ears back. I knew she was trying to console me, but she always ended up making me smile or laugh. As soon as she saw me smile, she took it as permission to attack me with kisses. She was such a dear dog. I loved her kisses. Even when she went through her stinky breath phase.
She loved her toys. She had tons. Mostly thanks to me because I could not enter a store without wanting to buy her a new toy. She had a basket full of them in the family room and she would often go pick out the toy she wanted to play with. When it was in her mouth, she refused to let it go! But, we always managed to get it from her. Then, after 3 tosses, she'd go back and get another toy. By the end of the play session, the entire basket was sprawled out on the floor. She'd try to gather as many in her mouth as she could, then she'd whimper when one would fall out. She would always find a way to carry 4+ toys though. She was such a smart dog. This last Christmas, I bought Madison a baby lamb toy. Mom said she carried it with her wherever she went. I'm glad I was able to give her one last toy.
I remember when I decided to attend law school in Minnesota. One of the first things I thought about was how hard it would be to leave Madison. I had lived out of the house for many years at that point, but I would go back nearly every weekend to take her for a walk, or a run, or a hike. She remained my best friend even when I lived in the city. I convinced myself that law school was only 3 years, Madison was 12, Tammy had lived until she was 16 1/2, I would return before Madison passed and I would be able to spend time with her.  It seems flawed... completely unrealistic, but at the time, it comforted me. And when I left, Madison officially became the "last kid" in Pittsburgh for my parents. The house wasn't lonely with Madison in it and she certainly kept their life exciting. I would often "talk" with Maddy on the phone. We "chatted" on webcam. Well, we tried. Maddy always stared at the computer in complete confusion...
Hearing the news that Madison had passed away was very difficult. Ron told me. Madison loved Ron. He knew her for 7 years of her life and she loved that he became a part of the family. Every single time he was around her, she would sit near him with her paw on him. She was such a flirt. Yesterday, Ron sat me down and he told me Madison passed away and hugged me and held me. He had spoke with my mom earlier in the day and was trying to find a time. Bless his heart. He was very patient. Ron's been dealing with his own personal grieving process because his grandmother just passed away. The past few weeks have not been very good. Ron's grandmother passed away. A friend is slowly losing their battle with cancer and is undergoing a terribly rough chemotherapy treatment. And, Madison passed away. I have to admit that beneath the surface, I find it very difficult to function when things like this are happening. It's hard to maintain perspective and to remain positive and optimistic when things seem grim, but I'm trying to appreciate the moments that I have because life is too short.
It is inevitable that most often we will outlive our pets. Unfortunately, going through this is the hardest part of owning a pet. But, I do not find this a reason not to keep introducing furry friends into a home. The memories that I've made with Madison will forever be in my heart. She was often there for me when I felt no one else was. She never judged me. She never complained about me. She was patient, and loving, and caring, and absolutely irreplaceable. I love you, Madison "Woo"... I hope you are hanging out with Tammy and enjoying many home-made peanut butter treats. I'm sure Heaven doesn't make doggies wait at the oven door for them to bake...
Read this if you get a moment: What Your Pet Can Teach You   

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Home-Made Graham Crackers

Holy cow! It's March 1st already!  March 1st is exciting for a few reasons: 1) It's national peanut butter lover's day.  Woah!!  WOAH.  2) I turned 28 today! I don't completely know how I feel about turning 28 yet, but I'm eager to take on the new year and find new ways to tackle my ever-slowing metabolism.  Even more important is the fact that I share a birthday with Ron Weasley!  3) It's also national pancake day.  Um, what??  Seriously, peanut butter lover's day AND pancake day?!  This is an unbelievable combination that must be made, stat.  4) The sun is out shining, blue skies, and we're supposed to have 38 degree temps later on in the day.  5) I'm on spring break - which means that I'm halfway through what is turning out to be a really tough semester - and by the time I return, it's all downhill from there! (Note: National Peanut Butter lover's Day was placed before my birthday... I mean, have you seen the name of my blog?! Originally, I had national pancake day ahead of my birthday as well. Then, I realized that my blog post would scream "oink oink" and I switched it up.)
Instead of posting pancakes for National Pancake Day.  And instead of posting a birthday treat.  And instead of posting one of the many recipes I have in my drafts that have yet to be posted, I'm posting a recipe that is pretty special to me.  The recipe is special because I finally attempted baking my own graham crackers AND I added peanut butter! As many of you know, I've had a serious peanut butter and graham cracker addiction for as long as I can remember. Hence, the name of my blog. My pantry is never without the two items. But given the fact that I eat "clean" fresh ingredients about 98% of my day, it's odd that my day turns to hell around 10:00p.m. when I crack open my box of graham crackers and enjoy a serving of ... well, I don't even know because I cannot pronounce many of the ingredients.

Since turning 28 a few hours ago, I've gotten wiser.  This just doesn't make sense to blow my day of clean eating with two delicious store-bought graham crackers.  So, baking my own seemed like a natural step.  This is definitely going to be one of the hardest habits to break, but it's one worth trying. The graham crackers were very easy to mix up and a breeze to roll out with the parchment paper.  I'm not 100% sold on the taste of them yet, but I think this is because I eye-balled the molasses and I am pretty sure that I added way too much.  Regardless, I kept munching on these and the flavors got better the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.  I think it will take some time and tweaking to get them to the flavor and texture I am looking for, but I think it's definitely worth the challenge. 
Home-Made Graham Crackers
from FromAway
  • 1 3/4 cups WW flour
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup skim or 2% milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. In a food processor, combine both flours, salt, and baking powder. Add cubes of butter and pulse until mixture takes on a coarse, crumb-like consistency. Add honey, molasses, and 1/3 cup sugar. Pulse again. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add milk and vanilla. Mix using hands until a stiff dough forms, adding more milk if needed to make the dough hang together.
  2. Lightly oil two baking sheets. Lay a piece of parchment onto your work surface, and place half of the dough in the center. Cover with another piece of parchment, and roll out to a 1/4 inch thickness. Using a knife, pastry cutter, or cookie cutters, cut dough into 3" crackers, saving leftover scraps to rework into more cookies, by re-rolling and cutting again. Transfer to a baking sheet, leaving space between crackers. Prick the crackers all over with a fork and then sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Lightly press the sugar into the surface of each cracker with your hand.
  3. Repeat the rolling and cutting process for the other half of the dough, placing the crackers on the second baking sheet and sprinkling with the remainder of cinnamon and sugar. Place both baking sheets in the freezer, and freeze for 15 minutes. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the chilled dough for 20-22 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges.
  4. Let cool completely before eating.