The Kitchen Prep: June 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tasty Travels: Key West Edition, Part 2

Guess what I did {or didn't do}? I wrote my Key West recap in one looooong post, then hit the "Cut" button to split the text into 2 separate posts {the first of which I shared yesterday}... and never "pasted" the second half onto anything. Nice job.

So, here I go again. Sigh.

I left off yesterday at the end of our first day of restaurant & bar hopping. We woke up bright and early the next morning hungry {how, I'll never know} for a tasty breakfast, and decided to rent some bicycles from the Bed & Breakfast we stayed at to get around since my feet took a beating the day before.

Not far from our B&B, we found just what we were looking for at Croissants de France, a little French cafe with a big selection of pastries. Steve and I split a Ham & Cheese Croissant {SO good}, and he also had a Guava Pastry. I kept my eye on a Nutella filled beignet that was taunting me through the glass counter, but alas, decided to save my calories for later. I'm still regretting it.

We did some more site seeing, biking, and browsing and before we knew it, we were hungry for lunch. {Are you really surprised?}

I had read some good reviews about a Cuban restaurant called El Siboney, so we biked our way there and each had a Cuban Sandwich for lunch {which was not 100% authentic, in my opinion, but was still very good!}. By the look of the lunchtime crowd, I'd say this spot is well loved by locals & tourists alike.

As the heat of the afternoon took it's toll, we decided to stop over at El Meson de Pepe, a charming vintage Cuba themed restaurant & bar, to continue with our Cuban lunch and cool down with some Mojitos... a must! They make them strong and delicious. {As is evident by our goofy behavior seen below. Sadly, I was too distracted by the fabulousness of the mojito to take a picture of it.}

Me: Standing out. Steve: Blending in.
I'll give you three guesses as to what we did next... That's right! More biking, more site seeing, more eating! You're so good.

Our next stop was obligatory, because you cannot come to Key West and not have a slice of Key Lime Pie. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's illegal. {Wouldn't that be funny considering all the other questionable behavior that is allowed in Key West?! Haha!}

So, we split a slice of KLP at Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe and did our civil duty. It was good... and gone too fast. :(
I was SO disgustingly sweaty here... bleh.
At this point, we had been biking the whole day. In the hot, humid Florida summer. And I didn't care where we went, but it needed to be indoors, air conditioned, and close by.

Sloppy Joe's Bar for a sweaty, sloppy couple, seemed very fitting.

Steve's "I'm sweaty & uncomfortable, please stop taking pictures" face.
Some live music, a snack, and a drink or two later...we hit the pavement again {not literally, the drinks weren't that strong}, and honestly, I can't remember what we did. {Ok, maybe they were.} But I know we wound up bar hopping and listening to a few live performances here and there...

At Willie T's {Tip: Try the Vanilla Mojito}...

Only in Key West does money grow on palm trees & line ceilings...
And finally, perched on the balcony of Whistle Bar with a birds eye view of Duval Street. {Fun fact: Whistle Bar is the 2nd floor of Bull Bar. Just above it is a clothing optional rooftop bar called Garden of Eden ... enter at your own risk.}

We got ice cream at Kilwin's {nothing like ice cream for dinner}, and headed back to the B&B for a good night's rest before the long drive home the next day.

The next morning, we {grudgingly} packed up our stuff, and considered our breakfast options before we hit the road. Steve was in the mood for diner food, and my only requirement was a cafe con leche. We found both at Harpoon Harry's, along with a really yummy egg & cheese breakfast sandwich served on Cuban bread. {Which I did not bother taking a picture of because I was in the mourning stages of dealing with our departure that day.} Another tip: Harpoon Harry's is cash only!

With only an hour or so left to spare, we biked off some breakfast calories around Mallory Square and made one final stop to pick up some souvenirs for the family. Even before we arrived in Key West, I knew what I as going to bring back for everyone... and no, it was not a trinket encrusted in seashells or a touristy t-shirt...

Because who would want one of those when you could have one of these:

These, my friends, are Mattheessen's half-pound cookies. These things are bigger than my head, no lie. I discovered them long ago and have been more enchanted by the thought of these magnificent creatures than I would have been if they sold unicorns and leprechauns.

Steve and I bought a big sugar cookie to share {I promise, one is enough} and nibbled on it all the way home... and still had some left over. If these don't say "I love you" as a souvenir, I just don't know what will.

Well, you can't say I didn't give you the lowdown on our trip. And that was just skimming the surface!

Sure, Key West is a great getaway if you're looking for sunsets and debauchery, but there's actually LOTS to do that doesn't involve eating and drinking, believe it or not. There's tons of shopping, museums {like the Ernest Hemingway House, which we didn't visit this time but did pass by and gawk at}, shows {if you are entertained by gentlmen who look better in a dress than most ladies}, water sports {if the weather cooperates}, and so much history.

If nothing else, you could spend hours just wandering up and down the streets looking at the beautiful cottages and eclectic inhabitants of this quirky island.

But until you can visit for yourself, make some Key Lime Pie and savor the flavor of Key West right from your kitchen. :)

Key Lime Pie
via Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe

9-inch graham cracker piecrust
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
6 egg yolks {The egg whites can be saved to make a meringue topping, if desired.}
1/2-cup Kermit’s Key Lime Juice

Blend milk and egg yolks at slow speed until smooth. Add Key Lime juice and finish blending.

Pour into piecrust.

Bake in preheated 300-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Cool pie 20 minutes before refrigerating.

Serve chilled Key Lime pie with whipped cream topping or meringue.

Meringue Topping

6 egg whites
6 Tablespoons sugar
Pinch Cream of Tartar
1-teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract, and Cream of Tartar at high speed.

Continue beating mixture until egg whites are stiff.

Top baked pie with the meringue. Bake an additional 10 minutes.

Cool pie.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tasty Travels: Key West Edition, Part 1

Yesterday I promised you a little foodie recap and guide to some of the places Steve and I visited on our trip to Key West, and boy, do I have a lot to share! Luckily, I've gotten into the habit of photographing my food and drinks, so you have tons of visuals! ;)  So, let's not waste any time...

We had a tasty lunch of tacos & margaritas at Amigos Tortilla Factory, where they have handmade square tortillas. {If that's not enough to entice you, I don't know what is.} We were pleasantly surprised to find that their menu is 85% gluten free... they even have a gluten free beer selection!

We did a little bar hopping to Irish Kevin's for some live music & crowd heckling {the performer heckles the crowd, not the other way around}...

And then Capt. Tony's Saloon to see if we could find the business card Steve had stuck to the wall when we last visited during our honeymoon cruise 3 years ago. {We didn't find it.} If you're looking for a cocktail here, try the Pirate's Punch. {We didn't have it this time.}

The place is covered in business cards, license plates, and... yep... bras.
That evening, we decided to skip a big dinner and stop by Sunset Pier {sans sunset due to the super cloudy weather} for some Conch Fritters & drinks instead. {They make a fabulous Dark 'n' Stormy.}

Afterwards, we wandered over to Hog's Breath Saloon and got there just in time to take cover from a torrential downpour... {Fun fact: I found a plaque that says "Dianna ~ Steve, I Love You" on one of the beams of the outside bar during a visit 5 years ago, which amused me because those are our names, spelled the same way which is a rare thing to find with the extra "N" I have in my name. I always go back & look at it when I am in Key West.} Tip: Stick with beer here if you're planning on having a drink.

And, once the rain let up, finished the night off with some entertainment at Pete's Dueling Piano Bar.

The picture on the right is what happens when you try to take a picture of yourself
with a big DSLR after a night of bar hopping.

Tired yet? 'Cause we were! This concluded Day 1 of our adventure. After all, we needed to rest up and do it all over again the next day.

Tomorrow, I'll share the highlights of Day 2 which include pastries, Cuban food, and a cookie that even I couldn't finish... is it any wonder my pants are a little snug?

I'll leave you with a recipe for that Dark 'n' Stormy I mentioned earlier - a rummy, refreshing drink that's sure to please Ginger Lovers with it's spicy ginger kick!

Dark 'n' Stormy
From Gosling's Rum

1.5 oz Gosling's Black Seal Rum
4-5 oz Ginger Beer*

In a tall glass filled with ice add 4 - 5 oz of Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer and top with Gosling's Black Seal Rum. Garnish with a lime wedge {optional, but recommended!}.

{To make it "Sunset Pier authentic", use Fevertree Ginger Beer... thanks for the tip, Bartender Al!}

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Key Lime Pie Popcorn!

If you follow The Kitchen Prep on Facebook {Which you should! We have lots of fun over there!}, you probably saw my post about my husband & I spending last weekend in Key West celebrating our 3 year anniversary.

So, if rain on your wedding day is said to be good luck, can we just assume that cloudiness and storms on your anniversary getaway weekend are, too? Because if that's the case then chances are we are probably winning the lottery this week. The clouds never lifted for our entire 3 day stay.

The weather was not the prettiest, but that didn't stop us from enjoying island living to the fullest. And by "island living", I mean doing nothing particularly productive, wearing no watches to go by {when in doubt, it's happy hour}, and riding rented bicycles wherever the wind blew {in some cases, literally}.

Poor Steve was so looking forward to spending some time in the water, but with the way the skies were threatening, we {I} decided the last thing we needed was to end up washed out to sea. {All together now! "A three hour tooooooour..."}
Getting a bit wind blown at the Southernmost Point.
That gust of wind pushing my top forward is giving the illusion of a preggers belly...
I can assure you, it's just the wind!

So, instead, we spent a lot of time exploring the fine local establishments. Restaurants, bars {lots and lots of bars}, bakeries... you name it.

With the research done for you, I'm putting together a little foodie {drinkie?} recap of our weekend in Key West for you to use as a guide if you're ever in the area!  But, I'm saving that post for tomorrow, because today I want to get you in the right frame of mind.

What is this, you ask?

Oh, well, it's Key Lime Pie-pcorn. A sweet treat inspired by Key West's most famous dessert!

Even if you're not driving to Key West like we did, this popcorn makes a perfectly portable option when you need a KLP {Key Lime Pie} fix and can't have a slice of the real thing.  The white chocolate coating speckled with lime zest imitates the tart, creamy custard part of the pie. And for you pie crust-lovers, the graham cracker crumbs give you a little hint of that fabulous graham-y flavor.

Wouldn't this be a fun snack to package and have at a tropical themed party or cookout this summer? I think yes!

Whip up a batch of this stuff, sit back {preferably in a hammock}, and start getting into an island state of mind for tomorrow's Tasty Travels recap of Key West!

Key Lime Pie Popcorn

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, plus 2 teaspoons for thinning candy coating
1/3 cup {heaping} popcorn kernels
8 oz. white chocolate candy coating {you could also use white chocolate chips I'm guessing}
1 lime, finely zested* {about 1 heaping tablespoon zest}
5 graham crackers, crushed
Green food coloring, optional

Prepare a large rimmed baking sheet or other large pan by lining with foil. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 3 quart {or larger} pot over high heat. Add popcorn kernels and cover immediately with lid. Carefully shake the pot over the burner until popcorn begins to pop {about 2 minutes}, and continue to shake until popping slows down significantly and pot is filled with popped corn.

Pour popcorn out onto lined baking sheet.

In a heat proof measuring cup, place about 6 oz. of white chocolate candy coating pieces. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stopping and stirring occassionally until completely melted and smooth. {Be careful not to scorch} Stir in lime zest and incorporate completely. If your coating is too thick, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of canola oil and stir until a smooth consisency is reached.

Pour or spoon candy mixture onto popcorn. With a silicone spatula {and your hands, which is easier if you're willing to get messy}, carefully toss popcorn with candy mixture, coating as much of the popcorn as possible.

Sprinkle crushed graham cracker crumbs over popcorn and gently toss to adhere crumbs to wet coating. Set aside to cool down.

{Optional} Melt the remaining 2 oz. of white chocolate candy coating until smooth, and add 1 drop of green food coloring. Mix to incorporate. Drizzle onto popcorn and allow to set until hardened and no longer sticky. {You can also refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to speed up the process.}

Break up popcorn and enjoy!

*To ensure that zest pieces weren't too big, I zested a lime using my microplane, then ran through zest with a knife to finely chop.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Banana Upside-Down Cake

A few weeks ago a promised you that I would only be sharing recipes that are summer-worthy, such as things that do not require turning on the oven or calorific bikini-busters.

Well, I may have lied a little bit.

Ok, a lot a bit.

Because this cake that I'm about to share the recipe for is completely the opposite of all those things.

But it is so unique, so "what-the-heck-is-that-it-looks-delicious", that you will forget that you're mad at me for going against my word, and want to jump through the computer screen and hug me for not keeping it to myself.

Just look at this thing.

It's a got chocolate. Peanut butter. Caramelized bananas. And butter. Lots of butter. It's a bikini season nightmare and a potluck season dream.

So here's what I recommend: Crank up the air conditioning and turn on the oven. Check the weather forecast and plan on making this during a particularly rainy week when you will not be exposing your mid-section poolside.

Then cut yourself a {moderately sized} slice of this, take a bite, and try to tell me you're still mad at me. ;)

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Banana Upside-Down Cake
Slightly Adapted from Food & Wine

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk {I used almond milk & it was still great}
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
3/4 cup peanut butter {chunky or smooth, it's up to you}
1 cup brown sugar
4 bananas, halved lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

Cream one stick of butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and spreadable. Spread in a smooth layer onto the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish {glass if you have it, otherwise an aluminum one will do}. Arrange bananas {cut side down} on top of butter and sugar mixture. Set aside.

Combine 1 1/2 sticks of butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time and incorporate well after each addition. Add vanilla. 

Add flour & milk in 3 additions, alternating between the two.  {I do flour, 1/2 of milk, flour, rest of milk, flour.}

Transfer about 1/4 of the batter into a separate bowl. Fold in melted chocolate until well incorporated. Set aside.

Add peanut butter to the remainder of the batter, and incorporate fully.

Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter batter into baking dish on top of butter/banana mixture. Fill in the gaps with the chocolate batter. Swirl batters together lightly with the tip of a knife to create a marbelized effect.

Bake for approximately 1 hour or until the tip of a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes. Invert onto platter carefully. {Be careful, the butter & sugar have formed a sticky caramel sauce and is hot!}

Devour. ;)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tandoori Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa

I've mentioned before that Steve isn't very picky about many food related things. {Read: He will eat just about anything. Happily.}

However, after watching an episode of Dirty Jobs a while back that highlighted the fish farming industry, he's had a thing against tilapia. Mostly because he learned that they are bottom feeders that basically eat poop. {Thanks a lot, Mike Rowe. I'm pretty sure you just killed a few small tilapia farms across the nation.}

Silly boy.

For whatever reason, this little tidbit of information doesn't bother me much. Partly because I'm all for knowing where my food comes from, {No, that chicken did not just magically appear plucked and ready to cook in a tidy little plastic package}, but also because in my head fish poop isn't very "dirty", and if eating it floats tilapias' boat, then I say go for it.

Does that even make sense? Maybe I should stop using the word "poop"on a food blog? ;)

Anyway {if you're still reading after all that potty talk. Ha!}, I have been bound and determined to turn Steve into a tilapia eater ever since he stubbornly declared that we would no longer be cooking it in our home.

I could have just made it for him and lied about what it was, I doubt he would know the difference, but deception is no way to go, even when it's just getting someone to eat something they don't think they like. {With the exception of feeding children. Sometimes lying to them is necessary for everyone's sanity.}

So, instead of blatantly fibbing, I decided to try to make the tastiest version of tilapia I could come up with so that Steve would see that - poop eaters or not - they can make a lovely meal.

I succeeded.

The spice blend and yogurt marinade give the tilapia an exotic flavor, and the mango salsa adds just the right amount of sweetness and zing.

I think tilapia will be making more appearances at our dinner table from now on. And hopefully it's lost its "dirty" reputation in Steve's mind.

Tandoori Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa
Slightly adapted from A Decade of Cooking The Coscto Way cookbook

4 tilapia fillets
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garam masala {I made my own blend, but you can buy it at the store, too}
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons butter

Place fish in a medium glass dish. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, chili powder, garam masala, ginger, cayenne, garlic, and salt until well blended. Cover fish fillets with yogurt marinade. Cover dish in plastic wrap, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Remove fish from marinate and shake off any excess. Place fish in skillet and saute for about 5 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily.

Serve topped with Mango Salsa.

Mango Salsa
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 kiwi, peeled and diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/3 cup hearts of palm, diced
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
Juice of 1 lime
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate for an hour to allow flavors to come together.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Banana-Coconut Bread with Lime Glaze

A friend of mine gave me a greeting card a while back during a particularly challenging time in my life with a picture of a frazzled looking girl on the cover. Across the top, in an ironically cheerful font were the words, "Life is just so... daily."

Some days {like the ones I've been having lately}, those words ring so true that, given a different frame of mind, I might consider tattooing this phrase on a body part and making it my motto.

I'm sure you've had the days I'm talking about. No matter how much you get done, you still have a million things to do, each task more daunting that the last. Everyone and their mother needs you to help them with something, but somehow they are nowhere to be found when the tables are turned. If it were humanly possible to run away from yourself, you'd do it.

Nothing in particular is wrong, but things just don't seem to be going right.

You know... "daily".

I do not consider myself a "Negative Nelly", but when I get in a funk it can be so hard not to let myself slide right into Pout-ville and take up residence.

While a little vacation might just do the trick, most of us can't just pack an overnight bag and jet off to Bora Bora. {Sadly.}

Instead, I rolled up my sleeves {proverbial ones of course, it's too flippin' hot for real ones around here} and distracted myself with a baking project.{Because what's one more "thing to do" added onto the list?}

Know what this is? It's a delicious mix of comfort food and tropical vacation all rolled into one: Banana-Coconut Bread with Lime Glaze.

One bite and you're rocking in a hammock with Jimmy Buffet playing in the background. For a split second, you put your problems on pause and trade reality for relaxation.

Ok, so it's not an all expense paid trip to the tropics... but it'll do for now.

So if you're feeling that things are getting a little too "daily" for your taste, change things up immediately and take a bite of sanity... or banana bread. Either way, you'll be happy you did.

Banana-Coconut Bread with Lime Glaze
Adapted from Worth Tasting: A Culinary Tour Through the Architecture of the Palm Beaches

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup {1/2 stick} butter
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons dark rum {Optional, I didn't add this to mine because I drank it all had none}
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut + 1 tablespoons
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teapoon lime zest
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 5x9 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer {or with a hand mixer}, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in banana, yogurt, and vanilla extract {and rum if using}. Beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture and stir until just absorbed. Gently fold in flaked coconut.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow bread to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Mix together confectioners sugar, lime zest, and lime juice in a small bowl until it reaches a pourable consistency. Drizzle over top of slightly warm bread.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mexican Corn on a Stick

It's Tuesday. I had all intentions of posting on Monday. That didn't happen.

After spending all of Saturday and Sunday painting the 12 foot ceilings in my husband's new office, I needed a break from anything even remotely resembling work.

{Not to mention we did not go grocery shopping over the weekend and if it wasn't for a lunch date with a friend yesterday and half of a leftover sub in the fridge, I'm pretty sure I would have eaten ice cream for lunch and dinner.}

Anyway, I've recovered from the paint fumes, and today I'm bringing you a little something that I think is absolutely perfect for summer: Mexican Corn on a Stick! {also knowns as 'Elote'}

If you've been around a while, you might remember I had a little love affair with making foods on a stick. {Evidence here, here, and most recently here.}

They're fun. They prevent messy fingers. They make even regular food a little more entertaining. What's not to love?

When I saw a segment on The Martha Stewart Show about this popular Mexican street food, I knew it would be delicious and summer-approved.

I was right!

As a side note, this particular recipe includes mayo as the coating for the corn, and I know how that makes some people {like my husband} feel. If you happen to be part of the Mayo Hatin' club, my suggestion is to substitute it with thick Greek yogurt. {Or maybe even guacamole if you're ok with alien corn on a stick!}

Give it a try! I have a feeling these will be the talk of your next summer cookout.

Mexican Corn on a Stick
Inspired by The Martha Stewart Show

4 ears of corn {husks on}
1/4 - 1/3 cup mayo, Greek yogurt, or other spread
1 cup Queso Fresco, crumbled {or your favorite crumbly cheese}
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Prepare your corn. {I boil my corn, in the husks, for about 15 minutes. You can also grill or your corn in the husks, or prepare it your favorite way.}

Allow corn to cool enough to handle. Remove husks and slide each cob onto a wooden skewer.

Spread about 1 to 2 tablespoons of mayo onto each cob. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese and chopped cilantro. Sprinkle with cayenne. Squirt with lime.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Goat Cheese + Walnut Covered Grapes

Guess what???

I've got some big changes coming up for The Kitchen Prep this summer that I can't wait to share.

Some of them I have to keep under wraps for a bit, but I can start by sharing something small. {Otherwise, I may just explode from the anticipation.} For example, the fact that you can now reach the blog by simply typing into your browser.

A tiny thing, I know, but this thing is seriously my baby and that itsy bitsy little change is comparable to it's first step. It's enough to send a girl twirling around screeching, "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!" all Liesl-style. {Please tell me you remember this part from The Sound of Music. I have now scoured Google for a clip of that scene with absolutely no luck... and am utterly disturbed at some of the things that pull up that are completely unrelated to this. }

Anyway, food.

So, if you are as fabulous as I think you are, you will no doubt be invited to lots of summer cookouts and fancy soirees {or, you know, just backyard get togethers} over the next few months. And most likely, you will either be asked to bring a dish or will volunteer {even though you barely have time to shower, let alone whip up something fabulous} because you are a polite party-attendee.

If you are like me {and I hope for your sake you are not}, you will probably rack your brain for an original, delicious crowd pleaser that doesn't have you slaving away in the kitchen all day and arriving at said party looking like a disgruntled mess.

Well, guess what? I think I found the solution.

Look at these adorable little things! It's like a baby cheeseball swallowed a grape.

I'm a little bit in love with them. And you will be, too. Four ingredients. Semi-healthy. Kinda fancy. So yum.

Tell me you don't want to get invited somewhere right now just so you can take these.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Goat Cheese & Walnut Covered Grapes
Slightly adapted from A Decade of Cooking Costco cookbook

2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces goat cheese*, room temperature
A small bunch green or red grapes
2 ounce package chopped walnuts

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese & goat cheese. {With a hand mixer is the easiest way. If the mixture is too stiff, you can add a splash of milk or a tablespoon or two of Greek yogurt.}

Coat each grape in about a teaspoon of cheese mixture. {This part is messy, recruit a friend & cut your work/mess in half.} Roll each ball in walnuts.

Refrigerate to set, then serve with toothpicks or skewers.

Makes about 15. Double recipe for larger batch.

{*I know several of you are not goat cheese fans and often ask for substitutions. Mascarpone would work as a good substitute in this case, or plain cream cheese would be just fine as well.}

Monday, June 4, 2012

Coconut-Squash Quinoa

Summer has always been one of my favorite times of year. As a kid, it was a much needed respite from the classroom. {Ugh, and those terrible uniforms. Hooray Catholic schooling.}

As an adult, I still looked forward to getting away from the classroom, though this time as a teacher. {And truthfully, probably even more so than when I was a student. Those kiddos can be brutal.}

Since I'm no longer a classroom teacher, I don't get the extended summer break, but the excitement of summertime has stuck with me regardless, and once that calendar page says "June", I'm ready to grab my beach towel, score a good summer read, and call it a day.

It's the time of year to kick back and relax, take a trip or two, spend lazy weekends in the sunshine, and have your biggest worry be remembering to pack your sunscreen.

In the kitchen, it's a good time to let your oven take a little break, too. {Especially when your summer includes near 100% humidity and temps in the upper 90's. Yikes.}

 So, I know I'm a little early, but I'm officially declaring it The Summer of Yum around here. Fresh, fantastic flavors. Light, refreshing dishes. Treats that make your mouth water and your tastebuds do a little happy dance. {And I promise I'll try to keep it calorie conscious so your bikini strings won't be straining.}

 We may still have a few weeks until the official start of summer, but why wait? Let's kick off the season with this tempting Coconut-Squash Quinoa that's only a paper umbrella short of a vacation.

Coconut-Squash Quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 -1/4 cups water
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons soy sauce {I use gluten free tamari}
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
1 small yellow squash, diced
1/2 small white onion, diced
1 cup broccoli, cut into small florets
2-3 pineapple rings {optional}

In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 cup of rinsed quinoa to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together coconut milk, soy sauce, sesame oil, and grated ginger. Set aside.

In a small pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and diced yellow squash, and saute until tender and onion becomes translucent. Stir in grated garlic clove and cook for another minute. Toss in broccoli florets, and continue cooking until tender-crisp. Add a splash of the coconut milk mixture to deglaze the pan, and simmer for a minute or two. Remove from heat.

When most of the water has absorbed from the quinoa, add about 1/4 cup of coconut milk mixture and stir in. Cover and allow to absorb completely, about 5-7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

In a large bowl, add sauteed vegetables, quinoa, and remainder of coconut milk mixture and toss together gently.

Serve hot as a side dish or as a tasty main and garnish with pineapple rings or chunks.