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.  


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:
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:

Slow Chicken Curry from Everyday Paleo:
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:

Many salad dressings from this cute, little book:
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:

Leek and Bacon Tart from Irish Food and Cooking:
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):
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:
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

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!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry

I am pretty pumped about getting married.  Yes because the whole forever and ever, love of my life, marrying my best friend deal and all.  But if you were to ask Ben why I am so excited to get married, he'd probably be able to tell you the deep dark secret: I am most excited about getting married so that we can get a puppy and I can have a big kitchen.

Seriously, forget the pretty white dress, the flowers and unity candles (do you really need one of those??).  What I am most excited for starts after the big deal.  Ben, me, a house with a big kitchen and a puppy.  Really, that's all I want, all I need.

So instead of getting excited about centerpieces or worrying that our venue won't allow us to have lit candles on the tables, I spend most of my evenings thinking of our life post-big-happy-day.  Important things too, things like who's going to be the main dishwasher in the house?  Will I ever be able to get over my trust issues and let Ben do a load of laundry on his own?  Am I actually going to have to make real, balanced dinners every night?  Really?  No more bowls of cereal (me) or tall glasses of protein shakes (him)?

So, in order to put my mind somewhat at ease, the Chinese cooking has been on the uptake the last few months.  There are several hard and fast reason why this is the case.  To start with, anything stir-fired is by nature quick.  Also, after a few shopping trips to invest in things like fish sauce and rice cooking wine, I usually have all the ingredients on hand.  Plus, I can sneak whatever veggies I want in with the meat and ta-da! the meal has suddenly become a balanced meal.  Veggie, grain, protein, the works.  You know, if I could only learn to let go a little bit over my laundry-OCD-ness, I may be able to wrap my mind around the whole marriage/man/wife deal.  Just maybe...

Most of our adventures lately have come for the pages of Quick and Easy Chinese, a cookbook that was part of a gift from my future mother-in-law, along with a gorgeous cast iron wok.  True to the title, they are quick, easy and most importantly yummy.  We usually alternate serving the various stir-fries over brown rice or quinoa, but I have it in my mind to try a different whole grain soon, as I did just pick up some farro.  This little number came from Cooking Light's January 2013 issue.  As is the theme here, it was quick, easy and yummy.  It was not cut out from the big green cookbook though simply because it just wasn't unique enough.  But it is still definitely a great contender for Thursday night dinner.

Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry
Adapted from CL Jan. 2013

1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chicken stock
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. sweet Asian chile sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
1 Tbsp. lemongrass, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 c. (or big handful) fresh green beans
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced to bite sized pieces
1/3 c. unsalted cashews
1 Thai chile, thinly sliced

Heat large wok over high heat.  While it is heating up, combine first 5 ingredients in small contained to make sauce.

Once wok is hot, swirl 1 tablespoon oil.  Add lemon grass and garlic, stir frying for about 30 seconds. Remove from wok with a slotted spoon.  Add remaining vegetables to wok, stir frying until bright and crisp, about 2 minutes.  Remove from wok and add to lemongrass mixture.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan, swirl to coat.  Add chicken and spread into single layer.  Cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, 3-4 minutes.  Add cashews and chile to the chicken and continue to stir fry until chicken is cooked through.  Add in vegetables and toss to mix.  Pour sauce over top.  Bring the sauce to a boil, tossing the chicken and vegetables to coat.  Sauce will thicken (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat and serve immediately over rice or quinoa.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Buttermilk Muffins

I like the above picture.  I know it's not that pretty,  not even all that appetizing, but for whatever reason, I like it.  I think it may be the Willy-Wonka-esque nature of it.  In a field of almost complete white, there are our muffins.  Plain simple muffins in a field of plain simple white.

Which is great and all, because sometimes you need that ideal, when life is never really plain and simple.  Case in point, last weekend Ben and I want on a long hike.  The weather was gorgeous, the sun was out for most of it and Lord knows I needed the 7 miles worth of exercise. It should have been plain and simple, but when we were in the home stretch (seriously, mile marker 6.75) suddenly, I need to use the bathroom.  Not just a little.  Not just soon.  NOW.  Out loud I giggled that we better hurry up cause I needed to use the restroom, but  in the quiet of my brain?  In there, it was seriously considering if that tree over there would be big enough to block me from view.  And drat, why was everything still so dreary and dead looking?  Where are all the leaves to hid my naked backside?  And most importantly, at what age does it become unacceptable to squat and go potty in the woods?  
Thank goodness that Ben, after hearing my nervous giggle and seeing the frantic panicked look on my face, realized that this was not a normal bathroom situation.  He ran the remaining quarter mile ahead to the car as I waited precious yet painstaking minutes till my knight  in shining gym shorts (?) came to save me in his pretty blue Subaru.     
This post did not start out with the intention of me telling the story of how I almost had to throw away my gym shorts.  I could have had a plain simple post about plain simple muffins.  But like I said, it never really is about plain and simple.  And so instead, I took the option of telling an internet full of strangers the story of how I almost pooed my pants at the ripe old age of twenty five.  And that's what life is about, or so I think.  Happy Monday people.

Buttermilk Muffins

So, the story behind these is simply that I had some leftover buttermilk in my fridge I was determined to use.  And I wanted to bake.  And I also had very strong feelings about not going to the grocery store.  So, after some browsing and searching on Pinterest, these satisfied all 3 criteria.  As sort of mentioned above, these muffins are plain and simple.  Quick to throw together and right into the oven they go.  They're like a less complex version of buttermilk biscuits, if you don't have the time to put into making biscuits.  Plain and simple.

2 c. (250 grams) all purpose flour
⅛ c. (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp kosher salt
¼ c. (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1-¼ c. buttermilk
Turbinado sugar to dust (Sugar in the Raw)

Makes 12 muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare a muffin tin with paper liners, or grease with cooking spray.

Whisk together all dry ingredients.  In small bowl or measuring cup, combine melted butter, egg and buttermilk.  Mix well.  Create a well in the middle of dry ingredients.  Pour in the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  The batter will be thick and a little lumpy.

Pour batter into prepared muffin cups, filling to about 2/3rds the way full.  Sprinkle muffins lightly with turbinado sugar.  Bake at 400 for 22-25 minutes, until muffins are set and edges have turned golden brown.  Serve warm with butter and jam.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beer Braised Carnitas

I got a little super nerd excited when I noticed that this post was number 144.  Why?  Because that is 12 squared.  Not that 12 has any real meaning for my either, I just think 144 is a pretty cool number.  Yeah, I am a dork.  One of my favorite books is Fermat's Enigma.  The college essay I wrote that got me into Notre Dame?  Completely 100% based on my love of math.  I am still absolutely certain that that is the reason I got accepted.  I just really like math.  Hopefully that wasn't too much of a weird insight into how my somewhat nerdy brain is wired, that's just what popped into my head as I opened up this post, so I decided to share... Anyways, on to why you are really here, the carnitas!

There are occasionally times when I feel like I let my last name down.  I am Mexican.  Alright, I am a quarter Mexican.  But even so, I always feel a twinge of guilt when I reach for a jar of salsa, especially when I have my great-grandma Tilly's recipe sitting in the homemade cookbook on the counter.  Which is, I will admit (oh, the guilt!), ridiculously easy to make.  When I am feeling particularly shameful about my cultural negligence  I usually make Ben take me to the local taquerio where I can find a little solace in ordering a proper Mexican taco (corn tortillas, none of this cheese, sour cream, lettuce nonsense, simply topped as it should be with diced white onion, cilantro and a hearty squeeze of lime).

Other days, things are little more drastic, and I can go no longer with besmerching my good Mexican last name.  Call me a drama queen if you will, but good things usually come from these drastic measures.  Good things like corn tortillas.  And, most recently, these carnitas.  These heaven sent, lightly spicy, fall apart melt away goodness, carnitas.  Now, this is something my one quarter Mexican self can be proud of, just please ignore the fact that I did use store bought corn tortillas...

Beer Braised Carnitas
Adapted, in words only from Feb. 2013's Bon Appetit

There are 2 things you should take away from this recipe.  One is that carnitas, of any type, are usually  straight forward and easy.  There are only 5 ingredients!  Here's the gist: you take some pork, cut it up and boil it all day long until it melts apart.  Then you brown it in the very same pot after all the liquid evaporates.  For 20 minutes of prep work and a few hours on the stove, you get a pot of gorgeous, red, flavorful meat.  Two?  This is jaw-droppingly delicious.  Big Green Cookbook approved.

2 dried New Mexico chiles
4 lbs. skinless, boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch hunks
12 oz lager (I used Modelo Especial)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tsp. kosher salt

In large dutch oven, over medium heat, toast the chilies on both sides, until they have puffed up and darkened, about 2 minutes.  Remove from pot and let cool.  Once chilies are cool enough to handle, cut in half long ways and discard the stem and seeds (the more seeds you leave in, the more spice you'll find your dish has).  Return to dutch oven and add all the remaining ingredients, plus 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cover the pot and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until pork falls apart at the touch of a fork.  This took me about an hour and a half.

Once the pork is fork tender, remove the lid of the pot and raise the heat slightly, bringing the liquid to a slow boil.  Stirring occasionally, continue to boil until the liquid evaporates completely, about 25 minutes.  Using a wooden spoon, continue to allow pork to brown (it will naturally start shredding apart).  Stir continuously and scrape up the browned bits of goodness from the bottom for another 10-15 minutes.

Finally, add about 1 cup of water to the dutch oven.  Bring to a boil and scrape up any remaining browned bits of goodness from the bottom.  Serve with corn tortillas and a smile!

For instructions on making ahead of time (up to 3 days!), see BA's website.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cinnamon Sugar Almond Butter

I am engaged.  I know that I kind of threw that tidbit of information in at the bottom of a random post about some yummy lemon chicken soup quite some time ago, but really it probably deserves a little more attention than just a emboldened line at the very end of a post.  So in fairness, it now gets to start it's own post.  Here we go:

We're engaged!  Like, to be married!  Living happily ever after with lumberjack Ben!  

That was our first official picture as an engaged couple.  In true scatter-brain form, I of course forgot to post with my left hand (now sporting the gorgeous diamond ring) in front.  And Ben forgot to put down our shopping bags with the fresh asparagus for Christmas dinner and my cranberry cream loose leaf team.  Preferably, I would have made Ben take off his bulky Northface winter coat and maybe even have tied the belt of mine.  I know it's not perfect.  It may not be black and white/surprise hidden photographer/Pinterest worthy, but to me, it is one of the best photographs out there.  Because it's the first of many happy, silly scatter-brain pictures for years to come.

There is no segue from engagement and couple pictures to almond butter, or if there is my poor brain is too tired to be creative enough for it.  But, seeing as it is inevitable that wedding stress will start creeping in here, as it has in all other facets of my life, it seemed I should give you all a fair warning.  But I refuse to give you a post simply bragging about engagement.  Seeing as we are pretending, just as well as we can here, that this is a cooking blog.  So now it is almond butter's turn in the lime light (which I will give up begrudgingly).

Almond butter is a few things.  1, it is absolutely delicious, spread on bread, plopped in morning oatmeal, scooped from the jar and eaten from a spoon while standing in the light of the still open refrigerator.  2, it is adaptable.  I haven't actually tested this theory yet, but from what I hear, you basically add what you want and run with it.  Personally, I can't wait to run with it in this direction.  And finally, 3, it is dead simple to make.  Don't get me wrong, you will think you've screwed it up at least 7 times before the nuts actually come together as butter, but as soon as it's scooped in a jar and tucked away in the fridge, you'll look back and realize there was never any reason to worry.  The food processor will run for at least 8 minutes.  The almonds will become smooth as butter.  I promise.  I'm pretty sure it's science.

The batch I made for Ben and myself last in the fridge about 3 weeks.  I caught Ben several times sneaking the same spoon back into the jar for just another taste.  He was promptly scolded.  When I was home in AZ a few weekends ago, I made a batch for my mom.  Less than 2 weeks later, the household of 5 (minus one very cute, now over ONE YEAR OLD, nephew) had taken the jar down.  There's your proof.  It is good.  It is really good.  Buy the Costco sized bag of almonds.  You're going to need it.

And just in case you were wondering, the beard/lumberjack look is a relatively new one for Ben.  He's been sporting it since Thanksgiving.  Personally, I love it, but I appear to be in the minority.  He keeps threatening that he will shave it off though.  I told him I would need at least a week's notice in order to properly mourn the loss.

Cinnamon Sugar Almond Butter
Adapted from a Full Measure of Happiness, my latest blog crush

2 c. almonds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar

Preheat the over to 350 degrees.  On a rimmed sheet, spread out the almonds.  Toast in the oven until fragrant, 8 - 10 minutes.

Dig out the food processor.  When nuts are done roasting, dump in.  It's ok if you don't let them really cool first, just be aware that there's going to be some heat and steam coming out the top of your food processor.  Don't rest your hand there, it's going to get hot.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Turn the sucker on.

Don't bother pulsing.  You're going to have to run your food processor about 8 - 10 minutes before the almonds become almond butter.  It's ok if you freak out and think it will never happen.  It will, have some faith.  Keep going until you what you have looks like smooth peanut butter.  Stop every other minute or so to scrape down the sides of the food processor.

Once smooth and dreamy, pour into a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Keep refrigerated   Enjoy on everything--or straight from the spoon, no judgement here.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

I hope your Easter is filled with candy for breakfast, plenty of leftover ham and lots of love!  And maybe even an afternoon nap if you're lucky...

Happy Easter!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Creamy Spinach, Feta, Dill Dip

Today was the first day that finally actually felt like Spring.  Days after the "official" beginning of the seasons and weeks after I am past the point of my limited patience of waiting for it, Spring has come.  Yes, I do realize that there is still snow on the ground, but do you know what else?  There are birds that are actually singing, outside, and the sky?  It's blue.  With white puffy clouds!  A blue sky!  I don't think I've seen one of those since November!  My heart is filled with joy.

Needless to say, for an Arizona girl, unhappily transplanted in the Midwest, the first day that actually feels like Spring is a Godsend.  And it could not have come at a better time.  Things are starting to really fly, both at work and at home (hello wedding planning!) and I don't know how well I could have taken any more drab, ugly, melt-y snowy, crappy days.  And if you asked Ben, he would tell you that I haven't been handling them at all.  But that doesn't matter any more.  Because I am calling it, although Punxsutawney Phil I am not, Spring is here people!  Put away the heavy down coat!  And scarfs, cute as they may be.  Good bye leather gloves and 180 earmuffs.  Because It. Is. Spring.  And so help me God, if it snows again, I may have a psychological break down.

For Ben's sake, let's pray it doesn't...

On the whole 3 month absence... I have come to a conclusion.  Although my brain may be a little punch drunk with the idea of spring, us here at the BGCB, we're rolling with it.  The conclusion was this: seeing as no one really even noticed I was gone (and if they did, they failed to mention it), I am not apologizing, giving explanations or excuses.  We're pretending I didn't fall off the bandwagon.  And hoping I won't again any time soon.  And that's that on that subject.

Creamy Spinach, Feta, Dill Dip
From Jan./Feb. 2013 Cooking Light

Not much to say about this dip.  It came together very easily.  Was tasty and somewhat tangy from the feta.  It did have a large amount of ingredients when, to be perfectly honest, I am just as satisfied mixing in Hidden Valley's Fiesta Ranch dip mix into some zero fat Greek yogurt.  Yes, I use dip mix.  But I put it in Greek yogurt, not sour cream.  It totally makes it healthy.  And it tastes the exact same.

In other words, below is the recipe for this dip (which is good!), but here's another, even easier, just as tasty one as well:  Fiesta Ranch dip mix + Greek yogurt.  Add veggies.

6 oz. nonfat Greek yogurt
3/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
2 oz. softened cream cheese
1/4 c. low-fat sour cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 1/2 c. fresh spinach, chopped (measured after chopping)
1 Tbsp. fresh dill
Fresh ground black pepper

In food processor, wiz together first 5 ingredients, through garlic, processing until smooth.  Add spinach, dill and pepper.  Pulse until well combined.  Chill.

Serve with veggies or pita chips or whatever you love to dip.  Like chicken wings!  Just realize, there's some loss of healthy-ness when you reach for a chicken wing...

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Hi... it's me.  Remember me?  It's ok if you don't.  I sort of ran away and hid for awhile.  Things were falling and I didn't bother to take the time to pick them back up.  I did come back once simply to tell you I was alive.  Does that count for something?

I hope you haven't completely written me out of your book yet.  I have new things to share, I promise.  Are any of them recipes, you may ask.  Which is a fair question, seeing as this is some sort of an excuse for a cooking blog.  And I'm hear to tell you that at least one of them is!  And it's perfect for right now, when all of us are fighting one type of sickness or another.  Soup.  The only kind of soup you want when you're feeling achy and cold and you have an elephant sitting on your chest.  There is an elephant sitting on your chest too, right?  Or is that just me?

It is chicken soup.  Chicken soup made creamy by the slow addition of an egg and almost impossibly bright by the swirl of fresh lemon.  It is chicken soup that is easy to make, requiring nothing out of the ordinary and no extra work, especially if you have a bag of shredded rotisserie chicken in your freezer.  It is chicken soup that will calm your nerves, warm your tummy, and if we are lucky, help beat up all this icky sickness around us.

This is the way that we're starting a new year.  With a new soup and an easy addition to my big green cookbook.  Oh, and with some other exciting news.  There happens to be this very shiny, very, very pretty ring thingy hanging out on my left hand.  It's a little strange and I'm not quite used to it yet, but it puts a huge smile on my face every time I look at it.  Yes folks, we're engaged.  Things are about to get all sorts of real.

Adapted from Cooking Light, January 2012

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. uncooked long-grain rice
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice (~ 2 lemons, depending on their size)
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 large egg
2 c. (8 oz) chicken breast, shredded

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add oil and heat until it begins to shimmer.  Add chopped onions and garlic.  Saute 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.  Add chicken stock and bring mixture to a boil.  Add in rice and reduce soup to a simmer.  Summer for 16 minutes, or until rice is just a few minutes before done.

Meanwhile, combine lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, pepper and egg.  Whisk together well.  Once soup/rice mixture is ready, very slowly pour lemon juice mixture into soup, gently whisking the entire time.  Be patient and careful, you want the egg to incorporate, not scramble!  Add in chicken and stir.  Let lightly simmer until soup thickens and rice is done, about 305 minutes more.