Kitchen Adventures: S’Mores Brownies

Today is a two-fer with a dinner and dessert post! These brownies took two tries to perfect, and I was more than happy to taste test them both times to make sure I got them right. That’s dedication.

A couple things I learned by trial-and-error. First, bake the graham cracker crust for about 10 minutes before pouring the brownie batter on top. This will save you from a gooey, crumbly (though still delicious) mess when trying to cut and serve the brownies later. Second, some recipes I found suggested using sugar in the graham cracker crust. Don’t do it. You don’t need it. These brownies are decadent as is, and the sweet and slightly salty combo is a winner. I also suggest using a dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate brownie mix or making your own brownie batter to control the sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c crushed graham crackers
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) melted butter
  • 1 box brownie mix or your own brownie recipe of choice
  • Marshmallows

Press graham cracker crumbs and melted butter into bottom of greased brownie pan. Bake for 10 min at 350F. Pour brownie batter on top and bake according to package directions/recipe. Cover with marshmallows and broil for a couple minutes, until the marshmallows are toasted.

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Forgive me for not getting a better picture. Once we cut into these, I was so excited to bite into the gooey goodness before me that I forgot to take a photo showing all the delicious layers. I think you’ll understand when you taste these brownies.

Kitchen Adventures: Summer Comfort Food

Sometimes a simple meal just comes together so deliciously. Nothing fancy but still flavorful. Tonight that magic happened in my kitchen. I went back to basics, with a little twist: grilled lemon pepper chicken wrapped in prosciutto, gouda mac & cheese, and marinated tomatoes. My favorite part of the meal was the fact that the basil and cherry tomatoes I used were grown in my own little patio garden! Simple instructions are below (I won’t use the word recipe because I don’t really measure when I cook but, like my grandmother did, estimate amounts by sight and taste).

Chicken:

  • Marinate in olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic salt and lemon pepper for about 30 minutes
  • At the end of grilling, place a large basil leaf on top and wrap in prosciutto, then grill for 1 minute longer (adding a piece of cheese would take this over-the-top delicious, but I restrained myself since there was plenty of cheese in the mac)

Gouda mac and cheese:

  • While the pasta is boiling in salted water, make a roux with roughly equal parts butter and flour. Add milk or half-and-half (for the quantity I made, I used about 1 – 1 1/2 c skim milk). Stir in shredded cheese, both smoked gouda and cheddar, about 8-10 oz total. Season cheese sauce with ground mustard, onion powder, and salt.
  • Pour sauce and cooked, drained macaroni into greased baking dish. Stir in a little extra shredded cheese and top with some more shredded cheese and cracked black pepper.
  • Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.

Marinated tomato salad:

  • Gently toss cherry tomatoes,  basil, and thinly sliced sweet onion in olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for about an hour before serving.

That’s it. So easy, so tasty.

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Toast!

Today I’m toasting the official first day of summer (and my dad) by relaxing with a refreshing drink, enjoying nature-watching in my backyard. My dad is an outdoors lover and expert gardener, something I’m trying to cultivate in myself by starting with some container gardening on my deck. So it was only right that I use some of the home-grown mint I have to make a mojito, my favorite summer drink. But not just any mojito – a ginger peach mojito. I remember my dad making homemade peach ice cream with fresh peaches from the local orchard when I was a kid – it was creamy, fresh, and so delicious. So when I came across a recipe for ginger beer mojitos, I knew I had to add some muddled fresh peaches to properly celebrate today. A toast to summer and Fathers’ Day!

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From Gimme Some Oven

Reblog: Finding a psychotherapist

Psychotherapy is hard (and meaningful) work. Perhaps it is this realization or the fear of what might be dug up through that process that keeps so many people from seeking out the therapy that might be so beneficial for them. I often find myself perplexed, frustrated, and questioning when people “drop out” of therapy early or do not attend the appointments to which they have been referred and scheduled. National studies have provided many reasons why people do not engage in therapy. Beyond that, research also shows us that one of the most important factors in maintaining therapy and seeing therapeutic success is the client-therapist relationship. Every therapist is likely to have his or her own style, personality, and approach to treatment, which will not necessarily work for every person seeking therapy in the same way. Sometimes it may be helpful or necessary to see a few therapists before finding the “right” one. For this reason, the Moments of Meaning project lists on their blog tips for finding a psychotherapist. Among top considerations, they note ethical practice, training, and the ever-important fit. It can be helpful for both therapist and client to treat the first visit as a consultation, each exploring the concerns to be addressed and expectations for treatment, as well as their interpersonal fit. Approaching therapy in this collaborative way and with an open and curious mind sets the tone for the important work to come.

Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month, and Mental Health America is focusing their campaign this year, B4Stage4, on encouraging screening and early intervention. They propose that with earlier identification and intervention, mental illness can be treated more effectively, preventing its progression and ultimately lowering disease burden and health care costs. Though the USPSTF recommends routine depression screening only in the cases where mental health supports and follow-up are readily available (by having psychologists or other mental health providers integrated into primary care clinics, for example) and doesn’t make a recommendation for routine screening for suicidal thoughts, the MHA campaign promotes a new way of thinking about prevention and treatment of mental illness that is more aligned with how we think about prevention and treatment of physical illnesses such as cancer (though this dichotomy assumes that mental and physical illness are two separate things, when many times they are closely intertwined). With 50 percent of Americans meeting criteria for some mental illness during their lifetime, any prevention and treatment efforts are crucial. Below are two of my favorite Ted talks on mental health.

Perspective

I struggled with what I wanted to express with this post, and I still don’t have a fully developed comment for it. However, I felt it important to share the powerful Ted talks I watched recently that provide another perspective to the social commentary that has been swelling around our troubled criminal justice system and the protests, riots, and general emotional reactions to what has been playing out on the national news in the past few months. So much of what I have read and heard has been from the viewpoint of people with privilege, something I acknowledge I share, the privilege of growing up in a safe neighborhood, with a supportive family, guaranteed an education. But our social justice problems cannot be understood and cannot be addressed from this perspective; we have to understand things from the “other” point of view. For now, I will leave the videos here and perhaps write more later. In the meantime, I will hope that we start to open our eyes to the cultural changes that must take place to allow underprivileged individuals the same fair shot at the American dream that has been sold to us all.

 

Kitchen Adventures: Greek Flavors

When a food craving strikes for me, it’s almost guaranteed to be for something with Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern flavors. Today was no different. I brought back a couple Pinterest recipes that were husband-approved: Greek Grilled Chicken and Spanikorizo (rice with spinach and lemon).

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I also made a special treat for myself to eat instead of the chicken – Panko Portobello Fries with some aioli for dipping (my version of aioli = a little mayo + a lot of garlic). They were so good, it’s possible I ate all of them before I finished making the rest of dinner. And by possible, I mean it definitely happened. Best of all, they’re so easy to make, especially when you buy the portobello mushrooms already sliced. Just dip in egg and then coat in Italian seasoned Panko crumbs (because why use regular breadcrumbs when you can use bread that has been electrocuted for your tastebud pleasure) and bake for 10-15 minutes at 425 degrees. When I bread and bake veggies (like zucchini chips), I like to put them on a baking rack so the heat can circulate around them, making them toasty all over. At least, I think that’s what happens. All I know is the end result is delicious!

 

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Kitchen Adventures: Layered Fiesta Dip

Now that the weather is warming up, and I’m looking forward to spending more time outside with friends, I wanted to concoct a dip made with my favorite TexMex-inspired ingredients. After pulling random items off the grocery shelves, I put together what I like to call a layered fiesta dip, perfect for snacking with a beverage, on a porch, with good friends and seasonable weather.

 

Ingredients:

8 oz package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

Package Hidden Valley Ranch Spicy Ranch dressing mix (or regular ranch if you prefer)

Guacamole

Small jar diced green chiles, drained well

Can of fire roasted corn, drained well

Can of black beans, rinsed and drained well

Can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with lime juice and cilantro

Jar of salsa, as mild or spicy as you like

Bag of shredded cheese (I used a taco cheese blend)

Green onions, separated into white parts & green parts

Cilantro

 

 

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Mix together cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and ranch dressing mix; spread into bottom of 13×9-in dish. Layer guacamole on top, then salsa. Combine corn, chiles, black beans, white parts of onions and tomatoes; spread as next layer. Sprinkle shredded cheese, then garnish with green part of onions and cilantro.

Meatless Monday Recipe: Roasted Eggplant

As I take baby steps toward a primarily plant-based diet, I’m trying to do a couple meatless meals each week. Dinner tonight was one of those meals, and since I had a large lunch, I wanted something lighter for dinner. I adapted recipes for roasted eggplant with garlic cumin yogurt and Martha Stewart’s roasted eggplant with basil (follow her roasting instructions) by making the yogurt with ras el hanout, a delicious and fragrant Moroccan spice blend. I also seasoned the eggplant with garlic salt and smoked paprika prior to roasting and garnished with fresh parsley and mint. The result was a slightly smoky flavor with a fresh, cooling finish –  very satisfying!

 

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Roasted eggplant photo from marthastewart.com

Kitchen Adventures: Boozy Creme Brûlée Brownies

Another St. Patrick’s Day weekend, another good excuse to bake with beer. There’s just something so magically delicious about beer and chocolate in a baked good. This year I made brownies with Southern Tier Creme Brûlée Stout. (I also made a boozy ice cream float with it.) They have a more cake-like than fudgey texture, though that could be changed by adjusting ingredients. The recipe I used is below. I don’t typically like icing on brownies, but these might be even better with a little ganache or icing.

 

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter

Approx. 2 oz. dark chocolate morsels

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 10-12 oz Creme Brûlée Stout

1 cup all-purpose flour

Melt together butter and dark chocolate morsels. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Spread into greased 8×8 brownie pan and bake at 350 for about 28 minutes (depending on type of pan). Devour (mindfully).