Friday, August 31, 2012

Peanut Butter and Bananas - and oats, and cinnamon, and sugar

Ok, so quite obviously I'm a bit banana obsessed and this time it involves peanut butter. Which, is one of my all time favorite combos and foods. I love to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches with a little honey drizzled on them. Mmmmmmm, yum. I know what's for dinner tonight :)

So, what we have here now is a brainstorm of an idea for me to not have to make breakfast in the morning and now that I have time to relax in the AM instead of pop out of bed like a Pop Tart and begin my day with insane amounts of exercise I just want something I can grab and crawl back in bed while watching the news sleepily or talk on the phone with Mike, should he be at work that morning.

I searched the web, and for some reason I was thinking about oat bars, or oatmeal bars. That got me thinking that I wanted something healthy, simple and easy. Nothing pre-packaged but still not so complex it would take me a week to gather ingredients. I finally landed on Gingerbread Bagels blog thanks to Google.

I found her fabulously easy, simple and so very delicious recipe for Peanut Butter Banana Oat Squares, which she says to have gotten from Pinterest. Why I didn't see these I have no idea, since I have this multitude of things I want to try on my Pinterest.

Anyway, so I looked through the ingredients, checking them off as I went to make sure I had them and I did. Hooray for not having to go to the store! So I began, at 10pm. That seems to be normal for me, late night baking. But as they say----

Being proud of myself for buying rolled oats from Whole Foods and only spending $2 for this giant amount I decided that despite what the recipe called for (quick oats) I would use mine instead and hope for the best. As you can clearly see the brown sugar jar is empty, after using it up for these puppies.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and simple this recipe was, I decided to add a protein boost to mine by using some of the whey protein powder I had on hand. I used Naturade with 80 calories per 2 scoops, but you are welcome to use whatever you like, chocolate flavor may even taste good if you want something different.

I of course have now made this recipe twice since Tuesday and love love love it. This second batch I didn't add protein powder due to running out. Guess I should go pick up some more.

Now THAT is a banana,
and yes I have Hippo salt and pepper shakers

So here is the super simple recipe and the calories for the non protein version:

Peanut Butter Banana Oat Squares:

1 1/2 cups quick oats (I used rolled, they work fine)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (didn't pack mine and it tasted great)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Kosher salt (I used iodized table salt)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used imitation no alcohol kind)
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1 large banana, mashed (obviously I found an EXTRA large banana)
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (I used 365 (Whole Foods) Creamy PB as that is my current favorite)

Mix together the quick cooking oats, light brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon.

Ad in the vanilla extract, milk, and egg. Mix the ingredients together.

Add in the mashed banana and peanut butter. Combine all ingredients well.

Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8x8 inch metal baking pan (or an 8-inch round cake pan, or a loaf pan). Bake at 350 F degrees for 20 minutes, or until center is no longer gooey.

Cut into square, triangle or slices and enjoy! (I topped mine with butter - YUM)

Now go out and cook!

Nutritional Info Per Above Recipe and it's Ingredients
141 calories
5.5g fat
0.5g saturate fat
0g trans fat
22.2mg cholesterol
279.4mg sodium
129.4mg potassium
16.8g total carbs
2.6g dietary fiber
4g sugar
6.1g protein

0.9% vitamin A
2.9% vitamin C
3.6% Calcium
5.6% Iron

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gone Bananas

Hi there,

Hope you all have enjoyed the writings of Mike, I know I have, nice to sit back and let someone else take the reins. I sat and watched TV and sipped at my water while he typed away about the duck. Very pleasant.

So, having spent a weekend away from home I of course tend to get bored by myself. Having Mike and roomie off at work gave me plenty of time to mull about and do my own thing at my home away from home.

I of course had found this fabulous Banana Caramel Whoopie pie recipe the week prior and just really wanted to make them. So, knowing what ingredients were kept at Mike's place I figured I could at least try them out and make them. If anything Mike and roomie could take them to work if they didn't like them.

Of course before I even started baking I needed to do some research. What do they have baking supplies wise? Being that Roomie and Mike do not bake, well, OK, they bake but I call it cheating. Roomie does the baking usually and usually that involves some kind of boxed mix, bagged muffin, or pre-made version of a baked good. Yes, I call that cheating. It's fast and easy and they taste good but I can honestly tell you that my caramel sauce doesn't have nearly as many ingredients as the one you just bought at the store for your ice cream. You know who you are! -_-

Yes, I just called all of you out on buying foods that you can easily make. I do understand the convenience aspect or the quickness. If you're like Roomie, you really don't have a lot of time to just kick back and bake like I do. To complete these whoopie pies plus clean up was 3 hours. I know neither of them would take that time to make whoopie pies.

But I digress. So I looked through all the cabinets and jars and spices to see what I would need. Ultimately I had myself a little list. Flour, sugar, bananas, baking soda, heavy cream, sour cream and trail mix (the trail mix was to nibble on while I baked).

So I returned happily with my bag of goodies, ready and willing to bake. Of course then I needed to wait until Roomie went to work. I just don't care for baking while others are also trying to use the kitchen. If you're helping me that is one thing but otherwise, get out of my way.

Of course when I returned from Wal-Mart with a bag of goodies, I popped out this huge bunch of bananas, upon which I was told later, after explaining, please help yourself and I will take some with me, "she bought a HUGE bunch of bananas." I was not expecting either of them to actually eat all those bananas, I planned to take some home as I too eat a banana every day like Roomie does. So in the end I went home with three while about 4 of the 8 bananas had been eaten. Complaints? I think not ;)

 So, moving forward with these delicious delicacies. I adore whoopie pies, as my mother and father are from New York and whoopie pies are predominately an East Coast item. I remember making classic whoopie pies as a child with my brother and having my mom tell us, "OK, match up the cookies to make pies." So we would match the halves that fit best and mom would pipe in the delicious filling and each of us would scarf them down as we ran to play outside.

In any event I thought the banana and caramel aspects of these were fascinating and potentially delicious. So after everyone had left me to my own devices, I had worked my tushie off doing the Insanity workout and had showered I promptly began my quest for banana caramel goodness. (and yes, I say it CARE-A-MEL, not CAR-MAL. I'm fancy like that.)

I soon found myself splattered with batter and filling. The batter was easy and the two ingredients that surprised me were the sour cream and heavy cream. But in the end it worked fabulously.

I struggled with the filling, however, but I believe that is due to having to use a hand mixer to create stiff peaks with egg whites and sugar. My arms were about to fall off. At home I have a beautiful kitchen aid stand mixer which I can just turn on and walk away and let it do all the hard work. I now appreciate my grandmother and her mother before. Salute to the great women of the depression and their lack of kitchen aids.

So I had to fix the filling, that soon became loose and gooey, by adding 1 lb (1 box) of powdered sugar, which still did not thicken the filling enough to my liking. So I matched up cookies and filled them anyway and promptly put them in the fridge to chill and set.

You know you have a good recipe on your hands when the following happened.

I fell asleep on the couch since Mike said he would try to be home around 1:30 AM from work. Well, I feel asleep on the couch after my 3 hour baking adventure that ended around 11 so about 12:30 AM/1:00 AM I was sound asleep when he arrived. He soon plopped himself on the couch with some Taco Bell and I was now in the upright position trying to be someone cognisant of what was going on. He soon went to the fridge and tried one of the little guys. He was mm-ing and yumming his way back to the couch and when he goes back to the fridge he says "Damn you" and promptly eats another. Definitely good.

The next day Roomie tried one and was equally happy with how they turned out.

 Cute no?

So here is the recipe, I got the recipe from Indigo Scones who got it from Annie's Eats.

Here is the recipe (with my alterations and notes)

Caramel Banana Whoopie Pies
Says 30-36 sandwiches -- depends really on how big you make them

Ingredients for caramel sauce:

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (recipe called for 1/2 vanilla bean split and scraped but yeah, I'm not buying vanilla beans)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt (I used sea salt, as I wasn't going to buy more salt)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Ingredients for the cookies
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 - 1 1/2 bananas) **psst - I used 3
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (don't skimp, just use regular)
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick or 1/2 cup) butter, unsalted and at room temperature (I used blue bonnet regular - it's a favorite of mine for baking and works just fine)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg (brought mine to room temp)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Ingredients for filling***
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 16 Tbsp (2 sticks or 1 cup) butter, unsalted and room temperature cut into 1 tbsp pats
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (pretty much what the caramel sauce recipe makes), cooled
***This will make more filling/frosting than you actually need. I had about 1 cup left over. Just freeze it and save for some other naughty use.
----------> Sarah Disclaimer: Since I had issues with my filling and added powdered sugar to thicken and tighten up my filling I had about 2 1/2 cups left over, which I froze and left sitting in Mike's freezer. Enjoy honey. So depending on what you end up doing you may have more than planned.

Directions:To make the caramel sauce, (this is not as intimidating as it may seem, just follow instructions and follow the "oops" fixers that are in there too and have some patience, it will turn out lovely.) measure out your cream into a microwavable measuring cup or dish.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into it (if using) and heat in the microwave until warm.  Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, deep, sturdy saucepan.  Place over medium heat, watching carefully.  When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir the sugar into hard chunks.  If this happens, reduce the heat and try to melt the chunks without stirring.  Once the liquefied caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat (to test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl).

Carefully whisk in half of the warmed heavy cream/vanilla bean mixture. The mixture will steam and bubble violently, be careful.  Whisk until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Whisk in the salt and the vanilla.  If any sugar has hardened (seized), place the saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk until smooth.  Allow to cool. (This sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheated.)
To make the cookies, (cookies are easy, of course mine included an extra bit of banana, since Mike likes real tangible and taste-able banana flavor, as do I). preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. (This my friends is critical if you do not want your cookies to spread into giant discs on your tray. If you do not use wax paper or parchment paper you will have really thin and large cookies to fill instead of nicely puffed small cookies. Trust me on this, I tried for you.) In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend, and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the mashed banana and sour cream.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the banana mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix each addition until just incorporated. 
Pipe the batter using a plain round tip (or use a zip-lock back with the corner cut off) onto the prepared baking sheets into about 1¼-inch rounds, spacing a couple of inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are just set and the bottom edges are starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheets 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the egg whites and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat the mixture, whisking very frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and reaches 160° F on an instant read thermometer (Or until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch; when you pinch some of the mixture between your fingers it should feel smooth and very warm.).  Transfer the mixture to the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture holds stiff peaks.  Reduce the speed to medium low, add in the salt and then begin adding the butter one piece at a time, beating well after each addition (If your butter became too soft, your mixture may become soupy and curdle-y in appearance.  No fear!  Just keep mixing, it will eventually come together.) (Can't say mine eventually came together, it just stayed loose and thin, I also didn't have any more patience to hold my arm up while mixing with the electric hand mixer. If you have a hand mixer maybe you should find someone to help tag team the filling so it gets to the right consistency, or if you have a stand mixer, turn on and walk away until your egg whites are nice and stiff peaked. Unlike me. Learn from my mistakes y'all!) Stir in ½ cup of the cooled caramel sauce until well blended.

Once the cookies are completely cooled, match them up in pairs by size.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the caramel filling.  Pipe a dollop of filling onto the flat side of one cookie of each pair, and sandwich the cookies together, pushing the filling to the edges.  Store in an airtight container.

So, all in all a success. I just love love love the banana cookie part. I am replacing my mother's banana bread recipe with this. I know, blasphemous but if you find something more delicious, why use something that isn't as superior? Sorry mom, love you still but I found a better recipe.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"From the fire in to the pan" Wild duck

"From the fire in to the pan"

Hello there Mike here again time for a brief plug before this post starts.  First off animals were harmed for the making of this post, but there usually is.  Second if you are offended by the death of the animals go to ducks unlimited, this is a conservation group that buys and rehabilitates wetlands and nesting grounds for waterfowl.  Third if you were not offended by the death of the animals then please go to ducks unlimited.  This is a great conservation group that does so much for waterfowl from habitat to migration from beginning to end and in between.  So please donate or even join the organization and do what you can to help such a beautiful animals.

Now that everyone is asleep or run off time for the food post.  Well I was digging in my freezer yesterday trying to figure out what to cook when I came across a package of wild duck breasts.  The ducks came from a wonderful father son bonding hunting trip.  My father lives on the other side of the state so it is always nice to spend time with him in the marsh.  Then to make it even better it was just us for the hunting party.  We made our daily limit of ducks each with just our knowledge and experience.  Well and a lot of good luck on our side.  After the breasts thawed we put them in the Jack Daniels Steakhouse marinade bag and marinade for a day.  Sarah and I decided to pair the duck breasts with a salad and Quinoa.

Since the quinoa is a plain no flavor grain Sarah sauteed red peppers, onions and garlic in a brand new cast iron pan that I bought.  Of course I played with my knives and cut everything up for Sarah.  She knows that I    will always find a way to cut the vegetables before she will.

Now that the vegetables are finished Sarah started cooking the quinoa.  She brought a can of beef stock and quinoa to a boil.  She added the vegetables and began the waiting game that comes with cooking any grain.  Steam means it is hot right?  I had to warn Sarah that steam is hot.

Now for the main part of ingredient of the meal, the beautiful wild duck that died in a game of wits.  Now to honor the great foe with treating him right and enjoying them thoroughly.  We marinaded the breasts like we said before in an attempt to help remove some of the gamier taste of the meat.  I seasoned the meat with Montreal steak seasoning.  I thought I had the new cast iron pan hot enough to sear the sides of the meat.  I was wrong but it was the first cooking attempt with the pan.

Well once I got the breasts seared on one side it took longer than I wanted so the other side did not get the sear I wanted before it was at a medium rare temperature.  Sarah finished up with the quinoa while I let the duck breasts rest on the cutting board.  You have to let the meat rest.  "If you don't eat your meat you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat."  Sorry for that little blurb from Pink Floyd.  I sliced the breasts against the grain.  After slicing the meat I found out that the duck was closer to medium instead of medium rare.  Well since I did have problems with the searing the breasts so I cooked them longer than I wanted.

Well how are my plating skills folks?  I know they are pretty bad with this dish.  The duck was gamier that I wanted but was very good.  Sarah ate all of her meat.  I started with the duck that was standing alone, big mistake.  Well not a big mistake but I missed out on the great combination of the quinoa and the duck.  The duck meat when combined with the quinoa was a great blend of flavors and balanced the plain flavor of the grain and the gaminess of the duck.  We did not take any pictures of the salad because it was very sad looking.  It was a day old and well looking pathetic.  So instead insert your own mental image of your favorite salad, either homemade or restaurant.

I try to have a tip or useless fact in my post.  This post that has eluded me so I will ask you, the reader, a question.  Why is wild duck breast, dark meat instead of being white meat like a farm raised chicken?

We welcome you to comment about the post, tips, critiques, what ever works for us.  Feel free to share with your friends also.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Buttered Rum --- um, YUM!

How did everyone like the Misters post? Mike, I think did a wonderful job. Maybe he'll do more posts in the near future.

So another weekend has come and gone, (and this week is almost over, phew) and what did I do? Bake of course. I was home by myself this weekend (minus the day I spent at my parents place with my aunt). So what did I bake you may be asking, as I'm sure me hanging out with my aunt to pick up the "Insanity" workout is probably not that fascinating. I think it was fun and a good time. I rarely get to see this aunt so it's always nice to hang out. (Dad's side of the family, very much my dad's sister). I so very much love my Aunt Judy. She's a superstar and a healthy lady to boot.

So Buttermilk, I refuse to go to the store and buy buttermilk that will end up going bad in my fridge because I forget about it and only use a little bit. So I opt to make my own substitute. I take 1 tbsp of vinegar (in this case apple cider though I generally opt for white - having just ran out of white vinegar due to a bad potato bag incident where I needed a stronger - more natural cleaner to get the smell out of my kitchen. Note: rotten potatoes reek and make a mess on your counter. Be warned.) So 1 tbsp vinegar and then add to the 1 cup line enough milk to make 1 cup total. So you're not using 1 cup of milk, it's 1 cup minus a 1 tbsp milk and 1 tbsp vinegar. So then let it sit for about 5 minutes to really become buttermilky (is that even a word - spell check is saying no).

So at this point it's time to start making cake. I tried to bring all ingredients to room temperature so they would be easier to work with as well as bake better. I'm finding this is the best idea but ultimately sometimes you just want to bake, RIGHT NOW, and just can't wait for ingredients to "thaw". That's when I zap the butter for a few seconds in the microwave to soften and put eggs in last and if hot ingredients go in with the eggs I temper them so they don't curdle. It's the little things.

So I added all the necessary ingredients and of course I used real rum (Bacardi if you can see from the first picture) in the batter because it would bake off, more or less. (I was taking this to my mothers' church event mind you, with children.) So I decided to use rum extract for the buttered rum glaze.

Not having a pretty bundt pan like the blog I found this recipe from (here) I used my angel food pan. It's a tube pan, yes, it has a hole in the middle, yes. OK, same difference, yes? Yes :) It turned out quite lovely if I do say so myself.

How gorgeous is that!? No it's not pretty like a bundt cake but man it looked amazing.

Now for the glaze. Glazes amaze me at how simple they are. Usually combined with powdered sugar and some liquid or sugar and liquid boiled together in a sauce pan. SIMPLE! I love simple and easy recipes. That just goes to show you that recipes aren't as hard as they seem sometimes. Just take a minute to read it through and find out.

So this glaze was rum extract, sugar and butter. Oh how I love butter - I avoid it usually when eating but for baking, it it essential. I will sometimes use real butter - unfortunately with the cost currently and me not actually selling these baked goods, I use Blue Bonnet Regular. Seems to do the job just fine - though I have made my mothers cookies with real butter for Christmas and may I just say - cookies taste about 100x better with real butter. So I'm sure cake would too :)

So here we have the glaze, lumpy butter and then it melts down into a sugary rum glaze. I could eat just this, turn it into a candy and nibble away. But I won't because it's for the cake, which I soon realized it was A LOT of glaze for one cake. Though I believe in not wasting something or having to have it left over in my kitchen, or I'll eat it and lose my feminine physique from overdoing the sweets. I work hard to be able to splurge on occasion :)

So in the end I ended up spooning the glaze over the top of the cake, after poking numerous fork holds into the top with a long tine fork.

And this is what a slice looks like.

As you can see the glaze made it about 1/4 of the way down the cake. It was all still warm, cake and glaze, when I added. I really only at the top and sides of my slice but it was delicious none the less. It was a hit at the church too as I went home with only 2 slices left. Makes my day when people enjoy the goodies.

Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp rum extract (or Rum)
4 eggs
3 cups plain flour (all purpose)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or see substitution above)

1. Combine butter and sugar, beat well.
2. Add flavorings and eggs, blend well.
3. Add flour and all remaining ingredients, blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed.
4. Pour batter into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan.
5. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean from center.
6. Invert cake onto serving plate to cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or use butter rum sauce.

Butter Rum Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter + 3 Tbsp
1 1/2 tsp rum extract (or rum)

1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients
2. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts. DO NOT BOIL
3. With long-tined fork, pierce cake 10-12 times.
4. Slowly pour hot sauce over warm cake.

*Notes: I used unflavored dental floss to cut my cake - it's cleaner and doesn't shred the cake like knives can. Try it - double dog dare you!

I also did the following over the weekend.
Faux Ice Cream Balls

Faux Ice Cream Balls inside
Faux Ice Cream Balls (as I call them), I mixed some funfetti fake bake mix (yes that box of mix normal people buy) and the can of frosting together (it was probably about 1 1/2 cups of mix and 3/4 of the jar of frosting). I mixed until thick and could be formed into little balls. Then covered them in chocolate almond bark. So due to my impatience for the chocolate to harden I stuck them in the freezer and promptly forgot they were there until getting ice later that night. So I tried one and to my amazement they taste kind of like those ice cream nibs (you know the ice cream bites dipped in chocolate and are poppable, yeah those!) but home made and you can make them as big or as small as you like. Oh so dangerously delicious and so very simple. GO, DO, MAKE!

Rainbow Cake
I also like to make rainbow cake, this is diet 7-UP rainbow cake. 12 oz can of diet 7-UP, 1pkg lemon cake mix. Mix soda and mix. Separate into 6 bowls, add colors and layer in ROYGBIV style. Bake at recommended time and temp according to pan and viola! You have super moist and lower cal cake. Add a lemon glaze or whipped cream for a sweet treat that doesn't break the calorie bank. Delicious and simple yet again. So good :)

So as Mike has told you, I've helped him eat healthier and start using Super helpful site, I use it on my phone all the time to track EVERYTHING I eat and do. And now I'm doing the insanity workout - yes, I am insane. ;) So if the baking trails off, it's because I'm laying on my living room floor panting for air and trying not to die. Wish me luck.

Now, go out and cook!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mike's Chicken Marsala Tomato pasta

Hello Mike here, yes it is Mike and not Sarah.  I usually allow her to write the blogs since she tends to have a great way of wording things.  I am more of a blunt and simple guy but I am going to try today with my Chicken Marsala Tomato pasta.

So I was hungry and wanting to cook something easier so I came up with this meal.  I wanted chicken in a tomato sauce over some pasta.  I started to think of what veggies to add in with the chicken.  I had some carrots that needed to be used, so they went in.  Next was mushrooms because they just absorb flavors so well.  Third veggie was sweet peas.  I went with canned sweet peas instead of frozen since my roomie has a bunch of junk in the freezer and no room for a bag of peas.  I was looking at pasta at Walmart and decided upon whole wheat penne pasta.

Now time to cook, I just enjoy cooking.  It is a way for me to relax and it usually tastes good.  I can not say it always tastes good though unfortunately.  So I started the water for the pasta.  I put some roasted garlic olive oil in a pot of water and some sea salt.  I thought the garlic olive oil would help but I think it was a waste of expensive oil, good thing it was free thanks Wendy.  I use the oil to flavor the pasta some and to keep the water from boiling over.  How does the oil keep it from boiling over you ask.  Well the oil breaks the surface tension of the water and prevents it from boiling over.  Sarah accomplishes the same thing by placing a wooden spoon across the top of the pot, so when the water boils up it breaks the surface tension when it touches the spoon.  So I turned on the burner under the water and started browning the chicken, I seasoned with S&P, in a different pan.

I was about done with the chicken browning and looked over at the water.  It was not boiling.  How is it not boiling yet, the electric rings are not even glowing yet.  Oh that is right I rent an apartment and the stove is not top quality or even mediocre quality.  I guessed the ring was not getting a solid connection in the stove top so I moved the pot to a different burner and started again.  Since I was waiting for water to boil I poured some Marsala wine into the pan to get a nice steamed wine facial and scrap the brown goodness off of the bottom of the pan. The smell of the Marsala wine started to fill my apartment up.  Finally the water is boiling so I put my pasta in its bath of oil and salt.

Now that the pasta is cooking I can start more on my sauce.  I had juilenned  two carrots into small pieces.  Knowing they will take a while to cook I put those in with the chicken.  I added a can of Rotel sauce into the pot with the chicken.  Not a can of Rotel tomatoes and peppers but just a can of sauce.  I added a little more Marsala into the pan.  I sliced up three baby button mushrooms and add them to the pan with a little more Marsala.  The mushrooms just absorb the flavor of the Marsala so well along with the tomato sauce flavor.  I added some Italian seasoning into the pot, I need to add some more for next time.  Finally I added a little over have a small can of Del Monte sweet peas to the pan
All the kids in the pool

My pasta took longer to cook than expected, even after the water was boiling.  So I had to add a little more Marsala to keep the sauce from thicken up to tight.  No, it was not a lot of Marsala.  It just seems like it.  In reality my pours of Marsala are very small, probably close to an ounce with each pour.  So the final product was ready to combine.  Next time I will add the pasta in the pan with the sauce and stir it around to help the pasta take on the sauce.  I added some Parmesan cheese because everything is better with cheese, don't let Sarah convince you otherwise.

Final product not super pretty but not bad.

Sarah has gotten my eating healthier and proper serving sizes.  To help with that she got me using app for my phone.  I used the app to make my recipe.  I determined it was three servings of sauce and 242 calories per serving.  That is only a rough estimate from the app, just FYI.

Then later in the night I felt like an adult beverage.  Sarah and I have a recipe called a Yummy Gummy vodka drink.  The drink has 2 oz or Pinnacle Gummy vodka, 2 oz of Triple Sec and 4 oz of sweet and sour mix.  I have to stir it up since I do not have a shaker.  Yes the drink may seem girlie but if it tastes good and is half full of alcohol then it sounds like a good drink to me.  Who needs to drink something that is only somewhat tasty and weak on the alcohol, aka beer.  I am a more of hard alcohol drinker over beer.

Yummy Gummy vodka drink
So in closing "Get out and cook."  What better way to bond with the family or just relax by yourself than seeing your work turn out well and taste so good.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A "Lamb" Down Under

Ok so this post has nothing to do with Australia or the land down under. But I thought it was a funny play on words. Ok, maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm delusional today. Who knows. Work is getting to me, causing my brain to have issues with what is actually funny and what isn't. Oh well *continues to eat her combos*

Anyway, what we are really here for is the lamb stew/soup that Mike and I prepared Sunday and have been eating ever since - it made A LOT of stew/soup.

This month has been kind of messed up and his schedule is kind of off so we enjoy what we can. A nice relaxing weekend with him last weekend was just what the doctor ordered. This weekend, it's with family. He has to work - so I guess it's packed lunches and random assortment of dinners for him - we shall see what he sends me through the weekend.

So Saturday we decided this was what we were making and so we went to the only place in town that sells lamb and picked up a few packages of stew bones and steaks. We also grabbed some celery, carrots, snow peas, red onion, mushrooms, and beef stock.

I actually did all the veggie chopping, minus onion and garlic. Which is unusual since Mike usually has the better knife skills. I'm not as fast or precise but as you can see my veggies look pretty good, if I do say so myself *brushes off shoulders with a smug grin*. He is gets the onion honors because onions don't bother him while he chops them up where as Roomie and I cry like little babies. It's bad. I walked by while he was chopping up the onion and my eyes started watering. Yeah, it's that bad for me. He also did the garlic. I can't seem to get that down, the garlic all sticks to my knife and then I get frustrated with it and just kind of chop at nothing.

We both did the unthinkable too while cooking. We both were injured this weekend with bizarre knife injuries. I was cutting cheese on Saturday night for a snack and my finger slipped down the back of the knife toward the tip - was only using a steak knife - so my right middle finger had a nice little slit in it all weekend. Mike was using the Japanese Vegetable knife, which he soon became fed up with and sent home with me. He was chopping the onion and then he noticed blood on the back of the knife. He just said "what?" He evidently cut his finger on the back of the knife. Come to find the back of that knife is sharp enough to cut you if you do it right - much like he did. I think his was his right index or left. I can't remember honestly. I'm sure I'll get a text after this post is published and enlightened to which hand was injured ;)

So despite injury we made it through. After chopping up veggies, oh and red potatoes (not peeled) into little bites size chunks we added the veggies (not potatoes) to the roux we had made from flour and the lamb fat at the bottom of the pan. We then cooked those down till the onions were almost translucent. Then we added about 48 oz beef stock, lamb, potatoes, peas and mushrooms. (since mushrooms don't take long to cook). It was seasoned with Greek seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne, rosemary, bay leaf and probably a few other things I didn't see. We figured after trying it it was still lacking something...just couldn't figured out what it was. Mike decided that next time we should definitely use Italian seasoning and salt and pepper instead. It was just slightly off. Also, we decided that frozen peas would have been a much better choice than the snow peas. The snow peas just became unpalatable, at least to me. I ended up picking them out Tuesday when I ate stew for lunch.

All in all it was good, a hearty meal which we served with a cheese roll that we picked up at Walmart - go get some. They are absolutely delicious.

Make a stew, it's not hard. Pick a meat of your choice, add veggies that pair well (most any), make a roux with the meat fat or oil and water (look it up online or get a The Great Big Book of Cooking like Mike did.) Then add stock of choosing and simmer until delicious and thick. YUM! Experiment too, add cream, add spices and other combinations of meat. Try anything. Experiment.

So allez cuisine mes amis!

Go out and cook!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fabulous Friday

Do you know why it is a fabulous Friday? Hmm? Take a guess :)

Because it is actually under 90 degrees here in the Mid-West for a change. It's actually only 82 degrees currently. WOO HOO! Perfect day for a run after work and for a walk at my lunch break.

On lunch I took a walk outside rather than at the mall I typically frequent as it was actually decent. Of course because it's not over 90 degrees I am not allowed to wear shorts to work - even though everyone did anyway. So I'm wearing dark wash blue jeans, but I don't care. I chose to walk the pond near my office and get some vitamin D. My mom called so I chatted for a good portion of that walk. Normally I can only walk for about 40 minutes before having to drive back to work but today I got in a good 54 minutes. To top it off I was able to enjoy the sun and breeze and wild life.

Hello Mr. Mallard.
Your winter feathers have not come in
 I only know about the feathers because Mike is the smart one when it comes to ducks, since he hunts them in the fall :) YAY for duck season!

Sorry Daffy, I have to go with Bugs here.
So enjoying the gorgeous day out and getting some really great texts today it's been pretty good. After work I get a workout plan from a friend who is a trainer and then I get to go run and have some girl time with a new friend, my neighbor. K should be fun to be friends with. We shall see.

In any event I have experimented a teeny bit and have found a lovely Brown Sugar Cupcake Recipe since I went and made Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting and had nothing to frost.

I just want to lick the beater.
So I was scanning through the usual food blogs when I came across this fun and amusing blog "How Sweet it is"

These little gems turned out great. Tasted delish too. I don't typically have cupcake papers on hand since I'm a cheap ass and tend to just spray the pan. So the combination of having a gas oven and having silicone for a muffin pan the edges on my cupcakes came out a bit on the more crisp side, but it was a good contrast to the fluffy and moist inside. YUMMM!!

The frosting was simple and more experimental than anything. I just didn't feel like baking so I made frosting and of course not knowing what I was going to frost with it. Cookies, nah, that means sugar usually and I don't want to cut out cookies - I really have to be in the mood for that. So next question was cupcakes or actual cake. Since cupcakes are portable, single serve and much easier to take to work and give to co-workers I opted for find a cupcake that could carry the fluffiness of Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

Yes this frosting was just absolutely fluffy and delicious. I had a few heaping spoonfuls - which I really shouldn't have but it just tasted so darn good!

Frosting to me is just the easiest thing to make. Leave out some butter and have powdered/confectioners sugar handy. From there you just add the flavors you want.

For this recipe I took a stick of softened butter, a good blob (no I did not measure, I rarely do for frosting) of creamy peanut butter then mixed on medium until mixed well. Then I added some vanilla extract (again people, I didn't measure. I just kind of go - bloop! good enough. Baking this long you can kind of tell how much each pour is. This non measuring thing gets worse the older I get). Then I added some melted chocolate I had left over from the peanut butter cups I made recently, about 1 square, maybe 2 of the chocolate almond bark.
Super simple recipe here
Mix all ingredients together then start adding the powdered sugar, S-L-O-W-L-Y! Otherwise you WILL end up with a kitchen covered in powdered sugar, as well as you. I have done it in a rush attempt to get things done and it just isn't worth the clean up, well unless you have a helper. Then maybe. Powdered sugar in the air also seems to have the properties of laughing gas. Having worked in the Costco bakery for a year, we had one incident where we were making a lot of frosting for the cakes that day and using an insane amount of powdered sugar. I think this was during the graduation rush and there was indeed a lot of it in the air, we were inhaling it at that point. However, at one moment our boss walked in, all employees are laughing and giggling about one thing or another - I can't recall what we found funny but I remember having a great day at work that day - he just looked and asked what was funny. Of course when you are already laughing, a serious question such as "what's so funny?" just makes you laugh harder. Ahh, good times. But I digress.

Once you have incorporated the powdered sugar start to whip it, whip it good! You know you're singing that song in your head now. You are welcome - I did have a publisher tell that group of us to "Dance" today (of course it was in reference to an ad called "Dance" but, whatever).

So now that you have whipped your frosting into a delicious frenzy set it aside or even place in the fridge for just a bit. Note: if your frosting is too thick add a Tbsp at a time of water or milk to thin out until it reaches the desired consistency.

Now, for the cupcakes.

Brown Sugar Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled (I used Blue Bonnet margarine and it turned out just fine)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt, stirring to mix. Set aside. Line a cupcake tin with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk brown sugar and egg until smooth. Add in vanilla extract and milk, again mixing until combined. Slowly pour in melted butter, continuing to whisk. Add in the flour, soda, and salt. Mix with a large spoon until batter is smooth.

Using a 1/4 cup measure, add batter to liners. Bake for 16-19 minutes or until tops are puffy and golden, and don't jiggle when touched. Let cool completely before frosting.

Of course you can frost this cupcake with virtually any frosting you like and decorate accordingly. This is a good all purpose cupcake and great for when you run out of white sugar, like I have on occasion. It's quite disappointing to start a recipe and pull the sugar container down only to find no sugar. Granted you can substitute brown sugar cup for cup should you run out of white sugar, just note brown sugar has molasses in it, making it a bit stickier in the baked good. Sometime caramelizing the edges.

I also made this loveliness this week. Banana bread with chocolate shavings and cinnamon sugar crust. Can I just say that this thing made my house smell like home, that homey smell that all candle companies try to make their product smell like but can't quite capture the essence. Sugar, cinnamon and banana. Umph, perfect smell combo. Should be a perfume - men would come running, just add in a side of bacon and we are good!

Sliced fresh. Yes it's a teeny bit gooey,
but I like it that way and so does Mike
A pat of butter on the warm fresh bread, now we're talking!
 This is just a classic recipe for banana bread, I then took my cheese grater and milk chocolate block and shaved about 2 ounces of chocolate into the batter and mixed. I then combined about a heaping 1/8 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp cinnamon to dust on top (which I did AFTER I baked, it was an after thought but it worked out just fine since the bread was smoldering hot, ouch!)

Here's to the weekend, I get my Insanity DVDs tomorrow, I celebrate a friends 31st birthday and then headed out to Mike's to hang out for the remainder of the weekend. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Late Night Roast

Well here we are again, time for something a bit savory again.

Mike calls me up last night and asks what he should cook for dinner. He wasn't quite sure what he wanted so doing the "what are you craving" game we came up with him making a roast, which he likes to do, he then gets to carve the meat with his ninja knives.

He used a sirloin roast and cooked it at 350 degrees with 2 cups of beef bouillon stock until the meat was around 131 degrees, yes this would be under cooked to a lot of folks, however, after sitting for a little while the meat temperature will rise and after letting it rest and he sliced he said it was just under medium rare but not rare. Perfect for reheating later this week when he makes sandwiches and other meals, as well as when the roomie eats too.

He and I will tell you, if you cook meat you need a meat thermometer. It is a kitchen must, as well as a good chefs knife, not a crappy $5 Walmart knife. Yes, you will have to spend more than $20. I just recently bought a new chefs knife, I got a hell of a deal on it but I had to spend some money to get something nice and would work in my kitchen.

yes this is in my car on on my "Starry Night" window shades
Don't judge.
He served the roast beef, which was seasoned with McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning, with a roasted veggie mix which he placed in a roast pan and simply roasted. The vegetables consisted of tomatoes (large), 1 medium container of mushrooms (fresh), and one medium onion. Being that he doesn't normally like tomatoes he said he enjoyed them. 

To round out the meal he used Knorr Beef Stroganoff noodles as a starchy side dish.

Mike's finished product meal
He said it tasted good and was a good meal, of course having cooked roast it took a bit longer than he thought and he was just eating around 9pm when I was finishing my run.

Here is the ingredient list and instructions:

Sirloin Roast - size varies depending on your needs
2 cups beef stock or similar made from bouillon cubes
McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning

3 large tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 medium pkg fresh mushrooms
(you can tweak this based on what you prefer)

Knorr Beef Stroganoff Noodles, plus pkg instructions for making.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, rub meat with seasoning and place in roasting pan with beef stock. This keeps your meat moist. Roast in oven for about 2 hours, check after 1 1/2 hours for temperature. Pull out when 5-10 degrees under what you want it to end at. 130 - 135 is medium rare so if you pull out at 120-125 your meat will be close if not at medium rare after resting for 10 minutes.

Place vegetables in pan and season to your liking and roast until tender.

Follow package instructions for noodles.

Serve and enjoy.
Allez Cuisine!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Whirlwind Weekend

 Well well well, OK having blogged in a few days. This weekend we were pre-occupied by enjoying the time together.

Mike, not normally having weekends off, came out to my place this weekend. We enjoyed the time spent, it was well spent. We didn't cook at all on Saturday after he showed up and promptly went to sleep, due to having worked a midnight shift.

So while he slept I decided to go out, run errands, tan, do my thing and blast my music in the car as I cruised down the road on a lovely Saturday morning. When I got back I figured I could try the "Happy Bread" I had recently found a recipe for. It was simple and the ingredients weren't too out there. I had everything except flour which I promptly picked up from my local Hyvee and it happened to be on sale for under $2. Always a plus for baking supplies.

So I began with the dough base, and of course as I start making bread that is when Mike wakes up.
Dough cut into 8 relatively same size pieces
Bread rolled out then layered so I now have 4 pieces.
Layered dough rolled for spirals
Happy Bread, happy Sarah
Happy bread up close
You can find the recipe here. Super easy, just takes a bit of time when you have to let the dough rise before baking. Not bad though. It was easy and actually didn't get my kitchen too warm. I will tell you if you are in the US and do not use metric then you will need to convert some measurements and temperatures in the recipe, but with smart phones and Google, I'm sure that will not be an issue, just do it BEFORE you start baking.

So after I baked and Mike had gotten up and stirred around a bit we went out to Westport for Imo's Pizza, a pizza place native to St. Louis. He's a big fan of Imo's and I had never eaten there. We got a bacon and black olive thin crust pizza. A "medium" I think it was, a 14 inch. It came to us piping hot so it was tough to try and eat until it cooled a bit, once it cooled the cheese was creamier and marvelous. I am not spoiled by being served provel cheese. If you have not had that cheese you MUST seek out provel cheese. Make pizza and make cheese sticks. Mmmm, went to St. Louis with Mike a couple months back and oh my word, we went to Rigazzi's and had their cheese sticks, which are made with provel cheese. You will never want to eat a plain mozzarella cheese stick ever again. Creamy, soft, not too stringy and so delicious. I could just eat that as a meal.

So after Imo's Mike said it was off and should try the other location. I think it would be better to stop at one next time we go to St. Louis.

So then we came back home and napped before heading out to my local hangout bar to people watch. Sitting at that bar is always interesting and there are always interesting people working or walking in and out. To top it off we were able to watch the Olympics, which I have not watched at all due to the lack of cable and even basic antenna TV, since I'm a cheapskate and refuse to pay $50 for a converter box.

So we ate like crap at the bar with chips and salsa, jack bites (pepper jack cheese squares battered and fried), chicken tenders and chicken egg rolls. All greasy and so delicious and washed down with Jack and diet Coke and Long Islands. Was a fun and good night. It was nice to get out and just chill.

So Sunday we went out to Village Inn for breakfast before the church crowd showed up then hit up some stores to scan prices and compare as well as pick up ingredients for our fish taco night we were planning. So we picked up tomato, avocado, red onion, broccoli slaw, lime, mahi-mahi fillets, whole wheat tortillas, and then some ice cream for dessert.

But before cooking we tried the new burrito place "Freebirds." That just showed up in town. That was actually quite delicious. We shared a chicken burrito bowl with black beans, roasted veggies, tomatoes, guacamole, onion, and corn salsa. We then tried their BBQ sauce, queso and chips, and their mild and hot sauce. We even tried their "Death" sauce. Which, quite honestly tastes too much like cumin, lighten it up guys. It was good food and you get A LOT of it.

So after coming home and hitting up the pool, while the kids were all away, we started up dinner.

Mahi-Mahi ready to be cooked after being seasoned
Seasoned and being pan seared
Broccoli slaw mixed with lime juice
and cider vinegar
Fresh made salsa, salt, pepper, lime juice
tomato and red onion
Such a lovely lime it deserved its own picture
My first fish taco, you can see the avocado
hiding under the broccoli slaw
So after the fish tacos we had ice cream, picked up the mini Ben & Jerry's single serve containers. Mike enjoyed his cookie dough while I had peanut butter banana Greek frozen yogurt. I, however, decided to doll up my ice cream by using a peach to serve it up on.

Grilled in a panini pan with cinnamon and sugar
Topped with peanut butter banana frozen Greek yogurt
 Mike even enjoyed a bite of my ice cream. He doesn't like yogurt at all. Frozen or otherwise. But being peanut butter and banana, it just had a great flavor and he could care less about the Greek yogurt part.

All in all our fish tacos were OK, they weren't something to write home about but they satisfied that fish craving I have had for a few weeks now. Only would have been better had it been Ahi-Tuna instead. But seemed that people were sold out. Mad dash on tuna it seems.

So this morning Mike left to go home and I left to go to work, blech. Granted who really WANTS to go work. I'd be content doing my own thing on a daily basis but still get paid what I earn, not gonna happen I know.

But before he left I insisted on a photo of the two of us. I like pictures of us every couple of months ha ha. :) I think this one turned out pretty good considering the low light.

Mike and Sarah 8-6-2012