Kitchen Adventures: Fall Treats

I’ve been focusing a lot recently on wellness at work and my own mindfulness practice. I’ll post something about both of those soon. As part of this focus, I’ve actively been trying to do more things that matter to me or that I just enjoy. One of the things that brings me the most joy is food – whether making it, eating it, thinking or talking about it. So I spent some time today in the kitchen trying out/creating some new recipes: Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew (from Smitten Kitchen) and Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing (from my kitchen). The stew took a little time (mostly in prep time to chop all the veggies – totally worth it, this stuff is GOOD); the cake was easy (as pie? Much easier than pie, actually.).

For the cake: I used a boxed gingerbread cake mix and made according to directions on the box, adding a cup of pumpkin puree to the batter. For the cinnamon cream cheese icing, I combined an 8 oz package of cream cheese (softened), 1/4 c butter, 1  1/2  t. vanilla extract, 1 tbsp. milk, ground cinnamon to taste (I’d guess about 2 teaspoons), and confectioner’s sugar until it got to my preferred taste/consistency (again guessing about 2 1/2 c.). The icing was almost the consistency of a cinnamon roll icing, which I thought was fine for the gingerbread cake, as I find it to be more crumbly than moist. You can use more butter and confectioner’s sugar and omit the milk to make a thicker frosting (like this one) – I just don’t like frosting that is too sweet.

Perfect treats for this lovely autumn day!

 

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Kitchen Adventures: Fresh Flavors

I love cooking in the summer. Well, anytime really, but especially summer. Everything is fresh, and the grill is always ready to go. This weekend, I took advantage of both for a couple easy bites.

 

Grilled Shrimp

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Quick marinade (just peel and devein the shrimp first), grill for a couple minutes until pink – it doesn’t get any easier than that. And SO GOOD. For the marinade, I used:

Couple tablespoons melted butter

Few dashes of Worchestershire sauce

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Garlic salt

Onion powder

Smoked paprika

Chili powder

Old Bay seasoning

Oregano

These could be great for a BBQ appetizer or as a meal with grilled veggies.

Cherry Tomato Pico de Gallo

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Another recipe that’s not really even a recipe, it’s so easy. Just chop the ingredients and gently mix together. You’ll need cherry tomatoes, onion, minced garlic, 1 jalapeño pepper (seeds removed), juice of 1 lime, cilantro, and a dash of salt. Provecho!

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

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).

For Winter Survival, Rum, Soup, and Yoga

After digging out (again) yesterday, I needed something to warm up. Enter Sweet, Spiked, and Spicy Hot Chocolate and Chicken Kai Pa Lo.

 

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My snow angel

 

As usual, I made a couple modifications to the recipes. For the hot chocolate, I subbed Nutella for peanut butter. Really, who wouldn’t?? I also prefer whipped cream to marshmallows on my hot chocolate, and I didn’t have sea salt. Nonetheless, it was a nice treat.

Key to the chicken kai pa lo is the soft-boiled egg. I didn’t fully appreciate the wonder of a good soft-boiled egg until a vacation to Hawaii and one of the most memorable meals of my life at Lucky Belly. There I had the Beast Bowl, a phenomenal bowl of ramen with brisket, short ribs, oxtail, and of course, a soft-boiled egg. My mouth waters just thinking of it and the pork belly bao I had with it… anyway back to my dinner last night. The broth was delicious and topped with jasmine rice and the egg – yum! I also sprinkled some sesame seeds on top. A tutorial to make the perfect soft-boiled egg can be found here.

This morning, I’m recovering from all that shoveling with some yoga to stretch the muscles I used and hoping for the end of the snow this winter. Namaste.