The Kitchen Prep: July 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

Healthy Basil Veggie Dip

I love veggie trays. Mostly because veggies make a wonderful vehicle for the dips that are served with them... the kind that, more often than not, negate all the health benefits of choosing veggies in the first place. Not good.

After this weekend's outings and celebrations {not to mention Banoffee Bites}, I was feeling a bit like I needed a nutritious boost to get my system back on track. {Watching all those Olympians might have had something to do with it, too.}

While I was craving raw veggies, I knew I'd be more likely to eat a larger serving if there were something delicious to dip them in. I also knew it would be a bit counterintuitive to pair them with an unhealthy dip.

So, with a little creativity and just a handful of ingredients, I threw together this healthy, flavorful veggie dip that gave me the best of both worlds.

The cottage cheese {stop making that face cottage cheese haters, you won't even realize it's an ingredient!} gives you the creaminess of fat-laden dips without the calories, and the herbs are the perfect burst of flavor to distract you from the fact that it's actually healthy! :)

I chopped up some raw broccoli, red pepper, and zucchini and munched away happily.

I think this dip would make a great dressing or a nice addition to a pita or wrap, and I love the fact that you can customize it with the fresh herbs and veggies you have on hand.

Sadly, woman cannot live by Banoffee Bites alone, {well, maybe she could, but not without having to purchase a whole new wardrobe to fit into} but this healthy veggie dip will make it much easier to compromise.* ;)

What are some of your favorite recipes for upping your veggie intake?

*All humor aside, I actually enjoy eating all kinds of veggies and feel that the  more I eat them, the more I crave them!

Healthy Basil Veggie Dip

1 cup low fat or fat free cottage cheese
1 large bunch basil {approximately 1/2 cup}
1 small garlic clove, grated or minced
2 tablespoons fat free Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend {such as Alessi Dipping Spice grinder}*

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Blend together until smooth and all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Serve with chopped fresh vegetables, or pita chips. {Easily make your own!}

*If your seasoning blend contains salt, do not add salt to dip.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Banoffee Bites

Yes, this is the second dessert recipe I'm posting this week. There may be a third. I've been giving you a lot of dinner/healthy/savory recipes lately, so I feel like I'm entitled to get back to the "make-my-teeth-hurt" sweets that make my heart sing. Get over it. :P

Now that I'm done justifying all the sugar that's about to happen, let's talk Olympics!

Who is super excited about watching semi-superhuman athletes compete in amazing feats of strength and endurance while you sit on your couch and stuff your face?!! ME, TOO!

The Olympics always bring a palpable vibe of both patriotism and brotherhood of man {um, hello, can that phrase get anymore sexist? Siblinghood of people!} when it makes its rounds every 4 years. I have to admit that although I do get sucked into the magic of the games, what I most look forward to watching is the bulging biceps of hot male gymnasts opening ceremonies.

There is something very cool about watching individuals from 205 different countries come together, set aside their differences - their languages, beliefs, politics, and the like -  and take part in a tradition that has been taking place for hundreds of years. {Fun fact: We have a friend who will be participating in the Olympic games! Also, my brother-in-law will be there to watch some of the events live & in person! So cool!}

This year, of course, the games will be hosted in jolly old England. A place that has it's very own long standing history of tradition and culture. Surely, you are familiar with some very British things: Big Ben, Will & Kate, fish & chips, and high tea... but have you ever heard of Banoffee Pie?

Well, let me make a proper introduction.

Banoffee Pie is said to have originated at The Hungry Monk in East Sussex, England around 1972. The rich dessert, consisting of bananas, "toffee" {a.k.a. dulce de leche}, and whipped cream atop a crisp pie crust {sometimes made of "biscuits" such as McVities} has created quite a name for itself, and one little bite will explain why.

I made my own baby Banoffees as a nod to this year's Olympic host, and boy, are they delicious. The ooey, gooey toffee with the banana... the {brown sugar infused} whipped cream... the little pie crusts that make your whole house smell like butter when you bake them. They're a winner. Gold medal, I'd say.

Even the hubby, who you know isn't very into sweets, said they were amazing {At least that's what I think he meant by, "Ohmnomgddnomnomnom" between bites.} These would make the perfect little treat to serve as you settle in to watch the opening ceremonies, or for any event for that matter.

But unlike the Olympic tradition that has spanned the centuries... these little babies won't be around very long!

Banoffee Bites

1/2 a recipe for pie dough, or store bought {I used this fantastically flaky recipe for All-butter Crust from Simply Recipes}
1 can sweetened condensed milk {not evaporated!}
1 large banana, cut into 24 pieces
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
English toffee bits, such as Heath Bits'o Brickle {optional}

For Toffee/Dulce de Leche:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Pour 1 can of sweetened condensed milk into an 8x8 inch glass baking dish. Place the baking dish inside a larger baking pan with high sides. Carefully fill with hot water, reaching about half way up the sides of the glass dish. Tightly cover with foil.

Bake for about 2 hours, checking about half way through cooking time to make sure there is still water in the pan. {If not or running low, add more.} Whisk to smooth.

Remove pan from oven and whisk until completely smooth. {Should be thick and caramel colored.}

For Whipped Cream:

Place about 1 cup of cold heavy whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Lightly mix until sugar begins to dissolve. Using the whisk attachment, whip until stiff peaks can be formed.

Set aside in refrigerator.

For mini-crusts:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out pie dough to about 1/8 inch thick. With a round cookie cutter {or an upside down drinking glass dipped in flour}, cut out 16 circles. {You may need to gather scraps and re-roll.}

Press each dough circle in the well of a mini-muffin tin, patting it gently into the bottom and up the sides. Poke the bottom of each dough circle a few times with a fork. {This will help to prevent puffing up.}

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until just starting to turn golden brown.

For Assembly:

Drop a heaping teaspoon full of toffee into each baked mini-pie crust. Place 1 piece of banana on top of each. Dollop each mini-pie with whipped cream.

{Optional} Garnish with toffee bits and half a banana slice. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Monday, July 23, 2012

White Chocolate & Fresh Cherry Blondies

We had an interesting weekend. In fact, if it weren't for the picture proof, I would probably deny that the weekend existed because it went by so quickly. {Or it could be the brain cells that were killed by the second hand smoke of the hippies sitting around us at the Dave Matthews concert we attended on Saturday? Gave me a new perspective on the word potpourri.}

Despite the jam packed schedule, I still mananged to do some cooking on Saturday to bring along to the tailgate we were having before the concert. I brought Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin, Honey-Coriander Oven Baked Chicken Wings, and made a big Dutch oven full of Bourbon Baked Beans that never actually made it out the door with us because they weren't done cooking by the time we had to leave.

My brother-in-law, who bought us the Dave tickets as an anniversary gift and stayed with us for the weekend, shook his head at me when I decided to whip up a quick dessert to bring along to the tailgate. "Who brings dessert to a tailgate??!"

This girl, that's who.

Most boys don't have that nagging desire for a little something sweet at the end of a meal. But that sure doesn't stop them from digging in when it's put in front of them.

Being short on time, I needed a recipe that was quick, easy, and used ingredients I had on hand. I found all three of those requirements in these White Chocolate & Fresh Cherry Blondies.

What I loved most about them was the fact that they're basically a one pot wonder. {Which obviously seems to be the theme of today's post. Love when it all ties in unexpectedly. Haha!} No muss, no fuss. {Except for all the cherry-pitting. But if you have a kitchen helper or have pitted cherries around, they do come together pretty fast.} They make a pretty yummy finished product, if I do say so myself.

If I made these again, I would try them out with a little less flour to try and create chewy texture I like in blondies. These were on the cakey side, which was still delicious, but made them seem more like a breakfast cake than a blondie. {Hmm... brunch item?!}

Awful pics, I know. :/
Now, to attempt getting back into the swing of things for the week. Let's see what these left over brain cells can do. ;)

White Chocolate & Fresh Cherry Blondies
Adapted from Lotta Madness via Tasty Kitchen

1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup white chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
Approximately 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved

For drizzle:

1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 inch pan with foil {makes removal easier}. Spray lightly with non-stick spray. Set aside.

In a medium pot over medium-low heat, melt butter, sugar, and white chocolate chips stirring often until smooth. {Be careful not to scorch white chocolate.}

Once melted, remove from heat and stir in flour and salt. Mix to combine.

Add eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Incorporate well into batter.

Pour batter into lined pan and smooth out evenly. Top with cherries.

Bake for 18-20 minutes until slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool slightly.

In a small bowl, microwave 1/3 cup white chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, stopping and stirring at 30 second intervals, until smooth. Drizzle over cooled blondies. {Allow chocolate to set before cutting.}

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tasty Travels: Chicago BAKERY Edition!

If you've been following along with my Chicago visit recaps {Parts 1 & 2}, you know that in the short 36 or so hours I've covered so far, I got to do, see, and eat quite a bit! {Would you expect anything different from moi?}

I left off yesterday on Sunday morning after a delicious breakfast with Emily. As it turns out, Emily had a friend's wedding to attend, so she asked her friend Alli to kindly entertain me until she could get back later that afternoon.

Alli loves to plan things of all kinds - parties, menus, itineraries... she's a girl after my own heart. Her plans for us on Sunday afternoon were no different. She had arranged {and mapped out, bless that girl} a walking tour of some of Chicago's finest bakeries! Be still my heart {except, not really because I have too many wonderful, sugary things to see}!

So, she picked me up at Emily's and off we went on a {5 mile} confectionery adventure of epic proportions.

Stop #1: Molly's Cupcakes

Oh, Molly's. Where have you been all my life? My eyes immediately went straight to the bakery cases, packed with decadent treats such as the Cookies & Cream {chocolate cake, cookies-n-cream filling, vanilla buttercream, cookie topping} and their signature cupcake, the Ron Bennington {chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, chocolate ganache, crushed butterscotch topping}, but I decided on a Peanut Butter Nutella Filled Cupcake with Nutella Frosting. {SO. GOOD.}

Molly's not only has a fantastic selection of sweets {and did I mention they have a Sprinkle Station?! *squeals!*}, but also has a super cute story: It was named in honor of the founder's third grade teacher who would often bake cupcakes for her students' birthdays. {Everyone all together: Awww!!} And part of their proceeds go to helping children in the community. Seriously, what's not to love about this place?

I devoured half of my cupcake immediately {we still had a lot of stops ahead of us!}, stared longingly at the rest of the desserts that would not be coming home with me, and pried myself away toward our next destination.

Stop #2: Sweet Mandy B's

We walked off a few of the calories I had picked up at Molly's, and made our way to Sweet Mandy B's. Upon entering the shop, you feel a bit like you've stumbled into a basket of Easter eggs, with it's pastel colored walls and springy "butterflies & birdies" decor. The bakery case continues the whimsical theme with jumbo cupcakes, oversized cookies, and various other sweet treats.

Though I was drawn to the Banana Caramel Cabinet Pudding {basically, bread pudding made with cake}, I opted for a large Snickerdoodle instead since we still had a ways to go in the blistering heat, and I didn't think the pudding would survive the walk until I had room in my belly once again to enjoy it. {I had a tiny nibble of the cookie just to taste test, but brought it home to Steve as a souvenir.} :)

Stop #3: Dinkel's Bakery

If Molly's & Sweet Mandy B's were personified into the girl {and teeny bopper} next door, Dinkle's would be the sweet old couple down the road. With it's old fashioned charm, Dinkel's has been a Chicago fixture since 1922. While many of today's bakeries bank on innovative & funky concoctions to impress customers, Dinkle's appeals to the kid in you that simply wants a tried-and-true treat.

The open space has a retro feel, with cases full of breads, pastries, cookies, and cakes. It was so hard to choose just one to sample... so I didn't. ;) The clerk kindly offered me a complimentary taste of two small cookies that I couldn't decide between {a German Chocolate cookie and a dainty little butter cookie with mocha creme filling}. Both tasted like a hug from a granny. While Dinkle's certainly isn't all about the bells and whistles, it's nice to know that the 4 generations that have run the business over the past 90 years have stuck to what they know works.

Stop #4: Bleeding Heart Bakery

So, you know how I said Dinkle's was like the old couple in the neighborhood that baked cookies for the kids on the block? Well, if we're sticking with that theme, Bleeding Heart Bakery is the pierced & tattooed punk rock kid that frightens the neighbors at first, but then offers to mow their lawn.

Don't be fooled by the edgy exterior, Bleeding Heart is just the right mix of sugar and spice. Upon entering, it's hard not to overload on the color splashed walls, skulls and crossbones, and tattoo paraphernalia. But once you get past the rebellious trimmings, the heart of the bakery is rooted in creating local, sustainable {even vegan!} goodies for all to enjoy.

Um, their whisk pendant lights? Totally amazing.
I had such a hard time deciding which of their baked goods I'd try out... I'm pretty sure that's a normal reaction when you are encountered with cupcake flavors such as Pancakes with Bacon & Balsamic Avocado, or something called a "Cake Bomb" {the BHB version of a cake ball}. They also had quite a selection of savory goods like quiches and croissants. But in the end, I went with a Vanilla Hazelnut Chocolate Chili Whoopie Pie. Holy. Moly. So interesting, subtly spicy... quite delicious!

{Does this bakery sound familiar to you? That's because the owners have been on several Food Network Challenge episodes with their rockin' cakes!}

Stop #5: Bittersweet Pastry Shop

If bakeries were all part of one family, and I had to make a connection between the last bakery I visited and this one, I'd say Bittersweet is Bleeding Heart's distant cousin who went to an Ivy League school, wears pearls and Ralph Lauren, and owns hundreds of monogrammed items. In short, Bittersweet was my {pinkies up} cup of tea.

Top left: Fabulous macarons. Top right: Teensy, mouth watering cake samples.
Bottom center: Me, a completely sweaty mess after walking 5 miles in 95 degree weather.
Bittersweet has the classic, striped awning, fine pastry shop thing down pat. The shop had a high end feel without being too presumptuous. The pastries and sweets were all delicate and gorgeous, and immediately made me feel like buying a few boxes full and throwing a dessert party at Emily's place. {Though I didn't!}

When I saw the rows of colorful macarons in their cases, I just knew I had to have them. So, I bought one of each flavor {Strawberry-Rhubarb, Passion Fruit, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate}, and had them package them up for me so I could share with the girls later on. {They were outstanding. Like the take a bite, pause, and mumble,"OMG" type of good.} It was evident that Bittersweet knows what they're doing, and does it with class.

Believe it or not, we had one more stop we were supposed to make, but there was a little confusion with the shop moving to a new address, so we brought the Tour de Bakery to an end and headed home where - I'm not gonna lie - we dove into those macarons immediately.

I don't know if it was the sugar high I was on, or that I was slightly delirious from pounding the pavement for 4 hours in the extreme heat, but I have to say that Chicago most definitely impressed me with it's bakeries, restaurants, and things to do. I'd highly recommend visiting any {and all!} of the spots I've mentioned because they each had their charm and unique appeal.

So... thank you Emily & Alli for showing me so much of what the city has to offer... there's just so much to do and see! I can't wait to come back for another visit! And you better believe we'll be sampling some more of Chicago's fabulous eats. ;)

For those of you who are considering visiting, I hope this serves as a good guide for a few things you might want to check out while you're there!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tasty Travels: Chicago Edition, Part 2

Yesterday, I recapped my first 24 hours in Chicago. And a fun-filled 24 hours it was.

My second evening in Chicago, the girls had planned to try out a place called Benchmark for dinner. We arrived to find that it was pretty much packed wall-to-wall with 20-somethings that looked like they stepped out of an Abercrombie ad. {Not that I - a happily married woman - was looking or anything... but it was sort of hard not to notice.} The guy to girl ratio was way tilted in favor of the bachelorettes I happened to be dining with, so crowd watching was definitely entertaining.

When we finally managed to snag a table, we settled in and grabbed some drinks. Looking around, it was easy to see why the place was popular with it's open air seating {they have a retractable roof, which I imagine comes in handy during the blizzardy wintertime}and bustling bar scene. The Blackened Shrimp Wrap with orange, mango, & Asian pear and Sriracha-Citrus Vinaigrette I picked out for dinner was super flavorful {and I was semi-obsessed with the Sweet Potato Fries} and it went perfectly with the refreshing Summer Shandy I had to drink. Two thumbs up for Benchmark... one for the food & drinks, and one for the "scenery". ;)

After dinner, we wandered over to Old Town Social, a dimly lit restaurant and bar with tons of character. As I browsed the drink menu by candlelight, I could tell that they take their handcrafted cocktails and housemade cured meats seriously. {Um, take for example, the "Piggy Back"... a shot of Maker's Mark with a Bacon Consomme Back} I was sort of smitten with the brick walls, antique-ish decor, and how they managed to make the large space so cozy and comfortable. Definitely a place I'd want to visit again.

We were on a roll with picking fun spots, so we headed back towards Emily's neighborhood and stopped in at Galway Bay for a game of darts or two. Despite seeming like a hidden basement bar, I was surprised to find that it was buzzing with activity and full of young people. {Am I just used to going out in South Florida where the majority of the patrons are of Social Security check-receiving age??}
The girls showed me how it's done... and I almost got a bullseye! :)
Exhausted from all the fun, we called it a night and headed to bed since we had all of Sunday ahead of us.

The next morning, Emily took me to see the Wicker Park area, and we had brunch at a place called Feast. As much as we wanted to sit outside in the adorable patio area, we stuck with indoor seating since the temperatures were still on the warmer side. Luckily, the inside is just as charming as the outside, and we settled in to a corner booth in the back and enjoyed the air conditioning.

I ordered the Breakfast Croissant {egg, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, prosciutto, and arugula on a buttery croissant} and it. was. awesome. So were the crispy "feast potatoes" that came alongside them. While I was most definitely satisfied with my meal {I actually only ate half & saved the rest for the next day's plane ride home}, I couldn't help but eye the stack of blueberry oatmeal pancakes on our neighbor's table and wonder if they were as delicious as they looked. Stuffed, we headed out to get our Sunday started.

{P.S. I did a TERRIBLE job taking food pics on this trip! I was just to eager to dive in, I guess!}

A few hours later, I was a little sorry I had taken Feast's name so literally, because as it turns out, I was about to embark on a foodie fantasy: A bakery tour of Chicago, hosted by Emily's good friend Alli. {P.S. Check out Alli's blog, Fetes, Food, & Fashion where she talks about... well... all three of those things!}

As fabulous as all of my meals had been during my trip so far, things were about to get taken up a notch and I was totally up for the challenge!

So... tomorrow, be prepared to drool a little bit as I share Chicago's sweetest stops. And, don't you worry, I definitely took some pics of all the goodies for you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tasty Travels: Chicago Edition

Hi! I'm back!

Is it weird that I missed you guys this weekend? Because I totally did. Even though I was having tons of fun gallivanting around Chicago and gorging myself with cupcakes taking in the sites.

But I am super excited to recount my {foodie} tales of the Windy City so you can feel like you were there, too, because if you haven't been before, you'll definitely want to add it to your list of places to see.

My first visit to Chicago was 7 years ago. My college roommate, Emily, moved there after graduation and had been living there for a whopping 4 months before my other roommate and I decided to bombard her for a weekend.

Except, we chose January {of all months} to take our little trip. Frigid, snowy January.

Roomies in Chicago, circa 2005.
I wasn't exaggerating, y'all. It was COLD.
Aside from the fact that I literally had to wear 6 layers of my Floridian clothing to equal 1 layer of Chicagoan clothing, we managed to have as much fun as a bunch of 23 year olds could in a city that they knew nearly nothing about.

Seven years later, and long overdue for a visit, I hopped a plane to see {a now well-versed in city living} Emily. Luckily, I thought it through and returned during the summer this time. I've got to tell you, Chicago weather is into extremes... it's hotter there than it is in Florida at the moment. But 'hot', my wardrobe can handle. Especially if there is the promise of sampling some of the city's best bites.

My first night in town, we headed out to Public House to grab pre-dinner drinks to celebrate Emily's friend's 30th birthday. The Friday evening happy hour crowd was still lingering making for a busy, crowded, and energetic atmosphere. With their extensive beer selection {over 103 types!}, taps built into the tables, and a slew of flat screens tuned in to the sports event du jour, Public House knows how to draw a fun crowd.

I took a clutch & didn't  have room for the gigantic honkin' camera,
so this is the only pic taken there, courtesy of Alli {left}. The beautiful girl on my right is my old roomie Emily.. :)
Next, we made our way to Sunda, a high end "new Asian" restaurant, for dinner. Sunda is what I expect for the city: Packed, trendy, loud. The menu featured some exotic sushi rolls {but not "I'm-not-so-sure-about-that" crazy} as well as some fancy entrees, cocktails, and dim sum. I went with Miso Soup and a Sweet Potato Caterpillar Roll. The presentation was beautiful, but I have to admit, I wasn't that impressed by the taste.

Sunda seems like the place to go to see and be seen {just check out their News page for a list of celebrity sightings}, and it definitely has atmosphere appeal. {I have to say, what really stuck out to me was the excellent service we received from our fabulous waitress. She handled the large crowd expertly and cheerfully, and made sure to highlight menu favorites, even though she had to literally yell above the background noise.}

Borrowed these pics from Alli once again... to the left, the interesting ceiling art. To the right, our fun birthday bunch.

We were up bright and early on Saturday to grab breakfast at a cute little diner called Stella's. The decor was retro-fun, and the patrons looked right at home, like it was second nature to start the weekend in Stella's cozy booths. The service was friendly, the food was standard - though generous - diner fare {I had hash browns & scrambled eggs even though I was dying to try the Challah French Toast with Strawberries and Creme} for great prices. Though my meal was nothing to write home about, there was something about Stella's that would make me want to visit again. {Sadly, no pics. You'll just have to use your imagination.}

With our tummies full, we were ready to take on the day. Emily decided a good way to see the city would be to take a Wendella Boat Architectural Tour, and I have to say it was a fantastic way to see the sights and learn the history behind many landmark buildings that make up the Chicago skyline. The tour starts on the Chicago River and makes it's way through the Chicago Lock to Lake Michigan and back, packing every second with tons of fun facts, city history, and picturesque views.

When our tour was over, we hit a few stores on Michigan Avenue to wait out the downpour that had started outside. {And here I thought I escaped Florida's afternoon showers.} Once it cleared up and we could shop no more, we headed home to get ready for another night out.

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing a few more of our stops that evening, including a bar that young singles wouldn't want to miss and a "piggy" cocktail treat... and then a detailed post on hitting Chicago's cupcake motherlode.

Yes, I said cupcakes. And no, you won't want to miss it. ;)

Have you ever been to Chicago? What were some of your favorite sites and bites?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Grilled Honey-Glazed Chicken, Peach, & Sweet Potato Skewers

I have a thing with storage and organization. A thing that makes me gravitate toward pretty boxes and Rubbermaid containers in stores. A thing that tempts me to give just about everything we own it's own color coded label.

It's a little ridiculous, yes, but it's also quite helpful in keeping things from getting messy and out of order {two adjectives that make me break out in hives}.

When it comes to my cooking, baking, and crafting equipment, I am no different. And the thing is, the more I get into each of those hobbies, the more stuff I accumulate that begs to be sorted and organized.

Normally, it starts out with an item or two stored away in a cabinet or closet, and then gradually the group earns an entire storage "section". {i.e. The Cupcake Section, The Cookie Decorating Section, The Entertaining Section...etc.} If I had my way, I'd have an entire closet or room for each {I fantasize about a craft studio almost daily}, but alas, our cute little townhome has a modest amount of storage to say the least.

Are you still with me or have you dialed the OCD hotline on me yet?

If you're into cooking and baking, you've probably witnessed the phenomenon that occurs with food magazines and cookbooks. They multiply overnight and start taking over small areas of your home when you're not looking. It's true.

Last year, I noticed my collection started growing a little unruly, and I decided to take a few days to sift through the piles, throw out the ones I didn't use, and organize the rest in a way that made sense. I purchased some magazine storage {I heart you, HomeGoods}, and now my magazines are all happily grouped by season.

More recently, I've begun to leaf through each magazine and tag recipes that I want to try as well as the ones that have earned their seal of approval... but that's insane another story for another day.

In browsing the "Summer" section of the library, I came across a recipe for these Grilled Honey-Glazed Chicken, Peach, & Sweet Potato Skewers from Fine Cooking, and I knew I just had to make them sooner than later. I am glad to say that they've earned a place in the "Summer Favorites" category, and whether or not you have an official label or storage container, I think they might earn the same title in your home, too. ;)

Grilled Honey-Glazed Chicken, Peach, & Sweet Potato Skewers
Adapted from Fine Cooking

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed into 18 bite sized pieces
3 peaches, pitted & cut into 6 wedges each
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 18- 1 inch cubes
1 small onion, cut into bite sized chunks
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice {I know this is "Fall"-like but trust me!}

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Line a medium sheet pan with foil. Soak 6 wooden skewers in warm water so that they do not burn on the grill. Set aside.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add cubed sweet potato. Cook for approximately 10 minutes or until just starting to become tender. Drain and set aside.

Whisk together vinegar, honey, olive oil, pepper, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally, until reduced to about 1/4 cup {12-14 minutes} and thickened to glaze-like consistency. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, remove skewers from water, and thread chicken, onion, sweet potato, and peaches onto each one. Place on foil lined sheet pan.

Pour half of honey glaze into a small bowl, and set aside. Brush each threaded skewers with remaining honey glaze. Sprinkle lightly with pumpkin pie spice.

Place skewers onto a preheated grill. Cook for 20-25 minutes {turning kewers mid-way through cook time} or until chicken is cooked through and grill marks can be seen on fruit & vegetables.

Brush hot skewers with remaining glaze {make sure to use a clean brush!}.

Serve hot.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bittersweet Chocolate-Cherry Sorbet with Fresh Cherry Compote

More often than not, I make healthy food choices. {I know that's hard to believe when you see this, this, and this.}

Luckily, I actually enjoy a lot of the veggies, fruits, and grains that are considered healthy, so it doesn't feel like I'm "being good", it just feels like I'm eating some tasty things that don't make me feel completely horrible afterwards. {Unlike how I feel when I treat myself to one of my weaknesses: French Fries.}

I've mentioned before that I think moderation is a key component to living a healthy life -- even too much of a good thing can turn not-so-good if you overdo it. I also happen to feel that life is too short to completely deprive yourself of things you love, which is why I eat some form of dessert pretty much every day.

Sometimes that means 2 Oreo cookies {Yes, I make myself stop after 2... it's an exercise in will power}. Or a scoop of Talenti Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato {even though I could easily eat the whole pint}. Other times it means a banana with some almond butter. Or Nutella straight off a spoon.

The objective here is to get a little sweetness in my life without completely going overboard and feeling bad about it afterwards. {Or having my health-nut of a husband giving me judgmental sideways glances.}

I am sure I eat more sugar than I technically should, even though I am careful about it. But, like I said, I look forward to a sweet treat and think it's ok to allow a moderate indulgence without going too crazy about it.

Anyway, the reason I'm yammering on about this is because this Bittersweet Chocolate-Cherry Sorbet is a good way to get your daily dessert fix without crossing into deep fried, butter-laden, cream filled territory.

Yes, it's got a bit of sugar. But it's also got a nice richness that you wouldn't expect from something without milk or cream, which is a nice surprise for your well-behaved taste buds.

Topped off with a fruity Fresh Cherry Compote, you will be more than satisfied with just a scoop, and still slip right into your skinny jeans at 1.3 grams of fat and just under 200 calories per serving.

Now that's what I call having your scoop & eating it too. :)

Bittersweet Chocolate-Cherry Sorbet with Fresh Cherry Compote
via Cooking Light 


3/4 cup red cherry jam {I used Favorit brand}
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa {I used Ghiradelli}*
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups water


1 tablespoons sugar
1/2 pound fresh cherries, pitted & halved

Whisk together first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in water.

Bring to a boil for about a minute, then remove from heat.

Pour into a heat safe bowl to cool {I used a glass baking dish}, and bring to room temperature. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. {If you are in a rush, you can put it in the freezer for about 1-2 hours until it is cold.}

Pour mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker, and follow manufacturer's instructions.

Spoon sorbet into a freezer-safe storage container and freeze for an hour to harden slightly.

For Compote:

Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over fresh cherries and toss together gently. Leave mixture to at room temperature for about 1 hour.

To Serve:

Spoon 1/4 cup compote over a scoop of sorbet.

*I only had slightly sweetened cocoa on hand, so I reduced the sugar amount a bit to compensate.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grilled Watermelon Salsa with Spicy Lime Tortilla Chips

Our weekends seem to be going by in a blur these days. We've been spending a lot of time running all over the place preparing for Steve's move to his brand new office.

On the positive side, I have his credit card number at my diposal because I am in charge of accessory & furniture shopping. {There's a sale on a stainless steel double oven, you say?? I'm there! In my dreams... } ;)

Because of all this running about, we've been very relaxed about doing chores and running errands for our own space, which means that I finally had to stop the madness and play catch up on deep cleaning and grocery shopping yesterday... After an 8 hour day of scouring about a dozen stores for things like shelving, special brackets & screws, and other items that make me want to fall asleep with my eyes open. {Boy, am I excited about buying the pretty stuff.}

Between the errand running for the office and making sure we don't slip into a Hoarders: Buried Alive level of disorganization at home, we were beat by yesterday afternoon. As in, "let's just eat whatever takes the least amount of effort" tired.

Except, when it comes to food, I always seem to be able to dig deep for a little extra energy and chanel my inner Energizer Bunny. {Why I can't do the same for working out, I'll never know.}

And that's how we wound up with Grilled Watermelon Salsa with Spicy Lime Tortilla Chips to snack on.

Truth be told, it didn't take that much more effort than any other dish I might've considered making. The extra step of turning on the grill to char the watermelon slices hardly bothered me because I was intrigued by the thought of it. In the end, it was a nice snack to munch on while we vegged out and wound down from a busy weekend.

I love adding fruit to salsa. The sweet/spicy/savory combo that results is perfect for adding an interesting twist to an otherwise standard snack. Adding watermelon, a staple at many summertime gatherings, is a fun way to incorporate an old standby. This recipe would be great for a party, cookout, or even a night in.

We still have some work ahead of us in the next few weeks as we finish up the office, but it's good to know that no matter how exhausted I am at the end of the day, our meal times won't suffer. ;)

How did you spend your weekend? Did you make anything good {tired or not}?

Grilled Watermelon Salsa with Spicy Lime Tortilla Chips
Adapted from Fine Cooking

5-6 watermelon slices {1/2 inch thick}, enough to make about 2 cups when cut away from rind
Olive oil
Cayenne pepper
Sea salt
1/2 a medium shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 a jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 a cucumber, seeded and roughly chopped
2 medium roma or plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Zest & juice of 1/2 a lime {zest set aside}
8 corn tortillas

Heat grill {or grill pan} to medium-high heat.

Using a Misto oil sprayer or a brush dipped in olive oil, lightly coat watermelon slices {front and back} with oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cayenne to taste.

Place watermelon slices on grill, about 1-2 minute per side until light grill marks are visible. Remove and set aside to cool.

When watermelon is cool enough to handle, cut flesh from rind and cut into chunks.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, add grilled watermelon, shallot, jalapeno, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, and lime juice.

Pulse until slightly processed and combined, but still chunky.

Pour into a medium bowl and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. {You can eat it right away, too, but the flavors develop when you let them sit and get cold.}

Serve with Spicy Lime Tortilla Chips.

For Tortilla Chips:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a large sheet pan with foil and set aside.

Spray {or brush} front and back of tortillas lightly with olive oil. Cut tortillas into 6 wedges each. Spread out onto sheet pan {try not to stack so each gets crispy}. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until crisp and lightly golden.

In a small bowl combine about 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt with about 1 teaspoon lime zest and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Rub together with fingers to infuse salt with lime oils. Set aside.

When tortilla chips are done, remove from oven and sprinkle with spicy lime salt.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Honey-Coriander Oven Baked Chicken Wings

Um, yeah. These wings.

Where do I begin with these wings?

I have a funny relationship with chicken wings. Admittedly, they are not my favorite food. But from time to time, I go through periods of craving nothing but wings until I satisfy the urge to eat them. {Especially during football season.}

Normally, that means one evening of college football, greasy buffalo chicken wings, and beer {because you can't have wings without beer}. And truthfully, I can't eat more than 3 or 4 before calling it quits.

That is so not the case with these Honey-Coriander Oven Baked Chicken Wings.

I sort of surprised myself when I ate 6 of them and could have polished off the rest {though I'm glad I didn't because that may have been overkill}. They are that good.

My husband, who has eaten many a chicken wing in his life, claimed that they were the best wings he's ever eaten. We don't mess around with statements like that in this house. No sir, not when we're talking food.

We love these things so much that 1. I didn't take more than these two pictures of them because I was so anxious to dive in. and 2. We made them for dinner after a 4.5 hour drive back up from Key West. {They've got to be pretty simple if you can throw them together even after a long weekend in the Keys.} And I still didn't get any pictures. Gone too fast.

They are sticky, sweet, and subtly spicy. The perfectly baked meat falls off the bone.{I have never "cleaned" a chicken wing down to the bone in my life because it sort of nauseates me, but seriously, these basically clean themselves.} I licked my fingers, which is completely unlike me and sort of a pet peeve. 

In short, these wings are special.

I love that they are thrown in the oven and baked {which has to make them a little bit healthier, right?}, but I am sure they'd be fantastic on the grill as well.

It's a little early to tell, but these may just become The Official Wing of Football Season. We'll see.

Honey-Coriander Oven Baked Chicken Wings
Adapted from The Disney Chick

1 package chicken wings, prepared* {we used organic ones, because.. why not?}
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Seasoning:
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all spices in a small bowl. Toss together until mixed well. Store leftovers in a ziplock bag.

For the Honey-Coriander Wing Sauce:
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup honey
Juice of half a lime
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Whisk together soy sauce and cornstarch in a small cup to make a slurry. Add remainder of ingredients to a small saucepan over medium heat and stir together.

Add soy sauce mixture to saucepan. Mix well.

Cook, stirring often, until bubbling and thickened. Set aside.

For Wings:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. {Or 500, but things might get a bit smoky... I nearly set off the fire alarm the first time I made these.}

Line a large sheet pan with foil.{You may want to lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray since wings tend to stick.}
Drizzle wings with olive oil and toss to coat. Spread wings out on sheet pan, and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of seasoning until all wings are well-seasoned {front & back}.

Bake for about 10 minutes, flip, and continue to bake for about 8-10 minutes until wings are browned and cooked through {internal temp of 165 degrees in meatiest part of wing}.

Remove wings from sheet pan, and place in a large bowl. Pour sauce over wings, and gently toss to coat all wings.

Serve hot... and with lots of napkins!

*Never "prepared" chicken wings? No worries! Visit this great visual tutorial for instructions from Fabulous Foods on how to prep them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red, White, & Blue Jell-O Shots

I mentioned my Jell-O shot fiasco briefly yesterday but never explained exactly what happened.

{I needed a break from thinking about it.}

After browsing tons of festive ideas over the last few weeks, I decided on a rummy version of this fun recipe from That's So Michelle for "Bomb Pop Jell-O Shots".  {You know, those rocket shaped popsicles you loved as a kid.} I thought I'd bring the along to the 4th of July cookout along with the healthy Tex-Mex 3 Bean Salad with Grilled Corn & Avocado I put together yesterday. {Balance is key!}

I was so successful in following Michelle's instructions that I didn't even consider that it might be a little difficult to remove these little cuties from their molds.

I started with the ones I made in mini-muffin tins because I figured they'd be easier than the stars. If "easy" means part of the Jell-O stays stuck to the tin, then yeah... real success. It was not looking good for that star mold.

Once I did a little research, I determined that the best chance of sliding the shots out of their cozy little trays would be to soak the bottom of the pans in super hot water to loosen up the gelatin and help them release without sticking. Genius!

As I attempted this strategy for the first batch, I got completely distracted and left them soaking for a few minutes too long. The result was completely liquified Jell-O, and purple shots. Not quite what I was looking for.

Attempt number 2 was much more successful, except I wasn't expecting them to slide out SO quickly. When I flipped the tray, the shots slipped right out... along with a stream of blue liquid gelatin. All over my counters. Yep.

Finally, using all the info I'd gathered from the last 3 disastrous batches, I the final tray was my biggest success. {Took long enough.}

 You're lucky you have someone to get all that "trial & error" stuff out of the way for you. I'm confident yours will be just perfect. ;)

Happy 4th of July, friends!

Red, White, & Blue Layered Jell-O Shots
Adapted from That's So Michelle

Blue Layer
1 {3 oz} box Berry Blue Jell-O
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup Cruzan Vanilla Rum

1. Microwave 2/3 cup water in a large heat proof measuring cup until boiling {about 3 minutes}. Add gelatin packet, and stir until dissolved. Add rum.

2. Pour blue mixture into a lightly greased mini-muffin tin, mold, or small cups. {30-45 mins.} Refrigerate and allow blue layer to solidify slightly before adding white layer. {Should be sticky & jiggly, but not watery.}

White Layer

1/2 cup coconut milk
2 table spoons sugar
1 packet Knox Gelatin
1/2 cup Coconut Rum {I used Commander's Call}

1. Pour milk into a small sauce pan, and sprinkle gelatin packet on top. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. Stir. Turn burner to medium heat and warm until gelatin dissolves. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add rum.

2. When white jello mixture has cooled, pour it on top of the solidified blue layer. {Do not pour the red layer until the white layer is solid.} Refrigerate until jiggly and not wet.

Red Layer

1 {3 oz} box Strawberry-Banana {or your favorite red} Jell-O
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup Cruzan Vanilla Rum

1. Microwave 2/3 cup water in a large heat proof measuring cup until boiling {about 3 minutes}. Add gelatin, and stir until dissolved. Add rum.

2. Once white layer is sticky but not wet, pour red mixture on top for the final layer. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.


{Helpful tools: A toothpick, a platter or lined pan, non-stick cooking spray}

1. Lightly spray the surface of a pan or platter with non-stick cooking spray}. Optionally, you can run a toothpick along the outer edge of each mold to ensure that it comes out easily, but this may not be necessary.

Submerge tins or mold in a bit of hot shallow water in the sink or deep roasting pan {should come about half way up the side of mold} for about 20 seconds - if it starts to look liquidy or cloudy, remove immediately!

2. Quickly {and carefully, there will be liquid!}  flip tray or mold over onto platter or pan... preferably over the sink. Shots should slide out easily.

3. Carefully move shots to serving tray sprayed lightly with non-stick cooking spray and arrange. {They were super jiggly & kind of hard to hold, but it's possible.}

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tex-Mex Three Bean Salad with Grilled Corn & Avocado

Do you ever find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again? For example, trying out new recipes or cooking techniques the day or night before {or of} an event that you are expected to show up with something that didn't look like it took an accidental trip through the garbage disposal?

No? Oh. Might just be me.

No matter how many times I find myself up in the wee hours of the morning re-frosting a cake that went awry or putting a whole new batch of something in the oven, it never does stop me from winging a project I've never tried before out of sheer excitement.. {For the record, most times I do redeem myself... at the buzzer.}

Perhaps it's the adrenaline rush of getting things done last minute. {But, for real, couldn't I just go skydiving or something instead?}

Today was no different. For weeks I've been thinking about what I'd make for the 4th of July barbecue we were invited to. I wanted to bring something fun and creative. Something patriotic. Something different!

So I decided to make Red, White, and Blue Jell-O shots. {I know, very College Days, but this group is a particularly boozy enthusiastic bunch.} Easy enough, right?

Not when you get all fancy and try to use a mold with tiny star shapes that are next to impossible to remove said Jell-O from without an X-acto knife and a whole lot of patience.

I have to say, I was a little smug as I poured them into their little molds. They were turning out perfectly. I even remember thinking to myself, "Maybe I'm becoming so proficient in the kitchen that these mishaps will be a thing of the past."

Wishful thinking.

Let's just say, I figured out how to remove them easily, but then went a little too far and ended up with Jell-O soup all over my kitchen counter.

That being said, I will not be sharing that recipe today. {Maybe tomorrow morning... last minute... just my style.}

 For today, I'm going to give you a recipe that you CAN actually make last minute. It's sort of hard to screw up. It's quite tasty. It won't spoil outside on a hot summer day. I'd say that {and the fact that it didn't explode, burn, or spill} makes it a winner.

Go ahead. Make this tonight, or heck, tomorrow morning. We all need a rush from time to time. ;)

Tex-Mex Three Bean Salad with Grilled Corn & Avocado
Ever so slightly adapted from Cooking Light

1 {15 oz.} can pinto beans, rinsed & drained
1 {15 oz.} can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
1 {15 oz.} can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
1 jalapeno pepper
2 ears of corn, shucked
2-3 roma or plum tomatoes {or about 1 cup cherry tomatoes}, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 avocados, peeled & diced
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, place all drained beans. Set aside.

Lightly coat onion slices, ears of corn, and jalapeno pepper with olive oil. On an outdoor grill {or a grill pan or cast iron skillet on medium-high heat}, grill onions, corn, and jalapeno, turning until lightly charred in places, about 6-8 minutes.

{If you are using a cast iron skillet, which is what I used, you may want to scrape the kernels off the cob before cooking to ensure kernel contact with the pan for better charring.}

Remove from grill {or skillet}.

Scrape kernels from corn cobs. Chop onion. Seed and chop jalapeno. Add to bowl with bean mixture. Add tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and salt to taste. Combine well.

Top with diced avocado.

Monday, July 2, 2012

{Chicken} Sausage & Pepper Quinoa

I have a confession to make: I am a blog-oholic.

That's right. Because one blog simply wasn't enough, I've gone and started another one, 
Behind the Pink Curtain, for my little Etsy shop.

And now I find myself conflicted on whether I should spend time blogging about all the things happening in my kitchen OR the projects going on on my coffee table. {a.k.a. "The Craft Studio". Here's a pic of it on
my Facebook page.}

If you've never tried blogging before, I'm here to tell you that it can be a whole lot of fun. Especially if you're a wannabe writer like me. It can also take up a whole lot of time, especially if you like to make sense with somewhat coherent sentences {I am not always successful at this} and try to take pretty pictures {I am definitely still working on this part!}.

So, when you start giving yourself so many side-projects {you know, aside from regular life and real work}, you start having to become selective about how you spend your time. And, in my case, the labor intensive recipes and important things like cleaning the house grocery shopping and doing laundry go by the wayside.

Sometimes, that means having to get creative with the ingredients you have in your fridge and pantry... which can get a little scary depending on what's in there.

Except, you know how they say that some of the best inventions came about completely unexpectedly? Well, now I know why.

This was a last minute, completely made up dish that Steve and I both wound up loving quite a bit. And because it's made with chicken sausage instead of pork sausage, and quinoa instead of pasta, you end up with that yumminess you love from classic Sausage and Peppers without all the guilt. Score!

I have been majorly slacking in the photography department lately, so I didn't really take flattering pictures... but I promise you, it tasted much better than it looks.

Anyway, the plan is to work on my time management and share fun/exciting/quality stuff on BOTH blogs... until I lose my mind. ;) But have no fear we have a good headstart of month or two before that actually happens. {I think}

Meanwhile, give this Chicken Sausge & Pepper Quinoa a try and let me know how you like it!

{Chicken} Sausage & Pepper Quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon  salt
1/3 {ish} cup of marinara sauce {jarred or homemade}, plus extra for topping
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 chicken sausage links {I used organic Hot Italian}, casings removed & chopped into 1/2 inch bits
1 large green pepper, cut into strips
1 large yellow pepper, cut into strips

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water and salt to a boil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Add rinsed quinoa and cover. Return to a boil, then reduce and simmer until most of the water is absorbed. Stir quinoa, then return lid to pot. Reduce heat to low and allow to steam until all water is absobed and quinoa is tender. Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add chopped chicken sausage and allow to brown lightly. Add peppers and saute until tender and golden in parts, about 12-15 minutes {it takes a while, hang in there}.

Stir about 1/3 cup marinara sauce and 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend into quinoa. {I also had a tiny bit of leftover calzone filling consisting of ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, onions, garlic, and Italian spices that I added in as well.}

To serve, plate quinoa and spoon extra sauce over top if desired. Top with sausage & peppers.