The Kitchen Prep: August 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tailgate Thursday: Alabama Edition!

Oh, my. I am so, so, sooo excited that today marks the very first Tailgate Thursday of the series here on TKP!

It is no secret that my husband and I are big college football fans... especially when it comes to our team. I've shared before that we met while we were attending the University of Florida. And that we fully buy into the greatness of Tim Tebow. And that we try to attend at least one game in Gainesville every year to relive the nostalgia of our college years. Yup, we're Gators, alright.

I got to thinking about what makes football season so much fun, especially here in the south. {I use that term loosely here in South Florida, because despite our coordinates on the map, we aren't extremely "southern".} It all came down to three things: The camaraderie. The tradition. And {most importantly} the food and drinks!

And so, the idea for Tailgate Thursday was born! The theme: {drink.dress.devour}. The mission: To spread the football-watching, team-color-wearing, tailgate-snacking love this season, no matter what team you follow!

Each week I'll be featuring one SEC school and sharing a team-themed cocktail, outfit, and recipe that would make for a perfect tailgate party. Hopefully it'll inspire you to get creative with your own game day get togethers. :)

I have been a busy little bee gathering the best tailgate recipes & fashions for this football season. But I can't take full credit for all the great stuff I'm going to be sharing over the next 12 weeks of college football. So, let me introduce you to the fabulous ladies that I've been working with to help me bring it all together!

We've got Liz from Twelve Saturdays sharing her gameday fashion know-how...

And Carla from Haute Cocktail mixing up some tailgate-worthy cocktails...

I am so very glad that I found these two lovely, creative girls to make this project a reality.

Now that all the proper introductions have been made, let's talk tailgate!

I'm kicking off Tailgate Thursday by featuring the  Alabama Crimson Tide, last year's National Championship winners. The University of Alabama is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a place oozing with Southern hospitality and plenty of down home cookin'.  One of the games the hubs & I attended a while back was against Alabama and I can tell you without a doubt that they take their football, food and tailgating fashion seriously.

When I planned out the Alabama tailgate menu, I stuck with the theme of Southern charm:

{Scroll down for recipes} 1. Crimson Cooler by Haute Cocktail, 2. Shrimp & Grits Bites, 3. Roll Tide Elephant Ears
Dress: Bama Belle from Twelve Saturdays
Admittedly, I had never tried shrimp and grits together before making these little bites, but I've got to say, I can understand why it's a popular combination! The Roll Tide Elephant ears {Alabama's mascot features an elephant... harhar} are an easy little treat sure to satisfy your game day sweet tooth. And that Crimson Cooler? It's a potent concoction that will make it easy to pass the time before kickoff. {Sip responsibly!}

Along with the Bama Belle dress from Twelve Saturdays, this is one game day that's brimming with school spirit. Who says a tailgate can't be fashionable?

I've got TONS of great things coming up for more teams over the course of college football season, so I hope you'll keep an eye out for your school and spread the word to other football-following friends!

Happy Game Day, Y'all! ;)

Crimson Cooler
created by Haute-Cocktail

1/2 oz. Southern Comfort
1/2 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Coconut Rum
1/2 oz. Raspberry Liqueur {such as Chambord}
1/2 oz. Lemon-Lime Soda
1/2 oz. Cranberry Juice

Mix all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, shake and serve in a martini glass {or mason jar!} If desired, you can double the portions and serve over ice in a beer mug. Enjoy!

Shrimp & Grits Bites

1/2 cup quick cooking grits {not instant}
1 cup water
1/2 cup half & half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sharp cheddar {or your favorite} cheese, shredded
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
a pinch of black pepper

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup white onion, minced
1/2 pound peeled & deveined fresh shrimp, tails on
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay {or your favorite} seasoning

For Grits:

Line baking pan with foil hanging over edges for easy removal. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Bring water, half & half, and salt to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Stir in grits, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer until thick, whisking often.

Mix in cheese until well incorporated. Remove from heat.

Pour into prepared baking pan and spread into an even layer with a silicone spatula or oiled offset spatula. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until firm.

For Shrimp:

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp, making sure each piece has contact with the skillet. Sprinkle with seasoning.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes on first side, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes until opaque and cooked through. {Do not overcook} Remove from heat. {Keep pan for next step.}


Remove grits from pan using foil flaps and cut into desired shapes. {I used a champagne flute to get small rounds, but you can also cut with a pizza cutter or knife to get squares, etc.}
In a small cup or bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drop each cut out piece of grits into flour and dredge, shaking lightly to remove excess.

Spray pan used to cook shrimp with non-stick cooking spray. Place each dredged piece in pan {I had to do this in 2 batches to avoid crowding.}, and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove from heat.

Take one piece of shrimp and skewer onto a toothpick so that tail is facing upward. Place skewered shrimp atop each grit cake, pushing slightly to skewer into place.

Arrange on a serving platter & serve warm.

Roll Tide Elephant Ears

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/4 cup cherry {or raspberry or strawberry} preserves
1 egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry into a 12x14 inch rectangle. Spread melted chocolate in an even layer over puff pastry, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around. Repeat with fruit preserves.

With one of the long sides facing you, roll up dough {jelly roll style} to center of rectangle. Repeat with the other side so that both rolls are meeting in the middle.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes. With a sharp knife, cut 1/2 inch slices from roll, and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Brush each piece with egg wash and bake for 12-15 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Creamy Roasted Poblano & Corn Chowder

I love almost all of Florida's natural qualities: the beaches, the palm trees, the tropical climate. But one thing I could do without is the fact that we are located right smack in the pathway of tropical storms and hurricanes.

Not fun.

We are fortunate that our area didn't get too much damage from Hurricane Isaac this past weekend. Just a lot of rain and dreary weather, the kind that makes you want to stay in your pj's all day snuggled up on the couch with a good book and a mug of something warm and delicious {and perhaps spiked}.

Others nearby weren't as lucky and are spending the rest of the week dealing with leaky roofs, flooding, and road closures. Here's a picture of the parking lot where my Mom lives. Since the ducks couldn't tell where the lake ended and land began, they were swimming over the sidewalks.

Our solution to being stuck indoors all day Sunday? Pass the time by cooking & stuffing our faces. {Which you can never go wrong with in my opinion.}

By the day's end, I just wanted something simple and comforting for dinner, and Steve was so full from the all day munch-a-thon that he didn't have much of an opinion either way.

This Creamy Roasted Poblano & Corn Chowder hit the spot. Rich and satisfying with a spicy kick from the roasted poblanos. {It may be a bit too spicy for those of you that aren't fond of a little heat.} Perfect for a crisp Fall day, a feeling-under-the-weather day, or a day when the weather has trapped you in your home.

I topped mine with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar and some of the Cheddar-Jalapeno Beer Bread that I sliced thin and toasted into savory "biscotti".

With stormy day meals like this, all I can say is bring on the rain... but please keep the winds & flooding. We can certainly do without those. ;)

Creamy Roasted Poblano & Corn Chowder

2 poblano peppers, roasted, skinned & seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 a medium white onion, diced
2 {heaping} tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk, heated in microwave for about 1 minute
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1/2 cup half and half
salt, to taste

To roast poblanos: Set oven to broil {500 degrees}. Place peppers directly on oven rack on second setting from the heating elements. Broil for 5-8 minutes, watching for skin to blister. Flip peppers and broil other side for about 4-6 minutes. Remove from oven and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap & set aside for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until softened and translucent. 

Peel skins from peppers, pull out stem and seeds, and discard.  Chop into small pieces.

Stir in chopped poblanos and flour, making sure vegetables are well coated. Cook for about 2 minutes until vegetables and flour form a thick paste. Slowly whisk in warm milk, making sure there are no lumps of flour. Whisk in chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Ladle half of soup into a blender {more if you like smoother soup}, and blend until mostly smooth. Return blended soup to pot.

Mix in fresh corn kernels and half and half. Bring to a simmer until corn is heated through. Add salt to taste. Serve hot.

{Serving Suggestion: Top with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, and Cheddar- Jalapeno Beer Bread Biscotti.}

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cheddar-Jalapeño Beer Bread

You know what I simultaneously love and dislike about cooking? It's a never ending learning process. There is no finite end, and even if there were, someone would come along and invent a new technique or recipe and you'd be back at square one.

In some ways, it levels the playing field for all of us - whether classically trained or self taught.

One of the world's most renowned chefs, Julia Child, {who would have recently celebrated her 100th birthday}, was well-known for her fearlessness and candor about delving into the world of food. She was a pretty spunky broad who wasn't afraid to "get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken." {How could you not love her?}

As I was reading a list of famous Julia quotes last week, I couldn't help but chuckle {and nod enthusiastically} at her advice and counsel. I could completely relate to many of the pitfalls and blunders she addressed in her witty way.

Some days you'd think I have never stepped foot in a kitchen. I make silly mistakes and I have to laugh at myself or else I'd cry... especially when said mistake ends in wasted ingredients, a wrecked kitchen, or an inedible product. And believe me, there have been countless occasions where this has been the case.

Inspired to list of some of the "oopsies" that I tend to make every week from time to time, I've compiled some important tips in hopes that they will both entertain you, and keep you from your own kitchen disasters.

Things I've Learned in the Kitchen {Through Trial & Error} :

1. For heaven's sake... use a big enough pot. Or bowl. Or pan. Because somehow I am constantly spilling things everywhere due to insufficient space in whatever vessel I'm using. I must've missed the day we discussed volume in school.

2. As delicious as whatever you are cooking looks or smells, give it a second to cool down before your put it in you mouth. It's a wonder I have any skin left on the roof of my mouth.

3. Make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin a recipe. There's nothing worse than getting to the "Add 2 eggs" step and finding that you do not, in fact, have any eggs in the fridge. {Especially when your husband left an empty egg carton to throw you off.}

4. On a similar note, read recipes all the way through before you begin them. It can be a little embarrassing to discover that Step 5 directs you to marinate the pork tenderloin... for 24 hours... and your company will be arriving in 3. Attention to detail, folks.

5. If a recipe tells you that you need non-stick cooking spray... or that you need to stir constantly... or that there will be violent boiling and the possibility of bubbling over - believe it. Odds are it will not be any different in your kitchen.

6. Powdered sugar, cornstarch, and dry quinoa are notorious "jumpers" in my kitchen. {Meaning, they like to jump out of whatever I am attempting to contain them in and onto my clothing or floor.} Proceed with caution.

7. Drinking wine {or any alcoholic beverage, for that matter} while cooking: Double edged sword. ;)

8. Put contacts in, do your eye makeup, or any activity that requires your hands being near your eyes BEFORE you come in contact with jalapenos. You might think sufficient washing will remove the residue... It will not.

9. Measuring when baking = not a suggestion. Unless your hands have unit markings & your arms are a kitchen scale.

10. Have fun in the kitchen. No recipe is worth a meltdown; no lopsided cake worthy of your tears. Cooking is an adventure, there will be mistakes. {Even when you are pretty good at it!} But if you can't help it and your deflated souffle or burnt caramel or lumpy gravy simply breaks your heart... wine or chocolate {or both!} will usually do the trick of soothing your culinary ego. :)

This recipe for Cheddar-Jalapeño Beer Bread that I borrowed from She Makes & Bakes is easy enough for the kitchen novice, but certainly doesn't taste that way. The result is a tender, flavorful bread with a crunchy golden crust and a little burst of jalapeño taste throughout. {NOTE: I was sorely mistaken for not heeding tip #8 after making this... even after washing my hands 5 times. Holy fire in your eyeball, Batman. Be careful.}

In short, friends, cook at your own risk...but definitely, cook!

Cheddar-Jalapeno Beer Bread
Adapted from She Makes & Bakes 

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 jalapeño, seeded, deveined, and diced small
1 {12 oz} bottle of beer {I used Red Stripe Light because that's what we had in the fridge}
Approximately 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add cheese and jalapeño, and stir until combined.

Add beer and about 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Mix until just incorporated. {Do not overmix. Batter will be thick.}

Pour 2 tablespoon of melted butter into the bottom of the loaf pan, and brush all around pan to coat {Don't forget the sides}. Spoon bread batter into pan and distribute evenly. Brush the top with 1 tablespoon of butter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer or knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean {there may be some cheese on it, but we're looking for no raw batter}, and the top is golden brown.

Brush the top of the loaf with remaining tablespoon of butter, and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10-15 minutes before removing from loaf pan and slicing. 

Serve warm or toast up slices to reheat.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Prep Praises: Petit Amuse Curated Artisan Treats

I am not to be trusted around delicious, artisan goodies. Why? Because I will justify spending our monthly food budget on a single basket of things like handcrafted artisan Rosemary & Sea Salt crackers, small batch jams & jellies, and unique craft brews. Just too much temptation.

In a world of mass-produced foods, there is something extremely alluring about being able to buy food that has only a handful of {real!} ingredients and was produced by real people as opposed to a factory of monsterous machinery.

You know, like the stuff you {wished you could} make at home.

But honestly, who has time to scout out shops & farmer's markets across the country every month to find the best of best? {If you do, can I please come live with you? Ok, thanks.}

Enter Petit Amuse.

Remember the "care packages" you got in camp or college? The ones that were filled with your favorite homemade treats because your Mom, Grandma, or other kind soul cared enough to rescue your taste buds from Ramen Noodles or cafeteria slop?

Well, I'm convinced that Petit Amuse only hires Moms & Grannies because these little boxes are pure packages of foodie love.

For $10 a month {not your entire food budget!}, Petit Amuse will select a handful of thoughtfully made foods, and send you a sample box to explore and enjoy. It's a seriously good deal considering the fact that you probably spend way over $10 on a couple of things that were cranked out on an assembly line and contain enough preservatives to mummify a small animal.

I received my Petit Amuse sample box and tore into it with as much enthusiasm as a 5 year old ripping into her birthday gifts. And this is what awaited me on the inside:

1. Ice Wine Jelly by Caramoomel
2. Garuka Bars by Garuka Bars
3. Cha-Chas by Lark Fine Foods
4. Salted Rosemary Shortbread by Lark Fine Foods
5. Sundried Tomato & Parmesan Popcorn by Oogies Gourmet Popcorn

Such fun, tasty treats!

One of the coolest things about Petit Amuse is that they hand pick exceptional products from small batch artisan food producers, who might not have the chance to get their fabulous goods out there otherwise. And if that isn't "do-gooder" enough, they don't even mark up the price and make a profit.

Their mission is simple: To expose people who love good food {you & me} to people who make good food.

If you'd like to learn more about Petit Amuse, subscribe for a monthly delivery {or gift it to someone... how thoughtful are you!?}, or take a peek at all the yummy things they have going on, hop over to their website and check it out!

*Dislosure: I received a Petit Amuse sample box to review, but I was not compensated for this post. The opinions I share with you are all my own. :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chocolate-Whiskey Cupcakes

This may shock you {as it tends to surprise most people}, but I - a self proclaimed frill wearing, Lilly Pulitzer loving, girlie girl - kinda sorta have a thing for whiskey.

Yep, it's true.

I discovered this affinity during a college football game many {many} years ago when a guy friend condescendingly offered me a sip of his whiskey and Coke, fully expecting me to hack and gag and carry on like a sissy. Much to his surprise, I took a gulp, handed back his plastic cup and said, "Mmm. What is that?" {Innocent little me.}

Ever since then, while the girls at happy hour were ordering Appletinis and Vodka Sodas, Whiskey & Coke became my signature drink. {I've since dabbled in Scotch, too, but that's another story.}

I have no idea why I enjoy the taste so much, but I do.

You can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to incorporate one of my favorite libations into a birthday dessert for my friend's hubby's 30th birthday. I almost squealed with delight when she told me that he loves chocolate {my hubs HATES chocolate} and thoroughly enjoys whiskey. I knew just what to make.

Chocolate-Whiskey Cupcakes


I'm considering making this my go-to chocolate cake recipe {maybe subbing out the whiskey with something more family-friendly for other events. Maybe.} because they were so fluffy, chocolatey and delicious. The Chocolate-Whiskey Buttercream was the perfect way to enjoy the deep whiskey flavor without the burn. And the Chocolate-Marshmallow-Whiskey-Caramel-Bacon Brittle I added as a finishing touch?

Well that, my friends, will be getting it's own post.

I know wine and chocolate is the lady-like thing to enjoy, but I don't care. Put these in front of me and I will tear into them with wreckless abandon...and I don't care who sees it.

Some days you just need to say, "Keep the Pinot Grigio. Pass the Jack."

Chocolate-Whiskey Cupcakes
Adapted from Style Me Pretty and Originally from Fields of Cake
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes when filled just under 3/4 of the way

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup Jack Daniels {or your favorite} Whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together wet ingredients.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and whisk until just combined and mostly smooth. {Don't overdo it, it'll make for tough cupcakes.}

Scoop batter into cupcake liners, filling just under 3/4 of the way full. {These tend to rise a lot for me, so keeping them at just under 3/4 creates a nice dome without too much of a "muffin top".}

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and cupcakes spring back when lightly touched.

Let cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate-Whiskey Buttercream

2 sticks butter, softened
3 tablespoons Jack Daniels {or your favorite} Whiskey
4-5 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat  butter and whiskey with the paddle attachment until light and creamy. Slowly add confectioners' sugar one cup at a time until fully incorporated, but not too dry. Beat in melted chocolate.

Add cream or milk one tablespoon at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Fill a piping bag fitted with desired tip with frosting, and decorate cupcakes. Or just slather it on. No one will care if they're not pretty. ;)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Peanut Butter & Dulce de Leche Frozen Yogurt

The end of summer can be bittersweet. It means back to school for the kiddos {and even more heart breakingly, for the teachers!}, fading suntans, and swapping sundresses & sandals for long sleeves & ballet flats.

Around here, though, it doesn't mean too much of an immediate change in temperature. If we're lucky, we'll go from scorching heat to sweltering humidity. We rely more on visual cues for the signal that Fall is upon us: Store aisles filled with Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, college football ruling the airwaves on Saturday mornings, and shelves lined with canned pumpkin at the grocery store {which excites me beyond reason}.

While the rest of the country transitions from Snow Cones to stews, those of us living closer to the equator reap the benefits of prolonged summer temps for a little bit longer.

I'll take 97 degrees year round if it means more scoops of this.

Peanut Butter flavored frozen yogurt with a Dulce de Leche ribbon running through it. Five ingredients. Ridiculously creamy.  So easy, it's dangerous.

{As a side note, I accidentally at this for breakfast yesterday as I was waiting for it to thaw out a little so I could scoop out a nice, picture-worthy serving. Oops.}

What do you say we whip up another batch of this fro-yo and put off turning the page on the calendar... just for a little while.

Peanut Butter & Dulce de Leche Frozen Yogurt

1 cup heavy cream + 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup reduced fat peanut butter {smooth}
1 16 oz. tub non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt {I used Chobani brand}
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup dulce de leche {homemade or store bought}

In a small pot, bring 1 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter to a simmer over medium heat, whisking often until completely smooth. Remove from heat and chill mixture for 30 minutes.

{Alternatively, you can create an ice bath by pouring the cream mixture into a small bowl, nesting that bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice and a bit of cold water, and whisking constantly until cooled down.}

Once cool, stir in yogurt and vanilla extract. Mix well.

Pour yogurt mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions.

Meanwhile, in a small microwave safe container, heat dulce de leche {15-20 seconds at a time} until it reaches drizzling consistency. If it is too thick, add about a tablespoon of heavy cream to thin out.

When yogurt is frozen, scoop about half into a freezer safe container. Drizzle dulce de leche over top and swirl into yogurt using a butter knife or offset spatula. Top with remaining yogurt and smooth out the top.

Freeze for 2-4 hours to achieve a more solid scooping consistency.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Have I ever told you the story of how I started cooking? {Is there any story I haven't told you?!}

Yup, it's true. I wasn't always into cooking, but I have always loved baking. In fact, I used to bake cupcakes back in the day during my college years and take them down to the neighbors' apartment for no particular reason.

Did I mention that one of my then neighbors turned out to be my now husband? They must've been some good cupcakes. ;)

But I digress.

While baking came naturally to me {even though it wasn't until after college that I stepped away from the boxed cake mix}, I was never very comfortable with cooking. Something about all the "pinch of this and dash of that" really freaked me out. So I stayed within the comfort zone of measurements and exact oven temperatures for the most part.

Right after Steve and I got married, we were visiting with his family, which we do pretty often since they only live a 45 minute drive away. As we sat around the table chatting, his sassy Aunt Fran {who recently turned 90!!} decided to pry ask us questions {some that would make you blush} about life as newlyweds.

I'll never forget it. There we were, eating and talking, enjoying the company and still all glowy from being newly married, when Aunt Fran asks, "So, does Dianna cook for you?"

Now, cooking wasn't my top skill at the time I'll admit, but during all the years we lived together I'd never let the guy go hungry, so I figured I was in the clear.

You can imagine my shock when I heard my sweet husband very frankly answer his Aunt with, "No... not really." Nearly fell out of my chair.

Our ride home that evening seemed a lot longer than 45 minutes. I could barely put the words together to ask what in the world he had been eating for the past 3 years of living together. Once I could muster the words without cursing, Steve confessed that he didn't consider casseroles & one pot meals "cooking", necessarily.

What the.

That week, as a complete joke, I made a 5 course dinner. I can't for the life of me remember what I made. I'm pretty sure I was possessed by the spirit of Julia Child for an evening. I wanted to make sure that I "cooked" thoroughly enough for it to be considered "cooking" in Steve Land.

And you know what? I enjoyed it so much, I couldn't stop.

So thank you, honey, for accidentally helping me discover a passion I never knew I had. I was determined to prove my skills, and I think I have over the past 3 years of our marriage.

But now that you know I can, indeed, "cook"... we're having a casserole for dinner. And I just know you'll love it.

Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash Casserole

1 medium spaghetti squash
2 cups arugula or spinach {I'm sure thawed frozen would work, too}
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup low fat or fat free cottage cheese
1 egg
1 cup marinara sauce {homemade or storebought}, divided
1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided
10 black Greek olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil.

Puncture spaghetti squash a few times with a sharp knife. Place on sheet pan and bake for about 1 hour {should be tender when pierced with a knife}. When finished baking, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Cut in half and carefully scrape out seeds. With a fork, scrape the squash to separate flesh into "strands" and place in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add grated garlic to pan and cook for about a minute, careful not to burn. Add arugula or spinach and sautee until just wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, add 1/2 cup cottage cheese and egg. Process until almost smooth. {Ricotta cheese consistency} Set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine squash, sauteed greens, cottage cheese mixture, 1/2 cup marinara sauce, 1/4 cup grated parmesan, chopped olives, oregano, and basil until well incorporated.
Spray a glass baking dish with lightly non-stick cooking spray.  Spread squash mixture evenly in baking dish. Spread remaining marinara sauce evenly over squash mixture. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Lightly spray with olive oil. {Or drizzle if you don't have a Misto.}

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 15 more minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned.

Serve hot.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Banana Whoopie Pies

Tomorrow morning {at 7 a.m... oy.}, Steve will be doing his very first triathlon.

He's been training for quite some time, and his commitment amazes me. {Partially because the only things that I am motivated to persue with that amount of effort is the next best cake recipe.}

The thought of running, biking, and swimming that far for that long is basically my idea of the ninth circle of hell torture. {Remember, I'm the girl that almost passed out during barre class.}

I know some people get a high from the rush of exercise. Sweat is equivalent to tears of joy streaming from their pores. Bruises and scrapes are worn like badges of honor. {Many of my friends do CrossFit and I get to see this first hand.}

But that's just not me. I wish it were, but it's not. I opted out of playing kickball during recess as a child. I preferred chatting in the shade. Imagine that.

Anyway, I admire athletic people. Their determination and resolve, their mental strength to surpass the pain and reach the finish. It reminds me how powerful the body and mind are, especially when they work together in such a focused manner.

While I doubt I will ever do a triathlon {or a marathon, or a 5K, or...}, I understand the mindset of the people that do.

I get a "baker's high" from perfecting a cooking technique, creating a delectable flavor combination, or putting the finishing touches on a 6 layer cake. I don't mind the sweat that comes from whisking egg whites to create the perfect peaks, or from standing in front of an oven set to "broil" while you wait for just the right amount of color on your casserole {even in the brutal Florida heat}. I have my very own "battle scars" from confrontations with searing hot oven racks and encounters with microplanes and vegetable peelers.

Cooking is my sport, and the kitchen is my arena.

And while I may never understand why someone in their right mind would purposely run for miles without the threat of being harmed by something chasing behind them, I understand the passion.

Tomorrow, I'll be cheering on those athletes, and when they're ready to eat... eat like they haven't eaten in weeks... I'll have these Banana Whoopie Pies waiting. Because finishing a triathlon is worth a, "Whoopie!!" or two. ;)

Banana Whoopie Pies with Marshmallow Buttercream Filling
Adapted from Martha Stewart and Epicurious

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mashed banana {1 large ripe banana}
1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt {such as Chobani}
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking pan with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

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

In a small bowl, combine mashed banana and Greek yogurt until almost smooth. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, granulated sugar and  brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, and mix to combine.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients and banana-yogurt mixture, alternating between dry and wet until just combined.

With an ice cream scoop or piping bag fitted with a plain round tip, scoop or pipe batter into approximately 1 1/2 inch rounds, leaving about 2 inches between each.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until set and just beginning to brown around the edges.

Remove from baking sheet and place on cooling rack until completely cool.

For Filling:

Combine butter, marshmallow fluff, vanilla extract, and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until smooth.


Spread or pipe {as much filling as you like!} in the center of half the cakes. Top each with a like-sized cake, and squeeze gently until filling comes to edges.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Strawberry-Peanut Butter Tart

I'm not gonna lie, folks, the recipe I'm sharing today is from the 4th of July. {Hence the stars.}

Why has it taken me so long, you ask? Well, things have been busy around here. Between opening the husband's new office, working there, working my old job, working for myself, and hardly ever being around during the weekends, there hasn't been a whole lot of extra time laying around.

I have also been eating nothing but leaves, seeds, vegetables, and fruits for the past week thanks to the silent threats of my {extremely} tight jeans... and while I thoroughly enjoy all of the above food categories, I will spare you from my self inflicted restrictions.

The irony here is that, during times when I'm on my best nutritional behavior, I tend to have the most creative, most decadent recipe ideas. {There are a handful I'm thinking of at this very moment that I can't wait to try out once my jeans and butt start to get along again}.

I liken it to roaming through the blazing desert and having hallucinations of an oasis. A body deprived of sugar will start to imagine all kinds of good stuff.

The mind is a funny thing.

Anyway, this Strawberry-Peanut Butter Tart is no hallucination. It's real, it's easy, and it's good.

Like a giant peanut butter cookie slathered with strawberry jam, this tart is just another {delicious} way to get a PB & J fix.

Sometimes simple really is best.

I'll be sure to write down all of my recipe fantasies this week so I'll have some fun stuff to share once I am out of the desert I allow myself to indulge a little again.

In the meantime, hold yourself over with this tart. :)

Strawberry-Peanut Butter Tart
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 1/2 sticks butter {12 tablespoons}, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour {you may need a bit more if dough is not stiff enough}
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup peanut butter {creamy or crunchy, whichever you prefer}
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a fluted tart pan {with removal bottom} with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl ,whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine butter, peanut butter, granulated and confectioners' sugars, beaing until well incorporated and smooth. Stir in egg and vanilla.

Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture a little at a time and combine until a soft dough forms. {If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour. I had to, but it may have been because I forgot to leave my butter out to soften and it became slightly melted when I softened it in the microwave.}

Take half of the dough, and press into bottom of prepared tart pan and up the sides. Spoon strawberry jam in the center of the dough, and spread carefully, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around. With half of the remaining dough, create a rim around the tart, pressing carefully to adhere.

Using the other half of the dough, create shapes {if desired}, balls, or dollop by the spoonful over the top of the jam.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden around the edge of the crust.

Remove from oven and allow tart to cool for about 15-20 minute. Carefully remove ring and transfer to a serving plate.