Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls

I mentioned in my previous post that I've started bringing lunch to work again. Everything has been so busy that for the past year+ I haven't had time to eat lunch on most days. I eat a big breakfast and then snack in the afternoon, but I'm trying to reset my metabolism and eat better in the middle of the day. SO I must bring lunch.

I did a lot of research on Pinterest about bringing healthy lunches. I also ordered some adorable little bento box containers off of Amazon, so I can take my lunches in proper portion sizes each day. Here is my first box:

box
We've got some hibachi fried rice (link above), some smoked teriyaki tofu, a little silicone cupcake holder full of edamame (see the little packing tricks I found on Pinterest?!), and these peanut butter balls.

In anticipation of bringing my lunch each day, I made a big batch of these peanut butter balls. I figured they would provide a nice "dessert" but still help boost my energy. They are SO easy to make and they are really, really good. I am going to make these again for future lunches and snacks!

balls

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls
Adapted from Pink Oatmeal

1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Form into 1" balls. Refrigerate. You can also freeze them if you want to make a large batch at once.

Hibachi-Style Fried Rice

The actual name of this recipe is "Hibachi-Style Fried Rice with Yum-Yum Sauce" but I made the sauce and it was NOT yum-yum so I'm going to ignore it. I didn't even serve the sauce. I just threw it right out. It was so overly sweet and had a crappy texture and ugh. Gross.

BUT THE RICE.

The rice sounds SO easy and SO ridiculous, but it's amazing. It tastes just like fried rice at hibachi. I don't know if it's because of the sugar or the butter or both. It's a mystery. But it was really great. I added some green onions at the end. You could easily serve this with stuff you'd have at hibachi, like teriyaki chicken or shrimp or whatever. It's great. I'm looking forward to trying a similar recipe for hibachi noodles.

I definitely would make this again as my standard fried-rice recipe. AND I'm starting to bring lunch to work again, so we're back to running the lunchbox test on meals. This was the first one tried - it is GREAT warmed up the next day. Hooray!

rice

I portioned out the rice into my lunch container before I served dinner, and then we ate the rest, and then I realized I forgot to take a picture, so I tried to take a picture of it in my lunchbox. Sorry guys.

Hibachi-Style Fried Rice with Yum Yum Sauce
The Cooking Jar

4 cups cooked long grain rice
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 eggs
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Yum Yum Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup water

Make sure the rice has cooled and break apart any lumps with your hands.

Over medium high heat, crack the eggs in a wok and stir to scramble in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Season with salt and use the spatula to dice the eggs into smaller pieces. Dish the eggs and set aside.

Pour in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and saute the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Scrape up any brown bits left by the eggs with spatula and mix. Add the peas and carrots and stir to combine. Add the rice and eggs and toss to combine.

Add butter, soy sauce and sugar coating the rice well with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine all the sauce ingredients and stir to mix well.

Dish and serve the rice hot with the sauce.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nutella Banana Swirl Muffins

We had all these fun plans for Saturday to close out Beer Week, but then it started snowing and didn't stop. We're not within walking distance of anything so we were stuck at home all day. I got really frustrated, and when I'm upset I bake. So I used our overripe bananas and the last of our jar of Nutella and made these super-easy muffins.

They are VERY good, but best when they are warm. The Nutella isn't too overpowering and the muffin itself isn't too sweet. I halved the recipe to make nine muffins and that turned out well.

(To divide the egg in half, I just beat the egg in a small bowl and poured half of that into the mix.)

I would make these again. They made the day a little more bearable.

muffins

Nutella Banana Swirl Muffins
The Novice Chef

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Nutella

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin pan with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well combined. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together banana, sugar, brown sugar. Beat in egg, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Slowly whisk in the flour mixture, until there are no lumps. Fold in pecans.

Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. Top each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of Nutella and use a toothpick to swirl it into the batter.

Bake muffins for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Yield: 18 muffins

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beer Cheese & Mac

This week is Lehigh Valley Beer Week 2015, where a number of restaurants and local craft breweries band together to do tap takeovers, food pairings, parades, and learning events. Over the past couple of years I've really grown to love beer and my tastes have changed. It's been fun and exciting. (If you're on Untappd, find me!) So Beer Week was extra fun for us this week.

We went to dinner at the Trapp Door GastroPub on Tuesday. They were having a tap takeover from Ithaca Beer. My gentleman got a flight of several beers, and I had a red rye IPA. It was delicious and we met one of the guys from the company. Um can I also just reiterate how great Trapp Door is? We like their brunch.
trapp door

Wednesday we had reservations at the Spinnerstown Hotel, which is oddly closer to us than we thought. They were having a special "Sours & IPAs Night," adding a bunch of rare sours and IPAs to their already hugely extensive beer list. We had a GREAT dinner - their food is amazing, and we have to go back, especially when their outdoor porch is open in the summer - and managed to get some rare beer before they ran out. We both had a glass of Pliny the Elder, which was so wonderful but I'll never have it again because it's never on the East coast. My gentleman also had a flight of sours, which was funny to watch. I am so not into sours. Here's my Pliny:
spinnerstown

There are a few other events we're hoping to hit, but with more snow on the way today, it's unclear if we're going to make it.

Last night, I decided to participate in beer week at home by trying this recipe for beer macaroni and cheese.

I have to deviate for a second. So, I don't watch much Food Network anymore because I can't stand Guy Fieri, but I do watch Chopped and I do watch the occasional show that actually involves cooking (Pioneer Woman, Giada, Southern at Heart). I've been watching a lot of Southern at Heart. The chef is Damaris Phillips, and I am a little bit in love with her.

So I watched her make this macaroni & cheese recipe the other day and it seemed thoroughly appropriate for a homemade Beer Week meal. It calls for Amber Ale, so I rifled through our refrigerator and found a Sam Adams Irish Red. It worked very well. There are a LOT of cheeses in this recipe. A LOT. It is VERY HEAVY. The harissa is not too spicy and just adds a little extra kick. You could probably toss in a tiny bit of sriracha instead, if you can't find harissa. Make sure you season it well with the salt and pepper because it does need that extra level of seasoning.

I really liked this a lot and am looking forward to seeing how it reheats today. My gentleman wasn't as much of a fan, largely because he felt it was "too boozy." That's fine. I don't care. It was good. Happy Beer Week! :)

mac
I only put panko on half, because Gentleman doesn't like crunchy toppings on his macaroni & I promised in my 10 Year Post I wouldn't subject people to things they hate!

mac

Beer Cheese & Mac
Food Network: Southern At Heart

16 ounces shell pasta noodles, such as conchiglie
8 ounces amber beer
8 ounces half-and-half
16 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons wet harissa
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 ounces smoked gouda, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 ounces super-aged gouda, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente according the package direction.

Combine the beer, half-and-half and cream cheese in a large saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, whisking, until the cream cheese is melted and well incorporated, about 5 minutes.

Add the harissa and mustard powder to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and whisk to incorporate. Stir in the Cheddar and smoked gouda and cook, stirring, over low heat until all the cheese is melted.

Add the pasta and toss to combine. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine the super-aged gouda, breadcrumbs and oil in a small bowl and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Garlic & Butter

The other night I brought home a spaghetti squash, and then I had to figure out how to use it. Thank goodness for Pinterest, right? I tried this super-easy recipe and it was WONDERFUL. I think I've only tried making spaghetti squash a couple of times before. This recipe was very simple and delicious. I would definitely make this again.

squash

We had it with an OLD OLD favorite, Toasted Ravioli.
ravioli

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Garlic & Butter
Steamy Kitchen

1 small spaghetti squash (about 3-4 pounds)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup finely minced parsley (or basil)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Pierce squash a few times with sharp paring knife (to let steam escape). Bake spaghetti squash for 60 minutes, or until a paring knife pierces easily through skin with little resistance. Let squash cool for 10 minutes.

Cut squash in half, lengthwise. Use a fork to remove and discard the seeds. Continue using fork to scrape the squash to get long, lovely strands. If the squash seem difficult to scrape, return the squash to bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Heat a large saute pan with the butter and the garlic over medium-low heat. When garlic becomes fragrant, add parsley, salt and spaghetti squash strands. Toss well, sprinkle in the parmesan cheese and taste to see if you need additional salt. The spaghetti squash should have a slight crunch (i.e. not mushy) - but if you like it softer, cover the pan and cook 2 more minutes.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Coffee Toffee Thumbprint Cookies

These look so much fancier than they are. They look like they take a lot of effort, and they really don't. Mix up the dough, roll into balls, poke a hole in the middle, drizzle in some caramel. Ta-da!

The espresso powder and toffee add such a wonderful flavor and it goes so well with the caramel. (And they're really good when you're drinking coffee in the morning!) I recommend refrigerating the cookies, because by the end of today, the caramel had melted all over my cookie container. Seriously, these are pretty great. Everyone really liked them a lot! I ran out by the end of the day!

coffee

Coffee Toffee Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe from Crumb

Cookie Dough:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup toffee bits
2 tablespoons instant-espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling:
18 soft caramels, unwrapped
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350F, and line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until well combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

In a second mixing bowl, combine the flour, espresso powder, baking powder, salt and toffee bits. Add to the wet ingredients, and beat on low speed until combined.

Roll the dough into 1-inch round balls, and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Using your thumb, press a deep indent into the middle of each ball.

Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

While the cookies are cooling, place the caramels and cream in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on High for 30 seconds, or until melted and smooth. (If necessary, continue to microwave in 10-second increments until the caramels are melted, stirring between bursts.)

Spoon a small amount of caramel into the center of each cookie. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving to allow the caramel to set.

Yield: about 4 dozen

Sunday, February 15, 2015

10 Years of Blogging

The other day when I was updating this, I had the horrifying realization that I have had this blog for ten years.

TEN. YEARS.

This is what I looked like ten years ago:
beer
This is at the Sam Adams Brewery in JP Boston, when I discovered I liked beer. I was 21 years old, only had two small tattoos, and the photo was taken on one of the first affordable digital cameras. I am drunk in this photo.

I started this blog just after I turned 21 and I will be turning 31 this year.

When I started it in 2005, I was a senior in college in Boston, living in an apartment with a fiance I never ended up marrying. Food blogs were not "a thing." Blogs in general were not particularly popular. The point of my blog was really so I could keep track of what I was eating (see my first post ever here) because I had become acutely aware that, due to my long commute and stressful school schedule, I was eating like shit. Lots of candy. Seriously, so much candy. So I started the blog as a way to keep myself accountable.

And now it's been ten years.

This is the absolute most recent photo of me, with a friend on Super Bowl Sunday:
old
I am 30, own a house, and am drunk in this photo as well.

As I've gone through all 2067 posts, I've discovered a lot of amazing and horrifying things. Those of you who've been with me since the beginning are aware that the blog spans the aforementioned cancelled engagement, then a cohabitation and marriage to someone else, the massive failure of that marriage in conjunction with my failed ability to conceive children, a journey through being single in my late 20s, and then a new cohabitation with my current (and hopefully last) gentleman. I've moved from Boston to Maryland to Pennsylvania, and then most recently to another home in Pennsylvania. I graduated college, got my master's degree, worked as a therapist, quit, and now work at a hospital. My financial status has been all over the map. And who knew I'd become the Cookie Baking Queen?

I have made a similar post to this, four years ago when we filed for divorce: My Food Blog: A Retrospective. Seriously, I repeated a lot of the stuff I just wrote in the above paragraph. But that post was still FOUR YEARS AGO. FOUR. YEARS. AGO.

I've been a vegetarian now for almost 18 years.

I'm not going to lie - I've been continuously trying to edit posts to exclude previous relationships. Which is hard since I have 2100 posts and can't hit all of them. It's a sad thing, to be editing people out of one's blog, but no one needs a constant reminder of the failures of your 20s. Right?

Here are some of the things I've learned while reading back over old posts:

1) I am a bitch. I actually started crying when I realized this. In my quest to expand food horizons and explore new recipes, I've subjected my partners to foods they absolutely cannot stand, trying to find a way to make them like them. To be fair, I also did this to myself on a significant number of occasions, trying to make myself like fish or goat cheese. But in retrospect, it was a dick move and I AM SORRY.

2) Related to this: my feelings about cooking meat in my home are severely relaxed now - partially because I didn't really have a choice. It was always part of the deal - if you live with me, you don't cook raw meat in the house. Toward the end of my marriage I did try to relax on this and bought local meat, but it didn't work out. My current gentleman made it clear from the beginning that he gives no shits. He has his own pan, cutting board, and knives. He's respectful about keeping our foods separate. But damned if he was about to move in with someone who wouldn't let him eat what he wants. And I'm glad, because I needed to f-ing relax.

3) I've been using sriracha since 2005. I made a post about it one time explaining what it was because it wasn't a popular condiment and no one understood its magic. I did this about Nutella once, too. WELL NOW THE WORLD KNOWS.

4) In the early 2000s, low-fat cooking was still all the rage and I was sucked right into that bandwagon. I used to pride myself on being able to convert a full-fat recipe into a low-fat one. Now I recognize that isn't about cooking low-fat, it's about cooking with Real Ingredients. I try to avoid processed stuff. I stopped drinking soda. I use real butter, not margarine. And I try not to cook with meat substitutes anymore, because they are super-processed. I'll use tofu or tempeh sometimes, but generally I try to get my protein from beans, vegetables, nuts, and grains. I think this is a healthier outlook, but food trends change constantly, so who knows?

5) I don't cook as much because I just don't care. I don't care if I've tried a new ingredient or a new cooking method. I love to bake cookies for work (see: all the Cookie Monday posts) but I just don't care as much as I used to. It isn't apathy. It's just that it isn't something that's as important to me as it used to be. I think this is what happens when you get older.

6) I used to subscribe to a ton of magazines and got the majority of recipes from them and from cookbooks. Now, food blogs are everywhere and Pinterest has taken over. All of my magazine subscriptions have lapsed and I'm fairly sure the print industry is going to disappear or turn solely digital in the next few years.

So here we are, ten years later. Denise encouraged me to do a "Best of" post, which I probably will do at some point, but right now I just have to be introspective and process all of this.

Ten years, man. A lot has happened in a decade.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pasta con Broccoli

I was making dinner the other night and most of the pots and pans were in the dishwasher already from my gentleman's cooking endeavors. I got really excited when I found this recipe since it's all made in one dish. It's kind of magical how it works, really. You dump all the ingredients into the pot, boil it, and everything mixes together to make a pasta sauce AND cook the pasta in the process. It turned out perfectly. There's certainly room for tweaking the flavors, adding more seasoning, or switching out vegetables. The original recipe called for 2% milk and chicken broth, and I used whole milk and vegetable broth. I really liked this. It reheated well, too. I will hang on to this recipe. It is so easy, so fast, and only leaves you with one dirty pot to clean.

broccoli

Pasta con Broccoli
The Wholesome Dish

1 pound campanelle pasta
3 cups broccoli florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces tomato sauce
3 cups milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Add the pasta, broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, tomato sauce, milk, and broth to a large pot. Cover and bring to a full, rolling boil. Stir and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer covered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until there is ½ to1 inch of liquid left in the bottom of the pot. Keep an eye on the pot in the beginning of the cooking process because milk tends to boil over easily.

Remove the pasta from the heat and stir in the mushrooms and the parmesan. Let the pasta rest for 3-5 minutes before serving. The remaining liquid will absorb into the pasta and the mushrooms will soften.