Friday, December 30, 2011

This year's mishaps (err... adventures) in the kitchen

It might seem like I always cook beautifully delicious meals and desserts for my Business Man... that he must be the luckiest man in the world to live in this household. (Well, he is, but not due to the food. He's lucky because he gets to live with me!)


The beauty of writing a blog is that I get to choose what goes on the blog. So what if I only choose to post the recipes that are deliciously successful?


So, I thought I'd go back through the pictures & recipes that didn't make it on the blog this year... at least we can all have a good laugh?


First up is a peanut butter-caramel corn... for which I had high hopes. I was in charge of bringing snacks to Bible study that night, and thought that peanut butter-caramel corn would be just perfect.



Until the peanut butter-caramel mixture got all crunchy and wouldn't spread over the popcorn. Huge clumps of peanut butter amidst random popcorn pieces. Gross. I was lucky we had a brownie mix in the cabinet.


Next up were some buffalo chicken nachos. The idea was good, but something was just off. Maybe the bleu cheese was old? Kinda reminded me of smelly socks. And yes, we still ate them. What else were we supposed to eat for dinner?



Bourbon pecan pie brownies. I was so excited for these. I'm hoping my only problem was that I under-baked them. Yes, doughy is good, but not when they are glued to the pan. These were nearly impossible to remove (note: the picture is while they were still in the pan because they wouldn't come out!), but that didn't stop me from scraping them over bowls of ice cream.


And then we have the cinnamon toast crunch cupcakes. Cinnamon cupcakes with cinnamon toast crunch folded into the batter... sounds good, right? Except for the fact that the cereal got completely soggy. Especially the cereal pieces on top. And I even took these in for my students... and later found 6 cupcakes in the trash. Sorry guys.


Baked barbecue chicken mac & cheese. I need to try this again. While it looks great, it didn't taste great. The sauce was grainy; the chicken was dry. What a waste of good cheese.



 Then there was the time I got all excited to make cake pops in a new flavor - carrot cake.



And then the balls sat on the tray in the fridge for a week until I finally threw them away.


This summer I tried to make a spicy pasta salad with smoked gouda. It photographed beautifully - but the flavor? Meh. Maybe it was the whole wheat pasta. It was just very bland. Another waste of delicious cheese. (I may or may not have picked all the cheese chunks out...)


Oh, and I can't forget about the time when I tried to 'improvise' my way through Better than Crack Brownies from How Sweet It Is using only the ingredients I had on hand. Word to the wise - go out and buy the right ingredients. Definitely worth it.



And whatever you do, don't mix up the butter wrapper into the brownie batter. Bad idea.



Not only was there frozen pizza, but there was burnt frozen pizza.


And the croutons... I'm sorry croutons. It's just that I didn't realize that if I went outside and shut the door, I wouldn't be able to hear the oven timer going off. You died a painful death.


And while this salad looks super cute in the trendy white bowl with the precious label, it was NASTY! Some things just aren't meant to be... sweet potato salad being one of them.



And there we have it. A wrap-up of my mistakes in the kitchen this year. Now I'm off to redeem myself by attempting homemade marshmallows. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hummus is Yummus...

We are officially back in the Bean Town and I am soaking up these last few days of break before heading back to school next week. Today I had the luxury of an early morning run with a friend followed by a mid-morning nap (while said friend had to go off to work... bwahaha.) I spent the morning on the couch with my Today Show friends while attempting to write lesson plans... which is not the most efficient way to write lesson plans, but much more fun.


I actually surprised my Business Man and got some housework done this afternoon - clean sheets on our bed and the guest bed, clean dishes, and a reorganization of some kitchen cabinets. Progress!


And now I bring to you a recipe for hummus. Hummus is a delicious dip made up of ground chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and other spices. Hummus is yummus! And yes, I'm a dork.



This recipe serves a double purpose.


First of all, it's a fabulous appetizer that would be perfect served at a New Year's Eve gathering. Grab a bag of pita chips and some sliced veggies and you're all set!


Second, if you're looking for a lighter recipe to kick off the new year, this is one of them!





Not only is hummus a delicious (and nutritious) snack, but it is really delicious on sandwiches, in quesadillas, on pizza, .... the list goes on and on.


It's super easy to prepare if you have a food processor. And so much more cost-efficient! At our local supermarket, hummus usually costs $4.99 for an 8-oz. container. I can make it homemade for about $1.25... and it makes twice as much. (The tahini is originally a bit pricey, but one jar will last awhile. And chickpeas are only $0.59/can.)



Hummus


  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1-2 lemons
  • ¼ cup water
  • 6 tablespoons tahini, stirred well
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Method

Combine lemon juice and water in a small bowl. Whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons oil in second small bowl. Set aside 2 tablespoons chickpeas for garnish. (If you don't care about garnish, just use them all in the processor.)

Process remaining chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice-water mixture in steady stream through food tube. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add oil-tahini mixture in steady stream through food tube; continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.

Transfer hummus to serving bowl, sprinkle with reserved chickpeas and cilantro. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator.

Source: from Annie's Eats (originally from Cook's Illustrated)

In other news... I just have to share my two favorite Christmas gifts.

Thanks to my parents-in-law for the most awesome new running top! It is so warm. And makes me excited to go running in the dark cold winter mornings.


And to my momma & dad for this wonderful panini maker. No more bricks in the kitchen! I foresee a blog series of panini sandwiches in the very near future...


Got any great panini recipes? I will be on a mission to re-create some Panera favs, and to work my way through a cookbook of 200 Best Panini Recipes. Can't wait!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

Christmas 2011 was an absolute blast! We celebrated four Christmases in less than 24 hours...  let's just say I was a bit tired last night.




Christmas Eve was celebrated at my grandma's house with all the cousins, Christmas morning with my parents, Christmas lunch with my Business Man's immediate family, then Christmas evening with my Business Man's extended family. Lots of family, lots of food, lots of fun. 


Funny story of the day


We were opening stockings with my mom & dad. (Yes, we are 23 & 24 and still receive stockings. From both sets of parents. Don't judge.) 


My dad was opening his stocking, and Santa had given him a bottle of Monical's Sweet & Tart dressing. Sweet, right? Except it seemed to be leaking everywhere.


He opened the lid to check the seal, but the seal didn't look like it had been punctured. However, there was still dressing seeping out the edges. (I bet you can see where this is going.)


One of the best salad dressings in the world.
He started squeezing the bottle to see what was going on, and SQUIRT! Dressing all over the hardwood, all over the coffee table, all over the rug, and all over my Business Man's slippers. 



Oh man... it was so funny. And smelly. Maggie had fun cleaning it up, haha. And then the living room smelled like salad dressing. Which isn't exactly the most pleasant smell in the world. Yea, a couple tablespoons on your salad smells fine, but all over the floor? Not so much. Definitely a good laugh on Christmas morning.





Today will be spent relaxing, running with great friends, reading cookbooks, and eating leftovers... sounds like a plan to me.

Question: How was your Christmas? Any crazy funny stories?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last-minute Christmas dessert... Red Velvet Cake Roll!

We arrived home just in time for dinner last night... so good to see our families! And the Monical's pizza was delicious as always.


My mom & I decided to tackle some baking today in preparation for Christmas. (What else is new? :-P) You'd think fifteen types of cookies would be enough. Nope, not for us.





We decided on a Red Velvet Cake Roll to take to my grandma's tonight for dessert, and a couple coffee cakes for the morning. And this Creme de Menthe Cake which is a Christmas tradition.


I've never made a cake roll before, so I was looking forward to a new experience. It was actually quite simple! (As long as you follow the directions.)





The cake part is a red velvet sponge cake. The eggs are beaten for a good 5 minutes until they're light and fluffy; then the rest of the ingredients are added. The cake is baked in a jelly roll pan that has been greased, lined with wax paper, greased again, and flour. You don't want the cake to stick. That would be tragic.


Once it's baked, you roll the cake up inside a towel. I know, it sounds weird. But if you let the cake cool flat, when you go to roll it up it will crack all over the place. So, the cake cools while it's rolled up. 





Once it's cool, you unroll it and add the filling, in this case a cream cheese filling. I also added some mini chocolate chips because every dessert could use some more chocolate.





Then you just roll it back up, and dust it with powdered sugar! So pretty.





We haven't tasted it yet, but the batter licks were delicious and I'm sure it will be a hit tonight. 


**Updated to add... it was a complete hit! All of it was eaten except for half a piece. Delicious!

Red Velvet Cake Roll


  • For the cake
    • ¾ cup cake flour, sifted
    • ¼ cup cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 4 eggs
    • ¾ cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 1 teaspoon vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • For the filling
    • 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
    • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips

Method

Preheat oven to 350*F. Grease a 15x10-inch jelly roll pan and line with wax paper. Grease and flour the wax paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar; set aside on a flat surface.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat eggs on medium to medium-high for 5 minutes. Slowly add sugar and oil. Beat until combined. Add milk, vinegar, vanilla extract, and red food coloring. Beat until combined. Fold in flour mixture.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off wax paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with the narrow end. Cool, seam-side down, on a wire rack.

To make the filling, combine cream cheese and butter with a mixer and beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

Carefully unroll cake. Spread filling over cake, and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.

Carefully re-roll cake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.


Source: Sweet Pea's Kitchen

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Break!

Ahhh.... Christmas break has begun. How wonderful. 


I took advantage of the break to get in a long run this morning. (I am most likely going to run another full this spring, so I'm trying to keep my base pretty strong.)


One of my running friends needed to get in 20 this weekend (she's running Disney!), and I agreed to run 14-15 miles with her. Except we wouldn't be in town this weekend, so that meant we had to do it today. And she had to work at 8:30am. 


14.5 miles in, thank you very much. Haven't run that far since last spring!
So yes, I got up at 5:15am on Christmas break to get a run in. It's not that crazy considering she had to wake up at 4:00am to get the first five miles in! Yikes! We had a great run... I might actually be looking forward to my marathon training long runs now that I have people to run them with!

In other news, the past couple days have been such a whirlwind! We've been very busy with a few holiday parties, last-minute gift shopping, wrapping, and baking. 


I don't know how people who work right up until Christmas day get everything done. I pretty much rely on my 1-2 days off before Christmas to get the bulk of my errands run, gifts wrapped, etc.




Now we're all packed up and headed home to spend Christmas with our families! So excited to spend a few days enjoying each other's company and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.


Oh, and eat lots of cookies, yum.


Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bake-a-palooza 2011


This past weekend, one of my good friends from college, Kristi, came down to the Bean Town with her daughter Cora. We hadn't seen each other in 10 (!) months, so it was a wonderful weekend of catching up and hanging out.

Back in college we always used to bake and/or cook together, so naturally we had to spend some time in the kitchen together.


Hello, cookies!
On Saturday, we had a Bake-a-palooza to make cookies for cookie tins & trays... and ended up making 15 varieties. Over 700 cookies! It was intense.



So intense that we had to compile a plan. We made a variety of cookies from this year's 12 Days of Christmas Cookies and last year's 25 Days of Christmas Cookies. Yum.



Funny story:  I actually wrote this list out on Thursday night... and then took it to school with me on Friday. And then I left it at school and almost freaked out. But then I remembered that I had taken a picture of it, so it was fine. Haha!


Once we had everything baked, we packed up all our cookies in little tins and tupperwares to give away to friends and family. 


Here's how I compile my tins:


First, get a large enough piece of saran wrap that it can cover a few layers of cookies. Lay it in the bottom.




The sturdy cookies go on the bottom layer - anything that is flat and solid. No fancy decorations here. 




Then, pull over your saran wrap to make the second layer.




And then cram as many cookies as you can into the top!




We actually got all the cookies baked on Saturday, and on Sunday all we had to do was decorate! We used royal icing, and had fun designing the cookies.




Funny story: I got a new cookie cutter - a mitten. Kristi saw it on my kitchen counter and asked if we were making Michigan cookies. (She is from Michigan.) Heck no! I think if I were to make Michigan cookies here in the land of the Buckeyes, I might be outlawed! Or nobody would eat them, haha.




We also did some more experiments with the ornament cookies. I just love the white ornaments with the holly berries. 




All in all, it was a great weekend. We've decided this needs to be a yearly tradition... a bake-a-palooza a weekend or two before Christmas. Can't wait 'til next year Kristi! It was so much fun.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell... Run?

So, last Saturday I ran a Jingle Bell Run 5km. 


Despite my nagging cold, and despite the 17*F temps. Oh yeah... it was a great day for a race. (Never mind that my feet were entirely numb the entire race. Pleasant.)


Originally, I had high hopes of breaking 19:00 for this race, but with my cold, I kinda put that on the back-burner.


Plus, it was a super small race - only 168 people, and I wasn't sure how accurate the course was. (Does anybody else get paranoid about accurate courses? I'm always paranoid they're not really long enough so if I PR it won't count!)


It was the strangest race... because of my cold and the cold temps, I felt very out of it. I was in a daze of sorts. The horn went off, and the race began, and I just started running, fast. It felt fast, but not that fast. 


I couldn't judge my effort very well because it was so cold! It was just a strange feeling, running and not being able to feel your feet at all. 


I went through the supposed one-mile marker in 5:37... which is why I think the course was short. I have never in my life gone through the mile that fast. My fastest ever was 5:55, and I finished that race in the low 19's. So I really doubt that I went out in a 5:37. Hmmmph.


After that, I just kept cruising. I know I slowed down... (because I surely didn't finish in a 17:24, which is a 5:37-pace. :-o)


I passed a few men, which always feels good, and before I knew it, the finish line was in sight! According to my watch, I ran 19:14, and according to the 'official' clock, I ran 19:07. Another reason why I think the course might have been off... there shouldn't have been that much of a difference between the two times.


But, I came in first female overall! Which is always exciting. There were super-cute ornaments as age-group prizes, but the overall prizes had not come in yet, so the race director will be mailing mine. I hope it's a cute ornament as well! Such a unique award rather than a medal or trophy.


So, on my 50-minute drive home, I rewarded myself... with a peppermint mocha. Yum.


And this also happened to be the only photo I got the entire day. No pictures with Santa for me...
---


In other running news, I achieved one of my goals for 2011 this week! Back in January, I set a goal to run 2011 miles in the year 2011. 


High tech, I know. Wonder if I'll get to 2100 by the end of the year?


Monday was the official day that I passed 2011 miles for the year, so I excitedly told my Business Man. His response: "So that means you don't have to run anymore until 2012, right?" Riiiiight.


Welp, I've got to go ready for school tomorrow! So glad that it's almost Friday... and then just 3 days of school next week until 9 days off! Woot woot.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 12: Buckeye Cookies

It's the final day of my 12 Days of Christmas Cookie Challenge, and I'm going out with a bang! 




Ever since moving to the 'Buckeye' state, my love for all things chocolate and peanut butter has only increased. Case in point: Butterfinger cupcakes, peanut blossoms, Reese's cupcakes, homemade Take Five bars, peanut butter cup cake pops, puppy chow cookies.




I knew these cookies would be no exception, considering they start out with a a pile of these:


Heaven on a plate.
This cookie starts with a chocolate-peanut butter dough, and is loaded with chopped peanut butter cups. Perfectly chocolatey and perfectly peanut buttery, these cookies are almost over-the-top. Key word: almost


They also come together really quickly! I think I had the batch made from start to finish in less than 45 minutes. A perfect last minute treat, as long as you keep a stock of Reese's cups in your pantry. (And who doesn't?)


In other (exciting) news... I was featured in the Bean Town's local newspaper today! Every Monday they do a "Tell Me About It" feature, and today I was the lucky interviewee.




A reporter came out to my house to interview me and ask me questions about my 12 Days of Cookies Blog Challenge, and to snap a few pics. If you're interested in reading the article, you can view it here - The Lima News.


One last thing - if you live in Ohio, and can get your hands on this ice cream, do it. Last night I had a Buckeye cookie with a bowl of Buckeye ice cream, and it might have just been one of the best decisions I've ever made.


Buckeye Cookies


  • 1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped peanut butter cups, divided

Method

Preheat oven to 350*F. Spray baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla extract, and milk; beat until smooth. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in 1 1/2 cups peanut butter cups gently with a spatula.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets. Press remaining peanut butter cup pieces into the top of each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are just set. (They might seem soft, but they will firm up when the come out of the oven.) Let cool. Enjoy with a glass of milk.

Source: Annie's Eats

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day 11: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I'll admit it, I've never really loved sugar cookies. Take me to a bakery case full of cookies, and I'll always go for the chocolate. Every time.





However, fancy schmancy sugar cookies with royal icing have always intrigued me. "How do they get that icing so perfect?" I was determined to try it myself.


I did some research online, and found a great tutorial at Annie's Eats. If you're going to try it, you should definitely check out her site; she explains a lot of little tips & tricks that will help you succeed.

But really? It wasn't that hard! It just takes a lot of patience. And kind of a lot of dishes. (But just find someone like my Business Man, who cleaned up after me all night. Best husband ever.)


First, you start out with the sugar cookies. (Duh.) And these are delicious. Usually I don't love sugar cookies because they're too plain, too bland. These have just a hint of almond flavoring and a wonderful texture.




Once they've baked and cooled, it's time for the royal icing! It whips together quickly in the stand mixer, and then you just have to thin it down to the right consistency. Once it's thin enough to pipe, you can use food coloring to dye it whatever color your heart desires. It's best to use gel dyes because they won't alter the consistency of the icing.








Then, you pipe the outlines of the cookies, and let it set up.





Once it's hard, you thin the icing down even more to "flood" the centers. I did this very carefully with a spoon, but you could use piping bags as well. The hardened outlines keep the frosting inside the cookie, and you can use a toothpick to direct the icing where to go. If there's any air bubbles, you can pop them with the tip of a toothpick.




And once the flooded icing sets up, you can pipe even more decorations on top! There are no boundaries with royal icing... only your creativity.




I really enjoyed making these cookies, even though it took me a good 4 hours start to finish. (From baking to the last coat of icing.)


My favorite ones are the ornaments. I need a little more practice on not letting my icing bleed together.




And I also love the snowflakes.




I'm just so happy with how these turned out! I can see this becoming a new "thing" for me. (Just as cake pops were my "thing" for a good three months last winter.) Now I will be insisting on making sugar cookies for each and every occasion.


Also, if you don't feel up to making royal icing, these cookies would be fabulous with any basic frosting. They are really tasty.



Sugar Cookies


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups flour

Method

Using a mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar; blend until smooth. Blend in egg, almond extract, and vanilla. Add flour and salt; beat until smooth. Chill dough until firm, at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375*F. Roll out dough to a 1/4-inch thickness on a well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters and place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes. (Cookies should not brown.) Let cool, then frost as desired.

Royal Icing


  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 5 tablespoons water

Method

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the icing to an airtight container*. This is the stiffest the icing will be. Add water gradually (1/2 teaspoon at a time) until icing has reached a consistency for piping.

Once icing has reached consistency for piping, you may add food coloring to dye the icing whatever color you please. Use this icing to pipe the outlines of your cookies. Let icing harden.

To fill the insides of your cookies, thin down the icing even more, using only 1/2 teaspoon water at a time. The icing should drip off the spoon and be reabsorbed in the bowl within a few seconds. Use this icing to flood the center of the cookies, using a toothpick to help guide it along if necessary. Let the flood icing harden before piping more decorations on top.

*Try to keep icing in airtight containers at all times. This will prevent it from drying out.

Source: Both from Annie's Eats

 
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