Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lizbar's (aka Homemade Power Bars)


Ben takes the GRE today.  I am so excited, anxious, proud and nervous for him - all rolled up in one crazy little bundle.  I am both eager and on edge.  And I'm not even taking the damn thing.  I don't even know how he is managing.   Actually, he's probably managing a lot better.  He's a little less excitable than I am, and on top of that, he has more than prepared.

I am very proud of him and how he came at studying for the test.  It has been a long time in the making.  He has been extremely dedicated, carting his studying material (including the 5 pound book of questions!  Which, title aside, actually weighs closer to 6 pounds) to each of our last 3 vacations.  Making time to study while I go play with our nephew or nap in a hammock.  Spending many weekend afternoons tucked away in the spare bedroom or studying in the car while I drove.  He has been beyond committed, and I find myself constantly impressed and beaming with pride.


If I were a fiance that was a little more on top of her stuff, this is the exact snack that I would have made for Ben to eat right before the test.  Overloaded with nuts, whole grains (yay for oats!) and just enough espresso powder to give you a little jolt, I imagine they are great kick-butt-on-standardized-tests food.  Unfortunately, I am not the fiance that's on top of her stuff, so luckily for me, they also work great as pre-gym snacks as well.  So that is what Ben is getting for finishing his test - a large batch of Lizbar's, made with love, to help him ease his way back into the gym rat he misses being.


So, today I sit at my desk in Rockford, anxiously tapping my foot, knowing that this is something completely out of my control.  And it will drive me nuts until I get that long awaited call this afternoon to tell me he is done and that he did great.


Lizbar's (aka Homemade Power Bars)
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

These are also fabulous for those afternoons that at 2 PM you can't imagine staring at a computer anymore.  They are lightly sweet, have just the right small bit of caffeine and, if you add chocolate, just about perfect for giving your behind the little swift kick it needs to get you through the day.

The recipe is very adaptable.  Add whatever nuts you want or have on hand.  Throw some seeds in there too, if you'd like.  Add some dried fruit if you get the feeling.  And, really, you can't go wrong with a few mini chocolate chips sprinkled on top.

Lastly, I usually use my 9x13 pan for this.  It makes thinner bars, similar in size and thickness to a Clifbar.  If you like yours thicker (think size and thickness of a Quaker Chewy bar), go for a 9x9.

Coconut oil, for greasing
1 c. walnuts, chopped
1 c. chopped almonds
2/3 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal
1 c. brown rice syrup
1/4 c. natural cane sugar (sugar in the raw)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp espresso powder
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips

Preheat your over to 350.  Generously grease a 9x13 pan with coconut oil and set aside.  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss walnuts, almonds and coconut.  Toast in the over for 5-7 minutes, until coconut is golden.  Toss a few times to avoid the nuts and coconut burning.

In large bowl, combine toasted nuts, coconut, oats and cereal.  Mix well.  It is easier to evenly distribute the ingredients now, then it will be after pouring the syrup over them.

On the stove, in a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the wet ingredients (brown rice syrup - vanilla).  I find it easiest to handle/measure/pour the brown rice syrup if I heat it up for a few seconds in the microwave first.  Bring mixture to a slow boil, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook, while stirring, another 4-5 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly.  Remove from heat and pour over nut/oat mixture.  Stir (slow and gentle!), until syrup covers the nuts and oats completely.

Pour into prepared pan and lightly push down.  Wait a few minutes for mixture to cool, then sprinkle chocolate chips on top and lightly push into bars.  Let cool to room temperature (a few hours).  Flip out onto cutting board and cut into 16-24 bars.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Coconut Quinoa Granola


I wanted to thank you guys for letting me enter wedding mode last post.  But I feel I should warn you, it was only the tip of the iceberg.  And now the ice has broken and something I tried to keep away from this space has come into it anyways.  And let's face it, it won't go away.  Besides, the way I was keeping it out of this space was by physically not being in this space as well, which was not as much fun for me.  So, now the two world's shall collide.  Wedding planning and food.  Registries and recipes.  Guest lists and granola.

I am nothing if not a master of smooth lead in's...


I am a firm believer that something made from scratch in your own kitchen is certainly better for you than the store bought equivalent.  Homemade chocolate chip cookies must be better for you than Oreo's and are certainly better for me than the bag of Twizzlers pull and peel's that I have hidden in my desk at work.  Yes, you need butter to make your cookies taste good, but at least there is not Red 40 added to it.  And I figure that counts for something.

The jury is still out on if this theory holds any truth or not, but I would venture to say that when it comes to the case of granola, homemade just has to be better for you.  Or at least that is what I'm telling myself as a repeatedly chomp on handfuls of this stuff.  Yes, there is oil and sugar and what not.  But I put it in there, so it must be better... Thank heavens I don't have to worry about a wedding dress fitting for at least a few more weeks.

And with that, we have come full circle.  Now it is time for me to peace out, for today?  Today is cake tasting day!!


Coconut Quinoa Granola
Adapted from Sweat Pea's Kitchen

This is a quick, easy recipe and was immediately inducted into the big green cookbook.  The great thing with most granola recipes is that it is a rough guideline.  Use whatever dried fruit you have on hand - blueberries, tart cherries (a personal favorite).  Use whatever nuts as well.  Just go with what you are feeling.

3 c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. quinoa (uncooked)
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/4 c. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 c. chopped almonds
1/2 c. shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. honey
1/3 c. coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. golden raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine first 9 ingredients (through salt).  Spread evenly over baking sheet.  In small bowl, melt coconut oil.  Whisk in honey and vanilla extract until smooth.  Pour over oat and nut mixture.  Toss until oats are coated, then spread flat on baking sheet.  Bake at 300 for 30-40 minutes, until granola is a light golden brown.  Toss at least 4 times, to ensure granola does not get burned in spots.

Once golden brown, remove granola from oven and add cranberries and raisins.  Toss to combine.  Let cool.  To store, keep in airtight containers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This Thing is Actually Happening


Some blogs do favorites list.  If only I was coordinated and clever enough to pull that off.  Instead, today I am offering you a things I have cooked, but not taken pictures of, but loved anyways list.  The name is a little long, and I am working on it, but some of these are just too fantastic to not share immediately and insist that you make.  Also, I need an excuse to do a little bragging.  Because, you see, these wonderfully beautiful things are going out in the mail this week.  And I am thrilled, excited, anxious and overall exuberant that they are done, complete, beautiful and well, they exist.  Which must mean that this wedding thing is actually happening.  

Ekk.

Anyways, about those Save the Dates.  I can't thank Ben's family enough.  We went through several, multiple, way too many, ideas of what the save the dates would look like.  There were many emails, phone calls and Skypes.  I worried too much, which could be the sub-title for this wedding (and probably my life in general).  I sketched things, and let me tell you, there's a reason I'm an engineer, and not someone who gets paid for being creative.

Luckily for us, Ben's sister is one of those beautiful creative people.  She had a gorgeous vision from the start and I really should know better by now to just listen to her.  She water colored our names and the date, as well as the Arizona.  The rest was put in digitally on the computer by her and Ben's mom.  Fonts were argued (nicely) over.  A legitimate website was bought and created.  Then they were shipped off to the printer and back to them for cutting and pasting on magnets.  Ben's mom stamped a return address and hand addressed all the envelopes.  I continue to thank her daily for it.

And I can't get over how fantastic they look.  There's one on my fridge at home and one on my wall at work (pictured above!)  And now, whenever I need a good shock, I just need to look over to my right and "Ekk!"  There it is.

Liz & Ben
March 8, 2014

And then I get to say things like, "holy crap.  This thing is actually happening".




Anyways, that list we were talking about...

David Lebovitz's Gianduja Gelato:
http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/chocolate-hazelnut-gelato-recipe/
Please make this immediately, before you decide it is too cold to eat ice cream (yet another reason to move to Arizona... it's never too cold there!)  It is incredibly time consuming and oh-so-very worth it.  As any Nutella lover will let you know, hazelnut and chocolate were meant to be.  Don't get in there way, just do it.

Kim Boyce's Oatmeal Pancakes:
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/05/oatmeal-pancakes/

Slow Chicken Curry from Everyday Paleo:
http://thornton.macaronikid.com/article/368041/macaroni-recipes-slow-chicken-curry
So ridiculously simple.  No browning of meat before hand, really no prep besides some chopping.  And you'll come home to the smell of comfort (can curry be comforting?) and a large pot of filling dinner.  I haven't really bought into the whole idea of a Paleo diet, but I sure as hell will support an easy dinner thats beyond delicious!

Smitten Kitchen's Tomato Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes:
http://www.katecooksthebooks.com/books-ive-reviewed/the-smitten-kitchen-cookbook/the-smitten-kitchen-cookbook-tomato-glazed-meatloaves-with-brown-butter-mashed-potatoes

Many salad dressings from this cute, little book:
http://www.amazon.com/Very-Salad-Dressing-Teresa-Burns/dp/1587612097/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368480882&sr=1-4&keywords=salad+dressing
I got the book for free, but really for $6 (aka, 2 coffees) it's probably a worthy addition to your life.

Apple Turnovers from Cook's Illustrated:
http://www.annies-eats.com/2009/11/13/flaky-apple-turnovers/

Leek and Bacon Tart from Irish Food and Cooking:
http://www.fearlesskitchen.com/2009/03/recipe-bacon-and-leek-tart.html
I picked this book up on a whim in a second hand bookstore in North Carolina.  Ben and I were meeting there (it was the halfway point between us at one short point in our long distance journey) and he was still driving.  While I was waiting on him, I found this great bookstore and picked up some used cookbooks.  Thus began a somewhat tradition.

Kung Pao Chicken from Quick and Easy Chinese (and at least 12 other recipes from the same book):
http://beforeitsnews.com/cooking-and-recipes/2012/05/kung-pao-chicken-2146835.html
Also, if you have the means, by a cast iron wok.  It is in every sense of the idea, totally and completely worth it.  And this book.  Just don't tell your fiance that oyster sauce is made from fermented oysters.  He'll get in his head and make his tummy hurt.  Just tell him it's all mental, cause it is...

Iced Coffee Concentrate from Bon Appetit:
http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/07/cold-brew-iced-coffee-concentrate
I would not have made it through this summer without this.  I just wish it didn't take a whole day to make!  If anyone has good shortcuts, please let me know.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever


I’ve missed you guys.  Well, I guess not so much you guys, since to be honest pretty much the only person who talks to me here is Tara (my college roommate, my bridesmaid, my talk-me-down-from-a-ledge-at-work-on-gchat friend), but more so this space.  I miss the writing and the rereading and the figuring out how to best phrase the random thoughts in my head.  I definitely miss taking those thoughts and throwing them with little caution to the wind into the world wide web.

I was taking my walk around the parking lot at work the other day (I just may be that person at work, who walks at lunch...), when I made this realization that I miss the writing aspect of it all.  In honesty, this probably shouldn't have come as that much of a surprise, what with the myriad of multicolored post-its I have floating around my desk, my purse and my binder all with half started, potential blog posts on them.  Apparently I need an outlet for all the woo-ha in my head and staying away from here (mostly because I was getting sick of taking pictures of my food making) might not have been my wisest solution.


So, without really promising to be better about posting (because a sunny quick walk outside doesn't usually end up seriously changing behaviors), I just wanted to say hi and that I'm hoping to write here more.  Because I have missed it, missed you, whoever you are (hi, Tara!).  It might not be strictly about food, but I figure that a little bit of something is better than nothing.   

By the way, here are some pictures from our trip to Algoma.  Ben, myself, my parents and other assorted aunts, uncles and cousins, went up for a long weekend to my uncle’s house in Algoma, WI.  Amid sleeping on a hammock in the cool breeze, playing sand volleyball on the beach and drinking quite the myriad of local Wisconsin wines, we also went strawberry picking.  After about 30 minutes, a sore and slightly sunburned back and red stained hands, we ended up with 15 pounds of strawberries.  No joke.  FIFTEEN POUNDS.  And what did we make with these beautiful gems?  Jam?  Pies?  Strawberry shortcake?  Ha, people please.  They were devoured, every last tiny, sweet, red berry, as they were, needing only a rinse before finding their way to happy mouths everywhere.  (I won’t lie, a few might have snuck in before the rinsing…)  I will admit, we may have top a few with scoops of fresh whipped cream.  They didn't need it, but hell, we were on vacation people.  Live a little recklessly! 


PS - Turns out that the only lyric I know from Strawberry Fields Forever is in fact "strawberry Fields For-ever!"  And singing it over and over again is guaranteed to drive your fiance nuts.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chicken and Black Bean Soup


My brother, bless his heart, sometimes needs help in the gift giving department. Usually, if there is a girlfriend in the picture around Christmas and birthday months, things go pretty smoothly.  And there are other times when, left to his own devices, things turn out less so.  I don't want too sound ungrateful here, but I must say that there was a Christmas where gifts were wrapped in brown paper and duct tape.  I realize that is almost too prime-time-sitcom to believe, but it is the truth.  

I had been craving a Crock Pot ever since I had moved out on my own.  It seemed too perfect not to own one, yummy meals ready upon your arrival home.  After a few years of being on my Christmas list, I was lucky enough to have one show up on my doorstep a few days before the big holiday, courtesy of my brother.  Excited, I opened it up immediately. However, within seconds afterwards, I was on the phone with my mother upset.  He had bought me a refurbished crock pot.  I didn't even know you could buy refurbished crock pots, but somehow he had managed it.  I sat there, cross legged on my shag brown carpet, on the phone with my mother, upset and sadly rocking the lid back and forth on my refurbished crock pot.  It wasn't supposed to rock that much.

After a few failed attempts and a good amount of phone-bitching to Ben, he has just about convinced me to send the crock pot to Goodwill and simply buy a new one, when the lucky boy proposed.  I then promptly talked myself out of Goodwill/buy a new one plan, content to wait for the glorious days of wedding registry and gifts.  However, that left me with several months without one.  And I'm not about to give up on yummy, convenience dreams.  Enter, tinfoil, stage right.  A few extra minutes in the morning, along with a few choice words, and I have a somewhat tight seal on my crock pot.  Those few strips of tinfoil is what I plan on getting me through the next months.  Not that that will spare poor Ben from a few annoyed phone calls, but hey, he knew what he was getting into.

PS - My brother does now have a wonderful girlfriend who he is living with, whom we all adore.  Basically, we're waiting for her to officially join the family, hint, hint, wink, wink...

Chicken and Black Bean Soup
Adapted from: A Year of Slow Cooking

As is the theme as of late, this was a quick and easy dinner (inherent to crock pot meals).  Simple, yummy and it makes great left overs.  Extras go great in the freezer and make for some additional quick and easy lunches later on (tried and true).

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 c. frozen corn
1 jar (16 oz) prepared salsa (I used Pace Medium)
1 1/2 tsp. cumin

Toppings: 
Plain Greek Yogurt
Cheese (sharp cheddar or pepper jack)
Cooked quinoa

Layer black beans in the bottom of the crock pot.  Lay chicken breasts on top.  Pour remaining ingredients over top, making sure chicken is submerged in liquid.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Once done, remove chicken from soup.  Shred chicken into bite size pieces.  Using immersion blender, blend soup into desired thickness.  Return shredded chicken back to soup.

I found the best way to serve this was to place some cooked quinoa in the bottom of a bowl and ladle a good amount of soup over top.  Garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cheese.  Enjoy!